How to Make and Store Your Own Fresh Sweet Potato Puree

Happy New Year! 

It’s been a wonderful, relatively relaxing holiday season. I took a little break from the computer the last few days to rest my hand and my mind, and it’s been quite revitalizing. I’m happy to share that my new service offerings are getting some attention from interested readers, and that this year is already promising to be an exciting ride! If you’re on the fence about starting a wellness program with me, consider the free intro call to get an idea of what I do and how I might be able to help you achieve your goals, and we can take it from there. Simply send me a message from the Contact Me page to inquire, and I’ll get right back to you. 

Sweet Potato Puree

In this, my first post of 2015, I’m going to share a very simple set of instructions for creating an ingredient that often comes in a can — Sweet Potato Puree. I like making sweet potato puree myself, because I’m avoiding the BPA from the cans, and I’m also controlling how long it cooks and what varieties of sweet potatoes I use. (You’d be surprised at how many you can find!) It also just tastes better fresh, as most things do.

The most common use of sweet potato puree is probably to make pie around the holidays, but there are really quite a few delicious things you can do with this simple raw ingredient. This week and next, I’ll share an absolutely decadent Sweet Potato Soup and a simply delicious Sweet Potato Pound Cake, but those two examples are just the beginning. Sweet potato puree works great in smoothies, baking, gluten-free pancakes, and in casseroles. It works as a thickener in some recipes, and it’s even delicious as a snack mixed with Greek yogurt, chopped pecans, and a touch of maple syrup. Try it! It’s delicious. 

You Say Potato, I Say… 

Before we go any further, let’s clear up the difference between a sweet potato and a yam. It’s commonly thought that the root with bright orange flesh eaten around the holidays is called a yam. It’s not. It’s a sweet potato. Yes, a yam is a type of sweet potato, but very few true yams are sold in the US, according to the sweet potato experts over at North Carolina Sweet Potatoes. They get into the nitty gritty, so feel free to check out all the differences between a yam and a sweet potato there. An important distinction is that eating a raw sweet potato is perfectly harmless while eating a raw yam is bad news. 

I’m only going into this because I’ve been wrong about it in the past and was once again second-guessing my sweet potato taxonomy as I was preparing this entry. So there it is. In truth, this distinction in name doesn’t really matter all that much here in the US unless someone tries to correct you, in which case you can refer them to this post and tell them to shut their sweet potato pie hole. Aren’t you glad we cleared this up? I know I yam. 

homemade sweet potato puree

Roasting the Sweet Potatoes

The cooking step for making this puree could go a few different ways. The easiest way is to rinse the whole sweet potato, poke a few holes in it, wrap it in foil, and bake it for at least an hour. Then simply scrape the meat out, discard the skin, and pound out as I’ll show you in a moment.

Because my potatoes were peeled for a recipe that didn’t end up happening, I was left with 2 giant peeled potatoes that would have been a mess to bake skinless. This is why I roasted. As a side note, I thought it might take less time to roast this way, but in the end, it didn’t really. Here’s how I did it.

  1. Preheat oven to 400
  2. Chop two large peeled sweet potatoes into equal-sized chunks
  3. Fill two loaf pans or one small deep pan (not a cookie sheet) with the chunks 
  4. Rinse and drain, then add in about an inch of water in each pan
  5. Scoop small amounts of coconut oil out of the jar with a spoon and place them evenly along the top of the potatoes
  6. Place in the oven and roast for about 30 minutes
  7. Remove the pans from the oven and stir, making sure the potatoes that were on the top are now on the bottom and vice versa to avoid any of them drying out 
  8. Check the bottom of the pan to make sure nothing is getting brown or burnt. If so, add a bit more water to the bottom.
  9. Place back in the oven and roast for another 30 minutes 
  10. Potatoes are done when a fork easily mashes the pieces

homemade sweet potato puree

Puree

For some reason, I wanted to complete this project without using my stove. But more importantly, my main goal was to end up with pure sweet potatoes, not watered-down mush that would be hard to store. The desire to skip the stove and not end up with a “baby food” consistency eliminated the immersion blender and brought out the kitchen mallet! The following instructions are the next steps whether you bake the potatoes whole or roast them in cubes. The puree should keep in your fridge for up to 3 months.

  1. Once the potatoes have cooled to room temperature, transfer them to a gallon sized freezer bag (I only needed one for 2 giant sweet potatoes, but just make sure you have enough room to work; otherwise split it into two bags)
  2. Zip the bag up leaving just about an inch or two of the bag open to allow for air to escape
  3. Using the flat side of a kitchen mallet, hammer out the potatoes until they become one smooth consistency
  4. If you’d like to portion out the potatoes into 1 cup servings, do so with smaller freezer bags, otherwise it works to freeze it all together
  5. Label with the date and freeze in the flattened state for a quick defrost when you’re ready to use it

NEXT UP: Sweet Potato Soup

Get excited for this decadent, warming soup that’s sweet all on its own. I didn’t add even a drop of maple syrup, and I couldn’t believe my taste buds! See you Friday!home made sweet potato puree

Foraging for Holiday Cheer – Decorating with Nature and Found Objects

This year marks the third holiday season that we’re in our new little house. We moved in November two years ago, so the holiday cheer was relatively muted due to our need to acquire furniture and other more vital household items. We did not skip the wreath, however, and ever since then in the tradition of our first year in our first home, I’ve been creatively “foraging” holiday decorations to create more cheer on the cheap. In this post I’ll share two simple steps to forage for holiday cheer, and then I’ll share some examples of how I’ve used my foraged goodies.

Creatively Foraged Holiday Decorations on a Budget

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Step 1: Ask Your Friendly Christmas Tree Vendor

Step one in saving money on holiday decorations takes place with your local Christmas tree vendor. Simply ask for scraps. It’s pretty common for a Christmas tree to have a few low-hanging branches at the bottom of the tree that need to be snipped before it comes into your home. Your Christmas tree vendor is not dying to keep those branches. In fact, there are often piles of them hiding around the corners of those candy cane-striped tents. The folks working there will be happy for you to take some off their hands. I always err on the side of too much so I don’t have to go back — I’d say to take 6 or 7 fanned-out branches of evergreen. You’ll be surprised at how handy they are.

Creatively Foraged Holiday Decorations on a Budget

I love Christmas tree hunting every year!

Step 2: Keep Your Eyes Open and Good Scissors Handy

The level of difficulty in this step will vary based on the location from which you’re reading this. I happen to live in the Bay Area where plants that create beautiful red berries this time of year abound. I learned this foraging trick from my mom. When we were kids, she would scout out red berry bushes in and around our neighborhood, gather up some branches, and use them for Christmas decorations. The ones she found dried really beautifully on solid branches, so she was able to use them year after year. The ones I’ve found aren’t quite that nice, but they’re so easy to access that I don’t mind getting new ones each year. 

You can also scavenge pine cones (watch out for sap and bugs!), whole unshelled nuts like walnuts, pecans, and almonds, sprigs of rosemary, holly, and even mistletoe in some areas. All of these things can serve as pretty accents to create holiday cheer in your home. 

Be creative with this step!

Creatively Foraged Holiday Decorations on a BudgetFor example, I have a teeny tiny pomegranate bush outside that makes the littlest pomegranates you’ve ever seen. They really aren’t worth eating (maybe they will be in like 5 years), so I use them in my decorations this time of year.  Another example: I tend to do my shopping at discount places like TJMaxx and Ross, and this year (no lie!) I saw a branch spray-painted in silver on sale for $19.99. That’s not a joke. If you want a silver branch, go get yourself some spray paint and make your own! 

You can “forage” things inside your house too, or collect some “found” objects to repurpose into holiday decor. This year I’m using cute boxes from a gift we got last year, stacking them up with a nice bow, and voilà! More decorations. I’m also filling bowls that sit on tables in my house year-round with those unshelled nuts I mentioned before. I don’t know why that look is “festive,” but it totally works if you use everything creatively. (examples shown below)

4 Ways to Use Your Foraged Goodies

1. Make Your Own Wreath

Last year, I shared a step-by-step instructional post on how to make a holiday wreath. This year, I used the same wreath “skeleton,” the same pine cones (for the third year in a row), fir branches, and berries. You can find these wire wreath backings at most craft stores if you don’t have one leftover from years past. I found a nice spool of holiday ribbon with wire in it for the bow at a discount store for $5 and added that cute touch this year. You can learn how to make a holiday bow of your own at the end of this post. Check out my cute gif of this year’s process!

Creatively Foraged Holiday Decorations on a Budget

2. Spruce up Side Tables and End Tables

It’s amazing what a few little holiday accents here and there will do to your day-to-day home decor. I have strategically placed fir branches and red berries between bowls and added votive candles for a holiday glow. 

Creatively Foraged Holiday Decorations on a Budget

I’ve also used the fir and berries to accent the few store-bought decorations I have. I have these beautiful glass trees and some fun candle holders with silver place mats that I use in a few places around the house this time of year. The little touch of nature really takes these festive pieces to the next level.

Creatively Foraged Holiday Decorations on a Budget

3. Add the Berries to Your Tree

I also learned this trick from my mom. She’s basically Martha Stewart when it comes to decorating for any occasion, creatively pooling resources and ideas from whenever she can. She’s not the most tech-savvy, so this involves a file folder with magazine clippings instead of an Etsy page, but it works for her. For the last few years, she’s been using pheasant pelts (that my dad hunted — don’t forget, I’m from Texas) as part of the holiday decor. Sounds crazy, but it’s really cool looking and makes for a very unique tree. Anyway, back to the berries. If you get long enough branches of berries, you can just set them in there like I have in the pictures below. 

Creatively Foraged Holiday Decorations on a Budget

4. Make Something New!

I had some larger fir branches left over after making my wreath along with some of the snipped off smaller branches, so I decided to make one more decoration for my mailbox. It’s a super simple bundle with a nice festive bow. I started with a few larger branches and a few smaller ones, a few berries, and the ribbon. I tied the larger twigs together first, then some of the smaller ones toward the middle of the larger ones to fill in any holes at the top. Then I covered the twine with more branches tied to the bottom, tied the berries in front of that, and went to work on the bow. 

Creatively Foraged Holiday Decorations on a Budget

click image for a larger view

 

For the Bow

I promised I’d give you a step-by-step on the bow. It seems easy, but some people have a hard time getting the bow straight — the wire sewn into the ribbon on each side helps keep things straight and perky. Be careful that the ribbon is straight where the knot in the bow comes together. That’s a good way to make sure it’s a nice, neat bow — and it’s also a good way to tell which side’s the front and which side’s the back — the twisty part of the knot should go in the back while the loopy part (shown on the left) should go in the front. Thread the bottoms through the knot in opposite directions to make a bow with 4 loops, 2 on each side. Make sure you thread the twine through the back (twisty) side of the bow before you affix it to the bundle. (shown in the small picture on the left above the mail box.) 

Creatively Foraged Holiday Decorations on a Budget

click image for a larger view

Your turn! 

What have you used to decorate this season? Anything found or foraged? Any great deals you’ve found a your local discount store? Anything fun you’ve repurposed for this holiday season?

Please share your ideas below, and don’t forget to show me on Instagram with the #dailywellbeing hashtag!

[VIDEO] Instant Homemade Coconut Mayonnaise

I’m so excited to share my first how-to video with you at the end of this post!

I have to admit that I’ve spent the vast majority of my life hating mayonnaise. It’s only been with the semi-recent trend of “aioli” on menus in nicer restaurants that I’ve learned to like it.

Aioli is just fancy mayonnaise after all.

I’ve started to occasionally use flavored mayonnaise (like lemon or wasabi) in certain salad dressings and sauces, and especially in dipping sauces for steamed crab and artichoke, but the plain-Jane mayo in the stores has always still repulsed me a bit, even if I only plan to mix it into something else. On my trips down the aisles of my local grocer, I’ve noticed that the mayonnaise on the shelves is chalk-full of industrial oils like canola and soy, and even those claiming to be superior for your health contained refined seed oils. There are a few brands out there that use olive oil, but even then, it’s refined olive oil and often accompanied by a less desirable oil in the blend.

Aside from the obvious problems with corn and soy, the issue I have with store-bought mayonnaise is not only with quality, but with its shelf life and potential rancidity of the oils. Store-bought mayo lasts forever unopened on the shelf and then almost as long in the fridge. I don’t really want to eat anything that lasts forever (except raw honey). The consumer also can’t control for the quality of eggs or the extraction process of the oil that’s used in store-bought mayonnaise. I happen to like to control as many variables as possible when it comes to my own kitchen and what I stock for my family, so…

I decided to make my own mayonnaise – one that would pass my own health and wellness test:

  1. Would I be able to cook with this mayo without destroying the healthy components or turning the oil rancid?
  2. Would this mayo contain healthy fats that haven’t been overly heated or deodorized using toxic chemicals?
  3. Would this mayo have a mild enough flavor that I could use it on just about anything?

The one oil that passed this test was coconut oil. I used extra virgin organic coconut oil, gently melted just enough for it to change from solid to liquid. It can’t be too hot, because it could accidentally cook some of the egg when you drop it in. We definitely don’t want that, so just warm it enough that it liquifies.

 

Tools:

You need exactly two tools to make this mayo (well, three if you count the knife to cut the lemon before squeezing). One of them is a wide-mouthed jar. Easy enough, but this is not negotiable. It doesn’t work in a bowl. Needs to be a jar or some sort of cylinder with a bottom and open top that’s wide enough to fit the head of the immersion blender inside.

And that’s the second thing: you MUST have an immersion blender. It’s a must. I tried making this in a regular blender and it was liquid disaster — even after a solid minute of blending. If you don’t have an immersion blender, I’m making an appeal to you to get yourself a good one. They’re great for blended soups, cauliflower mash, and electric mixing. They also work great for fatty coffee.

The one I have has held up for a long time. It’s a single-speed, and I’ve lost the attachment for whisking, so I’m ready for an upgrade. This is the one I plan on getting. I’m a big fan of KitchenAid products, and this one is sweet. If you’re in the market for a new, inexpensive kitchen gadget, consider getting an immersion blender.immersion blender coconut mayonnaise

 

There are definitely cheaper options (I’ve even seen some as low as $16 without the attachments), so if you want to go the cheaper route, give it a try. I spent about $40 on the one I use in this video, and it’s lasted for literally almost 10 years — and it still works just fine. For a few bucks more, you can get the 3-speeds and more attachments. 

Ok, on to the show … Watch the magic unfold in mere seconds with my first-ever how-to video!

Homemade Coconut Mayonnaise


FTC DISCLOSURE: This post contains affiliate links, which means I may receive monetary compensation for my endorsement, recommendation, testimonial and/or link to any products or services from this blog. All opinions are my own.

Happiness, Health, and Pets – Dexter Gets a Sweater!

You may have noticed the presence of an adorable K9 on this blog. She’s sitting on my lap on my About Me Page; she’s featured in my Coaching ad; and she’s licking her lips in my Pumpkin Soup recipe. Oh what the heck, here’s another one.

D1smallI think it’s safe to say that I adore my dog Dexter. But before you start thinking that Loren and I are crazy dog people, consider the fact that having a pet can actually improve your health.

That’s right, studies show that taking care of pets provides us measurable health benefits from stress reduction to cardiovascular health improvement. Pets are used as part of physical and emotional therapy, they’re great companions for the elderly giving them a daily sense of purpose, and they just downright make us feel good when they wag their tails or purr in our laps. (Looking at cute animals on the internet is part of my personal daily stress relief. If you haven’t had your dose of cuteness today, this should do the trick.)

It’s also been shown that infants and children growing up with furry pets in the house (or on a farm with barnyard animals) are far less likely to suffer from allergies or asthma as adults. Compelling arguments have been made that our germaphobic society is the culprit for the ever-rising chronic allergy problems Americans face today, and having extra “pet microbes” around seems to be safe-guarding some of us by building up our immune systems early in life.

Now that I’ve convinced you to head to the shelter for a new pet this week, let me tell you a quick little story about my most recent sewing accomplishment — I promise, it’s related! I made a sweater for Dexter!

Dexter Gets a Sweater!

Two weekends ago, we took Dexter camping for the first time. Unlike most of our other climbing trips, dogs were allowed at the crag, so we decided to see if she could behave herself as we scaled Gold Wall outside of Sonora. The behaving part was questionable, but one thing was certain that night as our group of 8 humans and one dog sat by the fire.

Dexter was cold.

DexterSweater

We came prepared with a sweater I’d been planning to donate. (Loren is adamantly against dog clothes, but he was willing to make this one exception for our short-furred friend on a cold evening in the mountains.) Dexter was tripping all over the sweater, and we ended up tying it into a knot so that she could move freely. That’s when I got the idea to turn this “give-away” sweater into a new sweater for Dexter!

Dogsweater4

Steps:

  1. Get dog off the couch and put on ill-fitting garment inside-out.
  2. Pin garment using safety pins so
    that she doesn’t get stuck when you pull it back off.
  3. Do the same thing with the sleeves if they’re also ill-fitting (I ended up cuffing these and sewing on a cute green button with pink thread!)
  4. After removing the sweater, replace all safety pins with straight pins for safer, easier sewing.
  5. Sew along the newly created seam, first on the body, then on the sleeves — this material wouldn’t hold tailor’s chalk, but chalk might be helpful with a different fabric since you’re not sewing a straight line.
  6. It’s up to you how fancy you want to get with the raw edges. I didn’t make mine perfect on the body, because this fabric won’t run, but I did cuff the sleeves.
  7. Turn the garment right side-out and dress the dog for a photo shoot.

Considering the fact that I was laughing for the entirety of this sewing project, and I laugh again every time I look at her face in these pictures, I’d say that both Dexter and this project were good for my wellbeing. After all, laughter is the best medicine.

I challenge you to spend time this week relaxing with a furry friend — yours or someone else’s. You won’t regret it.

Dogsweater1

 

Holiday Decorating on a Budget – Make Your Own Wreath

Until recently, I’ve cared very little about holiday decorating, as it involves acquiring stuff that isn’t functional year-round, and it takes up space. It’s also an extra expense, and I historically haven’t had a ton of extra income to spend on holiday decor. I’d also never owned a home until recently, so the thought of acquiring such stuff meant moving it at the end of a lease. That being said, I do love a fresh Christmas tree, and I did actually splurge on a few really cute things for this year’s Christmas tablescape (a word I made fun of relentlessly when I heard it the first time and now use regularly).

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Against heavy protesting from my sister and me as kids, my mom purchased a fake tree in the 90’s and has been using it ever since. Like most kids who started life with a real Christmas tree in the house, I have a special nostalgia for the smell of fresh fir, so when I purchased my first Christmas tree as an adult a few years back, fake was not an option. It’s also nice to be able to discard the tree at the end of the season instead of packing it up and having to store it … and move it.

Last year, our first holiday season in our new home, we were too busy getting settled in to do much decorating. The one thing I did do (just to experience the smell of Christmas) was hang a fresh wreath in the front — it looked great, and it smelled great. Mission accomplished.

Then it stayed there — until yesterday. 🙂 I would have taken it down, but when all the green leaves turned brown, it actually matched the outside of our house pretty nicely, so I left it up. (I promise it had absolutely nothing to do with laziness or lack of motivation to take it down. Promise! Swear!)

Anyway, when we got our Christmas tree this weekend, I collected a few spare branches from the vendor thinking I’d be able to make the house more festive on a budget (which I did). Then I had the bright idea of actually making a new wreath! I pulled down the old one and carefully dismantled it, saving the pine cones, and figuring out how it was put together in the first place.

Yay DIY project!

Here’s why I love where I live: nature gives you nearly everything you need to decorate for the holidays! Besides the inorganic objects in this picture, everything you see here came from my neighborhood. And I paid for ZERO of it. I spotted most of these holiday gems on a run with the dog the other day and returned this afternoon with gardening shears to collect my supplies.

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Featured here: wild berries gathered from the trail that runs along the bay, redwood leaves from my neighbor’s tree, walnuts that have been sitting in my cabinet for a year (which I didn’t end up using for the wreath but used elsewhere), rosemary from a bush down the street, and the pine cones from last year’s wreath

Warning, this is either an outdoor-type project or a bare-kitchen-floor-that-can-be-easily-swept-up-after-type project. Do not bring these items onto carpet or onto flooring that’s hard to sweep. You will be sad.

From the time I sat down with my supplies to the time I hung the wreath, I’d say this project took me about 25 minutes. To gather the supplies from the neighborhood took me about 15 minutes, if that. Not bad for a Sunday afternoon project!

First, I laid everything out so that I could see what I was working with. Then I cut the big fir tree branches in to small, manageable pieces.

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To start the wreath, I took a small bunch of fir, a bit of redwood leaves (some of them have these great little yellow seed pods on the ends — super cute!), a sprig or two of rosemary, and some berries, and put them in the first rung of the wreath frame. The wreath frame is made of strong wire, but it’s not so strong that I couldn’t bend it with my hands. I opened them all up before I got started, and as I filled them with leaves, I clamped them back down.

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This is what it looked like after the first two rungs were filled and clamped

Whichever direction you choose for the leaves to go, fill the rungs in the opposite direction so that you can see what you’re doing. Once all the rungs were filled, I held up the wreath to see if anything looked lopsided or if there were any holes that needed to be filled with a few more leaves and added/adjusted accordingly.

Then I used thin green wire (also from last year’s wreath, but any wire will work really) to attach the pine cones to the wreath by wrapping it around the cone and the wreath itself and then twisting it shut on the back side out of sight.

When the wreath was complete, I hung it right back up where the old wreath hung for all of 2013. I’m not making any promises about how long this one will or won’t stay up.

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