Sweet Potato, Kale, and Sausage Soup Recipe

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Ingredients:

10 cups chicken broth

1 lb sausage (details below)

2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and diced

1 large red onion, diced

1 large bunch of kale, chopped

1 ½ tsp. sage

salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

Before I get too far into these “directions”, I want to emphasize how easy and flexible soup can be.  You really have a lot of wiggle room with ingredients and quantities.  As long as you have enough broth to cover your solids, you will probably end up with soup.

For this recipe, I combine all of the ingredients, except the kale, in the crock pot and cook on low for 6-8 hours.  Just make sure your broth covers your ingredients.  Add extra if needed.  About 30-45 minutes before you are ready to eat (or turn it off) stir in the kale.  That’s all.

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For the sausage, I used Wild Turkey Farms fresh polish keilbasa.  This is not like the highly processed keilbasa you find in the grocery store that is precooked and has to be sliced.  It is fresh sausage in a casing that gets soft and crumbly when cooked, so it breaks up easily in the soup.  If you don’t have access to fresh local keilbasa, italian sausage also works well in this.  You can buy it with the spices added or just buy fresh ground pork or turkey and add your own (I usually use fennel, paprika, garlic, salt, and cayenne pepper).  You can brown it before adding, or just add it to the broth and break it up near the end, after it is cooked through.

As far as salt goes, take into consideration how salty your broth and meat are.  Remember that these things will season the soup too, so you might not need any additional salt.  As always, using your own homemade broth takes this soup up about 10 notches, and since you know exactly how much salt is in it, it’s easy to know how much to add.  If you haven’t made your own broth yet, please try it.  Then leave a comment below about how life changing it was 😉

Take STOCK in This: A Souper Sensation

Making my own stock is something I have been doing for a short time.  I can’t figure out for the life of me why I haven’t been doing it forever and why everyone doesn’t do it.  It’s easy, free, useful, and so much better than any stock or broth you’ll find in a box on a shelf.  It might be the best kept secret of family kitchen history.  Well, I’m blowing the lid off this secret.  You deserve to know.

During a casual conversation with my friend Penny, who you might remember from this post, she mentioned throwing her chicken parts and some veggies into a crock pot to make stock.  I had a light bulb moment.  I thought, “I have chicken parts”, “I have veggie scraps”, “I could do that!!!”.  I asked a few questions about what to put in, how long to cook it, etc, and went home to cook a chicken, just so I could make stock from it’s “parts”.  For months, I have been in a complete state of stock shock.  I cannot believe I have never done this.  I went straight to my mother and asked her why we never did this.  She had the same light bulb moment I mentioned having and, instead of giving me an answer, went to cook a chicken.

I keep whole organic chickens in my freezer all the time and put them in the crockpot whenever I plan to make soup, chicken and dumplings, chicken salad, etc.  I literally just run the whole chicken under the water in the sink long enough to thaw the outermost layer so I can remove the packaging, then put the whole thing in the crockpot, still frozen.  Sometimes I spray the crock pot with oil first to theoretically make clean-up a little easier, but I have no idea if it makes any difference.  I do add a little salt and pepper to the top of the frozen chicken before I close the lid and turn it on.  That’s all I do.  How easy is that?  I cook it on low until it’s done, which I would say is usually around 6 hours, depending on the size of the chicken.

This used to be where the story of my chicken ended.  I would separate the meat from the skin and bones, then toss all of the non-meat “parts” in the garbage.  NO MORE!!!!  Now I toss those “parts” right back into the crock pot for round two.  This is what I call the “trash into treasure” phase.

On top of the chicken parts, I add vegetable parts that I would likely have thrown away otherwise.  Be sure to wash all vegetables well.  First comes the root end of a bunch of celery.  I just chop off the stalks and throw in the big ball of ends stuck together at the root.  I also might chop off the ends and throw them in.  I wash my carrots well and peel them.  I toss in the ends and peels of the carrots.  I also like to peel a few onions and put in the ends or a few of the less paper-like outer layers that I would debate keeping otherwise.  Sometimes I do put in the good parts of the veggies too, but lately I have been keeping a bag of usable scraps in the fridge so I rarely have to use anything we would eat.  It ends up looking something like this before I cover it all up with water.

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Veggie scraps on top of chicken parts. Carrot peels, celery ends and leaves, fennel sprigs, and onion. Be sure to wash all veggies thoroughly before peeling if you’re going to use the scraps.

After adding the veggies, I just fill the crock pot up with water to the tippy top and add a little salt and maybe some garlic powder and celery seed.  You can put in anything you like.  I set it to low and cook it overnight or all day.  I store it in the refrigerator if I know I will use it within a couple of days.  Otherwise I freeze it for later.  It’s the best chicken stock I have ever had and everything I cook with it turns out better than ever.  I can get so much out of one chicken, and it’s virtually free since most of the ingredients would be thrown away if not used in this way.  Also, it makes me feel that much better about spending the extra money on organic chickens and vegetables, knowing I’m getting so much out of every part of them.  I cannot believe how much money I have spent on those cartons of organic broth in the past.  Never again!!!!

Be sure to strain it well.  The bones get pretty soft and small pieces can be hard to separate.  I always run it through a mesh strainer just to be safe.

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This is how it looks after cooking all day or over night. Now it just needs to be strained and it’s ready to use.

One thing I have learned is that there will be a thin layer of grease that solidifies on top of the broth after it cools.  I just wait until the first time I pull in out of the refrigerator to use it and spoon it into the trash.  The broth will be very dark and rich and the flavor is amazing.  This photo doesn’t do the color justice, but I wanted to show the thin layer of fat I mentioned after refrigeration so you won’t be weirded out when you see it in yours.

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I hope I’m not the only one who was in the dark on this.  Give it a try if you haven’t done it before.  You will be cooking chickens left and right, just so you can make your own stock.  If cooking whole chickens is not in your usual repertoire, use whatever kind of chicken you usually eat. Honestly, you can even just throw in the parts from your store bought rotisserie chicken.  It will work just the same.  Do yourself a favor and turn your own chicken parts into liquid gold.  It’s like printing money.  Stop buying stock.  Use your liquid assets.  I could do this all day.

If you want a more specific recipe, check out this one from 100 Days of Real Food.  This blog is fantastic.  If you don’t follow it already, you’re missing out.  It is geared towards good clean healthy eating and living.

Also, one more thing.  I always wondered what the difference is between stock and broth.  Since I went to the trouble to look it up, I thought I would share what I found.  Stock is made with bones and parts, like I have described here.  Broth is made with actual meat.  Otherwise, it’s pretty much the same.  In theory, you could get a richer flavor from broth since you are using the meat, but it’s hard for me to believe it could be any richer than this.  Does anyone have opinions on stock versus broth?  I would love to hear what you know.

Anyone Know a Good Mother’s Intuition Repair Man?

You would think that I would know by now what an allergic reaction in an infant looks like.  You would think after all we have seen and experienced with Elena, that I would be an authority on the subject.  In fact, I have received countless emails and phone calls from friends asking, “Is this a food reaction?” as they describe symptoms their children are exhibiting or send photos of rashes.  We explained away so many symptoms when Elena was an infant.  If only we had known then what we know now, right?

The problem is, these symptoms are never black and white.  We were sure that Olivia had food allergies when she was a baby.  Ironically, she was the only one I was sure about, and as it turns out, she has none.  (See details of Olivia’s story here)  Because I was so wrong with her, I was hesitant to make the same assertion about Wyatt.  I didn’t want my hypersensitivity to lead to another incorrect assessment.

Sure, he was fussy.  I just assumed that was colic.  He was rashy, but so was Olivia.  He scratched at his head when he was upset and he spit up a lot.  I had logical explanations for all of it that did not include food allergies.  There is no reason to jump to conclusions.  Just because we have one child with food allergies, does not mean we are destined to have more.

It wasn’t until Wyatt’s 4 month well visit that it all hit me like a ton of bricks.  I had my little list of “concerns” all ready for the occasion, like any other well visit.  The nurse showed a little bit of concern after charting Wyatt’s weight because he had dropped from the 50%ile to the 20%ile.  When the Dr. came in and asked if I had any concerns, I started nonchalantly listing them, expecting the usual, “that’s perfectly normal” reassurance.  This time he just listened without saying much.  I felt myself connecting the dots as I was speaking and listing the other pieces of the puzzle that I had not included on my list, but now seemed so obvious.

He cries a lot, especially in the evenings.

He seems to eat frequently and spits up a lot.

He has rashes on his torso and eczema that never goes away.

He still has terrible cradle cap.

He is only soothed by bouncing on the yoga ball (exactly like Elena as a baby)

He itches.

I know he itches because he squirms all the time and scratches up his head and face when he’s in the car.  Otherwise, I never put him down because I’m afraid he will cry and scratch.  Until this moment, I convinced myself the scratching was just because he hates the car seat, but I know better.  He itches.  Of course he itches.

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Wyatt’s scratching made him look like he had been in a fight with a bobcat every time he rode in the car.

Our pediatrician then stated that he had never done an allergy test on a 4 month old.  The earliest he had done the test was 6 months.  I just held my breathe.  Elena’s allergy test at 9 months was horrific and I’m still not over it.  (Elena’s story here)

He asked if I thought I could cut out all soy and dairy as an experiment.  I assured him that would be no problem.  That is one thing I know how to do all too well.  The next morning, I began my and Wyatt’s dairy/soy free lifestyle and oh my.  What a difference.  Within a few days, he was less fussy and spitting up less. By the end of the first two weeks, I swear he was a different baby and had grown more than he had in the previous month.

Have you ever been so sick, but not realized it until you felt better?  This happened to me with my thyroid.  I found out in 2007 that I had Hashimoto’s and my thyroid was in bad shape.  I started taking Synthroid and it wasn’t until I started feeling better that I realized how horrible I had been feeling before.  The same thing happened here.  After Wyatt became himself, I realized he had been sick.  Even looking back at photos that at the time looked adorable to me, all I see is a sad, sick little baby.  He was always exhausted and itchy and miserable.  He would smile, but only if the time was just right.  Although I didn’t know it at the time, other family members had concerns about his lack of activity and alertness.  Now I question whether that viral rash he had a few months ago was actually a virus.  Perhaps it was a reaction to something I had eaten.

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After the dairy/soy detox, he is so happy and lively and active.  The rashes on his torso and his cradle cap disappeared.  He still has some eczema at the backs of his elbows and knees, but it has improved.  He is much happier to be put down and play and he naps.  He also spits up far less than he used to.

These photos are from “before” I eliminated dairy and soy.  Notice how tired and weak he looks.  Anyone who holds him is usually covered in spit up and even when he did smile, he always had some kind of rash or redness on his face:

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These are Wyatt’s “after” pictures.  He is so much more alert and happy now.  He is active and loves playing with his sisters and with toys.  Also, the matted hair from his cradle cap is now smooth and silky.  He is truly a new baby:

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This isn’t to say that Wyatt’s food allergy story is finished by any stretch.  We still don’t know if he was reacting to the dairy, soy, or both.  He could also have reactions to other foods.  He does still have some rashes and spitting up.  Also, since I rarely eat peanuts, tree nuts, or eggs due to Elena’s allergies, we don’t know if he would react to those.

Even though we don’t have all of the answers yet, I’m so glad my eyes have been opened.  I’m sure we will do the testing soon after he turns 6 months old, so hopefully we can start figuring out what his food allergy profile will look like and hopefully it won’t be too different from Elena’s.

Most of all, I am ready for this sweet baby boy to feel good and be healthy.  I’m heartbroken that it took me this long to put the pieces together.  I always see stories about these superhero moms who sense that something is wrong with their child even when everyone else is telling them it’s all in their head.  They turn out to be right and good old Mother’s Intuition is credited another success.  Where was my Mother’s Intuition?  It shouldn’t have taken that much.  For heaven’s sake, this is my second time around with this scenario.  Why didn’t I know until he was 4 months old?  Every time I had an inkling that it could be food allergies, I followed it with, “but you know, I thought Olivia had food allergies too and look at how wrong I was”.  Oy Vey!!!

All I can say is, Wyatt, I love you and I got this.  Starting now.

Preschoolers: They put the AW in FAAW

I had the honor of speaking to the delightful children at Elena’s preschool yesterday for food allergy awareness week.  The kids were excited and energetic and they participated in every aspect of the presentation.  What a blessing to be able to interact with this age group.  By this I mean, thank goodness they were not middle schoolers.

These kids were so smart and fun.  One of them even got my goat when I asked who knew what hives are.  He answered confidently, “They are where bees live.”  Talk about smart.  I had to concede that he was indeed correct, but there is at least one more meaning to the word.  I also loved it when one kiddo told me he was allergic to all yucky food.  Well played, little one.

We began by talking about what allergies are and what kinds of things people can be allergic to.  The kids came up with quite a list, including cats, dogs, pollen, bees, grass, poison ivy, smoke, and of course, germs.  We talked about what can happen if someone eats a food they are allergic to, which of course spurred a discussion about not eating dogs and cats if you are allergic.  Seriously, if you haven’t ever held audience with a group of preschoolers, you are missing out on something special.

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Two of our favorite food allergy books…and my toes. Oops.

We read ‘Cody The Allergic Cow’, which opened up to conversation about medical alert bracelets and Epipens, both of which Cody has.  The book is absolutely perfect for this age group and there are others in the series, which I will be getting my hands on soon.

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We use the Ergo pouch for carrying Epipens and Benedryl. This is Elena’s customizable AllerMates Bracelet.

One thing I found interesting was the kids response to the idea of talking about allergies with their allergic friends.  When I held up the bracelet, they were very interested.  I asked what they could do if they saw a bracelet like this on a friend.  Should they maybe ask their friend about it?  Both groups I spoke to said, “NOOOOOOO”.  I’m not sure if they thought it would be rude or unkind, but the initial response was that they should not talk about it.  I let them know it was OK to talk about it and that they should always ask questions if they are wondering about a food allergy.  I asked the children who had announced they have allergies if they would mind their friends asking questions and, of course, they said they would not mind.  What better way to learn how to help out your friends than to ask them what is safe and unsafe for them?  I hope that giving them  “permission” to talk about it will open up the doors for better understanding.  Although, I must say, these kids were pretty well informed already.

Next we played a little game of, find the hidden allergen.  The allergens I chose were not so well hidden, but keep in mind the age group.  I held up groups of three foods and the kids identified each food.  The sweet potato and rice cakes gave them the most trouble.  Then I asked them, which of these foods is hiding milk/nuts/wheat/etc.  They did really well with this and it was fun to see them so engaged.

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Find the hidden milk.

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Find the hidden wheat.

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Find the hidden tree nuts. (yeah, ok. Not so hidden. I told you it was easy.)

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Find the hidden peanuts. (I called this peanut butter and covered up the label because I knew they would be familiar. With an older group, I would have just used it to find the hidden soy.)

Since all of the allergies in the school are within the top 8, I was able to do a little taste test.  We talked about safe alternatives to common foods.  Just because your friend can’t eat your “bread”, does not mean they can’t eat any “bread”.  I showed them a bag of Enjoy Life chocolate chips and told them they are made with food allergies in mind to be safe for people with certain allergies.  Then they each tasted a few and I asked them if they tasted the same as the ones they are used to eating or different.  Most said the same and a few said different, but they all wanted more.

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Half a bag for the kids to share and half a bag for the presenter. Sounds fair to me.

I left them with a mission for the day.  Each of their teachers got a stack of helping hands.  I challenged each student to earn a helping hand by doing something to help keep their classroom safe for friends with food allergies.  Together, we came up with this list of things they could do…

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-Wash hands after eating.

-Keep food in food areas.

-Clean up food areas after eating.

-Never share food.

-Do not touch other people’s food.

and my favorite…

-Don’t feed your friend something they’re allergic to.

Kudos kiddos!

I hope they all earned their helping hands.  I enjoyed the talks so much and the enthusiasm of these wonderful students is infectious.  A great big thank you to CIC Preschool for letting me share this important information with them and for keeping our children safe every single day.

School Lunch: Keeping it simple.

School lunches are a challenge for many parents.  Especially those who find themselves attending a school that enforces mandatory exclusions to protect other children from allergens.  If you are not used to avoiding certain foods, it’s even more difficult to pack a lunch without them.

One of the most common questions I get when I tell people what all Elena is allergic to is, “What do you feed her?”  In fact, that’s the question I had in my own head when I first got her diagnosis.  We started with the basics and had a lot of fun with it.  We do a lot of “cutting board” dinners in the summer.  I just go to the cutting board and prep all kinds of produce and sometimes bread.  It’s simple, quick, healthy, and I don’t have to heat up the oven or stove at all.  We do this a lot using muffin tins, ice cube trays, or other sectioned containers.  The girls love it.

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One of our muffin tin lunches last summer. I can’t believe how little the girls looked.

The lunches I pack for school are very similar to this.  I love doing it this way because I can just throw in whatever we have in the fridge.  She likes the variety and she rarely has the exact same lunch twice.  I always give her a juice box and usually a fruit puree pouch, which we call “smoothies”, or “moosies” if you’re Olivia.  Here are some of Elena’s actual lunches she has taken to school.   You won’t believe how simple it really is to pack an allergy friendly meal.

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This is a Hummus dipper lunch. Get a single serving pouch of safe hummus, or spoon some into a small container. Then all you have to do is give some crackers, veggies, or other dippers. Of course, our usual “smoothie” and juice box are here as well.

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Bento style lunch. Fruits, veggies, craisins, and pasta in this one. Anything goes.

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Pasta salad with veggies and mixed fruit. Yes, the pasta is heart shaped. I usually just use bowties or penne.

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Here we have edamame, berries, crackers, tomatoes, and turkey jerky bites. Ok, so it’s not ALL healthy. The tomatoes are in a silicone cupcake baking cup. I use them as dividers a lot.

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Obviously, this one was from Valentine’s Day. Cucumbers, red peppers, and a sandwich. I don’t remember what kind of sandwich this was, but probably either turkey or sunbutter and jelly.

I also always try to throw in a special napkin.  I get character napkins from the party section at Target or use the extra party napkins from various celebrations.  She really likes having a colorful napkin, since we don’t typically use those at home.  Elena also has a very special way of reminding me to send a fork.  I owe a big apology to her teachers for those days I forget.  I know it doesn’t slow her down one bit…

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