Wednesday, May 18, 2016

To blog or not to blog? + High Protein Post Workout Snacks!

I’m starting to see a pattern here. Blog for a few months, leave for a year, return and blog again…it’s funny how life works; how we switch through interests based on time and top priorities. As life has slowly begun to balance out, my interest in blogging has been slowly creeping back into existence. Time, however, seems to be an ongoing issue, along with many others. However, I know I can’t allow time or fear get in my way so I have decided to test the waters to see, is blogging still for me?

Recently I was approached and asked to write a post on post-workout high protein snacks. As a work-from-home mom, you’d be quite surprised at how hard it is to get a workout in. Between caring for a toddler, working a full-time job, cooking, cleaning, etc, there’s very little time to take care of me! But recently I have started working on finding balance and taking care of me has finally become a priority. On top of my “Me List”? Working out!
I love to run, bike, do full body workouts, and HIIT routines (great for busy mommas!), but my absolute favorite activity is yoga. It gives me the opportunity to relax my mind, focus on my breathing and move my body! Whether it’s a quick 15 minute fat burning session or an hour outdoors, my body always feels great afterwards and depending on the time of day, it’s also ready to be refueled.
I love to make my own protein snacks, but sometimes you just need to grab and go! So I will share with you some snacks you can make on your own to refuel after a workout as well as some products that are great for eating on the go.

Date Balls or Protein Balls

PB Chocolate yumm!
If you have never ever made date or protein balls, then I strongly encourage you to go make some ASAP! These little bit sized gems can be chock full of nutrients; protein, healthy fats, carbs and superfoods if you choose to add them. These are perfect for refueling the body post workout. They are easy to store, easy to bring with you, mess free, and super filling. I make some sort of protein balls every week for easy snacking!
My favorite ones to make are the Date Energy Balls or the Raw Brownie Bites from Detoxinista, depending on my mood. The Date Energy Balls are super easy to make, sweet and deliciously coconutty. The Raw Brownie bites are rich, sweet and the perfect solution to your chocolate cravings. There are many more out there made with different nuts and dried fruits. The possibilities are really endless!

If you’re not into dates, then try a recipe like this one for Chocolate Peanut Butter Energy Bites! This recipe uses nut butter instead of whole nuts and honey as the sweetener. It’s full of fiber, long lasting carbs as well as superfoods thanks to the oats, flax and chia. For this recipe, I modify it a bit; I add some coconut oil to help smooth out the peanut butter and honey, and reduce the flax and add hemp seeds in its place.
In a rush? Grab an original Larabar! They are made with the same simple ingredients of dates, nuts and spices. Try my favorite, the Cashew Cookie Bar!

Trail Mix
Trail mix is one of the easiest high protein snacks to make and there are literally hundreds of different combinations! My daughter made her own this week for her snack for school. She added cashews, almonds, dried cranberries and raisins, sunflower seeds, allergy-free chocolate chips, and some store bought organic granola.

Trail mix is great as a post-workout or midday snack. The healthy fats and protein will keep you feeling full and sustained while the natural carbs from the dried fruit will keep your energy flowing.

If you’re in need of nuts to stock up, check out for a list of raw or roasted nuts. They even have yummy flavored ones! All of these would be great to add in to your trail mix! Just be easy on the sugar ;)

In a rush? There are several wonderful companies out there who make healthy trail mix. sells a Wild Berry Sprouted Trail Mix
that sounds amazing! Living Intentions also sells several different varieties, Mango Goji Fire, being my absolute fave!
Protein Shakes
When I was pregnant, I found this awesome recipe for a hemp protein chocolate milk shake. Hemp seeds are a wonderful source of plant-based protein and essential fatty acids that are easy to digest. I love sprinkling them on top of my salads, adding a few tablespoon into my smoothies or just eating them out of the jar. This recipe is sweet, rich, filling and super great for you! Think post-workout milkshake!

In a rush? I highly recommend Vega’s Post Workout Performance Protein Powder. Throw it into your shaker bottle with some homemade almond milk and you have a yummy protein shake right there! I personally like to blend mine with ice and maybe some nut butter or even greens to mellow out the sweetness.
Other snacks.

There are several other fabulous high protein snacks you can make or grab for post workout munchies. To add to the above:
  • Plain Greek yogurt with a drizzle of honey (or make protein pops with Greek yogurt and your favorite fruit! My kiddos love Greek yogurt, bananas, strawberries and a splash of OJ)
  • For my meat eaters, homemade jerky is super easy to make and a wonderful chewy snack that is really high in protein
  • Quinoa. For those who intend to eat a meal after lunch, incorporate some quinoa into your meal. Quinoa is not only another wonderful source of plant-based protein, but it’s a complete protein meaning it contains all nine essential amino acids.  I love using quinoa on top of my salad or in a veggie bowl. It satisfies my “grain” cravings and rounds out my meal, keeping me full longer. Here’s a wonderful recipe for a quinoa wrap!!

Looking for more information? Check out registered dietitian Megan Roosevelt as she talks about healthy snacking tips! You’ll also find some pretty awesome high protein
recipes and snacks on's site as well.
Well that wasn’t too bad. Maybe I do have time again to blog!
What do you think? Interested in hearing more about healthy eating, aromatherapy and living the working mom life? Let me know!

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Tower Garden Set-Up

Four days after I placed my order at DC's Green Festival, the Tower Garden arrived.  I was impressed with the timeliness of delivery!  It came in 3 boxes:  1 containing the tower, 1 containing the cage, and 1 containing the grow lights.  When opening up the boxes, be sure to locate all the papers and put them in a safe place.  In addition, open the plastic label container outside the tomato cage or grow light kit box- it contains extra seeds!

I spread a trash bag on the floor where I planned to set up the tower garden, to protect the floor.

Assembly of the tower was straightforward.  Directions were easy to follow.  Denise had sent me helpful online instructions as well, and I had watched the online tutorials.  
One important thing to note:  when filling the base with water/plant food use half strength Tower Tonic A and B.  This is noted in both online and paper instructions, but would be easy to miss.  I used 1/2 gallon mason jars and used filtered water.  I added the first 10 gallons, then added Tower Tonic A, then added 5 more gallons, then Tower Tonic B, then added the last 5 gallons of water.  The intial pH was 5.5.

I had ordered the seedlings from Living Towers and True Garden the same day I purchased the Tower Garden, and they arrived at the same time as the Tower Garden: four days later!  Both companies sent seedlings with strong shoots.
Living Towers Seedlings: Swiss Chard, Peppermint, Tarragon, Basil, Chives, Dill, Cucumbers, Green Beans, Squash, Sugar Snap Peas.
Overall, the seedlings from Living Towers were in excellent condition.  Most were young, fresh shoots.  The mint did have one leaf that with brown discoloration.  The cilantro looked fragile, but we'll see how it transplants.  The worst thing about the Living Towers shipment was the difficulty of removing the seedlings.  You have to remove wooden chopsticks from the sides before the seedlings can be removed, and it is very difficult to get the seedlings out without lifting the shoots themselves.  I ended up using the chopsticks to lift them out, but the process was not simple.
True Garden: Spinach, Green Onion, Rosemary, Eggplant, Thyme, Parsley, Sage, and Tomatoes
It was much easier to remove the plants from True Garden's packaging.  In addition, the company specifically states that many of the seedlings are grown organically.  Unfortunately, the plants were packaged in non-biodegradable plastic packing peanuts.  In addition, if you look carefully at the image above, you will see the sage, thyme and rosemary have leaves that are browning.  The leaves on the spinach are yellowing.  Still, most of these plants should flourish.  Some just required heavy pruning.
Eggplant + Tarragon
I placed 2 plants in some net pots.  I haven't found any other blogs where people have tried this, so it will be an experiment!  The tarragon came with 4 shoots, so I split it 2 and 2, and put one half with the eggplant and the other with sugar peas.  I chose pairings based on an online search of companion planting.  I ended up changing some of the parings from my initial plan due to the strength of certain seedlings.
Eggplant + Tarragon
Somehow I lost the instructions for assembling the cage.  Thankfully, Peggy Sheridan has posted them on a youtube video: Installing the Tomato Cage on the Tower Garden.

Setting up the timers was not intuitive.  Jill Jacoby has a helpful youtube video:  Tower Garden Timer.  The light timer is set up in the same way as the watering timer.  One thing to note:  you want the watering timer on "timer mode" so it will be on 15 min and off 45 min when inside.  The total process took 3 hours to complete.  I am still awaiting the organic seeds and the strawberry plants, so more posts to come when those arrive!  Below is a short video of the final set-up.


Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Tower Garden Planning

Showing off my Green America temporary tattoo at Greenfest
While at DC's Green Festival last weekend, I was introduced to Tower Gardens, a vertical aeroponics planting system.  The basic concepts follow:
  1. Seeds are started in rockwool (not soil).  Rockwool is commonly used in hydroponics systems and is made of basalt rock and chalk.
  2. Seeds are transplanted into a cylindrical tower and the roots grow into the center of the tower.  Tower dimensions are 30"x30" for the base and 62" height for the basic model.
  3. Seeds are watered regularly by water that circulates through the system at regular intervals.  The water tank holds 20 gallons.
  4. Trellis and grow lights can be purchased for indoor growing.

Advantages of having a home indoor garden include:
  • Environmental:  Disposable packing materials are reduced and fuel for transporting food is avoided
  • Nutritional:  Having immediately available fruits and vegetables increases likelihood of including them in the diet
  • Flavor:  Fresh, fruits and vegetables can be grown through winter and taste better than those picked while unripe and allowed to ripen during transit
  • Convenience:  Grocery store visits can be reduced.  Tower Garden requires very little maintenance (pruning and starting plants, checking pH weekly, and cleaning pump monthly- one video blogger estimated an hour per week).
  • Cost:  While the initial cost is steep, the money saved by a decreased grocery bill should pay for the Tower Garden in less than a year (depending on how much is usually spent on organic fruits and vegetables).

So I bought a Tower Garden!  I've read every post and watched every video I could find on others' progress with indoor gardening to help me plan.  I thought I could also post my successes and failures here, so others can learn from my mistakes.  While waiting for the Tower Garden to arrive, I've done plenty of research, which I will summarize below:

The first step is picking what plants to grow.

Per the Tower Garden website, for indoor gardening, non-fruiting plants tend to thrive better than fruiting plants indoors.  Stevec on TowerTalk summarized the reasons well
  1. Leaves tend to grow with blue spectrum lights around 6,000 kelvin (Tower Gardens grow lights are in the 6,500 kelvin range), while fruits tend to grow with red spectrum lights in the 3,00 kelvin range.  The comments section of this post links to a red spectrum light that can be purchased from an outside website.  I purchased 2, total cost $23.05.
  2. Fruiting plants require pollination, which will not occur naturally via honeybees while plants are indoors.  Plenty of self pollination tutorials exist online, including this one.
Self Pollination:

Basically, in order for fruiting plants to thrive, they will require self-pollination and may benefit from time with a red light during the fruiting phase.  I definitely want fruiting plants.  Several video-bloggers have documented successful growth of fruiting plants indoors with or without use of red spectrum lights:

I decided to go with the following plants:
  • Herbs:  Parsley, Cilantro, Basil, Rosemary, Sage, Thyme, Tarragon, Dill, Chives, Peppermint
  • Vegetables:  Eggplant, Zucchini, Cucumber, Tomatoes, Green Onions, Green Beans, Sugar Snap Peas
  • Fruit:  Watermelon, Cantaloupe, Strawberries
  • If I end up purchasing the Extension Kit, which supplies 8 additional growing sites, I will also plant Leeks, Kale, Lettuce, Savory, Hot Peppes and others (we'll see).
I don't anticipate that all of them will thrive.  It is likely I will ultimately have to limit large plants with vines to the 4 bottom slots as the root systems will probably all compete for space.  If 6 large vines do take off, I plan on pruning them away from the base and directing the plant away from the tower toward additional grow lights.  In addition, I am planning on planting 2 plants in a single slot, which may result in smaller plants as the roots compete for space, or only 1 of the 2 plants surviving.  I decided which plants to pair based on Wikipedia's Companion Planting List.

The second step is deciding where to place each plant in the tower garden.  My plan is to put most of the fruiting plants in 2 columns so I can eventually change the 2 blue lights to 2 red lights.  

1. Blue Light2. Blue/Red Light3. Blue/Red light4. Blue Light

The third step is to buy seeds or seedlings.  I wanted less hassle and quicker results for my initial planting so I started mostly with seedlings.  Tower Garden lists several vendors that supply seedlings started in rockwool, specifically for the Tower Garden system.  
  • From Living Tower Seedlings, I purchased seedlings: Swiss Chard, Peppermint, Tarragon, Basil, Chives, Dill, Cucumbers, Green Beans, Squash, Sugar Snap Peas.  Total price with shipping: $28.75.
  • From True Garden, I purchased seedlings: Spinach, Green Onion, Rosemary, Eggplant, Thyme, Parsley, Sage, and Tomatoes.  Total price with shipping: $28.50.
  • From Backyard Berry Plants, I ordered 4 Strawberry plants: Cardinal, Sonata, Yellow Wonder Alpine, and Vanilla Yellow/White Alpine.  Total Cost: $41.  Of note, strawberries from seeds can take over a year to fruit.
  • From High Mowing Seeds, I ordered seeds: Sugar Baby Watermelon, Orange Sherbet F1 Melon, Chinook F1 Leek, Vates Kale, and Summer Savory.  Total Cost $18.95.

Tower Gardens are sold as a part of a multilevel marketing plan.  My rep is Denise Pesavento, who has kept in close touch with me and has offered to stop by and personally help if I have questions regarding maintenance or setup!  Other hydroponic systems exist.  Many are noted in this blog post.  There are many DIY posts for aeroponics/hydroponics systems available as well.  The Tower Garden seems the most efficient and easy to maintain out of the ones I have viewed.

My Tower Garden should arrive within a week.  I'll post pictures once I have it up and running!