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To carb or not to carb, that is the question. I mean, who doesn’t love a low-carb diet? Feed me a steak wrapped in bacon with a side of broccoli and a potent drink, and I’m a happy girl. Help me lose twenty pounds in two months, and call me a believer. It’s been over 10 years since I first used the Atkins program to drop a quick twenty pounds. I’m talking quick, as in “no stop at size 9, just go straight to 5” kind of weight loss. I know I may sound vain, but it’s the world we live in.

Fresh meat and vegetables have been the backbone of my diet for close to a decade. My love for sushi satisfied my rice craving, and eating a basket of bread when I went out to eat was good enough for me. Meat, cheese, and vegetables became a habit. In my opinion, this was, for a while a healthier one. Healthier than eating processed packaged foods with ingredients I can’t pronounce, healthier than drinking calorie-laden fruit juices or eating sweet desserts. But as my sister likes to say,  “the only constant is change.”  I’ve come to distrust most packaged food. In my opinion, claims to safety lay unregulated and in the hands of lobbyists working towards a profit margin, without regard to the costs it takes from society.

My view on the food industry has changed substantially over the past few years and I find myself, once again, not wanting to eat meat. My views on tofu are similarly dismaying. When I see bread, I think of a crusty baguette or a soft ciabatta. I also see ten pounds hiding in between those delicious air pockets of happiness. Oh bread, how I have missed you. Now, to take away the guilt.

This journey began nearly two months ago, and I can proudly say that I have not only improved the nutritional value of my bread, but I have also lost five pounds without even trying.  My first attempt at “low carb” bread was the lowest low that my kitchen has yet to see. I thank my wonderful boyfriend for choking it down with a smile, while I couldn’t even bear the smell. My search for the perfect bread recipe continues. Yet, through these trials, I have learned several things, and these are what I pass along to you today.

#1. Not all flour is created equal.

By now, we should all know the differences between white and wheat flour. White bread is high on the glycemic index (some say higher than table sugar), causing your blood sugar to spike and your pancreas to secrete insulin in an attempt to regain balance. This constant fluctuation contributes to fat storage, weight gain and is especially harmful for diabetes. On the other hand, Whole-wheat flour includes all three parts of the grain: the bran, germ and endosperm. The bran and germ are full of fiber and nutrients, leading you to feel fuller, longer. While whole-wheat flour is a step in the right direction; in my opinion it is still relatively lacking in terms of nutrient density versus calories. If you can, play around with less common flours such as buckwheat, spelt, oat and sprouted grains. They have higher protein and fiber counts. When shopping Whole Wheat flours, check your packaging to ensure that you are purchasing 100% Whole Wheat Flour. I have found that just because it is brown, it does not make it 100% Whole Wheat.

Whole Wheat Flour Nutrition Data

Whole Wheat Flour Nutrition Data

Buckwheat Flour Nutrition Data

Buckwheat Flour Nutrition Data

#2. Use seeds, grains and meals.

The first time I picked up a bag of Ground Flax Meal at the local grocer, I thought to myself “self, why am I spending $3.89 on a bag of seeds? This isn’t sustenance. I could be buying meat or vegetables.” Kicking a habit is never an easy thing to do. In retrospect, I realize that buying a bag of flax seed was one of the best $4.00 purchases I have ever made in my life.  Close in the running is a delicious Pint of micro-brew that I enjoyed on a sunlit patio in Boulder, Colorado. However, the flax seed lasts longer and has even more nutrients than beer. (Yes, beer is nutritious).

Studies show that flax seed has many health benefits;  it is full of anti-oxidants, omega-3’s and fiber. It’s been called the “wonder food” and has been linked to fighting cancer and diabetes. Wheat bran and wheat germ are also great nutrient dense fillers, and both are available nationally through Bob’s Red Mill for less than $4.00 a package. Keep in mind that everyone has a different tolerance to high fiber foods. Do your research and play around with the measurements until you find one that suits you.

Wheat Bran Nutrition Data

Wheat Bran Nutrition Data

Flaxseed Meal Nutrition Data

Flaxseed Meal Nutrition Data

Old Fashion Oats Nutrition Data

Old Fashion Oats Nutrition Data

Raw Hemp Seeds

Raw Hemp Seeds Nutrition Data

#3. If I can do it, you can do it.
Bread is forgiving and nearly impossible to make taste bad. Baking a handmade whole wheat pizza, baguette or focaccia bread is a gratifying experience. A simple flat bread is virtually effortless. It is inexpensive and easy to make. Experiment with seeds and nuts for greater nutrient content. And, while my journey continues into sprouted grains, spelt and buckwheat flours. I know I will eventually stumble upon a perfect low carb, high fiber, guilt free recipe that tastes delicious. Until then, try these incredibly economical, easy, fun, recipes for all your baked goods. These are my go-to bread recipes. Just remember, to swap out the white flour completely, every time. Add a few servings of flax meal, wheat germ, wheat bran or hemp seeds to increase the nutrient density. And, as always, feel free to comment with any suggestions on how I can bring this exploration for the perfect guilt-free bread to a fruitful end.


My favorite flat breads and foccacia.

Flaxseed Flatbread

Flaxseed Flatbread

Rosemary and Garlic Flaxseed Flatbread

Rosemary and Garlic Flaxseed Flatbread


Whole Wheat Pizza Dough

Whole Wheat and Flax Pizza Dough

Whole Wheat and Flax Pizza Dough

Healthy Pizza Dough

Whole Wheat and Flax Pizza Dough


Perfect French Baguette

Whole Wheat and Flax Baguette

Whole Wheat and Flax Baguette

Roasted Red Pepper & Basil Baguette

Roasted Red Pepper & Basil Baguette

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Free Items from coupons.

Free items "scored" from couponing.

Okay, I will admit it. For two weeks after watching the famous TLC show, I was an extreme couponer. Now it seems that everywhere I look, “coupons” are a topic of discussion. My friends begged me to “show them the way” so they could be part of the “revolution.” As with anything, I can only tell you of my experiences. Every grocery chain is different. Some offer double manufacturer coupons while some do not. (My particular store has a promotion where all coupons are worth $1.00. Keep in mind that although it helps, it isn’t a necessity to score free goodies).

The first thing you will need is coupons. Pick up your local Sunday paper and take a look through the inserts. Next, find out what your local grocer’s coupon policies are. Get flyers from the store or browse through the aisles. Look for items that cost less than your coupon value. Simple huh? Sure is. Now for the tricky part. I found that in my local store, I received a greater discount if I bought in quantities of four. So, in order for these items to be free, I needed to have at least four coupons on hand (1 per item) so I could receive the sale price. Get it? Good. So, the issue arises: How to obtain a large quantity of newspaper inserts without having to pay $2.00 per paper? Of course, none of the products are actually free if you are paying $20.00 for a stack of newspapers. For starters, I would advise checking with neighbors, co-workers, local businesses or online. My local Dollar Tree sells Sunday papers for $1.00 throughout the week. Personally, I found a woman online who was selling the inserts at a fraction of the price for each paper. I also made friends with a local business who allowed me to pick through the leftover papers at the end of the night. In total, I spent $8.00 on 45 inserts (3 inserts per Sunday paper). In addition to all the items pictured above, I also received sixteen free tubes of toothpaste and six chapsticks. As you can notice in the photo, the $1.00 bill and the eggs in the picture were also free. Some stores will offer cash back in excess of any coupon, and some stores don’t. Check your local grocer’s policy. As of today, Walmart’s coupon policy states that it offers cash back, so you may want to start there.

Coupon Organizer

Coupon Organizer

The first week was spent scouring the weekly ads and flipping through pages of inserts. Eventually, instead of cutting the coupons I made a quick Excel document listing the manufacturer, expiration date and insert name and date. I organized my inserts by name and date, and kept the printable coupons filed alphabetically by manufacturer. Everything was logged into Excel and then filed away. If you are serious about couponing, I highly recommend that you take the extra time to do this. Creating an Excel file will make it easy to do a quick search when you see items at the store that may correspond with a coupon. There are websites that will do this work for you, but each local store has different sales. If I had depended on the websites alone, I would of missed out on a slew of free items. Definitely check the websites weekly, because they will include printable coupons for free items as well. Here are a few links to coupon match-up sites:

http://www.livingrichwithcoupons.com
http://www.savingcentswithsense.net
http://thekrazycouponlady.com/

At the end of two weeks, I amassed over $200.00 in products. I created the perfect system and then, I just stopped. It wasn’t a conscious decision. I think it was my brain acting in self defense. I can see how easily this hobby can become a compulsion. Who doesn’t love free stuff? Watching your total rise and drop at check-out creates a rush of adrenalin. Walking out of the store with a cart-full of free products leaves you on an endorphin high. Neurotransmitters firing frantically, all over some free groceries. Would I do it again? Yes, but I could not make extreme couponing into a regular hobby. I watch the people on television, and I feel that they are slaves to their coupons. As a single woman, with no kids I feel that it takes more time than I am willing to allot. I will choose to get my endorphine highs at the gym or hiking a mountain, thank you very much. As someone who chooses home-made beauty products over synthetic chemical-laden ones; I have no need for many of the products advertised. However, I recommend that everyone try “extreme couponing” at least once. The best day for it, is on your birthday.

Birthday coupons are by far my favorites in the world of discounts and bargains. Last year, my birthday month consisted of one delicious free meal after another. If you haven’t already signed up for the email clubs of all your favorite restaurants, do it now!! Some of the highlights from my birthday couponing last year were: a free $30 gift card to Benihana’s, a free meal at BD’S Mongolian barbeque, a free entree at Brio Tuscan, free breakfast at IHOP, free ice cream at Baskin Robbins, free sub at Jersey Mike’s and a free cheeseburger at Ruby Tuesday’s. I had so many free meal coupons, I could not even use them all. Many of the coupons are valid for the entire month, leaving you with plenty of time to take advantage of the savings. Just be sure to tip properly (on the total amount before discount). To make it easier, I created an email address that I use specifically for discount clubs. Here are a few links I found from a quick search for free birthday coupons:

http://www.heyitsfree.net/birthday-freebies
http://www.frugalliving.tv/free-stuff/birthday-freebies.html
http://www.joinemailclubs.com/

That’s my recap on the art of extreme couponing. Fellow couponers, feel free to share your stories, links or helpful tidpits. Novices, go ahead and spoil yourself; It’s free.

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DIY Coasters

It’s mid-January as I write this. Seemingly recovered from the hangover of the holidays. Except, this year the consumption was not due to the excesses of whiskeys and sweet liqueurs, but instead of rubber cement and Modge Podge. At one point, my apartment seemed like Santa’s workshop gone awry. Piles of ribbons and bows, boxes, card stock and ceramic tiles. Yes, tiles.

DIY Decoupage Tile Coasters

I came across this lovely idea at: http://www.stylemepretty.com/2009/03/30/diy-coasters and I thought that in these days of “economical downturn” it would be the perfect gift for friends and family. Creative, useful and most of all inexpensive. At less than $1.00 per set, they make great gifts. Or, as the original link implies, wedding or party favors. As my boyfriend noted, coasters are one of those things that many people don’t buy for themselves, yet everyone can use.

It was an arduous process; At times I thought I was giving myself brain damage from the fumes of the glue as I tried desperately to adhere the cork board to the edges of the tile. Along the way, I learned that you can save yourself a ton of aggravation and time by using the self adhesive cork liner found in the cabinet section of your local home improvement store. The kicker was that it was my boyfriend (of course) who had accidentally found it. Three weeks into my “war on glue”, I was inhaling rubber cement and a host of other toxic adhesives, when he returned home with a sheet of cork-board, that while flimsier and thinner that the others, was completely self adhesive. Ahhh. . . the heavens open as angels sing joyous songs of celebration. It figures, my haphazard messiah shrugged off his seemingly miraculous solution to my vexing problem of adhesion in the world of Christmas crafting with a simple, “It’s all I could find”.

For this project, you will need:

1. Space. Depending on if your making four or forty; these little guys take a while to dry and require several layers of glue and varnish.

2. Time. Most of the work can be done from the comfort of the couch, while watching movies (or in my case, two seasons of Ancient Aliens). However, you must allow each layer to dry completely before starting the next. So, plan accordingly and do not stack the coasters until they are completely dry.

3. Ceramic tiles from your local home improvement store. I used 4″ by 4″ white tiles that cost $.10 a piece.

4. Decoupage Glue such as Modge Podge.
(If you are truly cash strapped, you can make your own decoupage glue with a mixture of flour and water, or water down white craft glue for the same effect http://www.ehow.com/way_5852511_diy-mod-podge-decoupage.html. You would however, need extra layers of varnish to ensure that they are waterproof)

5. Polyurethane or similar varnish

6. Exact-o-knife, scissors or razor
(I was fortunate to have a paper cutter, which makes for much easier execution)

7. Paper: Scrap Booking Paper, Card Stock, Colored Paper, Maps, Photographs, Love Letters, Magazine Cutouts; The list is endless. As long as it is made from paper, you can decoupage it.

8. Foam Brushes

9. Ruler

10. Sandpaper (optional)

11. Cork Board or Felt for bottom of coasters

12. Glue (if not using self adhesive cork)

DIY Decoupage Coaster Supplies

DIY Coaster Supplies

Step 1. Take a precise measurement of your tile and cut your paper to be .25″ smaller. If you have 4″ x 4″ tiles, cut your paper to 3.75″ x 3.75″. I like to work in stages, so I cut all my paper at once.

Optional step: If you like, you can sand and paint the edges of the tile. (I had a few bottles of toxic-free white out that I used to paint the edges of the black and white tiles to give better contrast. I chose to leave the colored tiles unpainted, for a more natural look).

Step 2. Clean the tile to remove any particles (the original post recommends using rubbing alcohol).

Step 3. Create a work surface (old t-shirt, towel etc.) Decoupage will stick to paper, as it is intended and can ruin your hard work if you are not careful. (I used an old t-shirt over an ottoman cover)

DIY COASTER WORK SURFACE EXAMPLE

Example of a work surface for DIY Coasters.

Step 4. Brush the tile with the decoupage glue, working in one direction. Try to get as close to the edges as possible.

Step 5. Using your fingers, start in the middle of the tile and the smooth the paper outward towards the edges (this should remove any air bubbles that may be trapped underneath).

Let dry approximately fifteen minutes

Step 6. Brush a second layer of decoupage across the tile. Keep in mind that the brush-strokes will be slightly visible when dry, so try to keep your lines as straight as possible. You can paint each layer in the same direction, or alternate directions creating a hatch-mark effect.

Let dry approximately fifteen minutes

Repeat this process until the paper is fully adhered. (I used two – three coats, depending on the thickness of the paper)

Step 7. Apply varnish. It is very important to make sure that you let each layer completely dry or will you will end up with air bubbles in your finished product.

DECOUPAGE TILE COASTERS

DIY TILE COASTERS

Step 8. Attach the liner to the bottom of your tile. If you are fortunate enough to have found the cork shelf liner, just cut and peel. If you are using glue to adhere the cork or felt, I had the most success with rubber cement or heavy duty craft glue. Be sure to use these in well ventilated areas.

There are infinite ways to decorate your coasters. You can use stamps, stencils, ribbons, or paint. Sparkles and seashells, leather, satin or lace. The inspiration post shows beautiful, professional looking wrappings. As my coasters were not favors for an elegant affair but rather a small token of appreciation for the many special friends in my life; I chose ribbon. All in all, besides the “war against glue” and the space issues that arose from the project, they were a huge success. Happy crafting!!

And for all of you non-crafters, my handcrafted items are also available for purchase at www.warpeddna.com.

DIY Decoupage Tile Coasters

Decoupage Tile Coasters

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