Life Is Like a Batch Of Spinach Artichoke Dip….

When I’m in the kitchen, I feel as though I truly belong (insert expected stereotypes and various snickers from the peanut gallery). No really, though, I de-stress in the kitchen. When I am cooking, nothing can hurt me. It’s better than any bubble bath with added glass of wine (again, add various “did she really just say that?!”‘s and *gasp!*s). Just let me get in the kitchen and cook to my heart’s content. 

I have recently started bringing both of my children into the kitchen with me. My son is starting to show enough maturity to where he will actually listen to me instead of talk over me and act like he knows what he’s doing (a common occurrence in nearly eight-year-old boys). My 16-month-old daughter likes to play with the utensils more than actually cook, so I usually let her have a wooden spoon or a spatula so that she can get more familiar with the instrument by banging it on various surfaces, up to and including the counter, stools, cabinets, and her highchair. They make for very cool musical instruments for toddlers.

Meanwhile, on another glorious day in the kitchen (again, queue snickers, stereotypes, and judgmental obscenities) I thought about how much I missed spinach artichoke dip. It was my favorite appetizer to order whenever our family went out to eat, and I wondered if I could make it near as good as some of the places I had had it (Olive Garden was in the top three). I went ahead and looked up some recipes for it, but none of them really appealed to me. They didn’t use near the fresh ingredients I would expect them to, or I thought that maybe the dip would come out kinda bland. So I took some inspiration from a few recipes (including one from FoodNetwork.com) and combined them, with a few twists of my own (you may find my final version here: ).  Another bright idea I had found, on Pinterest (yes yes I know, very typical) was to slather it onto bread and grill it. GENIUS! 

The end result was fabulous. While my son won’t come within five feet of the stuff, myself, my husband, and my daughter all chowed down. I did not envy my son’s leftover macaroni and cheese dinner, nor did I wish someone else had made it. This was my victory, no matter how small, it was still mine.

I hope you all try this recipe. Feel free to send me some feedback on the recipe page with any added tips or tricks! 

Live to Mangia! another day!

 

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Eating Clean On The Go: Impossible….Or Is It?

This past weekend, my family and I took a trip back to our hometown of Needles, CA. Needles is about three hours from where we are currently stationed. Fortunately for us, we were able to stay with family while we were there. With a tighter budget than normal, we were forced to cut back on trips to the local eateries – which is mostly fast food joints and Denny’s.

Our last day there, however, we decided to go to Denny’s for brunch. Horrible mistake.

Do not mistake this post as a review, nor me bashing going out to eat every now and then. I was reminded today, however, why we don’t go out to eat very often. It all started with the highchair. I had requested a highchair for my daughter, which was completely overlooked by the host (I think he is new). I waited ten minutes for him to get it with a clear view of him standing at his post twiddling his thumbs after he seated us. I walked up to him, told him that I still needed a highchair (politely!) and he looked at me like I had two heads, THEN remembered. He promptly got the highchair, and brought it back to our table. Well, next came my disgust. The highchair was covered in two different kinds of syrup and there was food all over the bottom. He had brought me the dirtiest high chair ever. I actually got out my own baby wipes and cleaned it. The waiter came, saw me cleaning it, and asked if I was ready to order. I told him that I was too busy cleaning up the highchair to even look at the menu. He looked at me and apologized, then walked away without offering to finish what was most likely HIS job. 

Then came the food. We ordered my daughter a grilled cheese and mashed potatoes, no gravy, side of butter. My daughter ate all of her potatoes, which I had tasted first. Sadly, they tasted like they came out of a box. I ordered a deluxe chicken salad with a side of ranch. The only thing edible in my salad was the iceberg lettuce, and even that was a bit wilted. My tomatoes weren’t ripe, my cucumbers were cut too thick (SKIN ON! Ugh….anyone who likes cucumbers knows to eat them without skin due to WAX!!!), and the chicken….omg. The “grilled chicken” was filled with grizzle, most likely from too much processing. It was awful. 

My husband and son’s orders were okay, but my husband had to send back his food due to a screw up in his order. He didn’t seem all that impressed with his ham or his hash browns. My son was the only one of us who ate his pizza and apples happily. and my daughter threw her grilled cheese on the floor. I know Denny’s isn’t exactly a gourmet eatery, but I remember them not only using fresh ingredients, but also having their (fancy language moment) shit together. Really guys? 

Which brings me back to my original point: Eating clean on the go. As restaurants are unpredictable and more food comes from a box than nature in most eateries nowadays, it is much more convenient (and cheaper!) to bring your own food on trips, or buy it from the local grocery store and stock your hotel fridge. Where we stayed, at my mother-in-law’s, we had a mini fridge, and we stocked it with our essentials – organic produce for snacks and apples. We also ate at their house mostly. While they aren’t as clean eaters as we are, what they served was WAY better than any restaurant. Most would argue that I am biased toward clean eating because I have been doing it so long – which they may be partially right, but I also know that this just means I have gotten to know quality food, and I know that it comes from nature, and is not processed to the point of a second death. I also know that it is cheaper in the long run, as our Denny’s trip cost us $36 for four people. Cost of dinners at my place? $10-15 for four people. Cost of dinner at my mother-in-law’s? Free.

I urge you all to consider making your next trip one where you bring your own food. While we didn’t do that this time, we did purchase our own essentials at the grocery store. I truly preferred my organic apples to that “salad” I had today. I would have saved $36 if it had not been for my own laziness. Lesson learned: don’t eat at Denny’s, no matter what the circumstance.

Until next time,

Jill ❤

 

The Difference Between “All Natural” and All Natural

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Recently, you may have noticed a slew of brands slapping the words “all natural” onto their labels. Before I go any further, let me clarify what “all natural” really means. All natural means “made/grown in nature”. Why am I going over something most of us already know?

Because “all natural” labels can be really misleading. Sadly, most Americans don’t know that they are being mislead. It all comes down to this simple fact: most leading brands that slap “all natural” onto their labels actually contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs). You may have seen me use this term before. Let’s just call GMOs he “ultimate crap”. What exactly are GMOs? According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) can be defined as organisms in which the genetic material (DNA) has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally”. 

So let’s get this straight. Companies, such as Hunts, are claiming that their tomato products are all natural because they have no preservatives, yet they contain genetically modified tomatoes. If I’m reading this right, Hunts is lying. Big time. As are many other companies.

Let me clarify something else here. Why are GMOs so dangerous, you ask? Well according to the WHO, “The initial objective for developing plants based on GM organisms was to improve crop protection. The GM crops currently on the market are mainly aimed at an increased level of crop protection through the introduction of resistance against plant diseases caused by insects or viruses or through increased tolerance towards herbicides.” That last sentence basically means they can put even more pesticides and herbicides, aka more poison, onto your food. Not only that, but crop protection? Farmers are being sued because GM seeds are being blown into their fields, and not only is there nothing they can do about it, but laws are being put in place that are allowing this to occur. Worst of all? These seeds aren’t even approved for mass production! 

So, WHO, are GM foods safe? “Different GM organisms include different genes inserted in different ways. This means that individual GM foods and their safety should be assessed on a case-by-case basis and that it is not possible to make general statements on the safety of all GM foods.”

So basically, they don’t know. >.<. For all they know, GM foods are poisoning us all.

Why aren’t they labeled? Because the big companies who produce these foods have people all the way up the “food” chain (pardon the pun) paid off to block all bills to label them (including our dear President, who promised to do so back when he was first elected!). 

What’s more, the 40 nations that do label GMOs – including all of Europe – are not only well informed, but the companies that do use GMOs here, do not put GMOs in the food that is imported to those countries! Shocking, I know. But here, in the good old U.S., it’s all about money. If money can block GMO labeling and keep most Americans from being as well informed as the Europeans are, then imagine what else that money is going toward. Did you know that they now want to put pig genes in oranges? While I like bacon, I don’t want it mixed in my orange juice.

So which GM foods are the most common? Here is a short list:

  1. Corn
  2. Rice
  3. Tomatoes (some, most common is beefsteak)
  4. Soy
  5. White potatoes
  6. Cottonseed Oil
  7. Peas
  8. Canola OIl
  9. Wheat
  10. Zucchini
  11. Crook neck squash
  12. Alfalfa for feed
  13. Papaya
  14. Salmon

Bet you didn’t know you were eating a bunch of the ultimate crap, right?

It’s simple folks. While an organic diet can be expensive, if you avoid the list above and shop at your local farmers market, it can be pretty easy to live GMO-free. Of course, it is essential to avoid most processed foods, especially those manufactured by major brands such as Hunts, Craft, Nestle, Hersheys, Frito/Lay, etc. Remember: just because it says it’s all natural, doesn’t mean it is! Make sure you do your research before purchasing a product. Learn to read your labels as well! Here is what you need to know when purchasing produce:

  1. If the five-digit number on the label starts with “9”, the produce is organic.
  2. If the five-digit number on the label starts with “4”, the produce was conventionally grown with pesticides.
  3. If the five-digit number on the label begins with a “3” or an “8”, it’s a GMO. 

For more information on GMOs (these were my sources as well, please visit these sites):

http://www.who.int/foodsafety/publications/biotech/20questions/en/

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/edison-de-mello-md-phd/gmos_b_3854198.html

 

Go Ahead, Look – I’m Just Feeding My Daughter!

As a mom, I have dealt with many triumphs and struggles when it comes to my children. My son was the easiest baby in the world. He was not only born right on his due date, but he was also born naturally. He didn’t cry much, slept in his crib, drank his bottle (after four-months-old), and ate his food. He had no real complaints – except the potty. Lord, he hated the potty. He would go #2, but never #1, in the potty, til he was about three-years-old. 

Then there is my daughter. She also came on her due date, via medically induced emergency C-section. Basically, the umbilical cord was wrapped around her leg, and when my doctor and labor nurse forced pitocin on me despite a beautifully naturally progressing labor, they put her in distress. Yes, I am still pissed about this. Anyhow, she never did like sleeping by herself, cried A LOT (colic/reflux), and despite her sunny disposition during the day, still cries a lot and refuses to sleep by herself. These are blessings, however – to me, this shows that she is attached to her mommy, which at 14 months old, is not a bad thing at all. 

And get this – I am still nursing her. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I am one of those moms that is going to let her baby wean herself. I refuse to force her to wean. While 12 months of nursing may be “enough” to everyone else, it is not enough for my daughter, and whatever isn’t enough for her, isn’t enough for me. End of story.

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But it’s not really the end. I am not going to sit here and bitch about how people ask me to cover up by coming up with the now cliche retort of “Well then why don’t you put a blanket over your head?” nor am I going to listen as you berate me for my choice. Wanna know why?

You’re not me, and you’re not my daughter.

That, and I’ll just ignore you. Moreover, I may even try and change your mind. I am not only a nursing mother, but I am a PROUD nursing mother. There is absolutely nothing anyone can say that will make me succumb to their ignorant, completely misguided views on breastfeeding, in public and at home. I am more shocked than anything on how breastfeeding has been twisted into this obscene act, how people give me dirty looks for feeding my daughter in the most natural way possible without covering up. Did you know it is actually legal for me to feed my daughter without a cover? Did you also know, in many other countries, such as Mongolia, the average age of weaning is seven-years-old? SEVEN WHOLE YEARS! In the U.S., less than 40% of infants are exclusively breastfed. This is alarming. Not only given the cost of formula, but the lack of essential nutrients other than vitamins that these children are receiving! After all, formula doesn’t contain essential antibodies to help fight against disease like breastmilk. 

I gained 32 pounds during pregnancy. To date, 14 months postpartum, I have lost almost 40 pounds. Breastfeeding helped me do that. Does formula help with weight loss? Does formula help prevent breast and ovarian cancer? I didn’t think so!

Keep in mind, I do NOT judge formula feeding mothers – especially if they tried to breastfeed their children. I would not ever insult a mother for doing what is most comfortable for her and what most benefits her child. It is unfortunate that society – doctors, peers, etc.- have such a skewed view of breastfeeding. Hospitals are paid to advertise formula, to hand it out as the solution right when there is a problem. If your baby loses three ounces in the hospital, they try to shove formula down an infant’s throat. It’s awful, and appalling. My daughter is so lucky to have the pediatrician she does – in fact, her pediatrician encouraged me when I thought I would fail due to the issues my daughter had in her first few months of life (see above). 

All in all, nursing my daughter is something very dear to me. I know that I have given her the best possible food I can give her, aside from teaching her about clean eating. I honestly don’t care what the general public thinks of this choice. If they can look at scantily clad females plastered all over public billboards, commercials, advertisements, posters, and movies, me feeding my daughter shouldn’t be that big of a deal, right? After all, it’s just a boob!

Oh look, there it is! Can you believe my audacity? I’m nursing! The horror! The shame!…….NOT! 😉

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  As you can see by the look of contentment on my daughter’s sleeping face, that she is satisfied, and that is all that matters to me. I will proudly continue to nurse her until she is good and ready to wean. Don’t think I will? Watch me! 

A “21 Seasoning” Salute to You!

It has been far too long since I last communicated with you, my fellow foodies and beloved audience. Alas, I have been gone WAY too long, leaving this, my brain child, neglected and alone in cyberspace. *cries*

Really folks, school, Thirty-One, and familial responsibilities have all been taking my valuable time away. While I know this reasoning is highly forgivable, it’s the lack of inspiration that is not. I haven’t felt inspired to write at all, at least not anything interesting. 

UNTIL NOW! 
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While again perusing my favorite store (Trader Joe’s, in case some of you never got the hint or simply didn’t know XD), I spotted a seasoning that looked interesting. It is Trader Joe’s brand “21 Seasoning Salute”. I couldn’t help my curiousity – I picked up the bottle and read the ingredients, which include cayenne pepper, parsley, basil, orange peel, lemon juice powder, and garlic, among others – and put it in the cart, anxious to try it. This stuff seemed right up my alley – I am a lover of bold flavor, and 21 seasonings is most likely pretty bold. 

 

When I got home, I could not WAIT to open it up and smell it. It was an anticipation that I hoped wouldn’t disappoint. Seriously. Seasoning gets me excited (No, not THAT type of excited, you perv :P). It was pretty amazing. The anticipation was NOT a disappointment, in fact, it was RIGHT on target. So my bright idea last night was marinate chicken in the seasoning, salt, pepper, and olive oil. Simple enough. AND IT WAS DELICIOUS. Pair it with some roasted garlic red potatoes and lemon butter green beans? YUM. I was NOMMING last night. So simple and SO GOOD. I can’t wait to experiment with it on mashed potatoes, steak, burgers, and even in homemade mayonnaise! I know right? Trader Joe’s 21 Seasoning aioli….possibly coming to this blog 😉 we shall see!

In the meantime, I will be posting more recipes as soon as I have the photos to accompany. After all, we all eat with our eyes first! 

Until next time, mangia!

Jill

Going All Natural Means Natural Products, Too?

Yup. I said it. This means egg masks and leeches. HUZZAH!

Haha, just kidding (although I won’t count the top two out for their health benefits, you won’t see me using them personally ;))

Yes, you can make your own products, such as laundry detergent, body butter, soap, shampoo, conditioner, and even glass and multipurpose cleaner. Obviously this isn’t the full list but this is just to give you an idea of the possibilities that are out there.

While you can make your own, it’s much easier to buy them, as we all know. Those of us with busy lives can’t make absolutely everything, it’s too time consuming. With two kids, school, and running my household, I barely have time for my blog! While I do make my own cleaner, bleach, and laundry detergent, I wanted to point out some brands that sell ready made products that are free of harsh chemicals and won’t hurt the environment.  

Household: Seventh Generation, The Honest Company, Melaleuca, Watkins, Charlie’s Soap, Full Circle Mom, Earth Friendly Products, PureGreen24, Biokleen, Mrs. Meyers

Beauty: Burt’s Bees, enkido, Lemongrass Spa, Earth Mama Angel Baby, Jason, Babo Botanicals, Avalon Organics, Melaleuca, Peter Lamas, A Beautiful Life Brands, Nature’s Baby Organic, Life’s Natural BodyCare, YesTo, Dr. Bronners, Fundamental Earth, Alba Botanica, Aubrey Organics, California Baby, Trukid, Verefina

There is also a Web site which you can go to and check the safety of your products – EWG – http://www.ewg.org/ – this site has reviews on over 80,000 personal care products and info on toxic food chemicals and GMOs. 

As far as natural products go, I sell wonderful natural lip balms, deodorant, sugar scrubs, lotions, first aid and immunity products, and essential oils through Verefina. This company is what made me fall in love with natural products and they will make you fall in love with them, too! Visit my website for more information: http://jilljohnson.verefina.net/

This has been your periodic informational blog post brought to you by: ME! Until next time! Oh, and stop by to check for new recipes in the next few days (yes, I said RECIPES).Image

Kale & The Culinary Black Thumb

I was perusing the produce section of my local Trader Joe’s one sunny Sunday afternoon, when I stumbled upon a bag of Trader Joe’s brand organic kale. I had seen it used in recipes on Food Network, another of my “vices”, so I thought, why not? I had never had it before, and I knew it was considered a “superfood”, so I grabbed a bag, put it in my cart, and went on shopping.

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A few days later, I wanted to make stir-fry for dinner, but had had a very long day with my daughter and was REALLY tired. My wonderful husband volunteered to make it – under my supervision, of course. You see, Brad calls himself a “culinary black thumb” – last night he managed to completely murder a three step Alfredo sauce to which he was given full instructions on how to do. I typed them out in full detail in a text message to which he responded “ok”. Cause of death? An inability to stir, or read. The food coroner can’t quite determine, but the sauce looked like someone threw up their liver.

Anyway, back to my story. I didn’t want to use the conventional stir-fry veggies you find in a bag in the frozen section of most grocery stores, you know, being filled with GMOs and salt, 5+so I decided to use the veggies we already had in our fridge and freezer (mostly organic frozen and a couple fresh). I looked in my fridge in the veggie drawer and I saw the kale, thought, “why not? It probably tastes close to bok choy” and told my hubby to throw in about 1/4 the bag, like all of the other veggies. We ended up using five veggies – peas, baby carrots, bell peppers, broccoli, and kale – all organic. He cooked the veggies in olive oil on medium low heat for a while, say about 20 minutes, successfully sweating them out, which releases TONS of flavor (this also makes the veggies really soft, which we like). After the veggies were cooked, he placed them in a large bowl and added some more olive oil to the frying pan. He then added the cubed chicken to the pan along with some salt, pepper, and onion powder (our son HATES onions, but doesn’t have a problem with the flavor). Brad turned the heat up and let the chicken pieces sear to a golden brown. Once the chicken was cooked, he then removed it to the same bowl the cooked veggies were in. While he was doing all of this, I was whisking together 3/4 cup of Trader Joe’s soy sauce and 3/4 cup raw blue agave nectar with 1 tbs garlic powder in a small bowl. Then I poured the mixture into the hot frying pan and used a plastic serving spoon to scrape up the bottom of the pan to incorporate some of those flavors into the sauce. Once the sauce simmered for a few minutes, I poured the sauce onto the veggies and chicken.

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After microwaving a bag of organic jasmine rice (brown is pictured as that is all I have to use as an example), Brad served the four of us the stir fry over the rice. Let me just say, this is some of the most DELICIOUS food I have ever tasted – all completely clean. I would rather eat this than any take-out.

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I just want to point out that even the “worst” of cooks can make good, clean food using the most basic of elements. My husband is a self-proclaimed “culinary black thumb”, but he makes a delicious stir-fry. Chicken and vegetables go a long way and can be made into a variety of dishes with a few minor tweaks in ingredients. This knowledge creates a different kind of satisfaction in how we eat, and makes me miss all the “crap” much, much less.

Keep on cookin’, even if you think you suck at it, you will soon find your niche 😉

Until next time,

Jill

March On Monsanto – Make A Difference!

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As most of you are aware, I blog about my family’s adventure in the world of clean living. I am a huge supporter of a healthy, environmentally conscious lifestyle.  

I am also an activist. Though I am forced to miss out on in person events such as this due to family obligations, I do what I can from home and online. I believe in the March Against Monsanto. This company is wholly evil, and is not only poisoning us with their genetically modified food, but they are bleeding farmers dry as well as killing off our bee population. Countries such as Russia, Germany, and Greece have all banned Monsanto’s food from being sold. You can view a complete list of countries who have banned Monsanto’s food from being sold at: http://politicalvelcraft.org/2013/03/23/monsanto-has-been-removed-and-banned-by-austria-bulgaria-germany-greece-hungary-ireland-japan-luxembourg-madeira-new-zealand-peru-south-australia-russia-france-and-switzerland/

I encourage you all, my readers, to protest this awful company by avoiding GMO foods. A list of companies who use Monsanto’s horrible GMOs are in the picture below. Let us fight for change by boycotting these companies to tell them that we will not be poisoned any longer! As Martin Luther King, Jr, once said, “He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.”

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Versatile Blogger Award

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I was nominated by Courage To Run for the Versatile Blogger Award. Thank you ma’am!

The Versatile Blogger Rules

1) Add The Versatile Blogger award photo on a blog post

2) Thank the person (or animal) who presented you with the award and link back to him or her in your post

3) Share seven things about yourself

4) Pass the award along to 15 favorite bloggers. Contact the chosen bloggers to let them know about the award.

7 things about me:

1. There are no three people on this Earth I love more than my husband and two children. I’d like to think I’m THE super mom of super moms. ^_^
2. I’m a Trekkie. I boldly go…everywhere. Patrick Stewart is my hero. I despise Doctor Who.
3. I am passionate about music, moreso than food. I have been singing since I was 3 years old, and I play three instruments. I can also sing in two other languages – Japanese and Russian.
4. I’m incredibly stubborn. When my mind is made up, it’s MADE UP.
5. I’m an amazing debater – and it pisses my husband off ;).
6. I’m an otaku. Don’t know what that is? Google it!
7. I love all things in nature. Except spiders. I FUCKING HATE SPIDERS. And mushrooms!

15 of my favorite bloggers:

1. No Fruit After Dark
2. Chef Nedra
3. A Opinionated Man
4. A Boy With A Hat
5. My Vegan Meals
6. Shayla Can Cook
7. Vegan Food Preparation
8. My Sublime Life
9. Matt On Not-Wordpress
10. Huzna’s Ideas
11. Bread Love And Dreams
12. Small Potatoes
13. Doodlemum
14. Mama Papa Bubba
15. Some Species Eat Their Young

Clean Eating, In Laws, and Avocados

We just hosted my mother-in-law and brother-in-law at our place this weekend. Rest assured, she is NOT the mother-in-law from hell, and my brother-in-law and I get along very well.

However, they were a bit skeptical about clean eating.

So, I did what any good, resourceful foodie would do – I cooked. Not just any old meat and potatoes, but my mom’s original chicken devan recipe. Vegetarian fed chicken, organic frozen broccoli, smothered in a Vermont sharp cheddar cheese and white wine sauce. 

Yeah, I know, you’re salivating just HEARING about it. Good thing I don’t have pictures…yet 😉

Anyway, they loved it, and couldn’t believe that it was a clean meal. I mean hey, I love food, and what I make is gonna have flavor. To halfway quote my late grandmother, freaking mangia!

Also, my daughter is CRAZY about avocados. We went to breakfast today and I ordered an omelette with avocado. I decided to cut up one of the slices and give it to my little Serenity (along with my cheesecake pancake. I couldn’t help it, it may be crap but it’s DELICIOUS crap, and I didn’t use my cheat day yet;) ). She pushed the pancake out of the way after tasting both and went straight for the avocado. Man am I a proud mama today! She has also recently become mobile in the form of actual crawling. Not that half-crawl, half-doing-the-worm thing she WAS doing, and I can barely keep up. I think between good, clean food and her copious amounts of energy, I’m gonna have my hands quite full. 

Recipe for the delicious chicken devan will be up soon folks!

Until next time, Jill