Chickens. Never in my life did I think I would have chickens. But here I am today with seven chickens and to my surprise, I actually love having them around.

Here are some reasons why I love chicken and encourage my friends to do the same.

  • Pest Control. They eat the bugs! Before we had chickens, I would see bugs everywhere around my house and garden. Let me tell you I am not a fan of bugs! But when we got chickens, the bugs were demolished. Gone! Kaput! Thank God!

  • Amazing fertilizer. Do you know how absolutely amazing chicken fertilizer is? It’s easily one of the best fertilizers there is! And did I mention it’s free?! We are starting to move a mobile coop around the pasture during most of the year, in order to fertilize the entire pasture. Also, during the colder months, we cover up the bottom of the coop to prevent drafts.
  • They are always excited to see you!! It is such a great moment to watch them bolt to meet you. Yes, yes, I know.  It might be because I bring them food. But I also truly believe it is due to my sparkling personality. Whatever the reason is, they’re happy – and I’m flattered.
  • Chickens are simple animals and easy to take care of. They require the basics:  Food, water, shelter. It’s as simple as that!

  • They are so entertaining!  I love that each and every one of our chickens have different personalities. In addition, I enjoy the fact that I can spend the day just gazing out my kitchen window, spying on their goofiness. They are friendly, sweet, spunky – and our family loves them dearly!

I truly couldn’t imagine our little country life without them.

My husband grew up camping since he was a little boy. Some of his best camping memories involve sitting around the campfire, having a great meal and telling stories. So when it came to our children, we wanted them to have the same experience. There is something about camping that is so simple and relaxing. I have come to find that simple trips are often more fun for the kids because they stimulate creativity. Also, simple trips give me the chance to be creative in meal planning!

When people think of food when camping, they typically think of hot dogs, beans, sandwiches, s’mores, and a ton of snacks. So I decided to figure out a way to make a simple and delicious healthy option for my family that fit the camping theme.

Breakfast

Let’s start off with breakfast! A meal my entire family loves is my french toast. The cool thing about this recipe is that it calls for no ingredients that need to be refrigerated!

Tools to get you started:
Cast Iron Skillet
Camp Stove (Or campfire)
Spatula
Mixing bowl
Wisk

Ingredients:
1Lb loaf of french bread cut into 1 inch slices
1 ripe banana
1 (14 oz) can coconut milk
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon salt
Coconut oil

Directions:
In a large container, mash the banana until it is smooth. Add coconut milk, vanilla extract, cinnamon, and salt and whisk together. You want the mixture to be as smooth as possible.
Heat 1 tablespoon of coconut oil in a skillet over medium heat.
Dib bread in mixture and let soak for a couple seconds on each side and then fry it in the skillet until golden and crispy.
Repeat.
Extra: I like to add fresh blueberries and shredded coconut on top.

Snacks

My Husband loves to take a snack with him when he goes hiking. My go-to-snack is trail mix energy bites. Also, I can easily prepare all of these before I leave on the trip. Plus, my daughter Adoniah loves helping me in the kitchen when I make them. The cool thing about this recipe is that the base is just two ingredients: cashews and dates. Then you can add whatever you like!

Ingredients:
10 dates
¼ cup cashews
3 tablespoons dried cranberries
3 tablespoons cocoa nibs

Instructions:
In a Vitamix or food processor, process the cashews and dates until dough forms. (if you don’t use a Vitamix, then I suggest soaking cashews in water for 30 min prior.)
Divide the dough into equal bite size balls.
Lay cranberries and cocoa nibs on a flat service and roll the balls over them to coat.
Store the energy bits in an airtight container in the fridge until you are ready to hit the trail!

Lunch

When it comes to lunch, I try to keep it as simple as possible. After all, we are usually in the middle of an adventure. That is why I am a huge fan of one pot type meals. Why not stick to a one pot meal filled with protein to keep my family full of energy. So, I came up with a one pot pasta!

Ingredients:
1 head of kale (de-stemmed and chopped)
2 cloves of garlic (sliced)
½ teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 (23 oz) Jar tomato sauce
Plus 2 cups water
10 oz lentil pasta

Instructions:

  • Cook the kale: Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil overheat in skillet. Once the oil is hot, add the kale, garlic, and salt and saute until kale is tender. Remove the kale from the skillet and set aside.
  • Cook the pasta: Add tomato sauce and water to the skillet and bring to a simmer. Add pasta and cook for the time recommended on the package.
  • Stir in the cooked kale.
  • Serve.

Dinner

Dinner time is a great way for me to make sure that my family gets their vegetables into their camping diet. This is one of my personal favorite meals simply because of the colors alone! Also, I have found a way to incorporate vegetables that don’t need much or any refrigeration. It is Ratatouille Kebabs.

Ingredients:
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small yellow onion diced
2-3 cloves garlic minced
1 pound tomatoes finely chopped
1 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano
1 teaspoon chopped fresh basil
1 teaspoon salt
4 medium zucchini (about 1.5 lbs)
4 medium yellow summer squash (about 1.5 lbs)

Instructions:
MAKE THE SAUCE: Over medium heat, warm 1 tablespoon olive oil in a skillet until shimmering. Add the onion and cook until translucent and just beginning to take on a golden color. Add the garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the chopped tomatoes, oregano, basil, and salt and stir well. Simmer over medium heat until the kebabs are done, about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

MAKE THE KEBABS: Meanwhile, slice the zucchini, squash, and eggplant into slices ½ inch thick. Assemble the kebabs on skewers, alternating each vegetable. Drizzle with the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil and sprinkle with salt to taste. Grill the kebabs directly on the grill grate over the fire, turning frequently so all sides cook evenly. Cook about 20 minutes, or until all the veggies are tender. Serve immediately topped with the tomato sauce.

Dessert

Now comes my favorite part of the day, Dessert! After my husband and I put the kids to bed, we enjoy this delicious vegan s’mores granola bars. These are another way to keep things simple since you can make them before hand and pack them. Betcha can’t just eat one!

Ingredients:
6 dates pitted and roughly chopped
½ cup water
¼ cup maple syrup
2 tablespoons chia seeds
¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup oats
1 cup crushed vegan graham crackers about 10 sheets
½ cup mini vegan marshmallows
1.5 oz dark chocolate, chopped
1 tsp coconut oil or Earth Balance butter (optional if greasing pan)

Instructions: 

  • Preheat oven to 350.
  • Place the dates, water, maple syrup, chia seeds, and salt into the bowl of your food processor. Let it all soak for 5 minutes, then process until fairly smooth (it’s OK to have some pieces of dates remaining, but you don’t want any big chunks).
  • Toast oats over medium heat in a heavy bottomed skillet until golden brown, about 5 minutes. Stir frequently to ensure even toasting and prevent them from burning.
  • In a medium mixing bowl, add the oats, graham crackers, marshmallows, dark chocolate and the date mixture. Mix well with a spoon until all the dry ingredients are completely covered in the date mixture.
  • Line a 8.5″ x 4.5″ loaf pan with parchment paper, or grease the pan with coconut oil or Earth Balance butter. Spread the mixture evenly into the pan, then press down on it to really compact it (I used the bottom of a glass for this).
  • Bake for 20 minutes. Cool completely, then remove from the pan and cut into 6 bars.
  • To make these portable, wrap them in parchment paper, plastic wrap, or small zip-locks, then throw them in your pack and go!

I hope you get outdoors, enjoy and make use out of these recipes. More beans, less franks! #ValMarHealth

Summer has been one my favorite seasons since my childhood. I remember when I was a kid, my sister and a couple of our childhood friends used to look forward to the start of the summer season. I was filled with adrenaline for new adventures with my friends. We engaged in fun-filled activities such going for hikes, camping, and kayaking but my favorite was soaking in summer sunshine at the beach. The warm breeze from the coastal beach blended perfectly with the sunshine generating an alluring and a sensational feeling that sunk to the core of my soul with such a captivating feeling. I could smile just at the mere brush of the warm breeze against my feeble and osseous body. The sunshine created such a picturesque sensation at the sunset leaving me with nostalgic sentiments. Such were the moments when my wistful mind yearned to escape to the sunset and never to look back.

Did you know that the sunshine is packed with inconceivable health benefits to our bodies? The sun rays have healing powers that range from preventing some cancers, strengthening your bones and even improving our sleep. Sun rays have a component called ultraviolet that produces vitamin D also known as the sunshine vitamin. Vitamin D plays a very important in our bodies by ensuring adequate absorption of calcium and phosphates that help in strengthening the bones. This helps to avoid conditions such as rickets and osteomalacia in children and adults respectively. Vitamin D also helps to prevent against colorectal cancer by combining with lithotomic acid (LCA) in the bile to facilitate the process of metabolism and detoxification of lithotomic acid.

Daily exposure to the sunshine for about 10 minutes has also been scientifically proven that it improves the health of the heart. When a person is exposed to sunlight, their mood is boosted. This is because the sunlight helps in the regulation of melatonin and serotonin which are closely linked to our cognitive behavior. This means that the chances of being depressed during rainy days are very high as opposed to a warm sunny day.

 

Sunbathing also has a healing power. For instance, heliotherapy, an ancient Greek sunlight therapy is still widely used in the modern time for treating seasonal affective disorder (SAD) through exposure to certain wavelengths of artificial light. This process is achieved when you sit on a light therapy box, a device that has the same results as the natural sunshine. This therapy can help to ease the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder, psoriasis and sleeping disorder by triggering a release of hormones responsible for mood and sleep.

Regular exposure to sunlight has been linked to growth in height and improved immune system in children. The immune system in young children is fortified when they are exposed to sunlight because the white blood cells will increase. The exposure of sunlight to young children at nascent stages of their development has also been linked to their growth in height.

The Sunshine is also an effective method of lowering blood pressure and cholesterol in our bodies by converting them into steroid and sex hormones as well as lowering the blood pressure without any side effects as compared to use of artificial drugs.

I will strongly advise you, therefore, that you should always keep your face towards the sunshine and you will not see the shadows falling behind you.