Valentine’s Day Choco-Banana Hearts

Valentine’s Day Choco-Banana Hearts

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This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of Stonyfield® Organic Kids®. As always, all opinions are expressed are 100% my own

Valentine’s Day is literally right around the corner! This is the first year both of my boys are in the same school and I am fully reveling in the fact that I get to send favors/treats for kids in both of their classes. A one-stop shop for love, if you will! We’ve put a lot of thought into what kind of treats we want to bring to their class parties. I’m Room Mom, so the pressure is on to bring in something the kids will enjoy that will parents and teachers will love too. It just isn’t cool to dump off a bunch of sugar and send them to hang with teachers.

Choco-Banana Valentine's Day Cakes

I’ve decided a fair way to give everyone a little bit of what they want is to make these fun Choco-Banana Valentine Hearts with my boys (super fun) and bring in some of my favorite Stonyfield® Organic Kids® yogurt tubes. Their new look and Stonyfield® Organic Kids® Choco-Mooo flavor is a big hit with the kids (perfect for adding to any recipe), and they have committed to putting less sugar in their kids’ yogurt. It’s a win/win! With 40% less sugar than the leading yogurt brands, I never feel guilty giving the kids a Stonyfield® Organic Kids® Choco-Mooo as their dessert.

Choco-Banana Valentine's Day Cakes

This simple recipe helps keep the sugar high to a minimum and kicks the flavor up a notch. The bananas and chocolate flavor add sweetness and the yogurt keeps the cake/cupcakes moist and delicious. Top it off with the homemade raspberry icing (made from real raspberries, powdered sugar, and water) and you’ve got yourself a hit! We even made sure to create a heart shape with the muffins by rolling up a ball of foil and placing it between the silicone cups and the muffin pan. These were adorable, and unfortunately mostly eaten by the time I found my camera!

I loved creating this with my boys and can’t wait for them to share with friends. Next year we may have to host a V-Day dance at our house and really take things up a notch. Any reason to celebrate with Stonyfield® Organic Kids®, right? I recently spent time walking the Stonyfield® Organic® dairy farms and have truly fallen in love with their ethically driven brand. All of their products are Non-GMO verified, free from pesticides and artificial ingredients. All dairy comes from happy & healthy cows I’ve met myself. Stonyfield® Organic Kids® has been in the yogurt business for over 35 years (before stating “Organic” was necessary) and has been trusted by moms far and wide. Stonyfield® Organic Kids® is a certified B Corp, meaning they meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability. I feel good knowing where my dollars are going to work. I know these treats will be a hit for all moms looking to feed their kids healthy options. They come available in cups, pouches, tubes, or smoothies.

Choco-Banana Valentine's Day Cake

Quick Tip: Freezing the Stonyfield Organic Kids Packs (containing 40% less sugar than most yogurt brands) are easily frozen and taken to last on-the-go, making them the easy party snack/favor.

Valentine’s Day Choco-Banana Hearts

Valentine’s Day Choco-Banana Hearts

Ingredients

  • 2 eggs
  • 1/3 cup of sugar
  • 1/2 cup of vegetable oil
  • 2 ripe bananas
  • 1 cup of all purpose flour
  • 2 tbsp of cocoa powder
  • 1/2 cup of Stonyfield Choco-Moo Yogurt
  • 1 tsp of baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp of baking soda
  • 1 pinch of salt
  • 1 tbsp warm water
  • Raspberry Icing:
  • 2 tbsp Raspberry "juice" (mash berries in strainer and collect juice in a bowl)
  • 1 1/2 cups of powdered sugar
  • 1 Tbsp water

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Whisk eggs and sugar together, add oil and whisk until smooth. Add flour, baking powder, and baking soda in a separate bowl and combine. Pour egg mixture, mashed bananas, and yogurt into the center of dry ingredients, add warm water and mix together.
  2. Pour batter into heart-shaped greased baking pan, pop it in the oven for twenty mins. Mix together icing ingredients and pour over cooled cakes/muffins and enjoy!
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Happy Valentine’s Day!

Essentially yours,

Erika

This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of Stonyfield® Organic Kids®. As always, all opinions are expressed are 100% my own.

 

 

Seared Alaska Salmon with Basil Butter

Seared Alaska Salmon with Basil Butter

 This post was sponsored by Alaska Seafood as part of an Influencer Activation for Influence Central and all opinions expressed in my post are my own.

One of our family resolutions this year is to eliminate the amount of meat products we consume. We’ve recently cut back on red meat, but we’re incorporating more of a nutritional, healthful protein into our lifestyle as of late, and I’m loving it. The nutrition that comes from fresh, sustainably sourced seafood is well documented, not to mention I feel great after every meal.

I’ve spent the better half of the first month of 2018 eliminating carbs and sugar. I have more energy, sleep better, and the inches I’ve lost off of my waistline isn’t a bad perk either. So the journey to a heart healthy protein was only natural. The way my food is sourced has become increasingly concerning for me over the years, its important that it is always wild, and responsibly sourced. Alaska seafood has a long history of always being wild and sustainable. Alaska is our nations largest source for domestic seafood, and it’s easy to find at your local grocer.

Alaska Salmon

I chose Alaska Salmon for this dish. Salmon can be tricky for some, they either love it or hate it. Well, I’ve found a way that anyone can enjoy a good salmon dish. Simple and fresh, this recipe is sure to please. I use four six-ounce pieces of wild Alaska Salmon (skinned) and sear it to perfection. Searing salmon creates a delicious char that can lure even the biggest salmon skeptic.

Alaska Salmon

Most often people shy away from salmon because of its texture. If it isn’t cooked to perfection, it can be a little too fishy. But the benefits in a protein that is naturally loaded with minerals, vitamins and heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids just can’t be ignored. This is a fish you need in your diet. Period. Over the years I have developed quite a few ways to eat Alaska Salmon, but this recipe is by far my favorite.

Alaska Salmon

Simply sear the salmon for four minutes on one side, then another three on the other in a hot skillet with some EVOO. After they have a nice golden crust add butter, garlic, lemon juice and fresh-cut basil and you’ve got yourself a winning combination. We love it, and I’m one of those picky “funny about texture” skeptics. This is the best way to make perfectly flaky salmon that even the biggest critic can enjoy!

Seared Alaska Salmon with Basil Butter

Seared Alaska Salmon with Basil Butter

Ingredients

  • 4 six-ounce pieces of (skinned) Alaska Salmon
  • 1 Tbsp of EVOO
  • 2 Tbsp of butter
  • 3 Sprigs of fresh basil
  • 1 head of garlic minced
  • 1/3 cup of fresh squeezed lemon juice

Instructions

  1. Pat the salmon steaks dry, then season with salt and pepper on both sides. Sear for four minutes undisturbed on one side and two minutes on the other. Add lemon juice, butter, garlic and let simmer for five minutes and sprinkle basil leaves.
  2. Serve and enjoy!
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Essentially yours,

Erika

Alaska Salmon

Mooove Over, Organic Dairy Farming = Big Business

Mooove Over, Organic Dairy Farming = Big Business

“There’s more than one way to skin a cat.” We’ve all heard that expression before, but, I’m not sure that’s even true. I don’t know why I started with that.

Let’s start again…

Dairy farming. Oh yeah, that’s why we’re here. Most folks know the conventional dairy-farming industry to be highly controversial. As an organic family and conscious buyer, I have made it my quest in life to make better choices for my family (it all comes back to family at the end of the day, but I’m getting ahead of myself here). When you know better, you do better, right? Well, unfortunately, it isn’t always the case. While there are different ways to run a dairy farm, they aren’t all created equal, and they all certainly won’t be able to survive…

Organic Dairy Farming

I was recently invited to tour the Stonyfield Farms and learn about their organic dairy practices. Well, I got a whole lot more than I bargained for. I signed up for the New England fall foliage and walked away with a wealth of knowledge, a ton of inspiration, and a hankering for some yogurt. We spent three days immersing ourselves in the Vermont culture and even walked in the rain, up a steep hill, (get where I’m going with this?), and met with the families that live and work alongside Stonyfield to provide organic dairy to organic families just like mine.

Stonyfield

What is Organic Dairy Farming?

Organic farmers in general, focus on natural pest control, open grazing, and planting certain breeds to discourage pests from eating their crops. Their responsibility is first and foremost to the animals and helping to create a happy, healthy, and stress-free environment for them. Organic soil has 26% more CO2 storage and improves soil health and mitigating climate change. Enter carbon sequestration! The more CO2 that stays in the soil and out of the environment, the better off our planet is. The NRCS has reported that planting cover crops improve soil structure, and provides greater moisture retention. Cover crops also reduce soil erosion and runoff. You can see more on cover crops here.

The Stonyfield Difference

Have you ever met a person so very present and connected that they immediately raise your own vibration? Yea, that’s Julie Wolcott. We started our farm tour at Green Wind Farms. Julie is one of Stonyfield’s conventional recruits. Stonyfield has created a program to work alongside and help “groom” young and experienced farmers alike to become a successful organic dairy farm. Providing resources, information, and on-site assistance in some cases to ensure each farm gets the best product possible. Stonyfield Farms currently gets 80% of their dairy from Organic Valley. Direct supply from local Vermont farms now provides 20% of their total supply.

Again, I’m getting ahead of myself. Back to Julie, and her faithful sidekick, Coltrane.

Julie currently owns 25 cows and lives in a charming cottage on her dairy farm. While she also has a sugar house and sells homemade Vermont maple syrup, dairy-farming is her bread and butter (pun intended). She names all of her cows and knows each family and their specific traits. She has quite possibly the best naming technique I’ve come across, naming each family according to famous musicians, poets, writers,etc.. Julie is a warm spirit with two lifetimes of experience to share, and she opened up her heart and her home to us.

Organic Dairy Farming

Organic Dairy Farming
I’m pretty sure she hasn’t met an animal that doesn’t love her.

Let Food Be Thy Medicine

Since converting to an organic farm, (a process that takes up to three years) Julie has greatly reduced her veterinarian bill (down to almost nothing) and increased her profits to the point where she is ready and able to retire. We later learned that conventional dairy-farming is rather erratic and wouldn’t otherwise afford Julie this opportunity. You can read more on that here. Her cows graze on a rotating system on land she has sectioned off into ‘paddocks.’ This allows maximum grazing time for her cows (even some in winter months), and include naturally grazing the locally grown plants to aid in digestion and even cure common illnesses. There is a science to this sort of grazing and it works to not only provide optimal nutrition for each nursing cow, but also the proper types of nutrition. Cows need to graze at a certain height, so grass needs to be maintained at a regulated height, all made possible by the natural process of open grazing, and manure pads left by her cows. This cycle of life, once harnessed for the power of good, can only mean success for everyone; including the cows. We watched as these beloved Jersey cows grazed at their leisure, and chewed on some cud. Cud, we learned is partly digested food returned from the first stomach of ruminants to the mouth for further chewing. A process that brings these cows joy and comfort. They are at peace and enjoying their chew time. Which made me wonder if this is a right denied to cows on a conventional dairy farm.

Organic Dairy Farming

Manure is Money, Folks

The key to this natural rotational pattern is the fact that the cows are able to provide the best fertilizer to help this lush grass grow back so quickly and so hearty. I mean, look at this lush landscape! I’m obsessed with Vermont in the fall.

Vermont

Organic Dairy

After walking these lush paddocks, getting to know these “bossy cows” and learning the benefits of natural grazing techniques, we were invited to break bread with Julie and her lovely family. That bread came with a whole lot of dairy. We sipped on hot coffee (a nice respite from the cool rain we endured on our walk. Uphill.  Did I mention it was raining?), with delicious fresh cream and enjoyed fresh homemade bread with delicious butter. The spread was phenomenal and fed our bellies after feeding our hearts and minds all morning. It was charm overload in this cozy cottage, only matched by the amount of love that is weaved into the fabric of this farm, and it’s family.

Organic Dairy Farm

When I asked Julie, what her “why” was. “Why move your family in the middle of nowhere and start a farm without any experience?” She responded warmly with, “for my family.” She went on to explain that she wanted to live a simple life and pass on these profound experiences to her children. Live off the land and find a way to make a home here with her livestock. Julie is deeply connected to this farm and every animal who graces her presence. Family is at the heart of every ask connected to Stonyfield Farms, you’ll see why later.

Organic Dairy Farm

The partnership between Stonyfield and farmers like Julie is possible through their program, and with help from folks like Kyle, who grew up on a farm, eventually purchased his own,  and learned firsthand what it takes to run a successful dairy farm.

Stonyfield

We heard from Sarah Flack, an expert in grazing and author of “The Art & Science of Grazing: How Grass Farmers Can Create Sustainable Systems for Healthy Animals & Farm Ecosystems. Sarah has lived on a Vermont farm her entire life, and works with Julie and countless others to spread knowledge not just about the benefits of this type of farming, but the NECESSITY for it. In sitting down with Gary Hirshberg, owner and CE-Yo of Stonyfield Organics, and author of “Stirring It Up,” over dinner at Philo Farms (more on that later), we learned that by honoring the organic farming process and working with our own eco-system (in its current state), we can overcome soil degradation and re-build literally from the ground up. By the way, if you ever want to be inspired I recommend having a sit-down conversation with Gary Hirshberg. Few CEO’s harbor as much passion and dedication to their craft as he does in such a humble manner. He commands the room in a way that isn’t overbearing and steers the conversation toward common-sense practices that almost have you feeling as though you invented them yourself. It’s an admirable trait and the reason Stonyfield is so successful today.

Windy Hill Farm

Yes, while it’s true we may have hit the point of no return and too much damage has been done, it isn’t feasible to turn back the hands of time and erase the damage that factory farming has done to our planet. But we can work with what we’ve got and make that profitable AND inhabitable for all living creatures to co-exist. THIS is the future ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to our next farm, Windy Hill Farm.

Windy Hill Farm
Future isn’t lookin’ so bad is it folks? You were thinking it, I said it… so there.

Meet Brenden Schreindorfer, owner of Windy Hill Farm. Married (sorry ladies) to his lovely wife Marcy Schreindorfer, and father to two adorable kids. They took us for a walk on their farm, a bit larger scale than the previous farm, driven by the same “why.” Brenden houses about 100 Holstein cows, slightly different demeanor as the Jersey cow, same great dairy. Brenden was raised on dairy farms all his life and got into the business pretty organically (ha, ha, get it?).

Windy Hill Farm is one of the latest farms to go from conventional to organic with the help of Stonyfield, and they are hoping to grow in terms of production. Brenden is looking into robotics as an option to help increase milking time for his cows. He can spend up to 5-6 hours a day milking all of these hot Holsteins. Did I mention they need to be milked twice a day? That’s an average of 10-12 hours a day just milking, not including any of the other farm chores that demand his attention. Robotics is the future in dairy-farming, allowing cows to walk up to be milked as many as four to five times a day. That nursing letdown is real, am I right ladies?

Organic Dairy Farm

The Schreindorfer family lives in an adorable house on the farm and hopes that with the investment of robotic engineering they will be able to spend more time as a family. There goes that “F” word again. They adhere to the same organic grazing rotation, allowing their Holstein cows to live 80% grass-fed and 20% on grains (typically during cold winter months).

Walking along these paddocks (again, in the rain) and watching as these cows were naturally just grazing together and chewing the cud, I’m not sure if anyone else noticed but it didn’t feel like we were walking amongst manure. It didn’t reek the way I’d remembered other farms smelling. I can only imagine this natural and organic lifestyle lends to the health both inside and outside of these cows.

Organic Dairy
Just to the right of this stable was a huge ring where manure is collected, stored, and even traded among farmers. I told you manure = money around here folks, it’s like gold in these hills!

Philo Ridge Farm

After leaving Windy Hill Farm, we retreated back to our hotel room to prepare for dinner at Philo Ridge. A quaint farmhouse built in the 1840’s, and completely restored by Diana McCargo and Peter Swift. Diana, friend and former student of Gary Hirshberg, hosted us for dinner that evening. We dined on an incredible feast, all completely organic, and completely grass-fed beef. We sat and talked about the state of our food sources today, and learned all about how Philo Ridge is looking to help change the game.

The Disconnect From Food

It’s true that many people still do not understand the need for organic farming or production. This is true partly because of society’s disconnect from our food and its source. When is the last time you had to look your dinner in the eye? The running joke is that if you’d ever seen your food before being packaged, you’d never eat it. Our planet is not set to sustain the current conditions of factory farming, and it’s no longer the profitable business people are banking on it to be. With the market as unstable as it is it seems we can’t possibly survive living and eating this way much longer. The difference in organic farming is clear, the science is there, and yet; it’s still a mystery to some folks.

With companies like Stonyfield paving the way and working with the small farm families to bring quality organic dairy to your table, there is hope for a future free from disease and financial destruction. Inspiring large and small companies alike to adopt the same practices and develop new innovative practices all with the same goal in mind; sustainability.

Philo Ridge Farm has opened a fully organic farmstand and looks forward to creating a community center and even tours on this lovely farm. Braving the wilderness and willing to be a beacon of light for this community in hopes of inspiring others to think about our future as well. It seems it’s contagious folks…We sat for hours gaining insight into conventional farming methods, their rise, and their inevitable fall. Learning what we can do to change the tide and help create conscious consumers.

What You Can Do:

  • Eat organic WHENEVER possible. The benefits are obvious, the science is there, the power is in the consumer’s hands! Did you know that the organic industry is a 50 billion dollar a year industry? Yet it still only represents 4% of the market. Buying / eating organic in your daily life is casting a vote for the type of world you want to live in. Turning the tide in our favor will allow these choices to be made available to all walks of life, not just the elite.
  • Support organic and local movements. Supporting your local farms and putting money back into the hands of your community is a grassroots movement that will never go out of style.
  • Spread the word. Not in that annoying and self-righteous kind of way (don’t be that guy). We’re all masters in training, right? Have patience and understand that lack of knowledge about these studies is usually the case. The human race has the innate need to survive, once educated on the facts they usually tend to lean towards what will sustain them in the long-run. Humor goes a long way with folks, and research shows that there is 40% of truth in all humor. So crack em’ up!
  • LIVE it. “Green” is a verb. It isn’t a day or way we live. It’s the constant choice and forward-thinking towards sustainable living. It’s leading by example for your family to witness, it’s raising your children (the folks who will be voting for our future) to be educated on these topics, and make informed decisions.

Resources:

5 Reasons To Eat Organic

NPR’s How I Built This: Gary Hirshberg

The Organic Center

Studies of Higher Antioxidants in Organic Fruit

The Study of Organic Milk Nutritional Quality

Organic: Why It’s Worth It – Animal Health & Welfare

The Future of Organics

Family is the word that seems to tie it all together. What I’ve learned from our time on these farms is that we’re all looking to create the best life possible for our families. When we can all work together towards that common goal while respecting our planet and all living animals, incredible things can happen. The foresight and innovation born from necessity and the will to live freely can fuel our ability to overcome factors such as greed, political agendas and such… it can save our planet.

My time on the farms in Vermont with Stonyfield was profound and something I will treasure for years to come. I look forward to the future with forward-thinking companies willing to break through conventional barriers and share the secret to success. Not only is organic dairy-farming better for people, and our planet, but it’s better for business. If there is one thing that will convince the world that it needs to get on board the organic train, its good business. The answer can’t be found in looking back and wishing we had made different decisions or knocking each other down for the decisions that have long been made, but on looking forward and learning to work with what we’ve got.

I was very fortunate to spend time with these inspiring women: Bev of Bev Cooks, Claire of The Kitchy Kitchen, Emily of Small Fry Blog, Gabby of Design Mom, Julie of Peanut Butter Fingers, and Sonja Overhiser of A Couple Cooks. Of course, we didn’t go away without some pretty inspiring swag as well! You should definitely check out the newest work to come from the Hirshberg family, Ethan’s flavored Apple Cider Vinegar Shots & Peak Organic Beer.

Enter below to win a one month supply of Stonyfield yogurt!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Essentially yours,

Erika

 

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