What I’m Into – January 2015

We’ve been in Pennsylvania for two months and it feels like we are finally getting in the groove. All of my clothes boxes are unpacked (It took almost the entire two months *insert embarrassed emoji here*) and there are things hanging on the walls. I love the proximity to my family and our new church family is wonderful. I joined MOPS which has been a fun way to meet new friends,too.

February is already looking like it’s going to be packed, but here’s a look back at January.

Linking up with What I’m Into at Leigh Kramer!

Birthday Hat Collage

I love that our family gets to celebrate a birthday in January. It helps banish some of the Winter blues that set in after Christmas. My parents and brother were able to come in for James’ 1st birthday, and though we made it a pretty mellow day, we did spend his birthday eve crafting these awesome party hats out of kraft paper. A huge roll is 7 bucks at Walmart and I have an endless supply of scrapbook papers, pens and other crafty ephemera.


This is a glimpse at what I’ve been reading. I do my book reviews in the middle of the month, so check back for my thoughts on these and a couple more.

Jone's Sausage

We are a bacon family. But, over the Thanksgiving holiday, my mom introduced us to Jones sausage. Game. Changer. They live in the freezer section. No filler or icky chemicals, just pure, sausagey goodness. I avoid our local Walmart at all costs, but I make an exception to purchase these mondo bags of sausage so we don’t run out. We had breakfast for dinner seven times in January and they all included this sausage.

Sugar Paper

I love planners and calendars of all sorts. They feed my inner organizational diva. This year, I’m loving these beauties from Sugar Paper (via Target). I got the large one on the left for Christmas and then purchased a smaller one to complete my calendar needs.

The larger planner has a month at a glance layout before the individual days. I use the month page to record what we had for dinner, anything I made (yogurt, bread, granola, etc.), and dinner guests. I like to have a record of our eating habits and as we continue our real food journey, It’s helpful to have a visual guide of how long our homemade staples last. I record Bible reading, exercise, and prayers in the individual days.

I bought the smaller planner for the blog. It’s slim with just a single double page spread for each month, but it’s just enough to record the posts that went live and jot down ideas for future posts. There are several pages in the back for bigger picture dreaming and brainstorming.

Bible Journaling

I got a text from my mom on January 2nd telling me all about Bible Journaling and that she had Amazoned (absolutely a verb) me an ESV journaling Bible that would be arriving the next day. I am no artist, but everything about Bible journaling thrills me. The practice of turning what I’ve read into something visual helps me mediate and remember what God has shown me. I’ve filled my Instagram and Pinterest feed with Bible journaling inspiration and I just can’t wait to fill my Bible. Shanna Noel is an amazing resource as well.

I decided to read the Bible chronologically this year. (Job was tough… I’m back in Genesis now.) Crossway has an amazing list of Bible reading plans in various formats. You can have the day’s reading sent to your email, put in your iCal or print it out!

I got Tim an Aeropress and milk frother for Christmas. It’s been the gift that keeps on giving… My $30 investment replaced our cheapy espresso machine and it gets used everyday. I’ve been getting up at 6 to do my devotions and, more often than not, it’s the thought of a homemade honey latte that gets me out from underneath my warm covers.

Frying Dutchman

We like to explore a place through its food. One of our recent explorations was The Frying Dutchman in Kutztown, PA that makes and tops your donuts to order. If you’re local and haven’t been – it’s a must. Having worked at The Donut Man I have a very high standard for donuts. These definitely pass with flying colors. (Top to bottom: French Toast, PBJ, S’more, Powdered Sugar, PB Cup, Honey Graham). Pretty sure this will be a weekly tradition. And, yes, Tim and I ate all of these.

A Month of Sugar-Free Meals: What we ate during No Sugar September

A month of sugar-free meals

As you’re reading this, I’m probably eating blueberry pancakes in all their refined sugar, white flour glory, enjoying the view of the lake from my parent’s kitchen island. Not how you pictured me starting the month after our No Sugar September adventure? Balance. It’s all about balance. And when you have the opportunity to fly across the country to see your family, you take it! And you enjoy every sugary morsel along the way.

But this post is about all the non sugary morsels we ate last month. So, let’s get to it. We survived No Sugar September and we enjoyed, too. Our month with no refined sugar, no fake sugar, and no white flour wasn’t perfect. We had three sugar surprises and a couple intentional indulgences.

Sugar Surprises

  • Vanilla extract – It wasn’t until I had to buy a new bottle at Costco that I realized store bought vanilla extract was made with sugar. I’d been using it in fudge and a couple baked goods, but the trace amounts didn’t bother me, so I kept using it.
  • Italian Sausage – I didn’t even think to look at the ingredients list when I picked up a tube to use on pizza and in spaghetti. Sugar was definitely a prominent feature. This was at the tail end of our month and I had already cooked the sausage. I chocked it up to reintroducing sugar to our system.
  • Molasses – I had searched for whole wheat quick breads on Pinterest and found a couple I wanted to try. Both had molasses and I didn’t give its source another thought. I made one of the recipes and it was delicious. It wasn’t until Tim wondered what molasses actually was that I Googled it and discovered it was made from sugarcane. Oops. Technically it’s not refined, so I’m okay with it.

Intentional Indulgences

Like I said in the half-way update, it’s difficult to separate food from community, so when we restricted food, we restricted community a bit. Engaging in community was the source of most of our intentional sugar indulgences. (Not always the case as witnessed by the baby shower I went to where I was able to fill a plate with NSS approved food. I have great friends who also happen to eat sugar free!)

  • Our Home Community group from church had a kick-off dinner last week and while I brought a NSS approved salad, I also ate the bbq pulled pork on a white bun and the delicious sugary desserts.
  • We had a last minute visit from out of town family which necessitated a trip to Fire Artisan Pizza (which naturally necessitated a Bittersweet Chocolate Chip Cookie with Sea Salt, al a mode of course).

And then there’s traveling. I knew I’d be flying across the country the day No Sugar September ended and there’s only so much you can do to be sugar free during a 12 hour travel day, while traveling alone with an 8-month old. I didn’t think the shock-and-awe approach would go over well, so Tim and I made the decision to reintroduce a little bit of sugar gradually during the last week of NSS.

The Sugar-Free Life

The last thing I’ll say before the food… If you’re intrigued by this No Sugar September thing, I created a special little corner of this blog dedicated to Sugar Free Living. It’s the place to go for recipes, resources (like my Costco shopping list), and inspiration for a lifestyle with less sugar.

Now, drumroll please…

Our No Sugar September Menus! 

Where possible, I have linked to the recipe. If a food item has a number after it, check out the footnotes to see what cookbook the recipe came from. 


Our mornings start with coffee: half-caf with half and half. Repeat.

sugar-free breakfastsLUNCH AND SNACKS

The majority of our noonday meals were either leftovers, any of the aforementioned breakfast options, or a combination of these snacky items:

  • quinoa and fried egg
  • Wasa crispbread (Which I originally just tolerated but came to enjoy. I think it tastes like crunchy popcorn.) One package lasted the whole month.
  • cottage cheese (Darigold from Costco is really high quality) with honey or apple butter
  • moist soaked cornbread¹ with melted cheese and apple butter
  • deli turkey meat
  • glass of milk
  • greens with leftover meat and berry vinaigrette¹
  • oat bars with peanut butter, cheese, or apple butter
  • chips and salsa
  • hot dog + fried cheese (yes, we went there)

sugar free lunch and snacksDINNER

After trolling Pinterest and some cookbooks, I came up with 18 ideas for our No Sugar September dinner rotation. We enjoy leftovers and Wednesdays are usually PBJ nights because Tim eats on the go before youth group, so I knew we didn’t need a full four weeks of dinners. I think I made 8 of the original 18…

We ate breakfast for dinner multiple times and found other recipes that turned into dinner staples, like mac and cheese. The last week of NSS turned into “how to use the 6lbs of mozzarella I felt compelled to buy at Costco and a gigantic batch of crockpot marinara.” No Sugar September didn’t have as positive an impact on our food budget as I thought it would. I’d like to work on that as we move forward in our real food journey.

Here’s what we ate for dinner from September 3rd – September 30th:

  1. whole wheat macaroni and cheese + dill pickles
  2. roasted chicken (freeze leftover meat for later) + greens with berry vinaigrette¹ + balsamic carrots
  3. sloppy Joe¹ (freeze leftover) with sour cream and cheddar + moist soaked cornbread¹ with honey
  4. crockpot black bean soup (half in freezer) + moist soaked cornbread¹ (leftover, rest in freezer)
  5. cinnamon power pancakes + fruit sauce (boil frozen berries, honey, and water until thickened, stir often)
  6.  quinoa burrito bowls (quinoa + diced tomatoes + leftover roasted chicken + avocado + sour cream + cheese + black beans)
  7. caprese omelete roll (similar) + greens with berry vinaigrette¹
  8. PB&J on homemade bread with natural peanut butter + plum jam
  9. sloppy Joe¹ (leftover) over baked sweet potato + sour cream + cheese
  10. whole wheat waffles + natural PB + apple butter + maple syrup
  11. slow cooker balsamic chicken + quinoa with basil
  12. whole wheat pizza crust + pesto² + mozzarella + leftover balsamic chicken
  13. whole wheat macaroni and cheese + roasted carrots
  14. sweet corn and zucchini pie (baked in an 11 x 7 inch pan)
  15. leftover macaroni and cheese (Tim), toast with PB (Emily)
  16. crockpot black bean soup (pulled from freezer) + frozen corn roasted in cast iron skillet + moist soaked cornbread¹ (pulled from freezer)
  17. nachos (corn chips + mozzarella + shredded chicken + black beans + fresh salsa + sour cream)
  18. moist soaked cornbread¹ + melted cheddar cheese + apple butter
  19. cinnamon power pancakes + natural PB + apple butter + maple syrup
  20. whole wheat pizza crust + homemade marinara + leftover shredded chicken + italian sausage)
  21. spaghetti casserole (whole wheat noodles + homemade marinara + sauteed zucchini and green peppers + italian sausage topped with mozzarella – bake until bubbly at 350)
  22. leftover spaghetti casserole
  23. dinner with our home community (see my note about intentional indulgences above)
  24. grilled cheese (whole wheat honey quick bread + mozzarella + cheddar) + homemade marinara
  25. scrambled eggs with cheese and basil + whole wheat honey quick bread toast with maple cream
  26. the honey badger pizza (mozzarella + parmesan + salami + honey) and bittersweet chocolate chip cookie + ice cream from Fire Artisan Pizza
  27. brown rice macaroni and cheese + roasted carrots

Sugar-Free Dinners


I have an intense sweet tooth and was worried it might sabotage my ability to complete No Sugar September. However, we ended up eating more sweets during NSS than we do on a regular basis. This may have been the reason neither of us lost a significant amount of weight… I must say, though, despite the quantity of sweets, I never felt icky after eating dessert since all the ingredients were nourishing. I’m not about to give up chocolate chip cookies, but we definitely found some winners.

sugar gree sweetsRECIPE SOURCES

A No Sugar September Update

It’s fitting that I’m writing this with a bowl of Blueberry Crisp and Vanilla Cream by my side. That image is pretty indicative of how the first two weeks of No Sugar September has gone – good with, ironically enough, lots of sweets.

Tim and I have now had no refined sugar, no fake sugars, and no white flour for 16 days. I’d like to offer some suggestions and reflections for anyone interested in going sugar free (and for those who are just curious about how we’re doing at the half-way point).

I’d like to kick this off with Tim’s reflections on No Sugar September thus far, since he wasn’t the one who was originally inspired to go sugar free.

We’re two weeks in, and other than realizing that we’ve been cheating the whole time with Costco’s “pure” vanilla extract, it’s going great! It’s encouraging for me to know that, while I’m not counting calories like I have done in the past, what I’m eating is healthy. Emily is doing a fantastic job cooking, baking, and thinking creatively about how to utilize natural food products. And I’m impressed with how I feel. I don’t have a big of crash at the end of the day, and I’m regular for the first time in a while!

Two things: 1. Leave it to the hubs to mention poop in his reflection. But, bowel health was going to be on my benefits list, so there ya have it. 2. I did discover that vanilla extract has sugar in it. I’m trying not to let it bother my perfectionist spirit. I would like to try making it myself next time around. (Vodka + Vanilla Bean = Vanilla Extract)

This is what I would say if we were chatting at a coffee shop over honey sweetened lattes…

Grocery Cart

Some Benefits of No Sugar September:

  • Simplified pantry. I’m sure there’s financial merit to stockpiling food when it’s on sale, but having too much food around stresses me out. I feel like I’m going to waste it and the “what to eat” options are overwhelming. I don’t have random prepackaged food cluttering my shelves when I’ve limited my diet and make most things by hand.
  • Intensity and nuance of flavors: The natural sweetness of food, like vegetables, is enhanced when it isn’t competing with refined sugar.
  • Less guilt: I feel GOOD about everything that goes into my mouth.
  • Cooking creativity: I love to cook and bake and I worried that No Sugar September would stifle my ability to experiment in the kitchen. It’s done the exact opposite. I’ve loved the challenge of finding new recipes and adapting our favorites to fit NSS.
  • Stable energy levels: Tim and I both drink half-caf coffee every morning, but we don’t crash mid afternoon.
  • Less cravings: I’m still kind of an emotional eater, but I haven’t experienced the intense must-have-junk-food-now type cravings this month.
  • Grocery shopping with purpose: Grocery shopping is more intentional. I’m not tempted to make impulse buys because I have a meal plan and my shopping cart always looks healthy and colorful.


Other things of note about No Sugar September:

  • I lost almost three pounds during the first week and then gained a bit back during the second (probably the mass amounts of Peanut Butter Coconut Fudge, Pumpkin Cookies, and Blueberry Crisp I consumed). Tim is down a pound and a half. We were locked out of our garage so I couldn’t get waist measurements before we started. I feel less bloaty, if that counts for anything.
  • I thought we would spend less on food. We haven’t. Partially because we traveled at the beginning of the month and partially because I haven’t mastered the art of shopping grocery store sales.
  • A crockpot is indispensable. Between batches of apple butter, yogurt (I’ll be writing a post about the method that has worked best for me), black bean soup, pumpkin spice lattes, and balsamic chicken, I feel like I’ve used my crockpot every day. In fact, my six year old Target cheapy started leaking last week in the middle of a batch of apple butter and I almost had a panic attack. I replaced it the next day with another Target cheapy.
  • Menu planning is a must. The no sugar life is becoming more intuitive, but at first it makes you feel clumsy and awkward around food. I scoured Pinterest and cookbooks to find dinner ideas and then wrote them on index cards with ingredients listed on the back. To create my month of meals, I just laid out all my cards and arranged them with variety in mind (a lot of sweet potatoes and quinoa). I use the cards to make my grocery shopping list, to get a preview of what’s coming up next, and to give Tim a heads up about what’s for dinner. The meal plan has been flexible (like when we really just want pancakes or waffles for dinner) and I doubt we will get through all the cards this month, but I felt more confident knowing what we could eat.
  • Staples are an important first step. Before I tackled menu planning, I tackled the foods we ate everyday: bread, granola, yogurt, peanut butter, jam. I pulled out the bread machine and have been making Honey Whole Wheat. We seem to eat less bread now that there are always delicious dinner leftovers for lunch. I tried a couple granola recipes, one better than the other, and then created my own version that I love. I’ve been making my own peanut butter (peanuts + coconut oil + honey) and am using a Honey Plum jam I made that I’m not wild about.

Final thoughts on No Sugar September:

  • Food is a major part of community. The hardest thing about No Sugar September is navigating social situations while adhering to NSS food boundaries. There have been events like our church picnic where it wasn’t a big deal to eat a burger with no bun and some fruit, but I will always choose community over a no sugar diet. I can bring something NSS approved or invite people over instead of going out, however, I don’t want to make people feel obligated to provide a certain type of food or miss out on connecting with someone over FroYo.
  • No Sugar September was a lot of work in the beginning. It does get easier as you get into a rhythm and find NSS approved staples that you like. For us, it’s worth it and we plan to heed No Sugar September guidelines for the majority of our food decisions in the future without being restrictive if we want to enjoy a meal out or just need a good old fashioned chocolate chip cookie in all it’s white flour, brown sugar, chocolatey glory.

I love talking about this, so if you have any questions, please jump in to the comments or email me (emgardner8@gmail.com). I keep updating the No Sugar September Resources and will be sharing all the nitty gritties about our menu/food at the end of the month! 

The 5 W’s (and an H) behind No-Sugar September

The precision of freshly sharpened No. 2 pencils. The smell of a new box of crayons. The stack of blank spiral bound notebooks. Even though I am seven years out of a school setting (and now feel old), I get the back-to-school fever when September rolls around.

September is a time for fresh starts, and this goal-setting, Type-A girl loves a fresh start. In addition to starting fresh with my approach towards motherhood and writing, the Gardner household is making a major change come September 1st.

We’re going sugar free!

In honor of recess, lunch lines, and book reports, here’s the 5 W’s (and an H) behind our big, sugar-free fresh start.

No Sugar September


The Gardners: Tim, my tech savvy, youth pastor stud of a husband who just revamped his own blog, and me (Emily), amateur gardening, coffee loving writer of this blog.


No-Sugar September. Da. Da. Duuuuuun. Normally I’m all about the alliterations, but I liked the sound of No-Sugar September better than sugarless or sugar free September. For the month of September, we will not consume any refined sugar or white flour.


Our house. I have a feeling not many outside dinning establishments would comply with our No Sugar September dietary restrictions.


When I read about Bjork and Lindsey’s 60 days of no sugar in July, my interest was piqued but doing something similar was totally out of the question in August. We were going on vacation in August and there was no way I was giving up cinnamon raisin toast grilled and frosted at The Red Door or multiple helpings of anything my mom made for the sake of a sugar selective diet.

As I went though my mental calendar, I was pleased to discover that September was vacation, holiday, and major event free and would thus be suitable for a lifestyle altering diet challenge such as giving up refined sugar and white flour.

A minor glitch occurred when we got the opportunity to take a mini Labor Day getaway this weekend. The prep for No Sugar September has been time consuming and I didn’t think I could handle a No Sugar Roadtrip, so No Sugar September will run from September 3rd – October 1st. Four straight weeks.


Because I’m too much of a weenie to do a Whole 30 or go gluten free, BUT I was feeling in need of a system (mental and physical) refresh.

Food has always been an integral part of community and celebration for me, and I like it that way. However, at times, food has also been a substance I’ve used like a drug. Pregnancy and postpartum have been seasons of growth in developing a healthier relationship with food and I’m hoping No Sugar September will promote further growth.

Neither of us expect to stick with a strict no refined sugar, no white flour diet after September, but I’d like to integrate some of our No Sugar September food habits into our normal culinary lifestyle.

We aren’t doing this to loose weight, but we will be taking a few measurements as one way quantify the effects of No Sugar September.


We’ve been prepping for No Sugar September for the past month. I’ll be writing a more detailed post about getting started later, but our first steps looked something like this:

  • Read about Bjork and Lindsey’s 60 days sans sugar. *light bulbs*inspiration*
  • Wonder how I could convince Tim to go sugar free. Send him the blog post via email to test the waters.
  • With a little cajoling, Tim agrees. Hip hip hooray!
  • Spend August eating all sorts of sugary, carby wonderfulness since we’re giving up refined sugar and white flour in September.
  • Don’t replace the chocolate chips when the last bag is used for gooey cookies.
  • Start trolling Pinterest for refined sugar free sweets, because sweets are a top priority when menu planning.
  • Read Trina Holden’s new book, Your Real Food Journey, and get re-inspired by the delicious recipes that totally conform to No Sugar September.
  • Get serious about making a menu. Start replacing food staples with whole wheat, sugar free versions.
  • Make disgusting muffins. Wonder how I will survive September. Make Shauna Niequist’s Blueberry Crisp. Know I will survive since I can eat that everyday during No Sugar September if I wanted.

So, wish us luck! I will be posting tips, tricks, and recipes along the way. Have you ever done anything like this? I’d love to hear about your experience in the comments. Recipes appreciated, too :)


What I’m Into – November

Things have been all quiet on the Primitive Roads front lately. Thanks for sticking around through my absence! Here’s a little photographic tour of why the blog has been hibernating…

November Collage

Entire house got a flooring update, starting with vinyl in the kitchen, dining room, pantry, and bathroom {before and after} | Family visiting for Thanksgiving! Out to breakfast with mom, mom-in-law, and sis-in-law | Painting the upstairs of our house {only the bathroom left to paint…} | New carpet and fresh paint upstairs Wasn’t our green carpet {throughout the whole house} awesome… | My siblings-in-law helping rip up carpet and prep floors {they are home reno studs! | Me and the parentals bundled up for Coeur d’Alene’s annual Christmas parade and fireworks show | Tim hard at work painting baseboards

Now to link up with Leigh for what I’ve been into this month:

(This post contains affiliate links. You can read my full disclosure here.)

Food Finds

Talenti Gelato

My parents have shared a dangerous food find with us – Talenti Gelato. In the past two weeks, the four of us have consumed 12 pints of their creamy concoctions. The gelato comes in a host of delicious flavors (we have tried 7 flavors), but our top two are Sea Salt Caramel and Chocolate Peanut Butter Cup. We’ve found the gelato at Walmart (yay! because it’s a bit pricey), Safeway/Vons, and Fred Meyer. I think I’ll bring my OB a couple pints tomorrow as an explanation for the extra, non-James pounds I’ve gained since my last appointment.

Another, more healthy, food find that my parents shared with us is from Costco – Sweet Kale Vegetable Salad mix. Before you poo-poo it because kale sounds unappetizing, give it a try. You get a generous bag full of kale, broccoli (like the kind in broccoli slaw), shaved brussels sprouts, cabbage, and chicory plus a packet of poppy seed dressing and a pumpkin seed/dried cranberry mix to add to the greens. It’s a super tasty combination of good for you foods. I like my salads chopped so I run a knife through the greens before tossing with the mix-ins and dressing. I also like it best with a tad more dressing (Brianna’s Poppy Seed dressing is good), extra dried cranberries, and a small handful of sunflower seeds.

After several friends raved about these (gluten free) energy bites, I made them for myself. Just yum. In my head, I’ve renamed them “wonder balls”. How could you go wrong with oats, peanut butter, maple syrup, and chocolate chips?

Cranberry Cream Cheese Dip

Made Cranberry Cream Cheese dip (which my family calls Christmas Crack) for Thanksgiving. I forgot the lemon again and used fresh squeezed orange juice instead. Addicting in the best way possible.

Books and Reading

Once again, I have too many books in progress. I’m usually a one book at a time type girl. That’s the problem when I forget to bring a book somewhere and have to start an e-book on my phone to pass the time. Right now, I’m in the middle of:

You can check out all the books I’ve read this year here.

An awesome bookish app I have yet to fully explore – OverDrive Media Console. What snookered me into downloading it on my iPhone was the ability to listen to audiobooks that were available at my local library.

Pinterest Finds

How to make gloves touchscreen sensitive. Perfect for me and my perpetually cold hands!

Gretchen’s entire WordPress series is so very helpful, but I particularly like these tips for refreshing old posts

A broken dryer doomed our towels to a life of smelly existence the first week we moved to Coeur d’Alene. It took me over a year, but I finally did the Pinterest thing and washed them in hot water and 1/2 cup of white vinegar. Problem solved. I didn’t even have to do a second round with baking soda. I will always wash my towels in vinegar now.

Other :)

With third-trimester fatigue setting in, I made a pact with myself that if I kept the house clean, I wouldn’t feel guilty about napping or reading on the couch. For some reason, wearing rubber gloves has made the dish washing element of keeping the house clean much more fun/palatable. I can get the water really hot without drying out my hands. I’m partial to the classic yellow variety.

Rhett and Link

A friend of ours introduced us to Rhett and Link, who have a YouTube show called Good Mythical Morning (Monday-Friday). Tim and I are now hooked on their quirky humor. They are multi-talented guys. Here are a couple of our favorite non-GMM clips:


The gals over at Pure & Simple wrote lovely posts about the table and hospitality all last month. They are so worth reading. {photo credit}

Preserving and Printing PhotosI gave up on scrapbooking in favor of making Blurb books (see this post for how I like to preserve and print my photos), but the Project Life system could potentially get me back into the scrapping swing of things.