a day in the life

I’ve had a rough few months.

Not in a bad way.  In a good way.  But the past few months have not been easy.  I’ve felt really lost a lot of the time.  I keep coming to this blog wondering what I’m doing.  What do I have to say?

What do I have to say.

I started this blog about six years ago, with the idea of learning to cook and sharing the amazing recipes I was sure I would be making.  And along the way, I got MS.  Which really changes the shape of a person’s life.  About a year and a half ago, I started to work out in earnest.  To be fair, I don’t know if I had a specific reason.  Just the idea that I knew I should be working out, and we’d spent some cash on a stationary bike.

Earlier this year, I though to myself, I should make this blog about MS.  But lemme tell you something — that is both challenging and slightly depressing.  MS is not fun.  It challenges a person every day in every way.  But it also makes you look at things from a completely different perspective.

Would I be biking nearly 170 miles a week if it weren’t for MS?  Maybe.  But probably not.

Would I have an addiction to green smoothies?  Um… I’m going to guess no.

Would I constantly be trying to push the boundaries of my dietary restrictions in the best possible way, and make things that normally sound dismal delicious?  Absolutely not.  I mean, I think we all start to get healthier as we age — recovery isn’t as quick, and we learn that taking care of this body we were given really does help lead a more fulfilling life.  But I think the extremities of the consequences I deal with really helped clarify my life.

I really don’t like absolutes, so when I try something new, I think of it in an 80/20 capacity.  I’ll be good 80% of the time, and take my chances 20% of the time.  Over the past few years, I’ve found this approach works best for me.  I think everyone responds to boundaries differently — some of us might like the all or nothing approach.  But all that all or nothing accomplishes for me is a truly terrible attitude and massive resentment and unhappiness.  That isn’t to say that over time I haven’t found certain things are better at 100% (green smoothies are an example — a day without a smoothie means feeling much more lethargic and foggy, having lower energy and waking up in gripping stiffness and pain the next day — all of which I’m sure, sound amazing).  But across the whole spectrum, 80/20 has become my go-to.

And as I struggle each day to make the best decisions I can (I succeed sometimes, but I also fail … a lot) I thought maybe it might be something I could share here.

I have meds on Friday, which means I’m tired this week.  And the heat and humidity of July are not my friends.  When I woke up this morning, after about ten hours of sleep, my entire torso ached every time I inhaled.  My legs were unbelievably stiff, and my left knee hurt.  I mean, hurt.  Which I find so depressing, because it means I won’t have a good ride on my bike, if I ride my bike at all.  And that, in turn, means that my “Move” circle on my watch might not get completed.  Highly unsatisfactory.

I knew John had a long conference today (we are still adjusting to him working from home – finding routines and rhythm). I tried to make my bullet point list for today — things I wanted to accomplish.  I was going over to a barn near my house that does therapeutic riding with disabled children with my mother, but otherwise, nothing on the agenda.  I’d done some grocery shopping yesterday, so I figured I’d make something yummy.

I did a slight variation of a black bean & citrus salad that I first made years ago (from Iowa Girl Eats).  Let me tell you something ~ making a recipe when you are infinitely more comfortable in the kitchen is so much more fun than freaking out about measurements and ingredients every five seconds.  This recipe *could* be healthier (I used Israeli cous cous cooked in chicken bouillon instead of quinoa and water) but it’s still a pretty good one.  It’s definitely a recipe that makes me feel both healthy and happy.

What I used:

1 1/2 cups pink grapefruit segments

1 can black beans (rinsed)

1/4 cup chopped cilantro

2 ears of fresh corn (cut off the cobb raw)

1/4 cup dried cranberries

1 cup dry Israeli Cous Cous

1 1/4 cup chicken bouillon

 

 

 

 

 

Dressing:

Juice of 2 limes

1/2 cup EVOO

2 tsp Cumin

Salt & Pepper to taste

 

 

 

 

 

Directions:

1.  Combine cous cous and bouillon in a medium saucepan.  Bring to a boil and then immediately reduce to a simmer.  Cover and allow cous cous to absorb liquid — about six- eight minutes.  Keep an eye on it and stir occasionally so the cous cous doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan.  Once the pearls are inflated, transfer to a  bowl and let cool to room temp.

2. Combine grapefruit, beans, corn, cilantro and cranberries in a medium to large mixing bowl.  I fold together with a spatula so that the grapefruit doesn’t break down too much.

3.  In a separate bowl, squeeze lime juice and combine with EVOO, cumin and salt and pepper.  Whisk together.

4.  When cous cous has cooled, combine with other ingredients, pour vinaigrette over and continue to mix until well combined.

5.  It’s delicious.  Trust me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m heading down to the gym now ~ I’ll probably do some burpees and squats (depending  on my knee) and then about 20 miles on the bike (again, knee dependent).  I’m hoping to get back to a regular yoga practice soon — my muscles are feeling tight from all the cardio and strength work outs.  Hubs and I have sweet potato noodles to make for dinner tonight (Wegmans = the best).

I’m already on my third bottle of water, so if I focus, I could probably get four in today (which may help with the soreness and stiffness).

 

every morning

This morning John and I slept in.  What that really means is that he gets up with Lucy at 6a so she can have her breakfast and a little walk around the neighborhood to do her duty, and then he comes back to bed.  So really, it’s a win for me.  I always mean to get up but the beginnings and the ends of days are tough for me.  It’s tough for me to get going, and it’s tough for me to stay awake at night.

I thought, since I’m trying to get back to this space a little more, that I’d begin July with a post about how I begin most of my days (barring meds, or MRIs like yesterday, when we get up at 5a and head into the city).

Every morning, I get up and put on my watch.  That begins the tracking of my movement for the day.  Also, the earlier you start your stand hours, the sooner you hit 12.  I check my Nalgene by the bedside – how full it is, etc.  I have four Nalgenes, three of which are in constant rotation at the house for my water tracking.  One is purple, one pink and the last green.  Each is 32 ounces, so based on the idea that a person should drink half their body weight in water ounces, I need to have about 80 ounces of water a day.  And more, because I exercise.  So I make a mental note of which color bottle I’m starting with, and how many ounces are in it.  I try to have three full bottles a day, plus any extra waters at restaurants, or our other water bottles that fit into the Jeep (and actually keep water cold). Having the different colors helps me remember (if it’s a tough brain day) how much I’ve had.  I can track by color.

Once I’m vertical, and have allowed my body to have its morning spasm (always enjoyable), I get dressed to work out.  My goal is always to ride the bike early, so that the rest of the day is free, but I will confess that that doesn’t happen all the time.  I get distracted doing laundry, or cleaning the floors, or reading a magazine.  But I now have a whole section of work out clothing in my closet (thank you Fabletics) so I’m usually go to go with clean clothing.

I’m a skincare junkie, so I try to splash my face with some cold water and then do a quick wipe with toner.  Then I slap on some lightweight moisturizer with SPF so that when Lucy and I walk around the neighborhood I don’t get sunburned.  I also psychotically brush my teeth and use a tongue scraper (sidenote, if you have never used one or don’t even know what it is, let me tell you that it is the best thing for making your mouth feel clean and keeping your breath fresh.  I am obsessed with mine).  I will confess that the time I spend in the bathroom at the beginning of the day and the end of the day is not a small amount.  But … I like taking care of my skin and my teeth.

Next up I take four drops of liquid Vitamin D and B12.  I do 8000 IUs of Vitamin D a day and 1000 of B12.  Probably a little higher than the average Joe, but I have multiple sclerosis, so it works for me.  I also always  make my bed and clean up any clothing I might not have put away the night before.  Sometimes I’m so blindingly tired when I go to bed I don’t even remember, so despite my OCD tendencies, it isn’t uncommon that my clothes are folded and left out on the bench under my window.  Somehow, despite fatigue, I still manage to fold my clothing before bed.  Just not put it away.

I also put some foot cream on my right foot, because the nerve endings in that foot are shot, and so I have a build up of dead skin and calluses (super sexy, I know) and my podiatrist prescribes me an ointment that eats away at that stuff.  It’s pretty rad.

The best part of my morning is my green smoothie, which I almost always have first thing, before Lucy’s walk, my bike ride, or anything else.  I’ve been doing green smoothies for a couple years now, and our basic recipe is pretty delish, but sometimes we switch it up if we have extra fruit (recently we had mango and it was so.yum) or something we want to try.   We used to use the NutriBullet, but that burnt out after a couple years so now we use our Vitamix.  If you don’t have a Vitamix, consider getting one, because it is glorious.  I absolutely love it.  I put baby spinach, orange juice, milk, ice cubes, organic peanut butter, a banana, Field of Greens supplement, Matcha, ginger, turmeric and a little cayenne pepper into our smoothie. I used to use coconut oil, but I like the flavor of a nut butter better.  You could make it healthier by using nut milk and nut butter, but John and I have tried (to this point unsuccessfully) to make the switch away from cow’s milk and intermittently used different combos of almond butter, cashew butter and others, but because it’s such a routine thing, I buy the easiest stuff to get when I’m trying to get in and out of Wegmans as fast as possible.  (That store is NEVER not crowded.  Seriously.)

With our smoothies I dole out our vitamins, a Men’s Multi for John, Women’s Multi for me, and a Vitamin C boost.  Sometimes we take Airborne (depending on the season and how we are feeling).  After that, it’s a walk around the neighborhood with Lucy, which I consider my warm-up, and then some burpees, squats, ab stuff and a bike ride.  My goal was 100 miles a week, but I’ve upped it recently to 150 (I was consistently hitting about 135 a week, and figured I needed to increase the challenge).

Anyway, that’s my morning.  That’s my little recipe for trying to feel the best I can regardless of how my body and my disease are feeling.  I read in one of my health magazines an interesting piece about hitting a workout plateau.  And I think I’ve begun to mentally apply it to MS.  A lot of times people hit a plateau because they don’t believe they can keep going/push harder/lift heavier/last longer.  But mostly, it isn’t about what our muscles are capable of, but what our mind has decided.  So sometimes, when I am near tears and feeling utterly beaten and frustrated, I think about that.  And I try to focus on succeeding and overcoming.  And once I believe I can, it makes it a lot easier to accomplish.  So, even when my bones ache, and everything feels heavy and clunky, I make myself get up, strap on my watch, and begin my day putting goodness in my body.

Happy July all! xo

it’s all about the food

So, after a thousand beginnings to this post, I came back to a very simple thought.

I just feel so much better when I eat healthy food.

I’ll start at the beginning, because that’s only fair.

So, as anyone knows who uses an app to track calories, some things are just so difficult to add because it’s not in the app’s database, you don’t know the serving size, or the ingredients,  or … well, anything except it tasted good and you enjoyed it (before trying to add it to your app).  That was one of the first times I actually thought twice before eating things … when I first began using “My Fitness Pal.” Just the tedium of trying to add something to my log (that was usually not uber healthy anyway) made skipping it a far superior alternative.  I also loved the idea that any kind of quantifiable exercise gave me the freedom to eat more.  It definitely inspired a Type-A person like myself to hit the trails or hot yoga every day of the week.

So – it all kind of started there a few years ago (when I was more ‘pleasantly plump’ than I wanted to be).

And then all the really fun MS stuff started, and so much information existed about how diet could be a huge factor in controlling and overcoming flares that just eating food I could describe became green juice, and smoothies and a noticeable move in our diet from things we know how to cook/liked to eat/were easy to prep after a long day of work to veggies/fish/gluten-free/low sugar/all-natural … and the list goes on.

As I mentioned, I’m Type A, so I like rules, and charts and schedules … plans and routines and things that feel familiar and comfortable.

My husband is definitely not Type A and he appreciates spur of the moment, throw it together, let’s-just-do-it surprises.  I think it makes us a good partnership.

Food trends are actually fascinating (the benefits/drawbacks of eggs goes a little like the joke “which came first, the chicken or the egg?” – on Monday, they help alleviate stress, on Tuesday they have too much cholesterol – you get the idea) and you can learn so much it feels totally overwhelming.  Eat vegetables, a lot of them, but try to steer clear of nightshade vegetables.  Drink a lot of water, but not carbonated water.  Eat fruits, but not a lot because they contain a lot of sugar.  And for goodness sake, don’t cook your veggies! All nutritional value is lost! 

Oy.

Essentially everything I really loved was (not surprisingly) on the bad list. In fact, I just heard on the radio that my favorite fruit has been identified as a fruit that doesn’t actually have much nutritional value.  Poor raspberries! (Doesn’t change my obsession one bit!)

As we navigated the new world of what I like to call ‘responsible eating’ (which, by the way, didn’t seem necessary in our teens or twenties when metabolism was high and bodies were fit and healthy) we definitely hit some land mines.  You would not have wanted to know me the week we tried to eat a raw vegan diet as a cleanse.  I made it to Wednesday night before completely imploding.  We love juicing but who (with a job, who values and understand the necessity of sleep) has time to make fresh juice every day? (Fresh juice apparently loses all value after three hours.  What.a.bummer.)  And make sure you’re rotating your leafy greens.  God forbid you juice spinach too many days in row.  Now, your juice isn’t as effectively nutritious.

It can be incredibly discouraging.

And yet, nearly two years after the raw vegan cleanse debacle, years of smoothies and juices and the slow evolution of our diet, here I am, staring in my fridge at a ton of veggies, a couple cuts of fish and a big bowl of strawberries.  I even used my kitchen scale making dinner tonight (to properly portion the fish into 3 oz servings) before cooking my old failsafe of salmon and asparagus.

Seriously, who am I?

I mean, who had even really  heard of quinoa before the gluten-free trend?  Or sorghum? Or millet?  I’d at least heard of buckwheat but had never purchased it, let alone cooked with it.

And now, not only do the man and I cook a lot of quinoa, but we love it. Oftentimes we make it in big batches, separate it into tupperware and use it throughout the week to make everything from an oatmeal alternative breakfast, to packed lunches, to the starch/pasta alternative in the majority of our dinner entrees. It tastes awesome, has a great, sturdy texture, reheats incredibly well (no crispy edges or sogginess!) and is absurdly versatile.

The thing is, the older I’ve gotten the more aware of my body I’ve become ~ knowing what works and what doesn’t, what makes me feel good and what makes me nauseous, or anxious or unwell.  In college, I was a straight up gin and tonic girl (Bombay Sapphire, if you please!) but now, the idea of drinking hard liquor of any kind turns my stomach.  I just don’t do it.  I used to love all things full of cheese and bread and cheese and bread (Mexican food was my mecca)  … and now, I eat both in moderation (which is actually so sad, as my love affair with cheese is infinite and all-encompassing).  I drink a ridiculous amount of water each day.  Seriously, it’s ridiculous.  I go the bathroom all.the.time.  

But I feel good.

Like, really healthy and clean and good.

And so many things that I once thought were going to be a drag, are actually the things that help me maintain that good feeling.  Counting the bottles of water I drink, counting the glasses of wine I drink (and sticking to my max 3 glass limit), restricting my tea/Stabucks consumption to one a day, etc.  Making sure the majority of what I eat on a daily basis are veggies (this one is huge).  Focusing on making sure leafy greens (the darker the better)  are a big part of my weekly diet, whether they come in their natural form or juice.  Reserving the consumption of red meat and bread for special treats.  (I think of it like this ~ my restaurant is one of those places you could go to on a regular basis, for no reason at all.  Like, more than once a week. Our food is good, our prices are more than fair and our atmosphere is casual.  But there are restaurants out there that are reserved for special occasions ~ birthdays, and graduations and anniversaries, and celebrations.  Red meat and bread are my ‘occasion restaurants.’  I’m always going to enjoy them, just not as much as I enjoy a restaurant like the one I run …. which I actually do eat at for lunch nearly every day).  I mean, I love love love me a well-cooked steak.  Love.  Truth.

It’s been awhile since I blogged, and there are reasons (none of them particularly inventive, interesting, or, well, good).  But I wanted to talk about something important when I came back.  I started this blog to cook, so I think talking about food, and the evolution of food in John and my life is important.  I still adore my mother’s macaroni and cheese.  But it’s a special occasion kind of meal now.  I’m not saying we don’t have nights when we make tater tot crowns and popcorn chicken and eat them with a  healthy serving of curry dipping sauce on the side.  We have those nights ~ and they are good.  We just don’t have them as often anymore.  And that’s because both of us would rather feel good the next day, than swollen and bloated after over-indulging one night.

I will say that I haven’t lost a ton of weight.  Which was the reason I started with the calorie app in the first place.  But I’m okay with that.  I’m a heck of a lot healthier, and that’s important.  It sounds cliched, and you’ve probably heard it before, but your body is a temple, and you should treat it as such.

During yoga today, my teacher read a piece during shavasana about how yoga believes your body is complete as it is, and we create the struggle of being incomplete.

I think of it a little differently.  I think we are complete, and we make choices that may diminish that, and every day is about trying to make the right choices to get us to mentally acknowledge what yoga already believes – our completeness.

Eating well is a huge choice for me in working toward that idea of being complete.  Maybe it helps my MS, maybe it doesn’t.  But it helps my mind feel clear, my body feel strong and my soul feel nourished.  And you can’t get much better than that.

Fun recipe for a snack:

Toasted Chickpeas (Garbanzo Beans) 

** This is a cinch! 

1 16oz can Garbanzo Beans (I like Goya because they have a tab to open, so can opener required!)

S & P

Cumin

EVOO

What to do: 

Turn oven to Broil.

1.  Rinse beans.  In a mixing bowl, toss beans with about a tablespoon of Olive Oil, 1/4 tsp of cumin and some salt and pepper.  (I’m only using measurements here in case the kitchen is new to you and you feel a little intimidated, the way I did when I first started to cook. Basically, just want to liberally shake the cumin and add a couple twists of salt and pepper -if you have grinders.  For shakers, just shake a couple times, maybe between 2-4 depending on how fast your condiments come out of the container).  I then swirl and shake the beans until every is mixed throughout.  No one wants one bean to have flavor and one bean to be bland!

2.  Spread evenly on an aluminum foil-lined cookie sheet.

3.  Pop in the oven on Broil or at 400 degrees on the top shelf.  For broil I give it about 10 minutes.  For 400 degrees, maybe 15-20 mins.  The outside of the bean gets crunchy and the middle gets creamy soft and it’s an awesome snack alternative.  Garbanzo beans are also great to add to salads raw.  They just kind of rock.

 

 

normalcy

I’ve missed cooking.

I mean, i have cooked in the past few months.  But not something new.  And that has made all the difference.

But today, I decided to try out a new recipe (from my fav, Iowa Girl Eats). And it was well worth it.  The man & I curled up onto our couch, watched a new movie (that neither of us had seen before!) and enjoyed a new recipe and a delish bottle of vino.

It felt ah.may.zing to feel normal.

IGE Spinach and Sausage Pinwheels 

So here’s what i used (per Iowa Girl Eats … it’s 100% her recipe):

1 pkg frozen spinach (10 oz, defrosted and squeezed dry)

1/2 cup Ricotta

2 oz Crumbled Feta

1 tsp Italian Seasoning

1/2 tsp Salt

Pepper

1 pkg Pillsbury Crescent Rolls

Marinara

Here’s What I did: 

1.  I took two sweet Italian sausages (I am not a fan of hot sausage but I deeply believe that it would -having now had the meal – be delicious), decased them, and cooked the meat up in a sauce pan.  Then, I let it cool.

Meanwhile …

2.  I combined the ricotta, feta, squeeze-dried spinach, Italian seasoning, salt and pepper in a mixing bowl and made a nice big bowl of goop.  (I happen to love that word.  And ricotta.  I might have had a spoonful  … maybe….).

3.  I took the Pillsbury crescent roll dough and rolled it out.  Then I cut it in half.  And evenly spread the spinach ricotta mixture on both halves of dough.

4.  On top of the spinach and ricotta I added the sausage.  Then I attempted to tightly roll the dough and toppings.  And then I cut them (with a sharp, serrated knife …) into eight pieces.

5.  I placed the pieces on a cookie sheet and cooked them for about 15 minutes (they were, indeed, golden brown).

6.  The man warmed up and doctored some marinara and we completely enjoyed our dinner snack.

~~~

All of the things we are dealing with are difficult … I know that in general, what most people deal with on a daily basis can be difficult.  And we all soldier on, because that’s the nature of life.

And yet sometimes, when your house is clean, and you enjoyed a good (and new) dinner and the wine rocked (the man found an out-of-this-world Italian Zinfandel that I will dream about) and work isn’t actually killing you … and you’re snuggled with your amazing husband and puppy  … life feels a little normal and a little okay.  And that is a true blessing.

 

fresh starts & green juice

I always feel like the first of the month is a bigger version of a Monday ~ a marker at which to start fresh.  I like moments like that ~ a free pass to begin again with best intentions and solid plans in place.

The man and I have re-dedicated ourselves to clean eating and educating ourselves about diet, nutrition and exercise having spent June getting married and enjoying a culinary honeymoon and then struggling to figure out a balance when we returned home and I had a broken foot.  You really have no idea how much it changes things to not be able to walk … or the level of teamwork you can achieve because of it.

We have been lucky enough to get some awesome appliances to assist us in our quest for tasty but healthy food.  One of my great friends got us a Breville juicer(!!) for our wedding, and my life coach friend got us a Vita-Mix (!!).

After a few false starts, we have figured out juicing and it makes for a nice switch up with our Nutri-bullet smoothies.  (Actually, the man figured it out because I can’t really move around).

Our basic green juice includes:

1 bag baby spinach

1 head iceberg lettuce

5 large carrots

1 large cucumber

3 granny smith apples

1 large chunk of fresh ginger, peeled

Lemon Juice

1 scoop Green Vibrance

Instructions: Juice away! **We strain our juice through a colander but that’s just because I really hate any kind of bits in my beverages!**

Every day is going to be a challenge in some way ~ I’m working through that.  But together, my wonderful husband and I are figuring out how to make the best choices for my health, for his health and for our life.  I guess that’s the best we can do.

Til tomorrow.  xo.

accentuate the positive

 

Okay, upon reflection of yesterday, I was in a pretty low place, so I figured I should probably add a little fun and lightness to the atmosphere before the blog is overcome & bogged down by sadness.  Urgh.  (Have you ever listened to the newest Caberet soundtrack?  Alan Cumming does this amazing ‘urgh’ sound ~ that’s what’s in my head!).

Couple positives ~ despite having to drastically cut back my wine consumption, the man and I got an awesome dual zone, eighteen bottle fridge yesterday.  So excited about it (even if his car accessories still haven’t arrived!).

And we made a decadent, yet gluten-free meal for dinner ~ almost as indulgent as Micky Dee’s (my ‘feel bad’ favorite) but so much better for us!  Nachos!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We used:

Gluten free corn chips (sea salt flavored!)

Fresh tomatoes, diced

Fresh basil (did I mention the man built me a little herb garden?)

Black beans

Grated white cheddar

Wild ground antelope

Seriously, we thought we were going to run out, and we had loads extra.  So good.  So things aren’t that bad I guess.  It’s all just about learning, pacing myself and knowing when to step back, take a breath and enjoy the ride.

my Oscar recap

I love the Academy Awards.  I have for a very long time, and I have certain traditions that I try to keep.  They are very simple ~ champagne and chocolate covered strawberries.  Yummers.

A few years ago, I started having people over fo watch the Oscars, and I planned meals in addition to the strawberries, because let’s be honest ~ people get hungry.  Three years ago, I did beef tenderloin, Israeli couscous with cinnamon, raisins and pine nuts and I believe asparagus.  John did wedge salads to start, with a homemade blue cheese dressing, cherry tomatoes and real crumbled bacon.  Two years ago, i made my Monday Night Football Polenta ~ polenta topped with Portobello mushrooms, Italian sausage, fresh mozzarella and yummy red sauce (side note: I’m half Italian, and I most assuredly do not call it gravy).  Last year, we did blanched veggies and beef tips with hummus and curry dipping sauce.  This year, I decided I wasn’t going to do a big thing ~ I was going to enjoy the Oscars solo (well, with the man and Lucy).  And then I got a huge and awesome surprise ~ one of my dearest girl friends and definitely my oldest (since I first moved to my second high school at the tender age of 16) would be staying the night with us, and watching the awards.  It’d been awhile since we’d seen each other, so I was super excited.

For the Oscars this year, I went simple again (instead of a three course meal ~ zoinks!).  We enjoyed shrimp with curry dipping sauce (one of the man’s ultimate favorites), a cheese plate with smoked salmon and a cream of asparagus soup.  My lovely friend is a pescatarian, so no meat, but that was a-okay.  The man and I are pretty used to veggie and fish based meals now ~ it’s our new norm.

So, yesterday afternoon, after Mass and Lucy’s walk (which was ridiculously muddy, thus Lucy also got a bath)  I got busy prepping for the evening (beginning by recording –just to be safe – all Oscar coverage).  First up, chocolate covered strawberries.  Last year, we invested in a glass bowl to create our double boiler, and I have to say, it has made all the difference in melting chocolate.  My first two years, I used one of my metal mixing bowls, and I’m not sure if it just got way too hot, or if it didn’t hold the heat as evenly, but glass is by far superior.

Next up (after making John’s Curry Dipping Sauce), I began the Cream of Asparagus Soup.  Not hard at all, but a couple of steps, so I referred back to the recipe a lot!  Bonus ~ there were additional directions for switching up the featured veggie, so I’m looking forward to making some other soups before the weather warms up.

What I used:

3 cups fresh asparagus, cut in 1/2 inch pieces (about 1 lb)

2 cups chicken stock (or veggie stock)

1 close crushed garlic

3/4 fresh chopped thyme

1 bay leaf

1 tbsp all-purpose flour (I used gluten-free, King Arthur brand)

2 cups skim milk (or low-fat)

Salt

Dash of nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
What I did: 

1. In a large saucepan, I combined the asparagus, stock, garlic, thyme and bay leaf.  I brought it to a boil, then reduced it to a simmer, and allowed it to cook for about 10-15 minutes.

2.  Once the asparagus had significantly softened, I transferred the mixture to my food processor, and blended until it was smooth.

3.  Meanwhile, I added the flour to the now empty saucepan, and slowly added the milk, whisking as I went.  Then I poured the pureed asparagus in, added the nutmeg, lemon zest and salt, and brought it back to a boil, stirring constantly.

4.  I immediately reduced it to a simmer again, and allowed it to cook for about five more minutes.  Then I served with a few roasted asparagus tips as garnish.

 

 

It was a feast, despite our best efforts to keep it simple.  And to finish it all off, we sat down to watch the awards with my tradition ~ chocolate covered strawberries and bubbles (even though this year, I had Martinelli’s Sparkling Cider mixed with tonic instead of the real stuff! I always forget about special occasions when I give things up for Lent!).

I thought the Awards were great, Seth McFarlane was a fun host, the winners were deserving and the entire night a triumph.  A few of my favorite moments … Jennifer Hudson singing “And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going” (Wow.  She continues to amaze me.  She rocks) … the cast of “Les Miserables” singing (Chills.  I got chills.  For real.  I’m such a musical theatre nerd!) … Daniel Day-Lewis’ acceptance speech (perfection!) … “Argo” winning best picture, and everything Ben Affleck said.  But especially his commentary on marriage (which, anyone with half a brain knows is the truth ~ I’ve read some of the feedback and wow people, way to focus on the negative) and some of his last words, which have become, over the past few years, my personal motto.

It doesn’t matter how many times you get knocked down.  It’s that you get back up.

He’s walking proof of perseverance, and I thought “Argo” was a brilliantly constructed film ~ a beautiful balance of historical events, suspense and comedy, woven together with a thoughtful soundtrack and beautiful camera work and editing.  The acting ~ while not on the level of “Silver LInings Playbook” (um, seriously, everyone should see it because it is a tour de force of amazing work by all four leads and an awesome supporting cast) paid homage to the fact that each was portraying a real person, and together made it a strong ensemble piece.  Even now, having watched it twice, I am stunned that the mission existed, but even moreso that it worked.

In the end, the 86th Oscars were very satisfying, and I enjoyed every minute.

wha?!?!?

 

 

Got inspired today, and made a new recipe, which if I recall correctly, I found on a vegetarian website.  As I was stumbling through the steps, I could tell that not only was I uneasy about the possible results, but so was the man.

 

 

 

 

Luckily, we needn’t have worried.  It was pretty good.  Even the man, whose eyebrows are perpetually raised at vegetarian, gluten-free meals, enjoyed it.  Win for me 😉

 

 

What you need: 

1 1/2 Tbsp Cooking Oil (I used Olive Oil, but the recipe wasn’t specific)

1 large onion, chopped

2 yellow bell peppers, cubed

3 cups cubed Butternut Squash (I cheated, and used a package that my grocery store sells)

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 Tbsp green curry paste

1 13.5 ounce can of Light Coconut Milk

2 cups Spinach, firmly packed

1/2 cup chopped fresh basil

1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

1 cup dry Ancient Harvest Inca Red quinoa

2 and 1/4 cups water, divided

 

What to do:

1.  Heat oil in large saucepan over medium heat.

2.  Add onions. Sautée for 5-7 minutes.

3.  Add bell peppers.  Sautée for 2-3 minutes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4.  Add garlic and green curry paste; mix over heat for 1 minute.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5.  Add butternut squash and coconut milk.  Mix together as you bring to a simmer.  Cover with lid, and allow to simmer to 20-30 minutes (squash should be soft to the touch).  ]

6.  In a medium pan, combine 1 cup quinoa with 2 cups water (or veggie/chicken stock).  Bring to boil and then reduce to simmer and allow to cook for 10-15 minutes, until water is absorbed (white line should be visible on individual quinoa).

7.  While everything is simmering, combine chopped cilantro and basil with spinach and 1/4 cup water in a food processor.  Blend well.

8.  When squash has softened, fold in spinach/cilantro/basil mixture.

 

9.  Serve curry mixture over Inca Red quinoa.  Voila! Deliciosa!

’12

It’s easy to be discouraged.  Especially in this day and age, when I feel as though comparisons exist on every level for every aspect of life.  Especially today, when a tragedy like Sandy Hook hangs in the air, asking all of us to question … well, everything.

It is easy to be discouraged.  It is much, much harder to stay encouraged.

This year has been a tough year for me.  Tougher than most, and it definitely tested my character, and who I felt I was as a human.  Which is hilarious, because I was so convinced that 2012 would be my year.  God has a sense of humor, I suppose.

This December, however, has been a bright spot, and I am grateful for all that I have enjoyed.  At the beginning of the month, the man and I headed up to his hometown, and while he and his dad headed out to hunt (not my thing, but it’s part of his family tradition) his mom and I journeyed to “Dickens of a Christmas” in Wellsboro, Pennsylvania.  Wellsboro is a cute little town still sporting gas street lamps, and dozens upon dozens of vendors lined the main street, everyone dressed in period costumes, and selling their wares.  It was a really good time (I even had funnel cake!) and I was two pairs of recycled sweater mittens richer when we left.

This Santa was fantastic.  Seriously.  My picture does his suit’s details no justice at all.

 

 

And a choir!

 

 

 

December is one of those months where every weekend feels booked up, and ours are no exception.  After another week of work (bleh), we headed down to DC for a birthday party ~ the man’s oldest friend from high school”s (well, birth if we’re getting specific) son turned three, and we made the trek to celebrate.  Then back to my parents house, to pick up Lucy, and spend some time with the fam.

On Sunday, after a delicious breakfast, we headed home to unwind and relax.  Unfortunately, (please read with sarcasm) the Steelers trouncing by the Chargers was not televised but we were able to watch the Giants domination of the Saints.  Since the weather had been iffy all day, we decided to take a drive and enjoy some Christmas lights (alright, the truth is, the man thought the lights would look cool in the fog).  We discovered a legitimate Candy Cane Lane right near our house, but the true highlight were the mansions on the man’s drive to work, which were decked to the nines.  And then, as Bing Crosby crooned “White Christmas” to us (my favorite Christmas voice, and movie) John very sweetly asked me to marry him.

I, of course, said yes.  

We were able to celebrate all week, as my birthday fell on Wednesday (which I spent in NYC and got to see my bro!), and we threw our Second Annual Holiday Party (successful!) the following Saturday.  It has been a very exciting, happy week, despite the horrific and incomprehensible tragedy of Sandy Hook.

I even made my very first roast chicken!  I used a Martha Stewart recipe (which I normally would eschew for various, valid reasons) and it was amazing.  In case you are feeling up for a hearty, cold weather meal, check this out:

What you need: 

1 whole chicken

4 lemons

S & P

Red bliss potatoes

rosemary

Cherry tomatoes

Thyme

EVOO

Crumbled feta (although  Martha used blue)

Baby spinach

Mustard

1 shallot

 

What to do: 

Okay, so here’s the deal.  About a year and a half ago, I caught this episode of Martha Stewart, and she was interviewing a woman from Glamor magazine.  They were discussing a new list of recipes being published “100 Recipes Every Woman Should Know.”  I wrote down some sketchy instructions of what to do, and then never got around to making it for – as previously stated – a year and a half.  I’m going to share what I did, and I have to say, it turned out pretty well.

First, I preheated the oven to 400 degrees.

Then, I emptied out the chicken, rinsed it off, and patted it dry.  I stuffed the interior with two full lemons (which I rolled on the counter to soften up), and using the remaining lemon, covered the exterior with lemon juice and a generous coating of salt & pepper.

Next up, I dropped the oven temp to 350, and put the bird in upside down for 15 minutes. During that time, I lined two cookie sheets with tin foil, and cut up the baby red bliss potatoes and the cherry (or grape ~ I’m not particular) tomatoes and spread them (separately) on each sheet.

 

After the chicken had cooked for 15 minutes, I flipped it, and cooked it another 1 hour and 45 minutes (despite Martha saying it would be 1 hr 15 mins max … oh well!).

After I flipped the chicken, I returned my concentration to the rest of the meal.  I seasoned both potatoes and tomatoes with olive oil, salt and pepper but used rosemary on the potatoes and thyme on the tomatoes.  I popped the potatoes into the oven when I thought that I had about 45 minutes left on the chicken (I wanted to make sure the potatoes were cooked, and the edges crispy.

Then I prepared the salad ~ which was pretty easy.  I crumbled up some feta, and tossed it with the baby spinach (and mixed greens ~ the man likes variety).  The tomatoes I added last (after the potatoes finished cooking, I put them in the oven for about 10-15 mins).  And while I was figuring out timing on everything, I made a little mustard vinaigrette ~ whisking together 1 tbsp mustard, 1/3 cup olive oil, the juice of 1 lemon and a finely diced shallot.

When the thermometer finally popped in the chicken, the man and I pulled it out and allowed it to rest for ten (ish) minutes ~ probably longer.  It helps maintain the moisture.

And we served our potatoes with a small side of sour cream (because that’s how we like it!).

All in all, it was a pretty impressive meal (to me at least!) of roast chicken, roasted rosemary potatoes, and a roasted thyme tomato salad with a mustard vinaigrette. The funniest part of it all?  The recipe for the chicken was called “Engagement Chicken” and I made mine the Friday before the man proposed.   Pretty hilarious (and, upon hearing this, he told me to stop using voodoo on him!).

I redeemed myself with dessert ~ really simple, and I promise, it will be a hit.

Apple Crescents (or, Individual Apple Pie Bites)

What you need: 

1 pkg Crescent Rolls

1 apple, cut into thin slices and tossed in lemon juice

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup brown sugar

Cinnamon

Nutmeg

Clove

What to do: 

1. I made a mixture of the sugars, cinnamon, nutmeg & cloves.

2. I spread 1 tbsp of the mixture in each of the opened crescent rolls, topped with an apple slice and rolled up.

3.  I cooked the rolls according to the package directions.  (PS.  Be prepared for clean up ~ cooked sugar is not anyone’s friend in that regard).

 

I guess you could top each with a little dollop of Cool Whip, or add some ice cream.  We enjoyed them plain, and they were delish.

And now, I must get to bed.  My eyelids are heavy, and it’s not even halfway through the week.  If I don’t get back to this space before 2013, the man, Lucy Lou and I wish you the happiest of holiday seasons, & lots of love and good wishes for the new year.  Oh, and of course, happy experimenting in the kitchen.  🙂

roots

Gratitude Journal

November 3rd ~ I am grateful for family.

On Saturday, the man and I headed back down to Bethesda to the National Institute of Health to visit his dad after surgery.  We were lucky that my parents were able to watch Lucy Lou (she’s very ‘in demand’!) and John’s aunts were at the hospital as well, having made the drive from upstate PA that morning.

Family is ~ well, it’s a mixed bag, if we’re being honest with each other.  But when the going gets tough, it’s family who step up, family who are there when life feels really hard, family who holds you up when you are down.  I am grateful that both the man and I have been blessed with family who care.

November 4th ~ I am grateful for football.

All Dressed up for the Game

 

Possibly superficial.  However, football has been an integral part of my life forever.  Not only that, but it has been a comfort and buoy in tough times, something to believe in and identify with ~ a passion.  During some really low moments, the Steelers were there every  Sunday and for the few hours they played, all my baggage and angst got put on a shelf, and my emotions were wrapped up in the game.  And Penn State ~ well, Penn State football is engrained in my very being.  ‘Nuff said.

 

 

November 5th ~ I am grateful for Lucy.

It’s been nearly 10 months since Miss Lucy came home with the man and I.  Our lives have forever changed.  This weekend, my parents very generously offered to watch her while we did hospital visits on Saturday and drove up to East Rutherford NJ for the Giants/Steelers game on Sunday (it pained them to think of her being alone for so long ~ instead, she was cuddled, coddled and just spoiled in every possible way).  The man and I woke up two mornings without our little lady, and even though I didn’t think it would affect me so much, I missed her waking us up, I missed her toes clickety clacking on the kitchen floor ~ I missed her good morning kisses.  The house felt lonely and empty without her.

I am so glad we made the decision to expand our family ~ but more importantly, I’m so glad she chose us, just as much as we found her.  We all fit perfectly together. I feel blessed to have her (despite the fact that she drops some major stink bombs sometimes!).
And now, returning to our regularly scheduled programming ….

After our busy weekend, and even though we gained an hour, Monday felt looooong today and I wracked my brain trying to come up with something yum to have for dinner.  I had a partially formed idea in my mind to re-dedicate myself to cooking this month.  And not ‘fun’ cooking ~ as in, events or dinner parties.  Regular, every day cooking.  The ‘routine’ kind.

A few weeks ago, we made loaded baked potatoes for WeHangsDay and that felt like delicious and fairly easy plan for a Monday kind of Monday.

They were pretty delish.

 

 

 

 

 

I sliced some sweet Italian sausage, sautéed some mushrooms & baked broccoli while the man seasoned and cooked the taters.  We added dairy (who wouldn’t?!?) with some grated cheddar (for him) parmesan (for me) and sour cream (is it a loaded potato without sour cream? I think not!). And we settled in for our first weeknight of Daylight Savings with a hot dinner, a snuggly puppy and some DVR recordings.  A pretty nice Monday, if I do say so myself.