Summer Check In

Friends! Happy Friday!

How has your summer been? If it’s anything like mine, it’s been a little crazy, in the best possible way! I’ve had a killer summer semester of classes, and we just wrapped up a huge project at work. Outside of work and class, Evan and I have been packing in so much over the past few months, and we are in love with life lately (if a little short on sleep). If you follow me on Insta (AlwaysErinD) you’ve seen most of these, but here’s a little peek into our life:

stimMy knees have been a hot mess since I was about 12, but after my last surgery (ten years ago) I didn’t rehab as completely as I should have, so every time I try to start being more active, knee pain gets in the way of my success. Not this time, though! I finally went to an orthopedic and started a rehab plan…and now I have the pleasure of electrocuting myself every night in the name of muscle development!

triathalonAs a result of my newfound leg strength, I finally started running (I’ve always, always hated running) and I was thrilled tocomplete a relay triathalon with my sisters this summer! I had the kayaking portion (hi, kayaking four and a half miles is hard, you guys!) but we all finished the running portion together…in tutus, of course.

kayakingEvan and I have also been doing some Ohio kayaking, when we can. June was pretty much awful, in terms of Ohio weather, but the second half of the summer has had many more opportunities for time on the water.

produceThe Ohio weather has also been a little rocky for my garden, but I seriously managed to grow an entire salad! I have such an irrational sense of pride about it, but I feel like I pioneer every time I each food that I grew myself.

plum tartSpeaking of food…I’ve never had a fig and, for some reason, I really thought they would by my spirit food. I did tons of searching for fig recipes and ended up making this really lovely skillet tart that I was so excited about. As it turns out, though- we don’t love figs. Actually, they’re not really that good at all. Maybe it was just our limited experience? Either way, we ended up with a really lovely almond tart and some pockets where figs used to be.

pieA more successful baking experience was last weekend’s berry pie- how much more basic does baking get than fruit pies? It was, of course, amazing—recipe coming next week!

annabelleOne thing that we absolutely haven’t had enough of this summer has been Annabelle time! She’s one, she’s teething, and she’s walking- how is she growing up so fast??

howieAnd lastly, this guy. Howie has been less than impressed with our whirlwind lifestyle, and is clearly ready for some hard core snuggling!

So that’s what’s been keeping me from the blog this summer! I hope you are excited for a very robust fall- I have the feeling that I am going to have an insane bout of productivity, and you all are going to be positively whelmed with house updates, tons of book reviews, autumn baking and more!

Tell me about you, though- what have you all been getting into this summer?

Cherry Almond Torte

Happy Fri Yay, my friends!!

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It’s getting to be the weekend, so it seems like the perfect time to talk about dessert…noms! When I started Whole30, I was really hoping to break my sugar addiction. What I realized instead, I think, is that I actually just really like desserts, without any addiction. I love coordinating different flavors to create something amazing, I love finishing a meal with an outrageous creation, and I love how happy people get when I make them dessert.

Also, let’s be real- cutting desserts entirely out of one’s life seems impractical, and certainly unpleasant. So instead of eliminating sweets entirely, I’m hoping to concentrate on eating sweets really intentionally- only when they’re really, really worth it. Fortunately, I seem to have a healthy amount of self control in determining when those times are :)

For me, I think desserts are really worth it when the recipe focusses closely on flavors and high quality ingredients. That means that I’m not trying to eat things that have tons of sugar merely for the sake of being sweet, or cream cheese merely for the sake of being rich. I’m trying to avoid excess in sugar and fat, when those things don’t do anything to enhance the flavors of the ingredients. If this seems like a lot of effort to put into a dessert- it is. But it all paid off this weekend, when I the most ridiculous recipe- a Cherry Almond Torte.

Cherry Almond Torte

Now, the inspiration for this recipe came from Smitten Kitchen, because Deb is a culinary goddess to whom I bow down. In 2013, she posted a recipe for Hazelnut Macaroon Torte, which looked amazing. I finally got around to making it a few months ago and it was so. damn. good. The ‘cake’ layers are actually macaroons, which are made without butter or flour. When I was searching for a decadent, but lightened up, dessert to make over the weekend, I recalled this torte and knew it would be a great jumping off point.

Evan works a Sunday shift at the firehouse every three weeks, and I like to come visit on Sunday nights and bring dessert. I know that the firefighters love dessert, but particularly almond flavored things, and cherry cordial seemed like a perfect flavor profile. I followed Deb’s methods, with some ingredient adjustments, and my torte came out perfectly. It was definitely a hit at the station (Evan said guys were finishing the leftovers for breakfast) and I’m sure it will be a hit at your home, too!

***reading this recipe might make it seem complicated. There are, admittedly, a few steps, but none of them are challenging, I promise! I even eliminated the need to frost the outside of the case, because that’s not in my wheelhouse. For me, this came together in a little under an hour- really!

Cherry AlmondTorte

Macaroons

  • Nonstick spray
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 12 ounces almonds
  • Pinch of salt
  • 6 egg whites
  • 1 tsp almond extract or emulsion

Heat the oven to 325. Next, drawn 4 8 inch circles on parchment paper (wax paper is not a good substitute, sorry!) and cut them out, leaving some margin. Spray your cookie sheets, and smooth down the circles, 2 to a tray; set aside. In a blender or food processor, grind the almonds with the sugar and a pinch of salt until the texture resembles sand. In a stand mixer (or with a hand mixer and a clean, dry, glass bowl) beat the egg whites until they are stiff, pausing to add the almond extract when soft peaks form. Use a spatula to fold the almond mixture into the egg whites in three batches—you want to be a little gentle with this, to avoid extra deflation, but they also need to be well incorporated. When everything is mixed, divide the batter into four and spread evenly on the parchment circles. A warning- when you make these the batter shouldn’t move, so make sure that they are as smooth and even as you can get them. Bake for about 21 minutes, until the edges start to brown and the top is dry. (While these are baking, wash and dry your mixing bowl and beater, but no need to rinse the blender just yet.) Remove to the cooling rack, and peel off the parchment paper after about five minutes.

Ganache

  • 6 oz chocolate (I used dark chocolate with almonds and sea salt, because that sounded good to me. You can choose anything from chocolate chips to a nice, bittersweet bar- find your own path!)
  • 2 tbsp milk (of heavy cream from the pint you’re about to whip)

Place the milk and chocolate in a microwave safe bowl. Microwave for about 30 seconds, then stir until the chocolate melts into a satiny dream. If the chocolate doesn’t melt, microwave for another 15 seconds. If it seems too thick to spread, add another tablespoon of milk. Divide the chocolate evenly among the layers and spread over the surface of the macaroon- edge to edge, or as thin as possible.

Whipped Filling

  • 1 jar maraschino cherries
  • 1 pink heavy whipping cream (very, very cold)
  • 1 tbsp almond extract or emulsion

Drain the cherries, but reserve ½ cup of the syrup. Place the cherries in your blender or food processor and pulse a few times- you want them chopped, but still chunky. Add the cream to the mixing bowl and beat until you get to a point past soft peaks (they fall over) but just before you get to stiffer peaks (standing up). At this point, slow down the mixer, add the almond extract and start drizzling in the cherry syrup. If the cream has been well whipped, it should retain its volume pretty well. Once the syrup has been incorporated, you can also add the shopped cherries and mix well.

Assembly: place one chocolate covered macaroon layer on a platter, and spread ¼ of the cherry whipped cream on top. Repeat with all of the other layers, and sprinkle on some chocolate shavings if you’re feeling festive. You can definitely serve this immediately, but I find that its really, really good if it sits in the fridge for a few hours- the macaroon layers start to absorb some of the cream and it gets a lovely texture. Either way, its delicious!

 

 

Thai {inspired} Chicken Meatballs with Spicy Peanut/Cashew Zoodles

Ohhh friends—today is a great day! My alarm went off at 5:45 this morning, and I was not feeling it. I rolled out of bed, though, put Howie in my warm spot, and pulled on some workout clothes. An hour later I had crushed my ab workout, which was nice. Even better, though, is when I was getting ready for work, I tried on a dress that was too small for me last month…and it fits. And it’s awesome :)

If you’ve been reading along for a bit, you know that this year is my ‘Year of Wellness’ and I just finished a Whole30 last month, designed to get me back on track. Well, things are happening my friends- the more I honor my health commitments, the more happy returns I’m experiencing. I was in a size 8 at Banana this weekend, for heavens sake! It’s a good feeling.

Zoodles and meatballs2Anyway. So I’m not strictly adhering to a Whole30 diet for now (there’s a cake coming up later in the week that confirms this) but I’m still pretty addicted to how much better I feel when I’m eating pretty clean. To that end, I’m really motivated to adjust a lot of the meals and flavor profiles I love to fit in with my new preferences. Thai food is some of my favorite, so I’m excited to share Thai {inspired} Chicken Meatballs with Spicy Peanut/Cashew Zoodles.

When I tried Plated last summer, one of the recipes they sent was for Thai chicken burgers, and they were so full of flavor!! I modified that recipe a bit and changed them into meatballs. Another dish I adore is spicy peanut noodles, and most of the flavor in that recipe is in the sauce, not the pasta. To update that, I traded cards for veggie noodles, and made a version of spicy peanut sauce that could accommodate cashew butter instead, with enough other flavor that you don’t notice the soy is missing.

zoodles and meatballs3Together, these meatballs and veggie noodles pack a ton of flavor and still maintain a pretty clean profile! They’re also really simple- both dishes come together in about 30 minutes, making them a perfect weeknight meal. For more options, you could also omit the zoodles and pass the sauce on the side, to make a perfect healthy appetizer for any party. Or reshape them into patties, use a lettuce wrap instead of a bun, and the peanut sauce instead of ketchup or mustard. Anyway you shape them, though, these are a delicious addition to your Whole30 recipe collection.

Thai {inspired} Chicken Meatballs with Spicy Peanut/Cashew Zoodles

For the meatballs

  • 1 pound ground chicken
  • handful cilantro
  • 3 green onions
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 3 inch piece of ginger
  • 1 tsp hoisin sauce (omit if Whole30)
  • 1 ½ tsp sriracha or chili garlic sauce (or more, depending on your flavor preferences!)
  • ½ lime
  • salt

For the zoodles

  • 2 tablespoons nut butter (most people do peanut butter, but I use cashew
  • 1 ½ tsp sriracha or chili garlic sauce (or more, depending!)
  • ½ lime
  • Salt
  • 1 medium or 2 small zucchini
  • ½ bell pepper
  • 1 cup carrots (I use the shredded kind, but you could zoodle those, too!)

Ingredient prep: chop cilantro so you have about ¼ cup; place half in a bowl for meatballs, and reserve half. Finely slice the green onions, and put half in the meatball bowl and half with the reserved cilantro (that will be used for garnish at the end). Grate or finely mince the ginger; add half to the meatball bowl, and half to a small bowl for the dressing.Grate or finely mince the garlic, and add all of that to the meatball bowl. While you’re prepping, shred the carrots and the zucchini (I LOVE this zyliss julienne peeler) and finely slice the pepper- you want these veggies to all be about the same size.

Meatballs: In a bowl with the cilantro, onions, garlic and ginger, add the chicken, hoisin, sriracha, a generous pinch of salt, and juice of ½ lime. Use your hands to incorporate everything really well, then give the mixture a few minutes to ‘settle’. Chicken mixtures can start off a little loose, and giving them a minute to rest allows to proteins to reorganize so they feel more substantial and keep their shape better. In the meantime, preheat a flat skillet over medium heat, and add some oil. Shape the chicken mixture into walnut sized meat balls—I like to make chicken a little smaller than I would beef, because I really, really, want to make sure it cooks through. Also, I used a medium cookie scoop and got about 16 meatballs, for reference. Move the meatballs around so they brown on all sides (about ten minutes), then cover and cook for another ten minutes, stirring occasionally. At this point, if you think they’re done, cut one in half to check. If they’re all done, remove from the pan. Otherwise, keep going for another few minutes until they’re not pink at all (or, until they come up to temp on your handy meat thermometer).

Dressing: start with the ginger you set aside, and add the nut butter, sriracha, juice of ½ lime, and generous pinch of salt, and whisk together with a fork. Taste test, and adjust with more sriracha or salt as needed. Note: this mixture may look thicker than normal dressing- that’s okay! The veggies will give off some liquid, so it will all work out.

Zoodles: You can definitely use the same pan that you did for the meatballs- no need to even wipe it out, since we’re working with similar flavors! Heat to medium high (nice and hot) and add the carrots and red peppers. Move those around the pan for about two minutes, then add the zucchini. Salt the veggies lightly, and cook for only another minute or two- you want the zucchini to lose its raw-ness, but retain its texture. When the zucchini is just slightly wilted, remove the pan from the heat and stir in the dressing. Toss to coat, then plate it up with the meatballs, and the reserved cilantro and green onions on top.

Wellness Wednesday: I finished my Whole30!!

Happy July, my friends! Today marks the first day of the second half of the month, and also my first day post- Whole30. In light of that little accomplishment, I thought it would be a good time to share my outcomes, and to talk a little bit more about the program and my experience. (A brief background: Whole30 is a 30 day (or longer) program where you give up known inflammatory food groups (legumes, including soy, grains, alcohol, added sugar, and dairy) to help reset your body and eliminate unhealthy food relationships. See here for more info!)

finished-the-w30-IG

First, and most interestingly—my results:

  • I lost 14 pounds, which feels amazing!
  • I didn’t take pictures or measurements, sorry, but I’ve dropped a pants and a dress size and things fit so much better know that I don’t have a weird bloated tummy situation.
  • I had been popping Tums multiple times a week before, and that need was eliminated immediately.
  • I had a painkiller free period, which is a miracle considering I had previously relied on a combination of pain killers, muscle relaxers, and hours at a time with my heating pad.
  • My knee pain is so, so reduced! I had debilitating inflammation, which is usually at its worst when it’s raining. This rainy June was so, so much better than I could have expected, in terms of pain and swelling.
  • Sleeping is so much better! I fall asleep easily and sleep soundly through the night, and wake up refreshed.
  • I feel so good, in fact, that I’ve started a fitness program and I know that part of my success there is because I’m actually fueling my body appropriately.
  • My skin is so, so clear. I hesitate to give Whole30 credit for this because I started a very interesting skin regiment a few weeks before I started the program, but it sure didn’t hurt!

My experience

I don’t think I intended to embark on a Whole30 journey in June. A few of my friends were talking about it, and I was sort of thinking about kind of doing my own take on a Whole30 type thing. On June 1, though, something clicked and I realized that I needed to just jump in and do the entire program, no exceptions. From there I read the book (so helpful!) and I realized that this was a great strategy for breaking some terrible habits (of which I was well aware) and just gaining a better relationship with food.

Whole30 was much easier for me than I thought it would be. For one thing, I was sick of feeling awful and I knew that I was eating so. much. junk. I was crabby the first few days, but wasn’t strongly tempted to cheat. After that first week, I knew that I had the ability and I was pretty committed to seeing it through. I think part of my success is that I am a creature of habit—I ate eggs every day for breakfast, usually with sauted greens (or hard boiled, if I was running late) and added fruit if I was still hungry. For lunch, I always have a salad with some protein and, ignoring Whole30 rules, I frequently took two hours to eat it due to my schedule. (I want to note here that I sometimes don’t want a salad for lunch, but I have it anyway. My preference is for food creativity, but my schedule and my health goals really keep me on track.) Dinner was a great time to experiment with food and flavors. I always started with a protein and a veggie, and just plugged in whatever sounded good. Zoodles and meatballs with red sauce, chicken and veggie kebabs, steak with roasted broccoli, porkchops and baked sweet potatoes, taco lettuce wraps with guac- the list goes on and on, and I found tons of variations on that basic formula.

The-time-will-pass-anyway.-You-can-other-spend-it-creating-the-life-you-want-or-spend-it-living-the-life-you-dont-want.-the-choice-is-yours

My Helpful Hints

  • Tell people who regularly eat with you, so they can be supportive and respectful. My husband wasn’t on board for doing Whole30, but he was on board for making dinners without bread and accepting my substitutions. He was also great at talking me out of any of the times I wanted to slip.
  • Anytime that you start to feel like you want to quit, eat something. As the Snickers commercials remind us, you’re not you when you’re hungry. Have a piece of fruit, (TJs has great peaches right now!) or some bacon, or a few nuts, and really ensure that you’re not hungry. Every single time I thought about quitting, it was because I needed to fuel up.
  • Establish some fallback meals and snacks, and keepthoseonhandat all times! Here are some items that I could put together without stressing:
    • Snacks: cashews, apples with cashew butter (perfect for breakfast, snacks between work and class, after a too-early dinner), carrots dipped in mashed avocados, watermelon after meals (we went through so much watermelon)
    • Meals: grilled chicken, roasted veggies (anything in my fridge tossed in a cast iron skillet, with spicy seasoning), zoodles (there is always zucchini in my fridge), red sauce on anything, bacon (whenever I couldn’t think of what to eat, I started cooking bacon)
  • Think about what you’re eating. I keep seeing people mentioning that they’re eating a ‘monkey salad’ with breakfast, but getting discouraged not to lose weight. The ingredients in that salad are whole, sure, but bananas, cashews, and coconut are also all kind of high in fat and calories. That’s not bad, but be mindful of how you’re combining food as it relates to the results you’re hoping to see.
  • They say not to weigh yourself during the program, but it was so helpful for me to weigh in after one week and see the progress I’d made. Seeing that number was awesome, especially since I wasn’t seeing any physical changes, and really energized me and encouraged me to keep going.
  • Lastly, get in a good headspace before you start. People are really attached to food—the idea of food, the memories and feelings associated with food, and actual food itself. Whole30 can help you develop a healthy relationship with food, but its also a struggle to break all those bad habits! Remember that 30 days will pass no matter what kind of food you eat- Whole30 will help those 30 days pass while you make some positive changes! Also, after you get past the first day, stop focusing how many more you have to go. Instead, remind yourself how awesome you’ve done so far. If you want to, you can do it—I promise!

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My Future

This is a little unclear. I don’t really have a healthy relationship with food just yet- I know that if I started to add back in chocolate, and ice cream, and salty snacks, I likely wouldn’t be able to set my own limits. For those groups, I’m planning to continue to avoid them until I can develop a better mindset. For everything else, I’ll plan the reintroduction that to plan recommends- each food group that was eliminated will be gradually reintroduced, so I can evaluate how my body responds. To be honest, I’m pretty sure that dairy is a no for me, and equally sure that alcohol is just fine (and I have a very healthy relationship with it), so I’ll likely just add alcohol back in for a few days. Then maybe grains, and then legumes (really, just soy and black beans), then maybe dairy, if I really need it. I hope that my positive experiences stay top of mind, so I can keep up my results. I can absolutely see myself doing a strict Whole30 every few months to get back to this stage– I love the results and I feel great!

Let me know if you have questions, or want any support– I’m a great cheerleader, and I think everyone can do this! Have you done a Whole30? If so, how was your experience and what were your results? I want to hear more success stories!

Grilled Stuffed Peppers {Whole30 Compliant}

Happy Monday, my friends! I am just finishing up my first Whole30, and I know some people who are getting ready to start one for July, so it seems like the perfect time to share more Whole30 compliant recipes!

Paleo stuffed peppersSo last week I shared a really simple and delicious red sauce– seriously, I make that at least one a week and use it for all kinds of things! Today I’m sharing how I use it in Grilled Stuffed Peppers. For anyone who is not trying to be Whole30 compliant, please feel free to use sausage from the grocery- it’s delicious and you can skip the seasoning process. For anyone that is really sticking to the letter of Whole30 and wants to avoid super-processed meat, you can follow the directions below.

PAleo stuffed peppers 2015These Grilled Stuffed Peppers are perfect for an easy dinner, particularly if you’ve already made the sauce. They’re also good when you have helpers in the kitchen for stuffing, and since the sausage is cooked when you put it in the peppers, you don’t have to worry about anyone handling raw meat. Plus, they’re made with tiny peppers, and everything in miniature is delicious! Seriously, though, the tiny peppers help to balance the meat and veggies, so this dish is an all-around healthy one. I hope you enjoy!

Grilled Stuffed Peppers

  • 1 pound ground pork (or sausage, but skip the seasonings if so!)
  • ¼ sweet yellow onion
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 tbsp dried sage
  • 1 tsp dried basil
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 tsp fennel
  • ½ tsp dried oregano
  • 2 tsp red pepper flakes (adjust to taste!)
  • Salt
  • A bag of mini bell peppers
  • 1 batch of red sauce
  • ½ cup parmasean cheese (optional, not Whole30)

Prep: Chop the onion and garlic pretty finely.  Rinse the peppers, remove the tops and scrape out any seeds. We’ll also blanch the peppers at this step, so they soften. To do that, just bring a pot of water to boil and drop the peppers in a few at a time for 2 minutes each. Remove the peppers, drain, and let cool.

Sausage: In a good sized mixing bowl, knead together the pork, onion, garlic and all seasonings. Wash your hands, then heat a skillet to medium high and cook until just barely browned- don’t overcook the meat here. Salt to taste (I like about two healthy pinches of kosher salt), then add ½-1 cup of sauce to the meat; this will help it stick together.

Assemble peppers: once things are cool enough to handle, stuff the peppers with the meat and sauce mixture- you want them stuffed firmly, so everything stays in, but not so much that they split. It may take a few peppers to find the balance, but don’t worry about it- once everything is covered in sauce they’ll be awesome!

Finish: when all the peppers are stuffed to can start grilling. I make these on a grill pan when I’m cooking inside, or on the veggie section of my grill outside (it has smaller holes). Heat either cooking vessel to medium high and sear the peppers on all sides, until they gain some color. Everything is cooked at this point, so you’re really just heating things through and finishing the peppers. Serve with extra sauce and some more cheese, if that’s something you’re eating. Enjoy!

Bacon, Sweet Potato and Kale Hash (Whole 30 compliant)

I know I started with my red sauce recipe yesterday and promised to show you ways I use it, and I will! But as we go into the weekend, I wanted to first share this breakfast dish. I was a little apprehensive my first Whole 30 weekend- during the week I’m too busy to really care if I can’t be creative in the kitchen. The weekends, though, are a completely different story. Weekends for me are food time- I like to find new recipes, make elaborate meals, and share delicious desserts with friends and family (you all know how much I love Sunday baking for the fire station!). I was really worried that a Whole 30 lifestyle would strip my weekends of food pleasure, leaving behind only eggs and some fruit cups for brunch.

Sweet potato hashOh, but I was wrong…so very wrong. One of my friends pinned this Whole30 compliant sweet potato hash from the Food Network, and my brain immediately starting thinking of ways to improve it. My first thought was that it needed something to balance the sweet from the apples and yams- I love sauted greens, so I thought that kale would be a good option here. From there, I nixed a few ingredients, adjusted the cooking method, and topped it with some fried eggs. What I ended up with was a really amazing breakfast that I’ve made several times, with a few variations.

A few notes: first, I don’t actually like sweet potatoes. I didn’t before, I mean, and I don’t know if I love them now. In this hash, though, with the bacon and kale, they seemed less sweet and more like roasted potatoes- so good! Second, one of my best tips for Whole 30 is to find some compliant bacon! You need to get fat in every meal, and bacon was a great start for many of by breakfasts. Compliant bacon is sugar free, which is hard to find, but I’ve had luck at Whole Foods and specialty groceries. Alternately, you could skip the bacon and use olive oil for a veggie version…then you just miss the delicious bacon essence :)Apple sweet potato hash 2In terms of ease, this breakfast came together in about 30 minutes- the cast iron really helped the potatoes along! It was also a great brunch item that guests loved, without thinking that it was weird diet food. An overall delicious win, in my book!

Sweet Potato and Kale Hash

  • 3 slices bacon
  • ½ sweet onion
  • 1 large sweet potato
  • 1 granny smith apple
  • 3 cups kale
  • Salt and pepper, maybe red pepper flakes, maybe some garlic
  • Eggs, if you’d like

Prep: dice the onion into a medium-ish dice, then cut the (un-peeled for potassium) sweet potato and granny smith apple into about ½ inch cubes. Rinse and chop the kale into bit sized pieces. Finally, slice the bacon into narrow strips (I saved this for last so you don’t get bacon juice all over your knife and cutting board).

Hash: heat a cast iron pan to about medium. Add the bacon and cook until crispy, stirring as needed. Remove the bacon from the pan, but leave as much grease as you can- this will help roast everything else. Add the onion to the pan and cook for about two minutes, or until it starts taking on some color. Add the sweet potato, sprinkle with a healthy pinch of salt, toss to coat, then cover and cook for about ten minutes. Remove the lid and stir in the apple and the kale. At this point, add about ¼ cup of water and cover the pan for three to four minutes- this will help finish cooking the potatoes and will steam the kale. Remove the lid and check the potatoes- they should be fork tender. If they’re not, cover again with a lid and keep cooking. If they are tender, season to taste (I add garlic to everything, so now is when I would add a clove or two, chopped) and serve hot. If this is your entire meal, think about topping with a fried egg for protein. Enjoy!

Delicious Simple Red Sauce (Whole30 Compliant)

Friends! I mentioned starting Whole 30 in my last Wellness Wednesday post, then immediately fell off the face of the Earth. The thing is, I didn’t really want to talk a lot about it up front, in case I did a terrible job and stopped committing, like, a week in. Here I am, though- almost through Week 4 and going so strong! Just five more days, and my Whole 30 is complete.

{its like hearing angels singing}

So I’ve successfully committed and I’ve seen some great results- I’ll talk more about those next week. What I want to do today is start to share some recipes that have played a big role in my diet lately. (In case you’re wondering, my Whole 30 strategy was very basic- I counted on about a half a dozen basic recipes, with slight variations, to get me through my first time).

Easiest Red SauceToday’s recipe is my Simple Red Sauce (which I’ve been making for years, well before I was even aware of Whole 30). Italian food is one of my comfort foods, and I really wanted to find a way to integrate parts of what I already love into my program menu. I also knew that if I changed too radically, it would just feel like a temporary diet, and not something sustainable. So this red sauce was really key to keeping my food familiar, interesting, and still really healthy.

This recipe has 4-5 ingredients, so it’s pretty simple (perfect for non-chefs!). When you cook with that few ingredients, you really need to make sure to use the best quality you can find and afford. For that reason, I strongly urge you to find some San Marzano whole tomatoes. They’re about $4 for the can, compared something like $1.60 for store brand, but they seriously make a world of difference in the flavor (I know, because I spent so long saying that it was silly to pay extra when the store brand was probably comparable- it’s not). You can usually find these either by the pasta sauce, or in the international foods aisle.

Easiest red sauce2

A few more common questions- why buy whole tomatoes? Because a cooking instructor once shared that they’re better quality than diced or pureed, because you can see exactly what you’re working with, so now that’s what I do. And it doesn’t really take that long to blend them. And why make your own sauce? Because why not? Seriously, though, most tomato sauces have added sugar and other preservatives and weird things. Whole 30 is all about eating as close to nature as you can, so I like my food to be as unprocessed as possible. Short of using actual, ripe tomatoes, this is as good as it gets for sauce…and its pretty good. Just saying :)

Basic Red Sauce

  • ½ sweet yellow onion
  • 2-3 cloves garlic (optional, I guess)
  • Olive oil
  • 28 oz can san marzano tomatoes
  • Kosher salt

Prep: Dice your onion to your specifications- I go between a fine dice and a rough chop, depending on how I’m using my sauce. Mince your garlic finely (or use squeeze garlic- seriously, that’s one place I don’t blame you for cutting corners). Empty the tomatoes into the blender and pulse a few times until you have a consistency that you like.

Sauce: heat 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil in a wide sauce pan. Add the onions and a generous pinch of salt and cook on medium or medium low for about 7 minutes, stirring occassionally. You want to onions to get translucent, and start to take on color very slowly- that’s how they start to caramelize and add amazing flavor to the sauce. After 7 or 8 minutes, add the garlic and continue to cook for another 2 minutes on relatively low heat. Garlic burns easily and then gets bitter, so really pay attention once you add it to the pan. When the garlic starts to soften and get really fragrant, add the tomatoes to the pan and cook on a medium heat for about ten minutes. You can put a lid on the pan to keep excess water from evaporating, or leave the lid off to cook out some of the water for a thicker sauce. As always, add some water to thin if you’d like to change the texture. Salt to taste (I usually add two or three generous pinches of salt) and serve however you’d like.

You’ll see next week that I use this with meatballs over zoodles, in zucchini boats stuffed with ground meat, with grilled stuffed peppers- there are so many options, and this is a delicious base for many Whole 30 meals.

This entry was posted in Food.

One item on my blog that I’ve really missed is the ‘What I Read’ series. I’m an introvert and a reader, so when things get overwhelming, I turn to literature. Most of what I read is fiction, and the ‘fluffy-ness’ of what I’m reading is inversely related to how crazy things are in my life. Even so, I’ve managed to read what I think are some really great books lately! I hope you enjoy my first installment of ‘What I Read: 2015’.

LEavingLeaving Time, by Jodi Picoult

Leaving You is the story of Jenna Metcalf, a young girl whose mother abandoned her as a baby. Together with a psychic and a private investigator, Jenna is determined to find her mother and learn what happened the night her mother left. One the way, we learn a whole lot about elephants, which was actually a surprisingly intriguing aspect of the plot. Overall, I found this story very engaging, and was pleasantly surprised by the conclusion. I would happily recommend it to anyone who wants to dive into a pleasant piece of literature- perfect for vacation.

Undress MeUndress Me in the Temple of Heaven, by Susan Jane Gilman

Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven is the true story of Susan Jane Gilman and a classmate, chronicling their post-graduate round the world adventure. Armed with very little knowledge of the world, and entirely unprepared for what they would encounter, the girls begin their journey in China—and very nearly don’t make it out. I think I was drawn to this book because of my own foolhardly travels when I was in my undergrad, and I was somewhat horrified at each twist a turn. I don’t know what to make of this book- the events within are real, so it’s not like there’s a conflict, climax, and conclusion…well, there is, sort of. But, as in reality, life continued without a very satisfying conclusion. Overall, I was very interested in this book, and I don’t regret spending the time to read it. On the other hand, I’ll recommend it to my sister who is moving overseas in the autumn, but probably not too many other people. So, choose your own adventure with this one!

AllAll the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr

All the Light We Cannot See tells the story of Warner, a young German orphan, and Marie-Laure, a blond girl who has to flee Paris following the Nazi occupation. I generally don’t prefer to read anything set in the time of the Holocaust, actually, but Anthony Doerr does a really amazing job highlighting the very common ways that people are inherently good, even in the worst possible circumstances. The stories of the two protagonists are kept separate, for the most part, but the narrative is woven in such a way that it’s not confusing or frustrating at all- it’s just beautiful. All the Light We Cannot See is one of two amazing books that I’ve read this year (even if some of my book club thought it started a little slow) and I would recommend to every single person, regardless of age or gender. It’s just a really good book.

YouYou, by Caroline Kepnes

You is the story of Joe Goldberg, a bookstore clerk who encounters a very desirable customer, and commences with the most creep tastic stalking ever. I must say, this book was very well written, even if I don’t love the story—I had to put it down several times, but I always wandered back to find out what was going to happen next. The thing is, the protagonist is so effective in his stalking and so absolutely nonchalant, that the entire thing is very believable; as in, this could be taking place regularly in my city relatively easily without people realizing. Overall, it’s not one that I texted my sister recommending, because I was really disturbed, but I wouldn’t discourage anyone from reading it- it was oddly addicting.

Okay, that’s part one! So tell me- what have you read lately that was really remarkable, either positively or negatively?

Wellness Wednesday Check-In

Friends- hello!

How are you?

I miss you!

Pretty much, I’ve been absent from this blog and kind of checked out of my normal life for a while. This spring was challenging- I was taking a full class schedule and struggling with one particular class; my department was understaffed for bit while demands escalated; Evan and I mourned the passing of two of our family members. It was…it was a really rough time, for a while.

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You can see that Howie was also having a rough time

But things finally seem to have righted themselves! We’ve been able to find some peace with our losses, work had sorted itself out, and I’ve moved into a new semester. Yay! Now that we’re looking ahead to blue skies, it seems like a perfect time to do a quick check-in on my Year of Wellness.

Overall, I feel safe saying that things are going well. As it relates to financial wellness, I still have a boatload of student loans, but I paid off a substantial loan with our tax refund, so I feel great about that. Professionally and intellectually, I feel like my classes are absolutely contributing to development, and really engaging my mind. Spiritually, the She Reads Truth app (I think I mentioned it just before Easter) has been so helpful in developing a daily spiritual/religious practice. Mentally, I’m pretty sure that my yoga and meditation practices were critical in getting me through this spring- I turned to one or the other of them anytime I felt too out of control.

I guess where I’m really focusing my attention now is physical and nutritional wellness. With all of the insanity of funerals and classes, I quit the hot yoga class that was showing me serious fitness results, and I start to eat things that were convenient…which are not the same as things that are healthy. As a result, I’ve been feeling pretty blah lately- tired and sluggish and just gross.

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My Whole30 compliant Zoodles and Meatballs

So I’m making some changes! I started a 30 day power yoga program, and am doing a Whole 30 month. It’s only Day 3 of both things, but I feel pretty good. Moreover, I know that in order to make real lifestyle changes, I have to stick with it—so my dedication is pretty serious, at this point at least. I’ll keep you all posted, especially in Insta, if you follow me. I’m really looking forward to seeing some healthy results as I tackle these two projects and I can’t wait to share my progress and strategies with you!

Tell me- what aspect of wellness have you been working on lately? Are you seeing any good results?

May Subscription Box Review: Birchbox and Sample Society

Friends! I’ve been away, and I’ve missed the blog so much! June is my month, though, so get ready for a flood of blogger sharing– starting today, with my May sub box reviews!
Birchbox 2015

Monthly delivery for $10/month

Includes 4-5 beauty and lifestyle samples

This month my box included Biore the POREfessional primer, Real Chemistry 3 Minute Peel, Marcelle Hydra-C Hydrating Gel, Mally Beauty Eyeliner in Navy, and Living Proof Instant Repair, along with foil samples for the shampoo and conditioner. The foil samples sent to compliment the Instant Repair were a nice touch, even though the actual sample didn’t do alot for my hair. I’m always happy to see a full sized product, and I’m looking forward to trying some navy eyeliner. The vitamin C product was an okay size, but not remarkable in treatment, and I’m always happy to have more POREfessional samples :) The one product that I was really excited to try, though, was the 3 Minute Peel. Unfortunately, my skin hated it! You’re supposed to rub it in and then it sort of sucks up your dead skin, and as you’re rubbing it the dead skin rubs into tiny balls and you rinse them off. Instead of rinsing off, though, my dead skin kind of clung to my face in clumps, and I had to use a physical exfoliator to get them off…and even then, my skin was kind of rough for a few days. Overall, though, I’m really glad I had the opportunity to try it out– now I know that it’s a product that’s not for me! Although I wasn’t over the moon about my Birchbox this month, it was still a win for me, and a nice experiment!
Sample Society May 2015
Monthly delivery for $15/month
Includes 4-5 full and deluxe sized beauty and makeup samples
This month I received Julep Lip Gloss in Graceful, John Frieda Luxurious Volume In- Shower Treatment, LEnaige Water Sleeping Mask, Versace Eros Perfume, Avene Thermal Spring Water Spray, and Alterna Caviar Repair Multi Vitamin Heat Protection Spray. So last month was the tiny-sample debacle, and I was completely prepared to cancel this month when I read the spoiler– another lip gloss, drugstore volume samples, and a perfume. Then I received the box, though, and I really am pleasantly surprised! First, the lipgloss is small and pink, but it really is a perfect shade, so I might even get the full size. The perfume sample is a delux size and a fun bottle, and I even like the scent. The John Frieda and the thermal spray are kind of misses for me, but the Caviar Repair is a brand that my hair loves, so I’m really thrilled to have a travel sized sample. What made the entire box for me, though, was the Laneige Sleeping Mask. I’ve just started to get into some Asian Beauty products, so was thrilled to see an AB product in the box. And it’s amazing for my skin- I added it over moisturizer before bed the night I got my box, and I woke up to the smoothest skin ever. Love. Sample Society was on the brink of a breakup, but they totally reeled me back in with this box…and I’m thrilled!