Visiting Rome, and a Papal Audience


We opted for an overnight flight into Rome, which was a good plan but awful execution. The flight was completely full, and I was in a middle seat. I kept trying to sleep, but those seats are so incredibly uncomfortable that it was impossible. I did some reading, but spend most of the ten-hour flight just wishing it were over.


Though it was miserable, I don’t know that I would make a different choice in the future since it allowed us to maximize time on the ground. When we landed at 11:00 AM (Rome-time), Evan and I were both in that zany space where you’re too tired, and also a little frantic about being in a foreign country without language skills. We breezed through customs and made it past our first challenge: effectively purchasing train tickets at the correct time to the correct place. Fortunately, we just needed to get from the airport to Trastevere, a growing neighborhood just outside Rome proper where our hotel was located.

Hotel is an interesting descriptor- our place was more like an Air BNB. There were only three or four rooms, and the proprietor lived offsite. I wasn’t clear on any of this when I booked, but I dind’t mind the set up; the only challenge we had was contacting the owner when we arrived, so we could check in.


After getting into our room, showering, and resting a minute, Evan and I were ready to start seeing Rome. We’d only alotted one full day in Rome, which ended up being dedicated to the Vatican, so this travel day was our best chance to see much of what Rome had to offer.

Fortunately, our room was located right on a bus line. We bought tickets at the Tabbachi shop downstairs (1.5e each, and I don’t think we ever actually validated them) and rode it to the Colosseum. It was enormous, and we started to get a sense of what it would be like to be a Roman citizen, going about your modern life in the midst of all of these historical artifacts. I can still barely wrap my mind around it.

We left the Colosseum and headed to St Susanna church, where we needed to be at 5:00 to pick up our tickets for the following day’s Papal Audience. Luckily, before we left we had downloaded major city maps to my ipad so, even though we didn’t have data or cell service, we could still track our location on the map. I also starred all of the places we wanted to go, which made it easy to figure out directions.


From St Susanna we walked to the Trevi fountain, which was gorgeous and completely jam packed with people! I pulled out my brand-new selfie stick, which mortified Evan, and documented our time there. Next up were the Spanish Steps, which were actually closed for renovation. They opened the last day that we were in Italy, but that first day we had to be satisfied with seeing them through flexiglass.


Finally, our Rick Steves guide insisted that we stop by the Pantheon, and I’m glad that we did. Like much else in Rome, it is breathtaking in it’s scale and the art it contains. Also, there was an orchestra playing that evening and the sound was amazing. We left to catch the bus back to our room, grabbing some mediocre pizza on the way.

Day 2 in Rome was all Vatican time. I’m Catholic and I’ve always dreamed of seeing the Pope in person, so it was important to me that we make it to a Papal Audience, if at all possible; fortunately, the timing of our vacation was perfect for this! The Pope begins speaking at 10, but we’d been told  that most of the seats fill shortly after 8:00. When Evan and I arrived at St Peter’s square around 8:30 or 8:45, we found that this meant that most of the good seats (near the pathways for the Pope mobile) are taken–there were plenty of seats still available.

We found seats as close to the aisle as possible, and the Pope began moving through the crowd around 9:30. We ended up being about 20 feet from the Pope, and I of course burst into tears 🙂 After 30 minutes of waving and kissing babies, Pope Francis began his service.

The thing about the Papal Audience is, if it were just in one language, it would be about 10-15 minutes. But since there are so many languages that it’s translated into, it ends up being about an hour and a half. Most of it I zoned out on, and just thought about how lucky Evan and I are. In the English portion, the pope blessed us and extended the blessing to our families, and blessed our relics. That was really everything I was hoping for!

After the audience ended, we grabbed lunch before our tour of the Vatican Museum. I was really excited to go through the museum, and couldn’t understand why Evan was not–he’s usually all about history! Apparently, he thought the Vatican Museum was just a collection of Papal relics…like, ‘here’s the pope robes through the years’. I’m not kidding, that’s nearly verbatim what he said after.

Instead, it’s a museum of all of the riches that the Vatican has…acquired…through the years. There is such much art through such a variety of media. My favorite part was the painted hallway, and Evan’s was the map room.

By the end of the tour we were kind of worn out, but we still needed to make it through St Peter’s Basilica. Friends, I don’t know how to convey the magnitude of insanity that SPB is. It’s enormous, first of all, and all of the detailing is insane. Also, it holds the remains of JPII, which I found very moving for whatever reason.

If ever you find the opportunity, do go into the dome. The climb is ridiculous– narrow, and steep, then leaning as you get further into the dome, then at the end there’s this portion that’s a tiny spiral staircase, with the steps so steep you have to use a climbing rope instead of a handrail. Finally, after all this, you find yourself at the top, in the fresh air, looking out over all of Vatican City and into Rome. It is magnificent.

Whew. After that long day, we were so super exhausted. We found a bus back to our rooms, relaxed for a minute, then went out for pasta and wine. Rome was a whirlwind for us, but we knew it would be. Next up, we make our way to Venice for a few days of adventuring!

We’re back!

Hello, friends! I’ve just returned from a magnificent, rejuvenating vacation, and it seems like the perfect time to revive the ol’ blog <3


Evan and I were fortunate enough to spend the past several weeks enjoying all that Italy has to offer– we travelled from Rome to Venice, then Lake Como, on to Florence, and finished with several days on the Amalfi Coast. To say that it was incredible would be to under exaggerate enormously.


If you follow me on Instagram (AlwaysErinD) you will have seen 40 or so carefully curated photos, which hopefully didn’t overwhelm anyone’s feed. The next couple of blogs will go into a bit more detail. I’ll cover our itinerary, the sites we visited, how we got there, where we stayed, what we ate and other logistics. I’ll also include reviews and links, in case anyone is interested in any specific part of our journey.


For travellers who are planning a similar trip, I hope this is helpful! For everyone else, I hope it’s at least interesting 🙂


Anyway, welcome back to my blog! I’m feeling re-energized and enthusiastic, and I’m excited to be writing again. I hope you’re excited to be reading!


It’s June!

Friends! It has been a minute {or five months} but I am back in business!

When last we met, I posted a very ambitious #30before30 and, man, I have been busy! Unfortunately, over the course of time, I’ve actually only accomplished one thing, but it’s enormous- I graduated!

30 Before 30

That feels pretty awesome! It got to be really crazy towards to end of the semester, but I finished my coursework, passed my finals, and am proud to say that I am officially a master.


This means, of course, that I am now a woman of leisure and am in need of activities to fill my time. We recently booked airfare our fall vacation, so I definitely need to start thinking of how to best spend three weeks in Italy (pasta, wine, relaxing…done!) but I also want to get busy on this list!

This summer, I’m hoping to check off a solid 12-15 items (garden and friendship seem like nice targets) and start work on many others. I’ll be posting so much more, now that my life involves something more interesting than data analysis, so stay tuned!

30 Before 30

It is time, my friends- time for 30 before 30!

Bucket lists are usually not for me, but I’m really embracing this one! My birthday is on NYE, and that makes it a great time to review and assess what’s happening in my life. Last year I turned 29 and, while I’m not having any kind of life-crisis about turning 30, it really is one of those nice, round milestones. At this point, I would say that I am abundantly satisfied with my life, but there are a few of those areas that are ripe for tweaking and updating.

Enter: 30 Before 30.

30 before 30

Some of the items on here are habits or behaviors that I’m hoping to develop and embrace. Some of them are skills that I’d like to enhance. Some are actual, physical items that I am in pursuit of. Everything on this list is something that I am committed to doing, and that I truly believe I can accomplish in the next year {DREAM BIG, amirite?}.

So this is what I have going on this year, and I’m crazy excited for it! If any of you have experience or resources in these areas and care to share, please text, email, or comment at me—if there’s anything I’ve learned over the past few years, it’s to embrace my community 🙂 Otherwise, keep an eye out for updates as I check off everything on the list over the next 11.5 months.

{Can we just talk about how we’re already down ½ a month?? Also, I’m taking four classes/12 credits to finish my masters this semester. So maybe hold your enthusiasm for me until early May, as that’s when I’ll be back up to breath.}

Also, what am I missing? Let me know what you have on your must-do list for this year!

Welcome to 2016!

Good morning, and happy Monday, friends! It’s the first Monday of the New Year, and I am feeling energized! Now, to see how long that lasts 🙂

You know that I love to set themes for each year—last year I dedicated myself to the idea of ‘Wellness’ and this year my theme is…

Dream big


This year is a crazy year for me- I turned 29 on the 31st, so it’s my last year in my 20’s (keep an eye out for my ’30 before 30’ list, coming soon to a blog near you)! It’s also the year that I finish my master’s (God willing), maybe transition to a new career with greater challenges and responsibilities, maybe a year that we think about expanding our family, maybe think about expanding our family, maybe do some major home renovation, maybe go on a vacation of a lifetime! Overall, I think that this year will be a transition year and friends- if I’m going to transition, I want to have GOALS!!

So this is a year for thinking about new chapters in life. I want to design a life that is insanely fulfilling, and that requires planning and intentionality. Life happens, and you certainly can’t plan for everything, but you can set your bus in the direction that you hope to go and give yourself some help in getting there. To that end, I’m making goals on goals on goals, with the help of some awesome tools.


I’m using three main tool groups. First, planners—I love a good planner, and I’ve gone through so many of them over the past few years (from Emily Ley and Plum Paper all the way to bullet journaling in a Moleskin). This year, I happened upon a few planners through Kickstarter campaigns, and I’m only a little embarrassed to admit that I backed three projects and, as a result, came out with three physical planners for the year. Right now, I’m working with the Commit30, the Spark Planner, and a Passion Planner. I’ve heard so, so many great things about Passion Planner that I actually ordered several and gave them as Christmas gifts, but I’m looking forward to using each of them to see which works best for me. I hope to follow up more next month and these and let you know how it’s going!

The second group of tools are my books— I love a good self help/motivational book! I’ve read Thrive about three times now, but will plan to read it again this month. I think it’s a great book on self-care, perspective, and life balance, and that is critical for finding any kind of success. I’m also reading The Happiness Project, which I’m a little iffy about. I’ve heard great things about Brene Brown, so she made my short list (both Daring Greatly and Rising Strong). Finally, I’m most looking forward to Rise: 3 Practical Steps for Advancing Your Career, Standing Out as a Leader, and Liking Your Life. All three of those things are high on my list of priorities for the year, so I am really excited about this book! I’m certain that I’ll pick up a few more books as the year goes on (I’m constantly browsing) but this is what I’m starting with.

Finally, my third set of tools are interactive- worksheets, journals, etc. To some extent, this includes my planners (the PassionPlanner, especially, is designed with lots of brainstorming and review items). I also have a few other things up my sleeve. First, I’m working with some of the activities from What Color is Your Parachute– there are some great processes that help you work through identifying your interests and skills that might not be as intuitive as you think. Second, I was very kindly gifted an Inspire Journal for Christmas. It has inspirational quotes/prompts on each page that you are encouraged to write to, and I’m hoping to use it regularly to brainstorm. Third, the book Five—it’s about 70 pages long and filled with activities and exercises that encourage you to think about different areas of your life in new ways. The end game is to imagine/design where you will be five years from today, and I’m really looking forward to working through this book over the next several weeks. Finally, and maybe what I’m most excited to use, is a set of PowerSheets from Lara Casey. People rave about these worksheets, and I’m looking forward to getting into them and seeing what all of the excitement is about!

So that’s what I’m working on for 2016- not necessarily a specific goal, but definitely developing some longer term plans over the next three, five, ten and twenty years so I can start to shape what my adult life will hold. For me, that seems pretty exciting! So tell me- what’s your theme for the year? Or what are you hoping to accomplish? If you can dream it, you can do it!

2015: A Year in Review

Friends! I have been conspicuously MIA for the second half of 2015, I know. Things just…well, things were life, and not particularly remarkable or out of the ordinary, but my little chunk of internet was shuffled to the bottom of my priorities list for a while, to be honest (though you can always find me on Insta)! But I’m here now, and I’d like to wrap up 2015 with you 🙂



Biggest victories: I earned straight A’s all year; Evan was accepted to grad school; we took two lovely family vacations and spent the holidays, happy and healthy, with everyone we love (seriously- between Friendsmas, hangouts chats from abroad, and all of the family time, we saw nearly everyone!); health improvements! I paid off my car, and we also refinanced our mortgage to a 15 year loan, which feels very much like adulting.

Biggest challenges: loss. In 2015, Evan’s step dad passed away, as did my grandmother—that was heart breaking. We also struggled with Howie’s back injury, and we learned a lesson in how important that guy is to us! And, for whatever reason, we still have not completed a few house projects that have lingered for over a year…huh. We also struggled to balance life between self-care, work, school, family and friends, and sometimes that balance was very stressful.DeGiralomo15-8092

Theme: My theme for 2015 was ‘Wellness’ and I am actually really thrilled with my progress in that area. The first half of the month was crazy stressful, and I developed a really reliable relationship with meditation and yoga that helped me through; my marriage also grew so much as we worked through the pain of our losses. In June, I embarked on a Whole 30 rather suddenly, and saw so many health improvements immediately. That led to my joining a fitness challenge, and I realized that my knees were really limiting my physical activity. I made doctor’s appointments and did some rehab for that for a few months, AND THEN I TOOK UP RUNNING. That’s a miracle, since I’ve never been a runner. My sisters and I teamed up to do a triathalon in Buffalo at the end of summer, and it was awesome. Overall, I’ve lost weight and really improved my physical fitness, and that’s been great for me. I think that I struggled this year with social wellness- with everything going on, I didn’t have the opportunity to spend as much time with friends as I would have hoped early in the year. Through fall, though, I made an effort to travel to people a little more, and we had a few weddings and hosted a Friendsmas, and that really filled my heart in a way I so badly needed.

Areas that still have opportunities for improvement might be occupational, but I’ve got a few irons in the fire there, so we’ll see what 2016 brings. I’d also like to work on my financial wellness. I’ve done a pretty boss job of saving for a vacation in the coming year, but I’d also like to create a plan to ensure that I’m finished paying my student loans by the time I’m 35. Finally, I’m really planning to address my spiritual wellness in the coming year. My wedding really turned me off of the Catholic Church and, to be real, I don’t think I’ve attended Mass since. I strongly suspect (hope?), however, that my experience was specific to my church at that time, so I will plan to re-engage with a few other churches in 2016 and see if I can find something I like more. If not…well, that might be an answer, too, and maybe I will have to develop a new spiritual path.

So that’s me for this year! I have a ton more coming up in the New Year, and I’m looking forward to sharing a little bit about that in the coming days. This week will feature my birthday (last year in my 20’s!), then New Years Day (with a new theme) and then our 3rd wedding anniversary, so we have many things to celebrate! What I want to know, though, is more about your 2015- what was really remarkable for you? Share in the comments below!


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!!


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


  • 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.


  • 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!)


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.


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!


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!