Category Archives: cooking

Confession of the week

I have a confession to make.

I ate meat every day this past week. Chicken x three meals, then ham and potato soup, and the worst was the most delicious chili burger I’ve ever tasted in my entire life. God it was so good that just thinking about it makes me salivate.

But at the same time it’s been really awful too. My stomach certainly took a beating especially since I’ve primarily stuck to a vegetarian diet over the last six months and my general level of energy has been a bit off keel. It always amazes me to see how my diet impacts my mood and general well-being.

Sunday was the perfect opportunity to get back on the bandwagon though. In general, I haven’t felt like cooking and the very thought of taking a trip to the store just wasn’t appealing (hence the reason I raided my freezer where obviously most of what’s in there are the fixings for meat-based dishes). The biggest challenge I face with a vegetarian diet is the time it takes to prep and plan for dishes throughout the week but on Sunday I decided to man up and in the end I’m really happy with the baked lentil and spinach stuffed shells I made.

This meal was the perfect excuse to use up the rest of my lentils and homemade marinara sauce. The recipe calls for canned lentils but I’ve always had trouble finding those in the store and it’s really not that much more of a hassle to cook your own. I’m also no fan of reduced-fat cheese of anything so I ended up using regular ricotta. Other than that I didn’t really make any additional modifications to the recipe. Big deal, I know.

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It’s certainly a meal high in fiber and an added bonus is the combination of my love for cheese and carbs. Plus, it makes for pretty great leftovers! 

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Filed under cooking, health, meatless mondays, vegetarianism

Life as I know it

The title may sound poetic but I promise you it’s not. Life has just been busy so I figure the best way to get everyone up to speed is to recap the last month and a half of my life in one full swoop.

Really exciting, I crossed two things off my 30 before 30 list:
1. Set up a retirement account. I feel very grown up having a financial advisor who does everything and anything I need him to. We’ve decided to be “aggressive” in the market and while he warned me I may not like him some months I warned him I would probably never even notice.
2. Be a vegetarian for 30 days. Surprisingly, going vegetarian was really easy. The only difficult aspect was having to plan my meals so far in advance and ensure there were vegetarian options available when I was on the road traveling for work. In fact, now that my 30 days are up I’ve actually decided to stick to the new diet. It’s now been six weeks, which is also the amount of time you need to build – or break – habits.

Going vegetarian has meant spending a lot of time in the kitchen trying out new recipes. I honestly can’t think of a meal I made and didn’t like these past six weeks but here are a few recipes I tried and absolutely loved:
1. Spring rolls – I didn’t follow this recipe at all but it was what I started with. I ended up using a basic cole slaw mix and instead of eating it raw with the rice paper, I sautéed the mixture in various seasonings. A very easy recipe albeit a bit time-consuming but they were oh so yummy!
2. Hummus spinach bake – I actually didn’t use a recipe for this. I happened to be using one of those input the ingredients you have into a computer generator and it lists different dishes you can make. Out of that came a plate of hummus and sautéed spinach topped with shredded cheese. I put it in the oven on 350 for about 15 minutes. It was nice and bubbly and paired well with the pita chips and carrots I already had on hand.
3. Zucchini pizza boats – They don’t make for great leftovers since zucchini contains so much extra water but they were fantastic straight out of the oven. Plus there are a ton of variations for toppings. Variety is nice!
4. Stuffed peppers – I love peppers and anything that goes in them. Quinoa is my new favorite super food and these are perfect for grilling out with friends. I have found that Mexican is the easiest vegetarian go-to dish for me.

I had a few other health related goals for the month. One goal was to complete all of my outstanding health exams and another was to beef up the exercise routine. A few things worth mentioning:
1. $500 later it turns out I am, in fact, still healthy. Go me!
2. I tried two new fitness classes: a hip hop dance class and Krav Maga. Not only can I booty bump with the best of em’ but I also found a socially acceptable way of releasing my inner rage. If Krav Maga didn’t cost $150/month I would definitely get a membership.

So you don’t think I’m two-dimensional talking about health and fitness, I did have a few fun things going on this past month and a half. At the top of my list:
1. A few friends and I spent a weekend in the Old Cabin at Blue Jay Farms, which we all know is my favorite Missouri get-away spot! Of course Miley dog joined us. I love make your stomach hurt bouts of laughing and I have plenty of those moments with my home girl Lizard. See below. We made an oriental themed dinner, played a new card game, swam, read, hiked to a waterfall, and picked blueberries. I love that place!

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2. I hadn’t seen my Mom since Christmas so I’ve been missing some quality mother-daughter time. Over the 4th of July weekend my parents decided to come down and visit for about a week. We spent time boating at the lake, visiting family and friends, watching movies, snuggling, and dancing/drinking our butts off at the winery. It was a fabulous time and I’m missing them already!

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3. Oh yeah, Dad finally sent me the pictures of our trip to El Salvador. I’ll aim to get those up at some point once I sift through the 2,000+ photos but here are a few teasers.

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And of course I wouldn’t be me if there wasn’t a little bit of self-introspection thrown in the mix. A few self-revelations:
1. Attitude up! I wish I could coin this phrase but I actually learned it at a sexual harassment training I went to for work. I say it all the time now. It serves as a good reminder that we all have the power to change our dispositions. When you’re stressed, feeling overwhelmed, and just consumed or surrounded by negativity it helps to keep things in perspective and to remember that you have the power to keep a positive attitude and mind. It’s sort of like Gretchen Rubin’s think happy, be happy motto.
2. How to live a life of well-being. Martin Seligman proposed a scientific model of happiness and well-being called PERMA. Essentially it states that in order for one to live a flourishing life, there are five basic motivations behind any decision or action made: positive emotion, engagement, relationship building, meaning, and achievement. People do their best work and are happiest when these five elements are being met. I could dedicate an entire blog post to this particular concept as I’ve become enthralled with the scientific model so much that I’ve begun incorporating it into my work culture and everyday life. My poor colleagues have been subjected to team building exercises this past week but I actually think they enjoyed them. If anything I can tell it brought us all closer together (R and M – meaningful relationships). Anyways, I’ll save you the rambling – go check it out!

While this post certainly doesn’t capture everything that went on the past month and a half, I feel a little less overwhelmed jumping back into the blogging world. I keep waiting for my time to free up and devote to writing again but the truth is I just need to make it a priority again (more on that later).

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Filed under 30 before 30, blogging, cooking, family, goals, happiness, health, personal growth, self-introspection, vegetarianism, well-being

Gaining mental clarity

“I come to my solitary woodland walk as the homesick go home. I thus dispose of the superfluous and see things as they are: grand and beautiful.”
-Henry David Thoreau

Hiking in the woods might be the perfect and ideal activity to clear the mind and gain a little bit of clarity, at least for me. Not only is it great aerobic exercise but it serves as a way to get rid of the excess energy stress often places on the mind. Considering my struggle with battling burn out all through the month of March, I chalked this weekend up to spending my time doing various outdoor activities and soaking up the sunshine. The perfect antidote as it turns out.

Since Saturday was opening day of the Columbia Farmer’s Market, Liz and I made plans to meet there and pick up some supplies for an afternoon BBQ before heading out to Shooting Star for a morning hike with Miley. While I prefer shopping local whenever I can, I wish the food was a bit more affordable. I had a really hard time paying $2.50 for ONE tomato. It was well worth it though; our afternoon BBQ of burgers, salad, and potatoes hit the spot. I even picked up how to make homemade dressing and healthy potato salad (use balsamic vinegar and eggs instead of mayo and mustard) from Liz.

Until the latter part of the hike, Shooting Star was practically vacant. Miley fished for rocks and Liz and I chatted about life. By the end of the hike, both of our spirits were lifted and I came to the realization that given the crazy ups and downs over the last couple of months, I finally feel like I’m back to myself and ready to take on the next chapter of life. Nice girls (and guys) may finish last, but we always come out on top in the end. I look at the people who have been there for me these past few months and they are all people who lift me up and allow me to be my true self (no matter how weird and dorky I may be). I’m no longer desperately trying to fit into someone else’s mold of who I should be and I have to say it feels good to shed that weight. I am happy and I think I’ve finally reached the mental clarity I’ve been yearning.

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A modpodge of meatless mondays

So it’s no secret I’ve been behind on blogging, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t kept my end of the bargain on March goals. In particular I’m loving the meatless Monday venture and it’s something I’ll most likely continue to carry into subsequent months. Since going meatless on Mondays, I actually end up eating meatless dishes throughout the week as well – not only because of the leftovers but I’ve found my craving for meat to be diminishing. In the past two weeks, I’ve gotten to try four new meatless dishes and put my cooking skills to the test. I’ve made a sweet potato and black bean soup, vegetable quiche, black beans and rice, and a bean and tomato risotto (I’m missing the recipe links, but you can always do a google search for similar ideas!).

First, the sweet potato and black bean soup. An absolute hit and made with vegetable stock instead of chicken broth. I added in a mixture of vegetables as well to add a bit more substance to the dish. Overall, a great combination of flavors and very filling – perfect comfort food during one of our snowstorms this month.

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Second, the vegetable quiche. I honestly can’t recall if I’ve ever had quiche before. I know they’re usually made with pie crusts but I decided to switch things up a bit. I opted to use sliced red potatoes for the bottom crust instead. While the flavor was different and unique, I probably won’t make the vegetable quiche again unless it’s for a bigger group of people (something that will get eaten in one sitting). It didn’t make for great leftovers and while I won’t make the vegetable quiche again, I’d be curious to try another kind like ham and cheese or sausage and kale.

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I also ended up making black beans and rice – a simple, cheap dish that I was able to make with ingredients already in my pantry. I had a few leftover vegetables from the quiche so I spiced up the dish a bit by adding in a variety of bell peppers and a bit of hot pepper for a subtle kick. For the first time, I also used fresh bay leaves. I loved it so much and I practically use it with every dish I make now.

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Lastly, I decided to try making risotto since I’d never had it before. I finally figured out why people love it so much – it’s a concoction of cheesy goodness in your mouth. While the original recipe called for white beans, I opted to use kidney beans and added in some shredded zucchini with the diced tomatoes. A filling dish and one that actually made me wish I had some meat to add to the meal – fish or shrimp would be a complimentary dish to this particular recipe!

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Meatless monday: veggie pizza

I think the challenge with meatless Monday’s is not cutting out meat for one day a week, but keeping those recipes fresh and healthy. I didn’t want to go for the usual grilled cheese or pasta so for my first meatless Monday, I decided to go for something quick and easy but which was still fun to make.

One of my favorite comfort foods is pizza so I opted for a healthy grilled vegetable pizza. To save time, I ended up buying pre-made whole wheat, gluten-free pizza crusts and natural pizza sauce at the health foods store. Call me crazy, but I didn’t even use a recipe for this little adventure in the kitchen. If there is one thing I know how to cook well it’s vegetables.

I’m not a big fan of mushrooms but because of their health benefits I make myself eat them anyways. Like onions, I hate their consistency but if I cut them up small enough I hardly even notice they’re there. So on top of mushrooms and onions, I also added red and yellow peppers, zucchini, tomatoes, and basil. Since I don’t own a grill I actually ended up sautéing the vegetable mixture in olive oil and minced garlic instead, which turned out just as good in my opinion.  What I loved about the end product is that it filled me up without weighing me down like so often heavy meat pizzas do.

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Considering the extra veggies, sauce, and pizza crust in the refrigerator, I’m sure I’ll be making this again in the very near future!

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Misadventures in the kitchen

Traveling always manages to wear me out. After spending four days in St. Pete with little to no sleep, I needed a vacation from vacation. Someone must have heard my prayers because I woke up this morning to a house with no power, 8″ of new snow on the ground, and dangling tree limbs over the hood of my car. I wasn’t going anywhere and although the power itself was only out for about three hours, my internet didn’t come back on until 4pm which meant I got to spend the majority of the day doing non-work and non-school related things. With nothing pressing on my plate, my only goal for the day was to curl up on the couch with a book, drink some hot tea, and be adventurous in the kitchen. So, that’s what I did.

I haven’t cooked since I got food poisoning a few weeks ago so the majority of my meals have been made up of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches or pre-cooked dinners I pick up at the local grocery store. Since I finally had the time and energy to cook, I wanted to take a stab at a turkey and black bean enchilada recipe I found on Skinny Taste. And since I’ve been in the mood for homemade bread, I decided to make that again.

Well, today was not the day for me to be in the kitchen because I botched both recipes.

Because of the impending snow storm, practically all the meat was gone from the grocery store. So instead of using ground turkey I opted to use ground chicken thinking the consistency would be pretty comparable. While it wasn’t bad by any means, the meat was a bit tougher and chewier than I would have liked. Overall, I really liked the meat mixture; adding diced tomatoes and black beans to the dish certainly helped the flavor but this is where I should have stopped and just made some rice.

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After making the meat mixture, I decided to be adventurous and make my own enchilada sauce as well. I was particularly excited to work with unfamiliar ingredients, mainly peppers I hadn’t heard of before in what they call “adobe sauce.” I will likely never use this ingredient again – the flavor is really overpowering and I only used a tablespoon. In fact, the sauce ended up tasting like watered down barbecue sauce (and I really don’t like barbecue sauce). Combining it with the enchiladas overall ruined the dish for me, but I’m eating it anyways because I’m poor. While the dish is tolerable, it’s just not that great. It looks pretty though!

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As an avid fan of starches and grain, I also decided to bake some bread. Here, I also tried a new recipe and three hours later you can see where it got me. Nowhere. I was more bummed about the bread than the enchiladas.

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Considering my misadventures in the kitchen, I still had fun. Plus, I got to snuggle with this cute thing all day so she makes it all worthwhile.

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Getting back into the groove

Today marks the end of the first week of my second semester of graduate school. I’m taking three classes instead of the two I originally planned on but after perusing through the requirements for each class, I think I’m less freaked out about my ability to juggle it all. Although it means I’ve resorted to mapping out every moment of my day, week, and month between work appointments, school assignments, workout activities, and free time, I don’t think I could stay sane or keep everything straight without its presence.

It’s evident that balance is a top priority of mine and getting back into a scheduled routine after a month and a half of all “me time” has been hard. I’ve already borne witness to my January goals taking a back seat to other obligations. Like although I still manage to carve out a lot of friend time on the weekend, my daily reading/writing time has been replaced with homework readings and assignments. I haven’t read since last Monday and I’ve yet to write my pen pal (it will happen, though!). For the few hours I have to myself at the end of each work/school day, I kind of just want to veg out in front of the TV and cuddle with my dog. So ensues the ongoing dilemma of my life – where I’d much rather focus my daily 8-5 life on personal life goals and aspirations than on actually working. One can dream.

When Saturday night and Sunday finally came around I was definitely looking for some quick pick me up activities. I ended up coffee bar hopping with Liz where we actually shut down Coffee Zone. And they weren’t very subtle about the whole ordeal. I mean if you blast “Closing Time” by Semisonic we get the picture. Turns out I actually enjoy coffee bar hopping more so than bar hopping. The opportunity lends itself to quality conversation topics, the people watching is great, and since my appetite for alcohol is pretty non-existent these days the coffee was a good substitute. By the time Sunday rolled around, I had talked Liz into trying hot yoga for the first time. She did great but her recount of the experience is pretty comical. After such a tough workout, I was craving whole grains and a lot of them. Since I just inherited a bread machine so ensued a day of baking apple spice bran muffins and whole wheat bread. They both turned out delicious and it turns out the old adage is true. You really can’t eat just one!

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Between baking, quality girl time, hot yoga and some much-needed sleep I think I’m finally getting back into the groove of things.

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