Southwest sensation

Words can’t describe how much I loved the southwest black bean casserole I made last night. Holy Toledo! I was anticipating something similar to the spicy black bean tacos I fell in love with last month. Dare I say that this was slightly better?

I knew the timing would be tricky. As luck should have it, I have something going on every night this week. Monday night was the least busy and also meant I’d have leftovers for lunch.

I did all my slicing and dicing before yoga, thinking that might speed up the process once I got home. The only down side was that my hands smelled like garlic all through class. Small price to pay for how quickly I was able to cook/sauté everything before throwing it in the oven, though. And I will say I was pleasantly surprised that I didn’t need my food processor to get the beans to be the right consistency. Cooking them on the stovetop for a few minutes made mashing them up a breeze.

As expected, I did make a few modifications to the recipe. I didn’t use the green pepper and forgot about the green onions. I also didn’t throw in the bacon, in part because it unintentionally didn’t make my grocery list. At the last minute I decided to add corn because, as the middle likes to say, we are in Nebraska.

Knowing I couldn’t trust myself with a bag of tortilla chips, I opted to buy tortilla strips and used that to top the casserole instead. Fabulous idea.

What really sells the casserole is the flavor in the black beans, which shouldn’t be a surprise given it has garlic, onion, jalapeno and red pepper flakes. But everything about this casserole is delicious. Especially with the tortilla chips, it doesn’t disappoint on flavor or color.

Casserole

It likely won’t win any points for presentation, at least if it’s made by me. Primarily I think it’s because there isn’t really a binding agent aside from the black beans at the bottom. It’s not like a lasagna where it layers nicely and stays together. But you can’t deny it looks delicious when it’s fresh out of the oven.

black bean casserole

What I also love is it’s versatility. I could add rice to make it more of a casserole or burrito bowl. I could make tacos with it, or have it as a chip dip at a social gathering. I’ll have to experiment more with this dish given I’m undoubtedly going to make it again!

Challenging thoughts

I’ve been playing Devil’s advocate with myself the last day or two, so naturally I thought it warranted a blog post.

This all started when I joined Instagram for the #100fitdays challenge. One of the perks is that I now have slightly better photo editing capabilities right at my fingertips. And really that only matters for my photos of Hurley.

Hurley

I’m having mixed thoughts about the #100fitdays challenge itself. Initially I liked the idea of finding one health “success” each day so that I didn’t take an all-or-nothing approach (I love that this article dispels that “comply or die” health mentality). It seemed like a good way to start changing my mindset so that I can be more holistic with my health. The little things — good or bad — add up over time. Why not focus on incorporating more good, whether it’s drinking water or getting more sleep, into each day?

As I’m finishing up Day 11, though, I’m less convinced it’s helping me gain a better mindset.

For starters, I don’t know that I’ve necessarily made healthier options or choices, though that could be because it’s still early on in the challenge. I’d be going to the yoga and BodyCombat classes regardless of whether I had this challenge. The only difference is now I’m documenting it with some public accountability. That alone almost makes me feel like a bit of a poser. I went to yoga, which is great, but what people don’t get to see is that before and after class, I parked it on the couch for an episode of The West Wing.

Where I really struggled, though, is that life gets in the way yet there’s now an added pressure, even if it’s self-imposed. Last night Hurley hurt himself in a very dramatic fashion (and all for a squirrel…). I called the middle to get a second opinion about whether he needed to be rushed to the vet. Even though it didn’t warrant that type of emergency, I didn’t want to leave him home alone.

But what did that mean for my #100fitday challenge? I’d been planning to go to the gym that evening and all the sudden I had a choice to make. And you can bet I chose Hurley.

That situation seemed timely given just the day before I read this article about how, in some ways, these types of social media challenges can have a negative impact for that very reason:

Her thoughts were dominated by all of the numbers she entered into her phone: Did I run enough miles? Did I run them fast enough? Did I eat too many calories today? “There were just too many numbers in my head,” Lyonnais said. “I didn’t want to look at an egg as being 70 calories. I needed to look at it as something that’s nourishing and good for my body.”

What’s tough is that the number fixation is already there for me. I track my FitBit numbers. I track what I’m eating. I track my physical activity not only in an Excel document but also MyFitnessPal so that it syncs with my FitBit. Now don’t get me wrong, I love having data and being able to look at trends… but when is it too much when it comes to your personal health?

I can’t say I have a solution to this conundrum. I’ll continue with the #100fitdays challenge with the understanding that it’s not going to make or break me. Sometimes the healthy choice is to stay home and do what you need to do for your own sanity. I think just having an awareness helps so that I don’t let the numbers rule my life. Hurley already does that. <3

New challenge

From the moment my old kickboxing/spinning instructor posted this link for #100fitdays on facebook, I knew I had to commit. How could I not?

The question was which venue. I didn’t want to constantly be posting on Facebook and I didn’t necessarily want a public Twitter account (I feel like I get a ton of spam follower requests there).

In came Instagram. I’d already been toying with the idea of getting it since one of my co-workers raves about it. Why not test the waters with the app with this challenge?

What primarily attracted me to #100fitdays is that it’s focused on making one healthy choice each day. Often times I feel like I get overwhelmed when I think about living a healthy lifestyle — avoid too much Diet Coke, make sure to get in a hard/good workout, eat three healthy meals, drink plenty of water. The list can be never-ending for a Type A overachiever like myself. It’s exhausting and somewhat defeating.

And not that I won’t strive to do most of those things on a daily basis, but I think the beauty (at least for me) is that with this challenge, I can focus on one “win” each day. Maybe I get in eight full hours of sleep on a work night. Perhaps I try a new workout class or a super healthy recipe. The little successes add up, and I also think it helps build momentum to keep making those healthy choices day in and day out.

It may get redundant to post a photo each day, but I’m hoping that’s an accountability piece that I don’t necessary have right now. And if nothing else, it’ll be a good venue to post even more photos of my yellow labrador and his BFFL (best friends for life) Mocha. They’re just too cute!

H&M

Feel free to follow along my #100fitdays journey with the icon below. Or just check out the dog photos. He already helped me with Day 1.

Instagram

Beauty in Books #5

I hadn’t intended on blogging about the book I finished most recently, but given it’s been on my mind ever since I finished reading it three days ago, I figured it couldn’t hurt.

Last weekend I picked up 10% Happier in the same manner I’d picked up my previous book (it wasn’t until after I posted that I realized I forgot to give you the title — 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess). In other words, I thought I would skim a few pages or read a chapter or two before calling it good, allowing me to move on to the next book on my to-read stack. Instead, I got hooked.

I’ll be honest that I didn’t read the portions about his journalism career as closely. But it was his journalism background and training, if you will, that made me appreciate the book. As many of the goodreads reviewers noted, it was nice to have that objective look at self-help theories, programs, etc. He was able to talk about, through interviews and research, which self-help concepts seemed legit and which ones are primarily (pardon my French) bullshit.

Like others, I was also surprised by his genuine interest in meditation and personal growth throughout the memoir. It’s something I’ve toyed with over the years, and I think the author got me back on board for trying it again in the near future. His insights made me see it in a new light in that it’s not all about that zen feeling.

“It’s not that I never got annoyed anymore. In fact, when you’re mindful, you actually feel irritation more keenly. However, once you unburden yourself from the delusion that people are deliberately trying to screw you, it’s easier to stop getting carried away. As the Buddhists liked to point out, everyone wants the same thing – happiness – but we all go about it with varying levels of skill.”

And isn’t that what navigating the good life is really about? At least for me, anyway. And how many times have I talked about finding (and perhaps more importantly keeping) balance in my life?

“In the midst of these intense work sprints, when I had less time to sleep, exercise, and meditate, I could feel my inner monologue getting testier, too – and I didn’t have the wherewithal to not take the voice in my head so seriously. I looked tired in my live shot this morning. I need a haircut. I can’t believe that Facebook commenter called me a ‘major clown.’ The ego, that slippery son of a bitch, would use fatigue as an opportunity to sneak past my weakened defenses.” (pg. 204)

Not that I think about it in terms of the ego, but it’s something I can absolutely relate to (though minus the meditation aspect). When I’m not getting enough sleep (which sadly happens more often than not, despite the at times staggering numbers on my FitBit) or when I’m not working out consistently, my attitude and mental state is less than stellar.

Mostly I think this book was a good reminder to find a way, whether it’s through meditation or journaling or physical activity, to stay balanced and in the present. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the to-do list and worries and insecurities. But as one of my favorite quotes found on pinterest goes, you can feel those emotions without unpacking and living in them. Life doesn’t necessarily have to be as hard as I make it out to be. Sometimes you just need to breathe, using whatever skills brings you happiness. Perhaps meditation will be mine someday after all.

Dash of variety

Given I switched out the main ingredient in the dish and listed in the name, I feel slightly guilty saying that I made a chorizo sweet potato skillet. I’m not sure if Italian ground turkey sausage is quite the same as chorizo, but it was an easy enough swap for me.

Naturally that wasn’t the only modification I made. Instead of white rice I used brown, and I also added sautéed onions and red kidney beans. Why not beef up the flavor and protein, right?

I almost couldn’t help but laugh as I was making the dish last night. It’s essentially the quinoa sweet potato chili once you swap the quinoa for brown rice and lose the baked beans and tomato base. It involved about the same amount of prep time (mostly dicing and can opening) and slightly less for the simmer. Once cheese was added, I was excited to dig into the meal.

Chorizo

I also made another modification, though this was entirely accidental — I added an avocado as a garnish, if you will. That’s what a recipe I’m hoping to make later in the week calls for, and apparently the wires got crossed in my brain. But adding avocado is never a bad thing in my book.

With avocado

It’s almost hard to describe the dish. When I get the ground turkey, it feels like an Italian recipe. The sweet potato gives is almost a sweet flavor that counters the spiciness of the Italian turkey sausage. Then the combination of beans, rice and cheese made it feel like a Mexican dish.

That diversity could be why I liked it so much. It kept my taste buds on their toes, with each bite being slightly different. And I loved that it left me feeling full for a substantial amount of time without feeling bloated. It’s a great new twist on black beans and rice that I’ll absolutely be making again. Perhaps, dare I say, even before I make the chili again!

Beauty in Books #4

This book (7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess) by Jen Hatmaker was a unique read for me. Although I was interested in the subject, I picked this out of my library stack first because I was fairly certain I’d give up on it and be able to move on to the other books in my stack (seven, to be exact). I was wrong.

Instead, I stayed up an hour later than I normally do for a couple nights to keep reading. I love the humor, I love the bluntness, I love the perspective…and I also love that she’s a coffee addict to the degree that I am:

“The only possible way I could act more disturbing is if I ground up some beans, made a line with a razor blade, and snorted it in the middle of aisle 9. My gosh. I think I have a problem. A friend asked if I was quitting coffee after this month was up. I told her I’d considered renouncing coffee exactly zero times, and if she ever brought up such foolishness again, I was going to quit her. Yeah. I definitely have a problem.” (pg. 34)

I’m not sure that I could fully buy into or embark on this concept in the way that I could with The Happiness Project. That being said, it’s a theory that made a lot of sense to me and there are ways I would like to make small changes in that direction.

During her first month she limits herself to seven foods. Seven. Props to her for making it through the month! But then when I stop to think about it…couldn’t I benefit from scaling back? How many random ingredients have I bought because I’m always on a quest to find a new recipe? How much food have I thrown out because I didn’t end up liking it or it went bad before I could do something with it? It’s more than I care to count.

That’s what set the stage for the rest of the memoir for me. It forced me to take a closer look at my possessions and spending habits (I even counted my clothes like the author did, though I probably should have done that before I bought three new shirts yesterday…). I think the author pointed out perspectives I’ve probably thought about, but only for about five sections before rationalizing another purchase.

“Vast consumption is so ordinary that its absence was shocking. I didn’t realize how casually I ‘grab lunch’ or ‘run through the bookstore’ or ‘pick up that little scarf.’ I admit” I have a compulsion to buy something somewhere. My craving is nonspecific; it just involves being in a store or restaurant and handing my debit card over and getting something back.” (pg. 175)

Ultimately, the book is about removing the excess and putting your life back into perspective. Even things like too much time spent in front of the television or computer. Instead of watching another episode of The West Wing (my current obsession, albeit I’m a bit late to the party), I could read two chapters in a book or take Hurley for an evening stroll.

As even my post may suggest, at times the book can get a little preachy and toward the end I wasn’t as invested in the book. But I do appreciate that even the author admits we’re all human. There are times where I’m going to be a bit reckless in how I spend my time (hello, lazy Sunday!) or money (did I mention the three shirts I bought yesterday?). It’s not so much about striving for perfection as it is being more conscious of our choices.

If nothing else, that’s what this book did for me. Sometimes less is more, and I need to remember that from time to time (though I should have took that to heart on the 4th of July when I showed up with two side dishes, two fruit options and dessert for five people…).

Festivities and food

As luck would have it, Hurley ended up going to the vet on his birthday. Something at the dog park (the vet suspects he got stung) caused an allergic reaction. His snout swelled up and hives showed up on his head. He looked so pitiful! All I wanted to do was squeeze his little chubby swollen face (as did most of the veterinary staff and other visitors because of how sweet he looked, particularly being glued to my side).

2014-07-03 17.53.08

All I’ll say is that the vet is lucky she got a calm mama (I wasn’t feeling so calm internally…) and he got lots of cuddles that night.

By yesterday morning he was feeling much better. Although I normally love the 4th of July festivities with lots of fireworks, Hurley does not (same is true for thunderstorms because of all the loud noises). We decided to keep it low-key with good food and fun yard games.

I love using gatherings as an opportunity to try new dishes. I knew I wanted to try a strawberry salsa, but there were so many different variations. Ultimately I decided to try this strawberry salsa with cinnamon sugar chips, which turned out to be a great decision (although I cut the amount of strawberry preserves in half since it seemed to give it a less fresh taste).

salsa

As you can probably tell from the photo, I kept my strawberries in the food processor a little too long (that thing is such a huge timesaver, though!). But overall it was a big success. The middle was going to use it for a party she’s got today, and I’m definitely going to throw it into my rotation of snacks — once I find a slightly healthier alternative for chips and minimize the sugar in the salsa.

Knowing how much the middle loves broccoli salad, I also tried this quick and easy broccoli salad recipe. It was super easy to follow, and my only modification was using turkey bacon. The salad definitely needs to be chilled in the refrigerator. I was nervous when I first mixed it together because there was so much liquid (even after I drained some of the water), but by the time we got it out for dinner, it was the right consistency and mix.

broccoli salad

Particularly with the gorgeous weather, I’d deem this 4th of July a success. I’m not sure what Hurley’s take on it was, though. He’s still in bed trying to recuperate from all the activities and festivities…

Thankful Thursday #15

How lucky for me that Hurley’s birthday falls on Thursday, making him a perfect subject for my Thankful Thursday post!

Today my highly energetic labrador turns five. He’s only been mine for about three months now, but already I can barely remember life without him (at least in Lincoln). And even if I can remember certain things — like how much space I used to have in my bed — I’m very aware when he’s missing from the equation. The one night I’ve been away from him, it didn’t feel right to not have him essentially pinned to my legs. No matter what side of the bed I sleep on (I’ve switched back and forth to see where I can get more space…) or how much I toss and turn, he’s right there.

Cuddles

Naturally I couldn’t help but spoil him today. He got extra cuddle time this morning, an ice cream cone when I got home from work, a trip to the dog park to break in his new tennis balls, a big bone (he likes to carry it around the house for about two or three days before actually eating it) and I set up his very own kiddie pool since he loves the water so much (seeing him swim at the dog park never fails to put a smile on my face).

The endearing thing about Hurley is that he would have thought it was the best day ever just getting to go to the dog park, especially on a week night. He’s that easy to please.

photo 1

Seriously — can he can any cuter? He gives the best hugs (I’m talking front paws on your shoulders kind of hug), has the sweetest smile and is easily one of the most happy-go-lucky and affectionate dogs I’ve ever met. And he’s mine!

Now if you’ll allow me a sentimental moment…

My first day with him, I ended up crying. I cried for the sadness his previous owners must have felt in giving him up (I’ve only had him a small fraction of that time and it would be devastating for me). I cried for the fear and uncertainty I felt in being a single dog mom, knowing he’s my sole responsibility. But mostly I cried because after years of wanting my own dog, it finally happened. I got my Hurley.

Image

And I really couldn’t have ended up with a better best friend.

Recycled recipes

I’m surprised how much I’ve come to enjoy grocery shopping after work on Friday afternoon. Though by this point in the week I start to run low on fresh fruits…

I realized that the two recipes I tried this week are variations of dishes I’ve tried in the past. The first was a chili mac recipe, perhaps aimed at recapturing my love of the sweet potato quinoa chili from last week. (And truth be told, I was somewhat craving the homemade cheeseburger helper but didn’t think that would bode as well with my health kick.)

While I was at the store, I decided to improvise a bit with the ingredients. Instead of getting a can of stewed tomatoes and a can of green chili peppers, which I would only use 2 tablespoons of for the recipe, I instead bought crushed tomatoes with green chili peppers. I’d also opted for ground turkey instead of ground beef since I prefer the flavor and also because it was slightly cheaper. Double win for me!

Chili mac

The other recipe was like a merger of two recipes — pull-apart pizza bread and taco/enchilada bake. It’s essentially as though I made the enchilada bake but replaced the tortillas with biscuit dough. I wasn’t quite as adventurous with this one, other than adding black beans and realizing that I forgot to throw in onions. But it made for quick fix that packs a lot of flavor (in part aided by throwing in cumin, red pepper flakes and taco seasoning).

Although it’s probably not as healthy as the whole wheat tortilla shells I’d generally use, I almost prefer using the biscuits. The tortillas have the tendency to become soggy almost because of the sauce and I don’t think the leftovers are as appetizing. Plus I just love biscuits.

bubble up enchilada

While both recipes were really simple and are proving to make for great leftovers, it’s steered me away from my salads and proteins. Hopefully I’ll get back on track soon enough. After the 4th of July festivities, of course.

Beauty in Books #3

I came across Bittersweet through the “if you like this, also consider…” listing based on the two previous books I’ve talked about on my blog. While I wasn’t as enamored with this one, going back through the passages I underlined makes me think that I came away with more than I thought.

What’s interesting is that my take on the book might have been very different a year ago. Usually I pursue book reviews on goodreads once I’ve finished reading a book (in part because I don’t want it to taint my view or experience with the book). A few of the comments pertaining to Bittersweet mentioned that they came across the book at a good time in their life because it was a message they needed to hear. I feel the same, but for opposite reasons.

The premise, as one might surmise, is about how life is bittersweet. Many of the reviewers read it while they were going through a rough patch and found comfort in the book. I’m relatively certain that I would have done a lot of eye-rolling if I’d read it six months to a year ago. Case in point:

“Life hands us opportunities at every turn to get over ourselves, to get outside ourselves, to wake up from our own bad dreams and realize that really lovely things are happening all the time.” (pg. 138)

At least for me, being in the midst of a bitter moment makes it hard to see those lovely things. You’re still waiting to wake up from the bad dream. And what I appreciated about the author is she talks about how she became a person she didn’t particularly enjoy during her season of change. “I began to live a much smaller story, and that story was only about me. I wanted an answer, a timeline, and a map.” (pg 17)

Been there, done that.

For that reason, I’m glad I had ended up reading the book during a more sweet moment in my life. It gave me an opportunity to reflect on how far I’ve come. I couldn’t help but nod in agreement and chuckle at her statement, “And while I certainly didn’t thrive on the process, I’m really thankful for the result. I’m thankful for what change forced me to face within myself” (pg. 19).

My hope is that this book gives me a better understanding for how to approach the next bitter moment in life, which will inevitably happen. I likely won’t thrive in the process, but I’d like to think I’ve learned a thing or two along the way to still see more of the sweet instead of focusing primarily on the bitter.

And I will say that some things would have resonated with me regardless of when I read the book. I can certainly relate to this all too well, and have for years.

“One of my core fears is that someone would think I can’t handle as much as the next person. It’s fundamental to my understanding of myself for me to be the strong one, the capable one, the busy one, the one who can bail you out, not make a fuss, bring a meal, add a few more things to the list. For me, everything becomes a lifestyle. Everything is an addiction.” (pg. 56)

Sometimes it’s hard to tell whether that helps or hurts both the bitter and sweet moments…

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