New searching technique

I tried something a little different this week when I was searching for new recipes as I made my meal plan for the week. Typically I search for things on Pinterest like “healthy dinner recipes” or “low carb recipes,” depending on what mood strikes. This week, however, I searched for recipes that had great leftovers.

For some reason the first thing that jumped out at me was a crock pot ham and potatoes au grautin recipe. Following my grandma’s funeral when I was in middle school, I was overdosed on scalloped potatoes. For that reason, it’s rare that I crave something like this dish. It’s not that I don’t like it; it’s probably more that I’m indifferent to it.

The one slight modification I made to the recipe is that I didn’t use reduced fat cheese. In part it was because I couldn’t find it at the store and there was no way I was using the fat free cheese. I think I settled on colby jack or mild cheddar — can’t quite remember which.

Cooking it on high resulted in dinner in about three hours, which was perfect timing for a walk with Hurley and a few household tasks. So it wasn’t too much carb overload (particularly for lunch leftovers at work, which would knock me out), I tried to make half of the plate veggies (with lemon pepper, since I love adding that to steamed vegetables).


Thankfully the recipe was a success! Tomorrow I’ll be on day three of the leftovers and I have no doubt it will be just as good. It might be a recipe to consider again around the holidays when there’s leftover ham.

The second recipe would be good at any point in the year, though this cool (and glorious) weather seems to be perfect timing for it. Last night I whipped up taco soup, and I’ll admit I was a bit nervous for this one. Mixing beef broth, rotel and cream cheese? I definitely had my doubts. Apparently they were unwarranted, though.

I did add two cans of beans to this as well and was tempted to add corn, but figured I would keep it relatively simple. I love that I could make it in about 20 minutes. Paired with veggie tortillas, this really hit the spot (especially with all the seasonings I added to it).

taco soup

The leftovers of the soup tonight were delicious, so Pinterest proved to be right again. In fact, I almost think the leftovers are better since it had a chance to thicken and the spices were more prominent. Heck, maybe searching this way will help me have more luck in not getting tired of leftovers so quickly… One can only hope!

Busy badge

I have to admit that I hate the busy badge, and yet it’s something I seem to wear constantly and with pride. My standard response to “How are you?” is “Busy, but good.” Who doesn’t claim to be busy in this day and age?

To some degree it’s about perception. On a more personal level, though, it very much relates to this blog post I read last week about being busy:

“If I’m being honest, I like staying busy. It’s comfortable to me. I’m happiest when I have my nice little to-do lists organized neatly on post-it notes, with tiny little tasks I can efficiently check off. By the end of the day, I feel so happy and in control, like life is CRAZY, but I have totally CONQUERED it. “

Preach it! Who doesn’t like that feeling at the end of the day?

But busy doesn’t always mean productive or meaningful, and that’s the part that’s been making me question my busy badge tendencies. This mindset shift actually started a couple months ago when I had a call with my leadership institute director, and when similar messages start popping up in my life, I know it’s time to start paying attention.

Part of my struggle in being busy is that I often go into autopilot mode (which is a fantastic descriptor I got from the leadership director). At the beginning of the day or week, I recognize I need to get X, Y and Z done, so I structure my schedule and tasks accordingly. Given my Type A, people-pleasing personality, there’s often not a lot of deviation from that plan.

It’s not bad, necessarily, but it often means I’m a product of my schedule and, to some degree, other people’s needs or requests. It’s less about being in the moment and more about crossing something off my list so that I can move on to the next task, be it a work project, volunteer assignment or something as simple as mowing the lawn or walking Hurley. That’s not how I want to live.

As I mentioned in my post about the sisters trip, a focus we had in some of our conversations got back to priorities, schedules and meaningful work. Am I making time for the things that matter? At the end of the day, it’s not about whether the work got done but whether the right work got done.

That’s why, when I saw this as we shopped in Cape Cod, I damn near bought this bracelet. Talk about driving the message home.

enough time

In each day and throughout our lives, we have just enough time for the important things. How am I stacking up?

I was probably more apt to notice those given the book I’ve been reading this month –  Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less. (I’ll be honest that I won’t quite finish it since it’s due at the library and I can’t renew it since someone else has it on hold.) This is one of those books that I thought I would just skim but instead got hooked right off the bat:

“There are far more activities and opportunities in the world than we have time and resources to invest in. And although many of them may be good, or even very good, the fact is that most are trivial and few are vital.” (pg. 5)

Let that last sentence sink in for a second. Trivial? Not vital? I was half tempted to jump into defense mode.

But it makes sense.

There are so many causes and organizations and activities and work assignments and DIY projects and…you get the picture. How do you choose what’s really worth investing your time, resources and energy into? And what is it that only you could bring to the table? My role with the Alzheimer’s Association, while great, could easily be done by dozens of people in the community. Is it vital that I’m in that position? What draws me to the opportunity in the first place?

What I loved about the book is that it was quick to drive home that it’s not about taking on less or simplifying your schedule. Rather, it’s about taking an honest look at your life to see if you’re committing to the right things. If the Alzheimer’s Association is important to me, than I should certainly keep that in my life. But do I need to accept every meeting request or social invitation? Can I nix a gym class or two to take my dog on a long walk instead, particularly while the weather is nice?

That brings up the other struggle with busyness. As the blog post I referenced earlier pointed out, busyness is a choice we make — often as a crutch. It’s the need to feel as though we’re more in control (ding ding ding!) and valued than we may feel on the inside. It’s even worse for people pleasers. What will the volunteer coordinator think if I don’t show up to a meeting? Everyone else seems to juggle it all, why can’t I?

But what I’m learning is that it’s not about doing it all. It’s about doing the things that are important to you, which is a decision only you can make. When everything is a priority, nothing is.

What goes on my schedule for the day or week should be dependent on me, and I’m finally reaching a point where I’m not saying “yes” to everything. I’m weighing the pros and cons. Is my input needed at this meeting? Do they need my skill set for this project? Will it take time away from Hurley, and would I be okay with that?

That’s what my year of being intentional is about – diving into those hard questions. What are the negotiables in my schedule and how can I scale back on those to focus on what really matters, both personally and professionally?

Quite frankly, I’m tired of going a million miles an hour, fueled on caffeine and stress. I have just enough time in life for doing the things that are important to me and/or allow me to utilize my unique gifts, talents and skills. It’s time to start being more accountable to myself and setting up those boundaries.

The funny thing is, I think if I were to make the shift, I’d feel much more fulfill and in control than I do when I’m “busy.” Ain’t that something.

It’s going to be tough, but I think it’s time to ditch the busy badge, one stitch at a time!

Going and going and going

Sunday I was kicking ass and taking names. Not literally, mind you, but I felt like the Energizer bunny. It started off with a fantastic spin class followed by our Walk to End Alzheimer’s, which I’m still in awe about two days later.

The Walk reminded me of why I’m so connected to the cause. One woman who spoke at our opening ceremony was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s at the age of 52. Can you even imagine?! I was so inspired by the people who showed up for the Walk, and particularly those who were brave enough to share their stories with me. It’s amazing how a Walk like that can bring so many together.

In a more logistical manner, the Walk was also a success in my book. The weather was gorgeous, the booth I helped manage ran pretty seamlessly and we got to unveil our Why I Walk board! My committee saw an example of what another Walk did, and it so happens I know a fantastic craftsman. Uncle Buck has this whipped up in a matter of hours, and the Walk chair and I painted it in about an hour a couple days later. Even more exciting is that Uncle Buck showed up at the Walk to see the finished product and show his support. <3

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Although I was ready to an afternoon siesta after the Walk, duties called (primarily since I’m big on using Sundays to prep for the week). I decided to go somewhat rogue in the kitchen for dinner, making the pizza pasta I blogged about a couple weeks ago merged with ideas from the cheesy pesto chicken lasagna spaghetti squash recipe I’d also made recently. Essentially I took the sauce/toppings from the pizza pasta, mixed it with spaghetti squash and threw in ricotta cheese and a bit of mozzarella cheese on top. It was delicious!

spaghetti squash

While the squash was baking, I also started whipping up a batch of chocolate chip pumpkin bread. In part I did it as a thank you for the middle since she’s watching Hurley this evening while I’m at a conference…but it’s also because I was really craving it, too. Like I told the middle, though, the only thing healthy about it is perhaps the greek yogurt and whole wheat flour. So worth it, though. I’m all about all things pumpkin this time of year.

pumpkin bread

Once the baking was done, things finally settled down for the weekend. And not a moment too soon, according to Hurley (although he was down for the count before I started cooking since we’d gone on a long walk around the lake).

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It’s safe to say I put off doing the dishes and putting laundry away once he crawled up next to me. I swear I could stare at this guy all day! Maybe one of these days, though, I won’t be so obsessive with taking photos and sharing it with my blog followers… I just can’t help myself!

Thankful Thursday #19

Once again, it’s been awhile since I’ve written a Thankful Thursday post. I figured I should tackle this while it was still fresh in my mind instead of waiting until I’m back to my high-strung self.

Last week (a week ago today, actually) I went on vacation with the sisters. We’ve decided that every three years we should have a sisters trip (our first one was three years ago to London) and this year we (somewhat last-minute) decided to venture to Cape Cod.

We didn’t learn our lesson with London in that we didn’t do a ton of research leading up to the trip (doing so would have helped me know in advance that despite being called Martha’s Vineyard, there aren’t many wineries or even wine tastings available…). But that was part of the beauty of the trip. (Plus it helped that Cape Cod was small enough and technically in the off-season to where it didn’t feel nearly as overwhelming as London.)

This week I’ve been thankful not only for the time with the sisters, but also having the opportunity to get away to really recharge my batteries. I realized that the last non-work trip I took was almost two years ago when I went to Denver with the middle.

Not to say I don’t have opportunities to relax if I don’t travel. One of the unique, shall we say, components of my personality is my inability to cool it. (Let’s just be honest about that fact.) Even when I took two days off work after submitting the evaluation report, I used that time to work on my table, run errands and do chores I neglected that week. I was the girl in college who skipped class to do work for other classes or extra-curriculars.

It’s something I’m trying to work on, but definitely showcases the necessity of a trip like this, at least at this juncture in my life. From the time I left work on Wednesday afternoon until I got back to the office on Tuesday morning, I didn’t check my work email. (!) I didn’t make a grocery list for the next week (though I thought about it) or give a second thought to chores and other responsibilities. For the first time in a long time, I wasn’t on an adrenaline rush of caffeine, stress and/or endorphins. It was probably a good break for my mind and my body!

What also helped are the great conversations I had with the sisters about intentionality and prioritizing as a way to stay true to the type of life you want to lead. I’ll probably have more on that later, but it played a huge role in my perspective coming back home.

By the time I got back to work on Tuesday morning, I was almost zen. I wasn’t trying to multi-task or fall into the adrenaline trap. That may change in the next week or so, mind you, as deadlines pop up and projects escalate. But for now, I’m taking things one task and one meeting at a time.

I’m thankful for the renewed efforts to control my schedule instead of letting it control me. When everything is a priority, nothing is. The beauty is that it’s up to me to set those priorities. I certainly got a reminder of what those are through my long weekend trip.


The only downside is that I didn’t have Hurley around. You could say we’re making up for lost time…


It probably goes without saying that he’s one of my top priorities. <3

Missing out

I’ve discovered my new favorite way to make burrito bowls!

I’d actually come across this recipe last week but held off until I was back from vacation to try it. Tonight after spin class and walking Hurley (both of which were much needed), this chili-lime beef and black bean bowl took me literally 15 minutes to make. I’m not sure if it was the amount of cilantro and lime I put into the dish or what. All I know is it quickly moved up to the top as my favorite Mexican dish.

This is the first time I’ve made steak with tacos, which is actually a bit surprising given I’ve dabbled with so many others (ground turkey, carnitas, barbacoa, etc.). It makes me feel like I’ve been missing out all these years.

I almost forgot to marinade the steak before heading to spin, but I’m so glad I remembered that step. There was so much flavor in it! I found thinly cut pieces of steak of sale at the grocery store last week, and one thing I’ll keep in mind for next time it to cut them into slightly smaller chunks — and potentially before I marinade.

Although I was tempted to make the copycat Chipotle cilantro-lime recipe, I decided to just use brown rice, lime and cilantro (making sure not to skimp on either). I also swapped out the black beans for red kidney beans to change things up a bit. Also surprising, I think this is the first time I had cilantro lime in each portion of the burrito bowl, which definitely enhanced the flavor.

Like I said, within 15 minutes, this burrito bowl was assembled. I didn’t make the avocado cream, though I did cut up slices of avocado to include. I also decided to really go all out by adding green olives, banana peppers and some smoked tabasco sauce. It was seriously mouth-watering.

burrito bowl

I won’t lie…I ended up swapping out my new placemat for my old orange one. I’m really paranoid about spilling on the new placemat or (heaven forbid) the new table! Maybe in a few weeks or once I find a recipe that’s a little less messy (because let’s be honest, I also had some chip and homemade salsa with the burrito bowl) I’ll be less anal about it. Or maybe not…

Blood, sweat and tears (quite literally…)

August was apparently a big month for me in terms of completing projects. After I finished my big evaluation report for work, I used the couple of days I took off to focus on finishing up the never-ending DIY project.

This is by far the largest DIY project the middle and I have taken on to date. And I should be clear right up front that this would not be complete without her. It was a true labor of love that tried our (but mostly my) patience every step of the way. If she weren’t my voice of reason, this would very likely be in pieces at a bon fire. There were points where it got that ugly.

But let me start back at the beginning.

When my parents downsized earlier this year, they decided to get rid of my mom’s crafting table, which was previously our family dining room table. I’d always loved the gorgeous pine wood and figured I could spruce it up a bit for my own dining room. (I tried to find a photo of our original table, but most included unflattering photos of the middle and I’m not about to make those public given how much she contributed to this project).

My mom has also been intrigued by painting furniture, so she decided to paint it blue before passing it on to me given how worn down it was.

full before

Normally something like this would work in my house, given I have a pink entertainment center, a teal desk and love color. Thanks to Pinterest, though, I fell in love with a particular style. The minute I saw it, I knew that’s what I wanted. This was a close second since it would match the style of my table a bit more.

And thus the project began. The weekend after Memorial Day weekend, the middle and I started the process of stripping paint – which let me tell you, takes a hell of a lot longer than I thought. All I can say is thank goodness for the middle. She searched which type of paint stripper was best, so at least we had a fantastic product. (Seriously, if you ever need to strip paint, which I hope to never do again, buy this. It doesn’t burn you at all or smell terrible).

For the first round we lathered the paint stripped all over the table and chairs, covered it with garbage sacks and let it sit overnight. (We also did her wine rack too, which took considerably less time.)

Paint stripping

Initially we were excited by the results. Peeling it off was actually kind of enjoyable, particularly when we could see the wood coming through — even under the original blue of the chairs.

Round 1

Unfortunately, as the day wore on, I became substantially less excited. There were areas the paint stripper dried, making it difficult to make much progress. Also, trying to strip paint off a table top, four table legs and six chairs in one afternoon? Not at all smart on our part… Lesson learned: take it one or two pieces at a time.

Over the next few weeks we continued to chip away at the paint, trying to get as close to the original wood as possible. It helped to have the spray-can version of the paint stripper. We’d lob it on a section of a chair, wait a couple minutes and then keep peeling away. We also tried another brand of paint stripper, but given the number of times I burned myself even using gloves and trying to be careful, it wasn’t worth it. The orange wonder seemed to do the trick on it’s own.

I won’t lie that I had a handful of weak moments where I thought about just buying new chairs for the table. Having to deal with this level of detail (particularly on the chair legs and the design on the chair back) was just too much. So many curves and crevices. Plus it was incredibly messy (I will say mineral spirits helped with that a bit). And this was just phase one!

chair back

chair side

Somehow after a few weeks (probably because of the middle…) we prevailed. We’d reached a point where we’d stripped about all that we could, signaling it was time to move onto the next phase of the project: sanding.

Ready to sand

The middle also saved the day in borrowing tools from her boyfriend’s family so we could have two electric sanders. I don’t even want to imagine what it would be like trying to do it by hand with sheets of sanding paper.

I’ll be honest that I lost a little motivation during this phase. Especially with the detailing sander, it took a lot of focus and I felt like I wasn’t seeing any real progress. It was exciting to see the wood smoothing out so well, though.

Sanding detail

At this point we put the table on hold for awhile. I knew, though, that we had to finish the project sooner rather than later (if only because my sister and her boyfriend would want to park in their garage at some point…). My motivation perked up again when the middle sent me this picture while I was on my way back home from my training in California that first week in August. Isn’t is insane how much difference sanding can make?!

anded table

And with that, it was time to start priming. The middle even created a great corner to make sure I could spray without ruining anything in her garage or the driveway (which I may have done during the paint stripping phase…).


Naturally nothing with this project was easy. After spending a full afternoon taping around the spokes of the chairs and covering the seats (to avoid getting any paint on the wood we planned to stain), I loaded up the paint sprayer and was ready to power through priming. Except nothing happened. In 50 minutes all I managed to accomplish was two strips of wood on the bottom of the table top.

I called it quits, coming back the next day with a new paint sprayer. Long story short, that sprayer was a bit too powerful (one of the chairs is a lasting reminder of that…) and thankfully the old one started working. In the course of an afternoon, I knocked out all the priming. Finally it felt like I was seeing progress!

(And as I did with my entertainment center, I’ll put in a plug for paint sprayers. Absolutely worth the investment, especially on projects like this!)


That weekend was also when I narrowed down my paint options. Guys, I had no idea how many shades of off-white there were! It was incredibly overwhelming. I knew I didn’t want any color tint to it (gray, blue, pink, etc.). I also didn’t want it to be too beige or tan, since the wall color in my living room borders on a creamy yellow. Plus my two sources of inspiration had pretty crisp white.

Finally I settled on bone. I won’t lie — I had my doubts once it was painted. It was was a bit more white than I intended, though the middle mentioned that perhaps doing a gray or cream primer may have helped make that more subtle. (I say that like it’s a tip to remember in the event I’m ever crazy enough to take on an endeavor like this again.)

Selecting a stain also proved to be a struggle. I didn’t want to go too dark, since I already feel like the wood in my house is overwhelming dark. But I wanted something that had just enough contrast to the white. After three trips to Menards, I finally found a shade I liked: hickory.

That brought on it’s own moment of panic. The stain I loved was a gel stain, which I’d never worked with before. (To be honest, it’s not like I’ve worked with much stain anyway. I’ve only done my coffee bar and that was under the supervision of a pro…). And the employee just kept saying, “It’s all about what you prefer.”

I decided to be brave and run with the gel. We started by putting a pre-stain on all the furniture. Then came painting on the gel…which promptly resulted in me googling tips for applying gel stain. The directions said to wipe the excess after three minutes, but that resulted in a not-so-ascetically-pleasing (read: ugly) finish. We (and by we I really mean I) almost scrapped the gel stain idea, but I’m thankful I didn’t.

One tip that helped is the comparison that liquid stain is like spreading butter on toast. Gel stain is like spreading peanut butter on toast. So long as we had the right consistency, we didn’t have to wipe the excess after three minutes.

About an hour later, the staining was done. And that’s when I really fell in love.

Half chairs stained


In the next day or so, we made final touch-ups to the stain and the white paint on the spokes near the seat. I will say that if you’re ever in this type of predicament, definitely paint before staining. It might have even been that day that we polyurethaned all the chairs (all the days of working on this project started blending together after while). But finally, something was done! So we celebrated.


We saved the table top for the very end. This is where staining really counted. I’d feel okay about screwing up the bottom of the table or even one of the chairs. But the table top is really where I needed to bring my A-game.

light top

Once the stain dried, I was a bit anxious when I saw how streaky/uneven it was. The middle used some mineral spirits on it the next day, which helped a tad. We also applied a second coat, which seemed to even it out quite a bit. Finally, a week and a half ago, the middle applied the polyurethane to the table top. There was no turning back!

final table top

This past Saturday morning I applied the final coat of polyurethane to the table. The final step should have felt substantially more rewarding. Why was it not, might you ask? I discovered a flaw in my plan. Googling confirmed that, unfortunately, oil based polyurethane will turn white paint yellow.

Yes, you read that right. White paint will turn yellow, which is exactly what happened to my chairs.

I kid you not, I about broke down in tears right then and there. I reached the finish line, but it wasn’t the table I’d worked so hard to rehab. But I was also the first to admit I was burnt out on the project and no way in hell was I started over on those chairs.

Thankfully, the lighting in my dining room is dark enough that you can’t really tell it’s yellow. It looks more like the off-white I’d been envisioning, though I’ll likely reassess whether I want to repaint it when I move at some point in the (hopefully not so immediate) future. But I still have to admit it looks fabulous in my dining room — especially with my newly created canvases!


final 2

I love the burst of white in my dining room and the contrast the stain has to the white (well, technically yellow…). It definitely matches the look I was going with, so I’d consider this a major Pinterest win (minus the yellow, of course).

And just a few more photos for good measure — is this transformation not amazing?!

Chairs Before and After

Table Before and After

Pinterest photo

With that, I’m retiring from DIY projects for the time being. As my mom jokingly says, it’s been real, it’s been fun, but is hasn’t been real fun. But I will say I am pretty damn proud. (And another big shout out to the middle!) I think this ups our DIY cred.

Quite the ordeal

Let me tell you, making this tamale pie recipe over the weekend was quite the ordeal — and not because of anything I did.

Given I’m on a salsa kick, I was excited to try this new recipe since it includes another one of my favorites: cornbread. Plus this was the first time I’d made it from scratch. Even when I was getting groceries earlier in the day I was tempted to just get a box of cornbread mix, but I figured since I had the time, I should give it a shot.

The cornbread was baking as I finished with the ground turkey. I’d also decided to add black beans and a bit of enchilada sauce to that as well for more flavor. Five minutes before the cornbread was done with the first round of baking, my power went out.

What are the odds?

The oven was warm enough to where it baked the cornbread as well as it could have. The edges were starting to brown and it had a good consistency to it (so thank goodness I went with the 9×13 pan or it might have been too thick). I added on the enchilada toppings and waited. And waited some more.

It wouldn’t have been so bad if I weren’t already hungry, smelling how fantastic it already smelled and smothering a dog during the hail portion of the storm. Have I mentioned how much poor Hurley hates storms? He wasn’t quite as intrigued by the size of the hail as his mama was…

Thankfully an hour later, the power came back on and Hurley could relax (at least a little). My first order of business was preheating the oven to get my tamale pie going again. Twenty minutes later, I finally had dinner.

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Not that I was expecting it to, but I’m happy to report it didn’t effect the flavor of the dish. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the pairing. Certainly I’ve had corn tortillas with tacos/enchiladas/etc. so I figured it would have a similar taste. The cornbread was much more prominent but still incredibly delicious. I may actually add this to the lineup of staple dishes I make (not that I tend to have many of those, though. I guess I’m just a sucker for trying something new each week).

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Although it was somewhat of an ordeal, I will say I was lucky in that the power was only out for an hour and while it was still (relatively) light outside. Other people in my spin class the next morning had it much worse…

Speaking of ordeals (since you all know how much I love to take and post photos of my little bear), Hurley also had a big to-do of his own this weekend. A trip to the dog park on Saturday morning kicked his allergies into high gear. An oatmeal bath and benadryl didn’t do the trick, so back to the vet we went (at their insistence).

Selfie at the vet? Why not. At this point I’ve lost count of how many trips we’ve had in the last year and a half. Although the silver lining to this is I’m slowly getting over my fear of going to the vet. Hurley, on the other hand, is less typically less than impressed (he hams it up quite a bit in the waiting room, though).

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There was also one more big development this weekend (after overcoming several, several ordeals), but you’ll have to wait another day or two for that reveal. :) I can’t wait to show it off!

It’s the time of the season

In some ways, this week’s meals had a theme now that it’s one of my favorite times of the year: salsa season. Growing up my mom always made us homemade salsa in the late summer, and thankfully the middle took on that tradition (also thankfully aided with food processors). Pasta sauces for me are like salsa for her. Each time it’s a little different but every time it’s so damn delicious.


I apologize for that poor photo quality. If I would have been thinking, I would have snapped photos after we made it on Saturday….but that wasn’t my priority. Taste testing very much was, though.

Since we started the day by purchasing 20 pounds of canning tomatoes at the farmer’s market, I knew my meals this week would need to have tomatoes involved.

The first meal was actually the one I’d intended to make last week — one pan balsamic chicken and veggies. Sadly asparagus wasn’t on sale, so I opted for green beans and threw in some tomatoes along with the carrots. I also paired it with chicken rice, though the chicken and veggies would have been just find on its own.

Balsamic chicken

I had to plan my remaining two dishes carefully based on leftovers (as you’ll see shortly), so last night I made cheesy pesto chicken lasagna spaghetti squash. It’s a mouthful but folks, I found a winner! Not that I really have staple dishes, but this would undoubtedly be one of them.

What I didn’t realize (though probably should have) is that you can pre-cook spaghetti squash. I almost did it Sunday night but instead baked it Monday between work and the gym. When I came home, it was a matter of making the chicken (I actually opted for ground turkey instead of chicken) and putting all the layers together.


About 40 minutes later and I had this deliciousness. While I was putting the mozzarella cheese on, I half wondered if I could have gotten away with shredded mozzarella cheese. This is definitely worth it. It melted to perfection. Plus I loved that I didn’t have to feel as guilty about spaghetti squash!

Final squash

In some ways it reminded me of swedish meatballs, though in part it’s because of the way I cooked it. Instead of buying pesto sauce, I purchased a packed and made it with the ground turkey. It added a ton of flavor, though next time I’ll likely mix some pesto sauce into the spaghetti squash.

The final dish is one I knew I likely wouldn’t get away with bringing to the office for lunch leftovers. I’ve never had fish tacos before, so given my access to delicious salsa, I decided to try blackened fish tacos with avocado cilantro sauce.

Instead of tilapia, I ended up going with mahi mahi since that tends to be my fish of choice. In addition to what was listed in the recipe, I also decided to make brown rice and also a corn, black beans and tomato blend to put on the tacos as well.

Taco fixings

The above photo isn’t great, but I love that there’s an add-on instagram app for photo collages!

Anywho, I was pleasantly surprised by how quickly the meal came together. I baked the fish according to the instructions (about 15 minutes), and that’s all the time it took to whip up all my taco fixings.

Fish tacos

I was pleasantly surprised by the avocado cilantro sauce. It was a really good pairing for the fish and I’m hoping it will stay relatively fresh for leftovers.

While it was good, I’ll likely stick with carnitas. Ever since I discovered how to make those (naturally with Chipotle’s copycat cilantro lime rice recipe), that’s been my meat of choice for tacos. I’d actually told the middle this past weekend that I’m not sure when I last made actual tacos with ground beef. Not that that’s a bad thing, though.

I’ll be honest that tonight’s dinner primarily ended up being chips and salsa, which didn’t come as a surprise to me. It’s a problem, quite honestly. Thank goodness salsa season isn’t too long or I’d really be in trouble! But for now I’ll just indulge and appreciate the good mix of recipes that came along with the purchasing of 20 pounds of tomatoes.

Happy campers

I admit this isn’t great photo quality (though props to the middle for being the photographer on Sunday night!), but I can’t help but share a photo of Hurley. Now that he’s gone two years in a row, it wouldn’t surprise me if he starts counting down to the Dog Splash at the end of each summer. He was on cloud nine the entire time he was in the pool! (And mama loves that it wears him out…).

dog splash

Seriously, be still my heart.

But now on to food, which was the real intent of this post. How easily that adorable labrador distracts me…

For whatever reason, last week I was craving something with black beans. I kid you not, I searched “healthy dinner recipes with black beans” on pinterest, leading me to a black bean and beef enchilada casserole.

I made three main modifications. The first is that I used ground turkey instead of ground beef (that modification should probably just be a given in my food posts by now I suppose). I also added corn since that’s generally a staple in my Mexican dishes (plus I live in Nebraska…). The third modification is one I wish I wouldn’t have made. At the store I noticed RoTel dip that had cilantro and lime. It sounded right up my alley, but for whatever reason it didn’t do the trick in this dish. And it felt like overkill with diced peppers/jalapeno.

It was still a great take on a Mexican dish, though. Rarely do I cook with or use corn tortillas, but I really enjoyed it in this recipe. What was also different about this casserole is that it was layered similar to lasagna. Other Mexican casserole dishes I’ve made have torn up tortillas mixed into everything, so this required a bit more prep work (though not much more). This shows the middle layer before I put on the final layer of corn tortillas.


I wish I would have spread the sour cream out a tad more. I thought it would spread out a bit more while it baked in the oven, though it could be a result of the casserole being refrigerated for so long. Trying to be efficient with time, I actually whipped up the casserole before going to spin class. Almost makes me feel like I should make similar dishes on Sunday so I can just pop them in the oven when I get home on a week night.

It’s probably not safe, but it baked long enough for me to get Hurley out on a walk. And the end result looked amazing.


Like I said, I wish I wouldn’t have thrown in the Rol Tel, but otherwise I really enjoyed the casserole. Later in the week I made brown rice and added it into the dish just to mix up my leftovers a bit. Definitely a recipe I’d make again.

Last week I also intended to make a balsamic chicken and veggies dish. That didn’t quite pan out, but it led me to finding a crockpot honey ginger chicken recipe that I made last night.

The prep was a lot easier than I anticipated, though I will say I used ginger that you would put on sushi instead of ginger root. I bought it a few weeks ago for another recipe, and I forgot how much I love ginger. I’m also surprised by how much more subdued the flavor is once it’s been cooked.

I thought about pairing this with pasta, but given I had pizza pasta and garlic bread on Saturday night, I figured it was high time to get back to my brown rice. The tomatoes were a nice addition too. I mostly wanted to use those up since I didn’t use them in the balsamic chicken and veggies dish.

2015-08-24 20.40.54

This seemed similar to other chicken dishes I’ve tried, though in my mind you can’t really go wrong with adding a bit of honey and lime to chicken. The ginger added a unique flavor to it as well, which made it slightly different from previous dishes.

We’ll have to see what cravings and flavors strike for next week’s meals! What would we (okay, mostly me) do without Pinterest?!

Ladies night

This is probably a clear sign that I’m getting older, but given how energized I felt after a night of crafting, I’ll take it.

Last night a friend and I decided to have a girls night focused on making a canvas. It’s been something we’d talked about doing for months, and now we’re hoping to make it a monthly event (just in time for holiday crafts!). It was also nice to discover my canvasing skills weren’t too rusty. It’s been probably a year and a half since I’ve made any type of canvas.

We started with dinner — pizza in a crockpot. What was nice is I was able to whip everything up and throw it all in the crockpot before we ran to the craft store. As usual, I used ground turkey instead of ground beef, and I nixed the green peppers. I did throw in mushrooms and black olives, which are typically staples on my pizza. I toyed with the idea of throwing in pineapple but decided against it.

I also made a homemade sauce, using this recipe as a starting point. Of all the foods I’ve made, I’m fairly certain that pasta sauce is my favorite. There’s something magical about it (strange, I know). It’s different each and every time, but it always turns out delicious. And naturally we paired the pasta with some garlic bread.

Crockpot pizza

Next time I make it, I’d probably mix the noodles with the sauce prior to putting it into the crockpot. Although my leftovers may chance that approach. Having the sauce on top of the noodles instead of mixed in, I find, doesn’t dry the sauce out as much for leftovers. We’ll find out tomorrow!

After dinner it was time to get down to business. Before dinner we’d spent roughly an hour at Hobby Lobby trying to figure out what to make. Initially I was just going to mod podge a collection of calendar quotes that I had. Seemed like an easy way to get myself back into the canvasing game (plus I really need to do something with the stack of quotes on my desk…).

But then my brain went into over-drive, as it tends to do when I’m in Hobby Lobby. Plus I had Pinterest loading tons of sample DIY canvas projects. It took some time, but finally I settled on something for the dining room, using these as inspiration:


The color scheme came together a lot easier than I thought. I’d been wanting to incorporate more of an olive green into my house, and the blue helps tie into the living room rug. Plus these two colors offered such a nice contrast to each other.


It was the writing part that worried me the most. I’ve used paint markers on a canvas with mixed results, and I didn’t trust myself to write it out with a paint brush. Thankfully in the aisle was an acrylic dimensional writer. It’s similar to paint you’d use on a shirt. After a few trial runs in pencil, I decided to just go for it.

Around that time, Hurley decided to join the party. The poor guy gets anxious during thunderstorms, so I had a sidekick for awhile.


What I love about these projects is how quickly they can come together. The paint dries relatively quickly, so I was able to hot glue gun the letters on before going to bed (which these letters coincidentally spell out). I woke up this morning and fell in love with the canvases all over again.


I may go back with the hot glue gun again or maybe even super glue to make sure the letters are really bound to the canvas. Once that’s done, though, I’ve got the perfect spot for it in my dining room. I’m itching to hang them up but know I need to be patient…

I’ll be sure to post more photos in a week or so. I may even have a photo of the canvases my friend was working on, too, since I loved her concept. More importantly, though, in a week I should be able to showcase the DIY project that middle and I have been working on (for what seems like forever now…). I literally am giddy about starting one of the last two tasks today!


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