Shifting health gears

Fruitless as it may seem given we’re only a few weeks away from another holiday, I decided to get back on the health wagon. Thanksgiving was a much needed break with lots of indulging — even for Hurley and the family dogs.

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What was also nice is I was able to listen to a great audiobook on my drive up and back. The book (It Was Me All Along) caught my eye while I was in Cape Cod and it seemed to be what I needed to light a fire under me again (and it was incredibly relatable given my own weight loss journey). In fact, I even skipped my normal spin class last night to go to BodyPump with my favorite combat instructor! I won’t lie, my entire body hurts right now and stairs are a real struggle. However, it was well worth it. Time to mix things up with my health routine.

In some ways this renewed focus also impacted what I chose for recipes this week. I knew I wanted to focus more on protein since I’d really been indulging and carbs (not to mention sweets). Sunday night I put a BBQ chicken quinoa recipe in the crockpot. It was relatively simple to throw together, and I loved how well the chicken shredded after just three hours in the crockpot. It may not look all that appetizing, but I can assure you that it was.

BBQ chicken

I should mention the olives were just something I threw on the plate because I was craving them… They didn’t particularly fit the flavor, but I didn’t care.

My recipe the following night, though, did allow for green olives. I was nervous having two similar recipes back-to-back, but I really wanted to try the slow cooker enchilada quinoa recipe.

To mix it up slightly, I actually used a beef roast instead of chicken (great choice, in hindsight!). I also minimized the cream cheese given the recent experiences I’d had with my crockpot dishes calling for cream cheese. I didn’t want it to dominate since I love Mexican food without too much cheese in general.

It took a bit longer for the beef to cook, so I almost wish I would have started that on its own. What was great, though, is that I seasoned it the night before so it had the perfect mix of spices.

In part because I wanted a bit more heartiness to it, I did half a cup of quinoa and half a cup of brown rice. (The other reason I’d done that is because that’s all the quinoa I had left…). I barely even noticed the rice when all was said and done, so I might add more of that in the future.

Enchilada

It was like a thoroughly mixed burrito bowl, and in my opinion you can’t go wrong there. The less healthy addition is the lime tortilla chips I used. All in moderation, though…

This week I’ve also decided that I’d like to make more of an effort to branch out of my cooking rut as well. Although the crockpot can be a lifesaver during the week, I also miss cooking. Thanksgiving certainly reminded me of that, but so did the dishes I made this week (though they were quite delicious).

In a crockpot, all the flavors blend together and nothing really stands out, and oddly enough it was the audiobook that made me come to that realization. The author talked about balsamic glazed vegetables and feta cheese sprinkled on spinach salad and buffalo chicken pizza. It sounded so delicious and…clean, for lack of a better word. Crockpot recipes, while convenient and often delicious, don’t feel as fresh and light to me. It might take a bit more planning on my part, but I’m hoping I start limiting my crockpot use.

Beyond that, I’m also aiming to be more intentional (given that is my word for the year…) about where I’m finding my recipes. Don’t get me wrong, Pinterest is great and will still be where I start my recipe search. But I also recognize that I hate and am terrible at tracking what I eat. It seems like such a chore to me and I get really bitter about it. That being said, I feel like if I can be more cognizant of  the nutritional content of dishes before I make them, it might make at least a small difference.

We’ll see how these efforts go. As I said, it may be a bit fruitless given the holiday season is upon us. But sometimes you have to strike while the iron is hot, and my motivation certainly peaked thanks to this book.

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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.

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

Hurley

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

(Turkey) sausage, chicken and ground turkey

It’s strange to me what a difference a year can make. I feel like last year around this time I was still getting my feet under me, slowly but surely adapting to my job and the community. Now I’m fully immersed in (what feels like) five dozen projects and assignments, whether they’re work or volunteer related. All I can say is thank goodness for coffee. And Hurley.

As a result, this blog post is primarily a snapshot of new recipes I’ve been whipping up in the kitchen… Meal planning has been essential for staying relatively sane (and hopefully healthy) throughout the week.

I’ll be honest that I can’t remember when I made the skillet beans and rice with sausage recipe, though I used a turkey sausage I already had in the freezer. I also swapped out white rice for brown rice…and topped it with a bit of cheese. It was a bit strange paired with green beans, but I wanted a bit more color and a vegetable.

The skillet was quite good. I feel like I’ve tried something similar, but I don’t think it had this type of bean incorporated into it. Definitely something I’d make again.

Skillet

The buffalo chicken taquitos recipe I vividly remember making. I spent a day working at home a few weeks ago because Hurley managed to injure himself (we’re still not entirely sure what or how, naturally). The morning started out with a frantic call and subsequent trip to the vet (and we got another one later in the week). I made this recipe for lunch while I was home but didn’t have much of an appetite for it, though not because it wasn’t tasty. It’s almost like the buffalo chicken chip dip I like to make for the Super Bowl in a tortilla shell and baked. Can’t really go wrong with that!

buffalo chicken

Later that week I decided to try a cheeseburger casserole. With this recipe I also subbed in turkey for the red meat, and I also picked up some brown rice penne pasta from Trader Joe’s. I’ve recently become obsessed with that store, in part because I’m on a sparkling water kick and they have fantastic liters of raspberry lime sparking water. At least I’m staying hydrated in this heat!

Although I was a bit hesitant to add sour cream to it (primarily because I don’t associated sour cream with cheeseburgers), it turned out really well. And in all honesty, I think it’s the onion soup mix that brings it all together. It’s absolutely a good fix for when I’m craving something like cheeseburger soup in a different fashion.

cheeseburger

My post comes full circle with my most recent recipe — cilantro-lime chicken with rice and black beans. It’s almost like a burrito bowl but has almost a casserole type consistency (at least for me). I’d been craving some type of lime chicken after my co-worker talked about tequila lime chicken tacos she made the night before. This seems like an easier and (hopefully) healthier alternative.

What was also excited about this dinner is I got to use my new plates! The middle, her boyfriend and I had a weekend getaway to Kansas City, complete with a stop at IKEA. Four hours (and thankfully not too much money) later, I had a few new items for the home, including a new set of dishes. I probably should have been more conscious of that when I took a photo of the skillet, but I’m sure they’ll be featured in plenty of future photos… Spoiler alert, they’re purple. Go figure.

cilantro lime

I’d like to say my schedule is freeing up a bit to allow for a bit more blogging, but unfortunately that won’t be the case until about mid-August. Although I am hoping to have my newest DIY project to talk about soon! It’s been the biggest undertaking the middle and I have done to date…but I’m hoping it will be worth all the effort. Fingers crossed!

Oh, and I’m also happy to report Hurley is doing much better. He’s back to walking on all four paws and without a limp. Naturally now that he’s able to resume his walks as normal (though still no runs or the dog park), it’s been insanely hot outside. But that just means we wait a bit later to take our strolls. It’s hard to say no to this handsome little guy.

Hurley

New approach

You would think I wouldn’t be craving any comfort food after the holidays. And really, it wasn’t so much that I was craving it as I wanted an easy recipe. When I got back to Lincoln, the last thing I wanted to do was scour Pinterest for a healthy recipe. I mean, even Hurley was exhausted. (Not that he could sleep given he’s so damn cute when he’s tired and I can’t help but smother….)

Hurley

Given my lack of brain power, I instead opted to pick from the recipes I’d already pinned (imagine that!) and went with the first one that looked mildly appetizing: 30-minute skillet lasagna.

I loved how simple this recipe was. I saved a step (and hopefully some calories) by using Italian ground turkey (though let’s be honest, I still added in seasonings). It should almost be a disclaimer on my blog that nearly any recipe I try with ground beef will instead be used with ground turkey. Oh, and I added in mushrooms. It probably wouldn’t hurt to have another disclaimer that there’s a 97% chance that if it’s a pasta dish, I’m adding in mushrooms.

Mostly I loved that I didn’t have to boil the pasta separately. And it didn’t require quite the prep work that a lasagna does. I’ll admit I got a little impatient at the end. It doesn’t look fancy or overly appetizing in the skillet, but I didn’t care. It was nearing 8 p.m. and I was ready for dinner.

Skillet

It was absolutely worth the effort last night, though. I discovered I added a bit too much of the red pepper flakes, but there are certainly worse problems to have.

Lasagna

I actually think I prefer this to lasagna. This dish is a little less messy and I loved how all the cheeses blend in with the pasta sauce. Technically it wouldn’t need to be made with the skillet approach, but I do love that I don’t have to boil the pasta separately. It makes cooking and cleanup a little bit easier. Although it’s probably not a good thing that I’ve got a simplified go-to recipe for great comfort food…

Home sweet home

On a somewhat impromptu decision (making plans on Wednesday for a Friday trip generally isn’t my MO), this weekend I made the venture back to South Dakota. And it was exactly what I needed.

It was somewhat strange — I think this weekend marked the first time since I moved to Missouri that I’ve been home without a holiday. I kept feeling like we needed to prepare for Thanksgiving or something, but thankfully it’s not that late in the year and I’ve still got that to look forward to next month. For the first time in who knows how long, I got to see leaves still on the trees on beautiful fall days, which made for a scenic 5K training workout with this gorgeous labrador.

Kona

It’s also a rare occasion that I’m home without the middle and/or little. While it made for a rather quiet house, it also meant the parents spoiled me a bit and I didn’t have to compete for the dogs’ attention. I also got lots of R&R, despite having limited bed space. But let’s be honest, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

doddies

The other perk of the weekend is my mom and I found a great fall/winter drink. While I’d had mulled wine at a holiday party years ago, it never really crossed my mind to actually make it. Clearly I’ve been missing out. We kept our concoction pretty straight-forward — wine from the winery we went to on Saturday afternoon, mulling spices and apple cider. I even got to use my cute new coffee mug (instead of being obsessed with shoes, I’m apparently obsessed with coffee mugs…).

Mulled Wine

We added cinnamon sticks to it last night when we reheated our batch and it made it even better. The middle is becoming a connoisseur with sangria, so I may make mulled wine my speciality. It doesn’t quite have the comforts of home, but a warm fall drink certainly makes for a cozy night. ❤

A (very) mini-vacation

A weekend getaway (though technically it was only 30 hours, give or take) was exactly what I needed.

There’s a cabin about two hours from Columbia that Lindsay goes to every summer that I’ve been wanting to visit as well. No internet, no cell phone service, no distractions. But how could I not be content with a lake, good friends, the gentleman, great food (including freshly picked blueberries!), books and a gorgeous chocolate lab?

I was fortunate to have a few mini-vacations this spring/summer but this trip was rewarding in a different way. This time there was no schedule or even decisions to make (aside from which book I wanted to read and where I’d want to sit to get optimal sun exposure). Even though we were only there a short while, we both commented on the drive back that it felt like we’d been gone a lot longer. And in my mind, you can’t really ask for a better outcome for a weekend trip.

Lake

L&L

While we were there we decided to try new recipes in the quaint kitchen. Lindsay had been wanting to make spring rolls and I spotted an easy pad thai recipe, though I knew I’d be the judge about whether it was actually easy. I’m happy to report that the only real difficulty we had was finding the right ingredients.

I only made two modifications to the dish — I didn’t use crushed peanuts since I’m not a fan (and I don’t think the others are huge fans either) and I didn’t have any Sriracha. I was tempted to buy it, but rarely do I buy the optional ingredients.

Thankfully the two missing ingredients didn’t make a difference. I was really impressed by how much it resembled pad thai from a restaurant. And it looked great as well:

Pad thai

The spring rolls were also fabulous, though Lindsay will probably blog about those. In the future I’ll probably add chicken, vegetables and/or pineapple to the pad thai since it felt like it was missing something, but I’d definitely make this again. I still can’t get over how simple it was!

After such a relaxing weekend, it’s been a struggle to get back to being productive and functional. It was even a bit overwhelming to check facebook this afternoon, which actually prompted an interesting conversation with my adopted grandmother. She’s been reading The Blue Zones and one of the key components is disconnecting from technology to give yourself the break you really need. I’m starting to see why. Must make a note of that for a future monthly goal…

Sisters vacation

As promised, a quick entry about London.

Long story short, I feel like the sisters and I deserve an “I Survived London” t-shirt.

By no means was the trip bad. Actually, now that I’ve had time to process and look back on the vacation, it was actually quite a success. We started out with a bucket list of 32 things to do/see in London and we were able to cross off 20. Not bad considering we technically only had 4 days in London (one day was spent in Paris and another was shot due to traveling misfortunes, if you will).

Many people have asked why we chose London. For starters, we were limited in where we could travel. We were coordinating our trip to coincide with the end of the little’s study abroad program, and due to the Schengen Treaty, we ideally wanted a country where she wouldn’t need to apply for a visa. Plus we wanted to be in a place where English was the primary language since it was our first international trip together.

The deciding factor, though? The Harry Potter studio tour. Naturally we hit that up the first day (which was technically our second, but due to the little’s terrible luck with delays flights and the jet lag the middle and I had, the day we got there was pretty well shot).

Fireplace

The next few days were a little overwhelming, probably in part because we didn’t research and plan as thoroughly as we could have (although it’s difficult to coordinate via skype conversations given busy schedules, not to mention vastly different time zones). I think what it boiled down to, other that the little’s terrible luck with literally all modes of transportation, is that it wasn’t what I expected. What you see in Love Actually and Bridget Jones’s Diary? Not quite the same. Although the Westminster area is relatively close to what I pictured.

The highlight of our trip (which admittedly seems a bit ironic) was our day (technically 6 hours…) in Paris. Beautiful sites, amazing weather, delicious crepes and a gorgeous view of the Eiffel Tower. We got to see it in the daylight just as the sun was going down, so it was perfect timing. I think all three of us were on cloud nine watching the Eiffel Tower light up as we ate crepes and baguettes in a nearby park. That moment literally made the whole trip worthwhile for us (again, ironic given it was a London vacation).

Paris

Thankfully, though, we hit a groove on our last day. We (and by we I really mean the middle) mastered the tube, we felt relatively comfortable with the currency and stuck to a short and specific set of bucket list items (as opposed to day following Harry Potter where we tried to tackle the whole freakin’ city with the aid of a hop-on, hop-off bus tour – although we naturally chose the not so punctual company, either). For once we didn’t feel overwhelmed and frustrated with London. Success!

I think the greatest success, though, is how well the sisters got along and stuck together. Particularly given how crammed our living quarters were and how much time we spent with one another, it could have turned ugly. And that’s not to say there weren’t frustrations and mini breakdowns, including my own. But I couldn’t have picked better ladies to have such…interesting, shall we say, adventures with in London. They made the trip worthwhile for me, bad luck and all. Plus now we have fantastic stories to share (like why we only got 6 instead of 9 hours in Paris…which out of respect for the little won’t be blog material).

And just to be on the safe side, we’re going to start planning our next sisters trip. It’s likely years away, but lesson learned: you can never plan too much for international travel. Take that to the bank!

“The great gift of family life is to be intimately acquainted with people you might never even introduce yourself to, had life not done it for you.” Kendall Hailey

Great escape

I’m apparently all about using photos instead of actual content for blog posts lately. You’ll have to indulge me one more time…

While I was driving back to Missouri today, it hit me how beautiful South Dakota can be. (I’ve also decided that driving back is harder since the best scenery takes place in the first 60 miles and then it’s just a waiting game after that…) I don’t know if it’s the time of year or the fact that I actually took time to enjoy the sites of the city, but being back was the perfect escape after a hectic month.

One of my favorite locations will probably always be the bike trail we take our dogs to for their longer walks. Nearing the end of the trail is the perfect spot – it’s got the river, tall grass, trees, bridges and tons of wide open space. Plus straight ahead there’s a tiny “beach” that we let the dogs explore for the first time (although if they have their way, it’s the first of many trips there).

The only problem with taking our dogs down to their beach is they get awfully dirty (but still so cute!):

The trip was definitely what I needed. Let’s hope I’m all geared up for summer (and decent blog posts) now!

Traveling buddy

What a week/weekend!

Last Wednesday I flew to Washington D.C. for a conference and a few days of site-seeing. The conference was great and I think it gave me a better perspective and direction about what to do here in Missouri. It was two days where we focused on – wait for it – data! How could I not enjoy it?

And who else should happen to be in D.C. at the same time? The little sister. Not only that, but she ended up staying in the same hotel as me.What are the odds? Staying up until 2 or 3 in the morning probably wasn’t my best interest, but sometimes you just need a good sisters chat.

Being in D.C. also gave me the chance to catch up with an old friend. Miss Heidi is easily one of my favorite people, and what I really love is that a year or two can pass without us seeing each other and we’re still able to pick up right where we left off.  She’s also one of the few people who likes life chats as much as me, which is definitely an added bonus.

(I feel like I’m starting to sound like an informercial here – “but wait, there’s more!”)

It was also great to wander around D.C. and see new sites. It’s awesome to take in all the history and just get lost in the moment. Definitely a worthwhile and memorable trip.

Now that I’m back and unpacked (a miracle in and of itself), I’m trying to take care of me. My co-worker did a detox diet a few months ago that she really liked, so this week I’ve decided to give it a try. Tonight I made vegetable soup, which is one of the five lunch options.

At this point I probably couldn’t even tell you what’s in the soup. I started with a basic recipe of potatoes, carrots and celery but ended up going way off grid, scouring my kitchen for any other vegetables that might be good in the soup. I’m actually really impressed with how it turned out. Let’s just hope I’m equally impressed when I have it for lunch tomorrow.

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