Finding what works

As one of my gym buddies mentioned on facebook, a new months means a new opportunity to set new goals and/or revisit the ones you’ve already created for yourself.

Already I have slightly higher hopes for this month. We’re celebrating three birthdays (including my milestone — dun dun dun!) and I’ll take a trip up to see my parents for a three-day weekend. I also don’t anticipate having large work projects like I did last month, which should hopefully help with my balance. Somehow February always seems less daunting than January.

It was also nice to start the month off on a good note, though I suppose technically it was January. The weather was gorgeous (quite the contrast to today’s snow day) which allowed me to take Hurley to the dog park (and subsequently to get a bath) and get a long walk in the next day. Somehow the weather and increased activity helped give me a natural boost in energy to tackle things that had been looming on my personal to-do list.

Oh, and I officially have one month under my belt with the Day One app! I’ll have to decide if this is going to be a daily thing throughout the full year (I’m leaning toward it just so I’m in the habit of reflecting on the silver linings of the day, much like a gratitude journal).

Day One

I’m still limiting the number of new recipes I try. I’ve been surprised at how easy it’s been and how content I’ve been with having the same lunch (granted with variations) each week day. Although I enjoy cooking, cutting it in half has been fantastic.

Last week I made shepherd’s pie, which is a new recipe for me in that I haven’t made it myself (I’ve had it a few times with others, though). Who knew you could create semi-mashed potatoes without having an electric beater or masher?! That was the perk to this recipe. As always, I threw in more vegetables than the original recipe called for, but it always pays off.

Shepherds pie

I’m still torn on shepherd’s pie. I think because it reminds me a cross between pot roast and tator tot casserole, and I prefer both of those to shepherd’s pie. But it was nice to mix things up a bit.

pie2

Last night, in preparation for the snow day, I decided to try a stromboli recipe. My downfall with this (similar to burritos) is that I try to include too much so wrapping it is a bit difficult. In addition to the italian sausage and turkey pepperoni, I also included mushrooms and black olives. I wanted to add in pineapple but I knew I’d be pushing it.

The dough ripped a bit but surprisingly it came out in one piece.

Stromboli

I’ve decided it may not pay to be fancy. In other words, I’m probably better off sticking with a regular pizza or the pizza casserole I tried the other week. But either way it’s another easy recipe I wouldn’t have to look up in a pinch to make dinner.

Here’s to a new month, accomplishing goals and finding opportunities to hit the reset button (like today’s snow day)!

Advertisements

Transition time

This week my body seemed to be utterly confused. I’m one of those crazy people who tends to turn on the Christmas music after Halloween (I figure there’s a short window for enjoying it so I may as well take full advantage of it). The 70 degree weather made it difficult to even attempt anything related to Christmas, though in no way was I complaining about that!

In fact, it meant I nixed the gym quite a bit to take Hurley on long walks along the trail instead. I figure I’ve got the next 5+ months to hit up spin and BodyCombat classes. How many opportunities am I going to get to make this guy’s day (aside from my typical smothering and spoiling, that is)?

Doggie Trail

Regardless, meal planning gets a bit tricky with the shortened daylight. I opted for a crockpot recipe on Monday so it would require minimal prep time while allowing me to eat dinner at a decent time. This time the winner was a beef stroganoff recipe that caught my attention.

I did appreciate the minimal prep, and it’s the first time I think I’ve ever used cream of onion before (which I’d recommend for dishes like this). This dish seemed to have a lot more flavor than previous stroganoff recipes I’ve tried. I’d been tempted to add peas or some type of vegetable to it (instead of having it on the side or with a salad) but sometimes you just have to let yourself indulge.

Stroganoff

In retrospect I would have cut back on some of the cream (either the cream of mushroom or halving the cream cheese). I’m not sure if my stomach can’t handle creamy foods as much or if I just know the impact heavy foods have on my energy level/workout ability, especially having it as leftovers for lunch. It may be that I picked up on it after day four or five of leftovers, though. I really do need to start cutting some of the recipes I try in half…

On Wednesday I tried an entirely new recipe for me — mini muffuletta meatloaf. I’d never come across anything like this, and it sounded delicious. I did switch out the pepper mix and instead used a black olive bruschetta I found at the grocery store. And I used ground turkey instead, which altered the flavor a bit. I also decided it would be less messy on my end to just cook one loaf.

Meatloaf

I was pleasantly surprised by the recipe, though I shouldn’t have been given all the flavors I love. It was also relatively quick. One thing that typically deters me from recipes like this is trying to find side dishes. I wasn’t quite as successful this time (salad and green beans), though I should have paired it with a baked sweet potato. Oddly enough, I think it would have been a good flavor combination.

The goal for next week is to have meals that are slightly more well-balanced. I’ve realized I tend to gravitate toward Mexican dishes since it’s easier to incorporate a range of foods (vegetables, grains, protein). Perhaps that’s what I’ll find on the docket for next week (along with putting up my Christmas tree since we have a holiday on Wednesday)!

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. ❤

Screen shot 2015-09-22 at 10.44.07 PM

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).

Screen shot 2015-09-22 at 10.44.22 PM

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!

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.

2015-09-08 02.57.01

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).

2015-09-08 02.59.07

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).

Screen shot 2015-09-08 at 9.00.54 PM

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!

Different takes of cheese(turkey)burgers

I swear I’m still among the living — albeit with a hectic schedule and a computer on the fritz (fingers crossed it’s not a hard-drive issue…). It helped that the two recipes I tried last week weren’t really worth writing home about (or more literally, writing a blog post about). This week was a different story.

The next best thing to a crockpot recipe on a busy night is one that I can prep prior to going to the gym. Monday night I got to do just that with this chicken burger recipe made with spinach. It took probably 20 minutes to prep (primarily because it required bringing out my food processor, though I don’t know that that’s a must) before being refrigerated for two hours. I think refrigerating it makes all the difference, not just in terms of flavor, but because it helps the burger keep it’s form a bit better.

Once I got home from spin class, it took literally 20 minutes to whip it up with the salad and all. I used the middle’s approach to making her heavenly grilled cheese — slow and steady. I cooked the burgers on medium heat and covered them at the end to make the cheddar cheese melt a bit better. So delicious and full of flavor!

Chicken burger

The next night I went for comfort (in part since our weather has been more fall-like than spring) with a cheeseburger soup recipe. I tried a similar recipe back in November but with the crockpot.

I can honestly say this one blew that out of the water, I think because it was a lot thicker. It almost had the consistency of chili or beef stew. Plus I hadn’t thought about topping it with croutons (although it even says on the crouton bag that you can put it on top of soup…) and that made it even better. I did throw pickles just into my bowl to see if I still liked it (and the answer is yes).

Cheeseburger soup

I’m happy to report on day 3 of chicken burgers and day 2 of soup, I’m still loving both recipes. And on day 5 of computer issues, I’m finally not freezing and stalling every two minutes. Major progress this week!

Intentional about intuitive eating

On Sunday as I was meal planning for the week, I came across a slow cooker creamy chicken crock pot recipe. It looked delicious and really simple to throw together. Plus it reminded me of a dish a friend made for me (with pasta instead of rice) during my last week in Columbia that I loved. (It’s hard to believe that was exactly a year ago!)

I did my typical, “okay, how healthy is this?” questioning before deciding whether to put it on the docket. I was torn since it called for cream of chicken and cream cheese (kind of selling points for me since it’s likely what makes it delicious…) and no vegetables (though they could be added). Should I find modifications? Find a different recipe?

And then to my surprise, I decided I didn’t care. I put it on the list and made it Monday evening. In addition to the can of cream of chicken, I also used cream of mushroom. (The blogger is right — with more chicken, two cans helps.) The smell alone when I walked into the house after spin class was worth it.

Why the shift? It’s primarily because in the last week or two, I’ve been focusing on intuitive eating (you could say it’s another area where I’m trying to be intentional). It’s something the little talked about while we were home for the holidays, and a rockstar I got my MPH with posted this article about it on her facebook page. (I rarely put plugs out there, but if you’re interested in healthy living topics, Real Nutrition and Fitness LLC is beyond fantastic!) The article drove home the point that by saying I probably shouldn’t have something because it wasn’t healthy, I was actually creating an unhealthy view of that food.

With intuitive eating, nothing is off-limits. It’s similar to the “everything in moderation” approach to eating without that moderation restriction. It’s about eating to fuel your body and knowing when you’re full. What I also love is that it’s about having a healthy relationship with food. I don’t need to beat myself up or somehow justify having a dish that had cream cheese (I don’t want to estimate how many times I’ve said or even written on my blog, “I know this isn’t all that healthy but…”).

Plus I was able to balance the meal out, and that’s what really counts. I paired the creamy chicken with brown rice mixed with quinoa (a genius idea from a co-worker!) and loaded up on veggies as a side. So really, the “unhealthy” thing I was torn about only constituted a portion of an otherwise healthy meal. And it was delicious to boot! Comfort food without being too heavy, which I always love.

creamy chicken

Last night I also did a balancing act of sorts (with trying to make half my plate veggies) when I tried an oven-roasted sausage, potatoes and peppers recipe. This is comparable to another recipe or two I’ve tried, but it’s the first time I’ve used banana peppers (which I love!).

I’ll confess that banana peppers were the only peppers I used, but it turned out to be just the right amount of flavor for me — primarily because I used chipotle and pepperjack chicken sausage. So delicious! The leftovers were equally great, too. What was really surprisingly is that I only used salt, pepper and garlic powder as seasonings. The strong flavor from the peppers and sausage made me a bit thankful I didn’t throw in red pepper flakes.

sausage potato pepper

I’d say intuitive eating is definitely winning this week (though it’s still an interesting mindset shift I’m trying to make). It also doesn’t hurt that I’m getting way more steps now that the weather is gorgeous and Hurley gets double the time walking. We don’t mess around with this spring weather and extra hour of sunlight!

Perfect timing

This weekend proved to be quite a contrast to the last, and the gorgeous weather definitely put a spring in my step. Despite the 60-degree weather, though, I couldn’t resist pulling out the crock pot for a new dinner recipe.

Before taking Hurley out on a second walk (it’s my attempt to counter the effects of him being cooped up last week thanks to the 13 inches of snow), I started a skinny slow cooker chicken pot pie recipe. It’s one of my favorite perks of crock pot recipes — quick prep and then it just sits there for a couple hours. I actually used some of that time to make healthy banana bread baked oatmeal.

It didn’t take long to mix everything together for the baked oatmeal either (and there was next to no mess since it doesn’t require any flour or sugar!). I did end up adding in the 1/4 cup of maple syrup that the directions suggested as well as a sprinkle of brown sugar. While I love oats, I also wanted some sweet to it as well.

oatmeal

I thought the consistency would be similar to a banana bread, and in some ways it is. It almost reminds me moreso of those Quaker oatmeal bars, which I think will make for a perfect mid-morning snack this week. And I’m definitely glad I added in the maple syrup.

As the oatmeal bake was cooling, I put the frozen vegetables in the crock pot to finish up the pot pie recipe. Already I felt like this was much more successful than my actual chicken pot pie from a couple years ago — and not just because the portion size was more manageable. Having shredded chicken somehow made it better, and I was relieve to find that using almond milk instead of skim didn’t impact it at all (turns out almond milk doesn’t work well with pudding mixes…).

chicken pot pie

The timing was also nice since I pulled the banana oatmeal bake out of the oven just a few minutes before it was time to put in the biscuits. It’s probably better to have biscuits as opposed to a crust…except I bought two rolls so I can have fresh biscuits later in the week for leftovers. I can’t help that it’s my favorite part!

pot pie and biscuits

I may have to experiment with different seasonings and maybe crumbling the biscuit on top, but on the whole I loved it. The veggies were crisp and it had a thick consistency that reminded me of chicken and dumplings, obviously minus the dumplings. This crock pot dish was absolutely the way to go this evening. Perfect for a winter day, even when that day feels like spring. Not that this girl is complaining…

Twists on comfort food

It wasn’t until I started writing this post that I realized my recipes as of late are dishes that put a new spin on what I consider comfort food.

To kick off my weekend, on Friday night I made a one pot BBQ cheesy pasta. The primary change I made to the recipe is that instead of using a mac and cheese dinner box, I used veggie elbow pasta and shredded sharp cheddar cheese. It was really easy to whip together, and making it in one pot makes the prep and clean-up process so much easier.

I didn’t get a photo of it the night I made it since that’s when I launched my technology free weekend, but I don’t know that a photo would have done it justice anyway. The leftovers, while not as creamy as the initial batch, were still delicious.

bbq cheesy pasta

Last night I tried a crock pot Italian zucchini meatloaf. I made a couple modifications based on previous meatloaf recipes I’ve tried — primarily adding in mushrooms and also onions. And I only used 1.5 pounds of ground beef instead of 2 so I could save the other half pound for my recipe the following night. I’d actually been hoping to use ground turkey instead, but

What was great about this recipe is that I was able to use the extra zucchini as a side dish. Truth be told, I barely noticed the zucchini in the meatloaf (although I actually chopped mine up instead of doing the slices that the recipe called for). The Italian approach was unique and I think having mushrooms in it enhanced that flavor a bit. Thinking back on it, it almost tasted like big Italian meatballs.

meatloaf

I brought the crock pot out again tonight (because who doesn’t want something comforting after dealing with another 6 inches of snow?). This time I decided to try a crock pot pizza, though it’s a bit unique in that it doesn’t really have a crust. It was almost like preparing a lasagna with the various layers. My toppings were pretty similar to what was recommended in the recipe — artichokes, turkey pepperoni, black olives and mushrooms.

What was also nice is I was able to throw some of those toppings into my salad. It’s the first time I think I’ve used artichoke hearts into a salad, but I’m definitely a fan. The meal was just the right combination.

Pizza

The crock pot pizza really hit the spot. I’m half tempted to try it with a layer of pasta at the bottom, if only to soak up a bit more of the sauce. It would make it a less carb-friendly recipe, but that wasn’t my initial pull toward the recipe anyway. Comfort food in a crock pot — you really can’t go wrong!

Technology bust

I picked probably one of the worst weekends to go technology free. What I thought would be a relaxing experience ended with me angrily throwing in the towel and cursing the entire situation (namely my stubbornness and stupidity). But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Last Wednesday I decided I was going to unplug for the weekend. Part of me wanted to be able to cross it off my 30 Before 30 List, but mostly I was looking forward to a break. My brain was on professional and personal overload for most of January, and I hated that I felt so glued to my phone and laptop between the whole house-hunting process and deadlines at work. A break from all the screens and keyboards is just what I needed.

(I should mention that while I went technology free, I still used my Roku to stream movies and Pandora. Primarily I wanted to get away from the constant information overload the false sense of productivity I typically get just for keeping up with emails. Plus the thought of not having any music or noise in the house for an entire weekend creeped me out a bit.)

At 5:40 p.m. on Friday, I shut my phone off and shoved it into a drawer. And up until about Saturday afternoon, I felt really great about not using that or my computer. I didn’t feel as rushed and suddenly my to-do list seemed a lot smaller since I couldn’t use my laptop. Time that would have been spent on pinterest was instead spent reading with Hurley curled up right next to me. Even playing with Hurley was better since I wasn’t texting or refreshing my facebook feed in the other hand.

But imagine my surprise when it started snowing around 9:30 on Saturday morning and by 3 p.m. was still going. Last I’d checked my weather app, there was only a small chance of snow flurries on Sunday. Imagine my bigger surprise when the cashier at HyVee later that afternoon said we were supposed to get 4-5 inches.

Sure enough, I woke up to 7.5 inches of wet, heavy snow on Sunday morning. I dug myself out (slowly and painfully) with plenty of time to get ready for BodyCombat. And that’s when I lost it.

After braving the slick streets, I got to the gym only to find out all classes had been cancelled — except for a special two-hour BodyCombat session being held so two new instructors could tape a class for their certification process. Naturally that was wrapping up in 30 minutes. It goes without saying that I wasn’t amused as the gym manager told me all of this. “Didn’t you get the email or see our update on facebook?”

Under normal circumstances, yes, I would have. I would have been at the two hour class. Or I would have nixed it entirely had I known how crappy the roads and weather were. But I wasn’t about to go into my whole “I’m technology free this weekend!” spiel with this poor guy. At that moment, I’d had enough.

In the end, I did make it a full 48 hours without a computer and I was just a few hours shy of reaching that point with my phone. But at what cost?

It’s one thing to take a break from the constant consumption. That part I didn’t mind. What I didn’t like, though, was feeling in the dark when it came to my safety and schedule. The power went off twice on Saturday night. We were in a winter storm warning and then a wind advisory. The interstate was closed, meaning the middle’s volleyball tournament in Omaha was cancelled. And I knew none of this because I wouldn’t let myself cave and turn on my damn phone. In this particular instance, ignorance was not bliss. It was annoying frustrating and, frankly, just not smart.

Perhaps once the weather and crappy roads aren’t a thorn in my side (which probably won’t be until next weekend…) I won’t feel as bitter about my technology free weekend experience. I mean, the first part of the weekend was quite successful. It was nice to prioritize my time and attention in a different way (which I know Hurley loved). There was certainly some value in unplugging and giving myself that break.

If nothing else, I’ve learned a valuable lesson (don’t screw with Nebraska winter weather) while gaining insights about how I use technology in my everyday life. I feel better knowing that, at least with my phone, it’s moreso about meal planning, grocery shopping lists, checking weather and making plans with people. The time suck that is my laptop could use some work, but I know that’s something I can be more intentional about this year.

For now, though, I’m off to use the wonderful thing that is technology to see if my spin class is still going to be held tonight. Imagine that!

Comfort in carbs…and a pup

There was no avoiding it. This week I was craving carbs, so that’s exactly what I indulged in with my two new recipes.

I started the week with a slow cooker beef stroganoff. I’m telling you, swiping a larger crock pot from the middle was a great move on my part. It’s been so convenient to throw something in when I get home from work and have the house smell fantastic when I get home from the gym a couple hours later.

The small catch with this recipe is that I had to cook the noodles once I got home. It meant I had dinner a little later than normal, though it was worth it in my book. As with my beef and broccoli recipe last week, I substituted beef stew meat for a different cut of steak. I think I added a bit too much worcestershire sauce (I forget that less is more with that…) but otherwise this really hit the spot. And ratio of noodles to sauce was perfect. The leftovers were just as delicious.

stroganoff

Later in the week I switched flavors and tried to at least get a bit more nutritional value out of my carbs (although brown rice or quinoa may have been a slightly better option). Enter baked chicken and orzo. I actually ended up using arborio rice because I couldn’t find orzo for a decent size or price. Such is life.

This recipe was really quick to whip together. It was a little hard to balance initially just because I boiled water and chicken bouillon cubes to make chicken broth. I’m also bad at not prepping before I jump into cooking (so I’m typically still chopping onion and garlic when the chicken is nearly done cooking and I feel a bit rushed).

Even with my slightly craziness/delays, it only took about 15 minutes or less to get everything sautéed and into the casserole dish. It looks a little bland, but it was anything but that. The rice is a bit dry as leftovers. At least the chicken flavor still stands out, though.

chicken and rice

I’d say I got my carb fix in for the week. Especially with the spring-like weather we’re supposed to have this weekend, I might be able to transition away from the comfort foods for at least a few days. Plus I know of one dog who has been super appreciative of the warmer weather since it means legit walks and upcoming trips to the dog park. I love when this little guy is worn out (in part because it makes him cuddly — I got 45 minutes with him on the couch last night!).

Hurley

Categories

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 240 other followers