Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Life Savers

I'm going to be honest here: sometimes, I hate food, I'm tired of cooking, I'm bored of the flavors I'm tasting, and making my weekly menu is like pulling teeth. I've been stuck in that kind of a rut for the last few weeks, but thankfully I found a few recipes that have started to rekindle my love-affair with food.

First of all, can I just say that Julia Childs deserves a medal? One thing she's famous for is her love of butter, and oh man have I learned just how right she was! I was feeling really discouraged about my food, especially my mashed potatoes. They just weren't ever as satisfying as they used to be, without the dairy added in. I realized it was truthfully the butter that I was missing, so I broke down and reluctantly bought the $7 8oz. jar of ghee. Seriously, this nondescript jar of yellow stuff is a game-changer.

For those who don't know, ghee is clarified butter. All the fat, none of the dairy. I had tried making this on my own, but had never managed to get all the dairy out so it still caused my stomach irritation. The store-bought ghee hasn't caused me any issues so far, and has really improved the overall taste and texture of my cooking. So, yes, it's a little pricey; but if you use it moderately it should last a month or two. And, $7 per month for satisfying, rich, creamy food is worth it in my book.

Anyways, on to the recipes. Both of these are definitely dishes that I would serve at the Average [Paleo] American. This first one was shared by @dollyswholelife on the Whole30 Recipe FB page. These meatballs in marinara sauce over mashed potatoes are so easy to make and amazingly delicious! It was really nice to be able to use a jar of pre-made marinara instead of having to do everything from scratch, and finding a sauce with compliant ingredients wasn't too difficult. The mixture of pork, beef, and spices made the meatballs so flavorful, and the garlic mashed potatoes (with ghee!) were the perfect, creamy base.

My next dish, chicken piccata, has been a long-time favorite of mine. I was skeptical about trying a paleo version, because many times they just don't live up to the buttery, gluteny versions you're expecting. But, when in a food rut, I always try to go for an old favorite, and this did not disappoint! I didn't use the nutritional yeast, and I used half ghee, half olive oil to fry the chicken in. The almond flour breading still got a nice crisp, the sauce was still rich and creamy, and the capers added the classic piccata kick. I served this over cauliflower rice, which soaked up the flavor of the sauce, and lent the lovely texture that I used to get by serving this with couscous.

Over all, having a few comforting, satisfying dishes last week really helped to start climbing out of my I-hate-food pit. In fact, I'm off to try cooking another new recipe right now!

Monday, January 23, 2017

Snippets of Life

Tonight, I'm really not feeling the whole "work on my to-do list" thing. Sometimes I push through that to get it done anyway, but tonight I've decided to let myself do the things that I want to do. They're all fun things that I've been thinking about for a while (like this blog post) or that will need to be done at some point anyways (like wedding brainstorming). So, it's not a totally unproductive night. 

Speaking of wedding planning, as a friend of mine says with great excitement, "Can we just talk about this for a minute?" Holy cow. I still can't always believe it's really happening. I've definitely run the gamut of emotions in this last month and half, from blissful exuberance to fear of the change, from overwhelmed with decisions to inexpressibly joyful over dreams coming true. I'm not sure it's the "always-kittens-and-rainbows" picture that society paints of brides-to-be, but it's honest. And, it's amazing. 

And speaking of trying to be productive, this is what a sleepy Saturday afternoon looks like when I need to get sewing done, but would rather be cuddling with my guy. Sometimes, you just need a second cup of coffee and six hours of Pride and Prejudice to pull you through!

For a while now I've been staring at the mending pile. Why is mending always the hardest to do? Even though it'll take all of five minutes, I have the worst time working up the motivation to finish it. There seems to be a spiritual lesson there; I'm ready and willing to take care of the "big" issues in my life, but how eager am I to take care of those "little" issues, like frustration over small things, or selfishness in my time, or thinking poorly of those I don't get a long with?

There is something truly beautiful about freshly pressed, snowy white linens. Can I just surround my life in linen?

I'm really thankful for the flexibility that owning my own business allows. Not just that I can take a day off when I want to, but that on the days when I am working, I can work around my energy levels. I always hit an afternoon slump, and I am grateful to be able to take a nice long coffee break, knowing that I'll work well into the evening when energy returns. 

Even though we all strive to be happy and smiling all the time, we'd be lying if we said we don't have days when the gray winter sky gets us down and we really just want to crawl back into bed. So, sometimes I just need to wear a shirt with colorful cartoon animals all over it, and put on lipstick even though the only place I'm going is the laundromat. Little things can really help to improve my mood. 

Sometimes, the busyness of summer is beyond overwhelming, but I always start feeling cooped-up pretty quickly in the quieter days of January. Decent weather calls for a walk on my favorite "I'm-going-stir-crazy" trail. Not much to look at in the dead of winter, but peaceful and full of fresh air. 

So, what does your January look like?

Saturday, January 7, 2017

The Average [Paleo] American

Several weeks ago, I was struck with an idea, that if I were ever to open a restaurant, and I would want it to be a paleo-friendly menu that catered to the tastes of an average American. What I mean is, most paleo-friendly restaurants have very Mediterranean or African or other ethnic cuisine. True, those cultures have really found some great ways to make delicious meals out of a few simple, nutritious ingredients; but, sometimes this American girl just wants to feel normal, as if she didn't have crazy diet restrictions, and to be able to pronounce everything she's eating - simple words like pizza, barbecue, and chocolate. I'd want it to be a place where even picky and non-paleo eaters could find a multitude of yummy meals. True, many things just can't be replicated without using non-paleo ingredients, but I think it'd be an interesting challenge.

Though this idea will likely never come to pass, I still like to gauge my recipe testing by whether I would serve it in my imaginary restaurant or not. The food that inspired this idea was one of my favorite breakfasts - roasted green beans with almond pesto and fried eggs. I never used to love green beans, but I think it's because I only had them steamed. I've yet to find a vegetable that roasting doesn't make ten times more delicious, and green beans are no exception. Top that with the flavorful, crunchy, creamy almond pesto and you have a serious winner. One morning, I added some leftover shredded brisket to the mix, and BAM! Inspiration struck! It tasted so "normal" and "unhealthy", in the best sense, while all the ingredients were still very nutritious and paleo-approved. Either way, brisket added or not, I definitely recommend giving this recipe a try!

My next menu item would be this little wonder that I invented this week. I had some bacon to use up, and was craving pizza, so I decided to mix the two into a BLT pizza. I used the coconut flour breadstick recipe that I posted about a few weeks ago as the base. I baked it until it was just barely finished, then spread olive oil on top and sprinkled it with Italian seasoning. I used watered-down tomato paste as my sauce, but I'm sure pizza sauce would be equally as good, if not better. Next, I put a layer of tomato slices, and crumbled cooked bacon on top. After baking it just a little longer to heat the tomatos and sauce, I finished the pizza by topping it with shredded lettuce and homemade mayonnaise. True, this isn't pizza, and it's not a BLT sandwich, but I think it takes some of the best parts of each and combines them into one tasty, paleo treat. The "breadsticks" made a perfect, flatbread-like crust, and gave you the simply joyful feeling of picking up a slice of hot "pizza". Yes, the experience of eating is just as important as the taste!

My last meal - pomegranate cinnamon chia seed pudding - is honestly a bit of a stretch for my Average [Paleo] American menu. I don't think chia seeds are something that you'll see in many American households, and I'd say that most of my friends and family members would be a little weirded out if I served it to them. However, it is SO delicious, and I think could win a lot of people over. Chia seed puddings are so versatile - they're just a base of milk and chia seeds, and the flavor can be changed very easily by whatever else you add. This pomegranate cinnamon variety has a warm, fruity flavor. I did make two changes to the original recipe; first, I added 8 tbls of seeds instead of 6 tbls, because I like my pudding to be good and thick. Second, I cut the cinnamon in half, because 1 tsp ending up making it way too spicy and overwhelmed the vanilla. Something else which none of the chia pudding recipes seem to mention is that you'll need to whisk the pudding before serving, because all the seeds fall to the bottom of the milk as it is chilling, and you'll get a clump of gooey seeds with milk on top if you don't stir. I've found that letting it chill in a wide dish so that the pudding is shallow helps the seeds to soak up the milk more evenly. So, if you want something a little unusual but still very comfort-food-like, give this pudding a try!

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Saying Yes!

Although we were surrounded by many of our friends on Saturday night as Stephen proposed to me, there were still many friends and all of our families that weren't able to be with us. Since many people have been asking for the story, and so that I maybe be able to remember the details always, I thought I'd write down the story of our day. 

That Saturday - December 10th, 2016 - started rather late for me, as Yuletide the night before had ended late. I woke up still tired and with a splitting headache; not a great way to feel for the longest day of Yuletide. I spent what little morning I had left cleaning the house, and was unable to get to some of the other things I had wanted to do. 

All of this left me feeling rather cranky by the time I got to Yuletide at 1:30 in the afternoon. After being there for a bit, I noticed that Stephen was acting a little weird, but I thought, "Maybe he's being normal and I'm just extra sensitive to it right now since I'm cranky." So, I dismissed it and moved on. We went for a walk around the perfectly snow-covered streets of the village, and he did his utmost to cheer me up; it took till a little later in the afternoon, but he did succeed in cheering me up!

  Photo credit: Sue Price
 Photo credit: Sue Price
Photo credit: Sue Price

Now, to fully appreciate the perfection of the proposal, you must know a little bit about our scene for Yuletide this year. Our scene starts with two girls chatting about the dance, flirting with the tour groups, and lamenting that there aren't enough eligible men in town. Then, one of the girls spills the secret that Nathaniel (Stephen) was going to take Clarice (me) to the apple orchard to propose before we came to the dance. Shortly after Nathaniel and Clarice arrive at the dance, and announce that we are "to be married!"

So, all day, we were going through the motions of "being engaged" and being congratulated, and talking about "wedding details". At one point between tours, a friend (who knew nothing of the plan to propose) mentioned that she really wanted to go to a wedding, and gave Stephen a telling look. At another point during the day, I told a friend that because Stephen and I had been together so long, I realized that engagement could happen at any time but I'd stopped expecting it to happen.

It was a very long day, with twenty-three tours and all of them full to the brim, so it was no surprise when shortly after dinner, the director of special events came over to tell us that they had had a lot of walk-on visitors and needed to add an extra tour at the end of the night. Whatever he may have been feeling, Stephen did a good job of playing up the "I'm so tired, why did they have to add an extra tour?", and I, being in a good mood again, did my best to cheer him up and keep him going. 

The rest of the evening was quite uneventful, counting down the number of tours we had left, playing charades in between scenes, and trying our best to keep up our energy. 

As we got towards the end of the evening, things did get a little odd. In between tours, I nearly always sit in what I call "The Seat of Responsibility", where I can tell if there is a tour in the scene before us, and I can see when they start walking towards us. As we neared the end of the night, I was watching out the window, and saw what had originally been the last tour of the night but was now the second to last tour go into the house before us, and the tour guide took the red-ribbon lantern inside with him, signifying that he was the last tour of the night. I was confused, because there was supposed to be one more tour, but I didn't think much of it - things happen, tours get switched around, and we museum people are experts in flexibility. 

But then, that tour came to us, and the tour guide didn't bring a red-ribbon lantern inside. I was even more confused, but just thought, "Well, I must have been mistaken, I guess we have one more tour."

After that tour left, my good friend Anneliese came over to "watch the last scene" and take picture of my new dress. Really, she was distracting me from watching out the window, in case I should realize that the tour coming towards us was all staff members. She did a good job, because I didn't realize that Stephen was getting a little anxious.

Photo credit: Anneliese Meck

Well, the last tour did come our way; Stephen and I went to the back hallway to wait for our cue, and he started acting silly, mimicing the girls as they went through the scene. When we came into the room, it took me a bit to realize that it was entirely staff on the tour and not really walk-on guests. My first thought was, "Oh, they must have added a staff tour so that we call all see the rest of he show. But, that's not fair - we only get to see the last two scenes!" And now, the best way to continue the story is to show the video. Unfortunately, you can't see much, but you can hear it very well. Everything is the Yuletide scene as normal, until Stephen starts talking about not making it to the apple orchard - that's when I started thinking "Why is he going off script? I know it's an all-staff tour, but now I have to figure out how to ad lib with him!"

 Video credit: Anneliese Meck

Yes, I legitimately had to ask if this was real, because Stephen has fake-proposed to me twice before (not with a ring but with other things), and because I've just been waiting so long! Once I was convinced of the reality, I said "Absolutely!!" because a simple "yes" just didn't cut it.

On a funny side-note, the squeals of "Oh my gosh!" that you hear are actually the other girls in the scene, because only our dance master Rick knew about this ahead of time. I was utterly speechless, as I always am when I'm surprised.

 Photo credit: Anneliese Meck

And, oh, maybe I should actually look at my ring!

 Photo credit: Anneliese Meck

We then waltzed to an absolutely perfect tune, "Believe Me, If All Those Endearing Young Charms", played by our friend Colton. Again, you can't see much, but we also have a video of that.

 Video credit: Anneliese Meck

After that, another friend had the forethought to bring a cake, so we all ate, and talked, and laughed. Last thing before we ended the party, our dear friend Amelia asked if she could pray for us, so all our friends gathered around in a big circle, and she and Stephen prayed as we started this new chapter in our life. 

 Photo credit: Anneliese Meck

I really, truly cannot think of a more perfect way to have been proposed to. To be wearing a red dress (that I had just finished!), to be dancing, and to be in the Town Hall, all just like the night that Stephen and I first met, was entirely perfect. To be surrounded by so many of our friends, and to know that many of them had helped to keep the secret and pull this off, was the best feeling. It definitely was a bit of a blur, but I am thankful that I can relive the wonderful, surprising, magical feelings over and over again thanks to the pictures and videos that everyone took, and that it can allow everyone else who wasn't there to share in the magic, too!

And now, as I've been telling myself over and over again for the last several days....

"Holy Cow!!! WE'RE ENGAGED!!!!!!!!" =D

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Recent Favorites

Although I've been terrible about keeping up on the blog lately, I've been still been trying lots of new recipes. Here are some favorites from the past few weeks.

First, crock-pot Cuban pork with red cabbage slaw. Possibly my favorite thing about this recipe is that it's so crock-pot friendly! Nothing is better than coming home to a hot meal with very little work ahead of time. The pork has a very mild flavor, with orange being the strongest part of it. Mixing it with the slaw is what really makes it fantastic. The first few days, I ate this as lettuce wraps, but I got juice all over my hands and arms and desk, and eventually resorted to eating it as a salad.

Second are these amazingly delicious bread-sticks made with coconut flour! I served them with spaghetti squash and a meaty tomato sauce for classic Italian, but I've also thought of many other ways that these could be used. They turn out very thin, but soft and airy like regular gluten-y bread. The herbs smell and taste heavenly, and help to hide the flavor of the coconut flour. I think if you were to cut the bread in squares instead of strips, it might be nice for a sandwich/flat bread.

This past week, my breakfast has been this grain free "oatmeal". As with most of the other "no'tmeals" that I've tried, it really doesn't take like oats. However, it has a great texture like oats, and serving it hot with milk and almond butter helps to give the creaminess that I love from oatmeal. Also, it's full of fiber and healthy fats, so it's a great snack or meal!

Lastly, tonight's dinner is this chicken stew with kale and potatoes. I was honestly a little skeptical about this recipe, because it has so few ingredients, but it really amazed me! I did use horseradish mustard instead of dijon, and it gives it a really mild kick. The arrowroot and mustard help make the stew perfectly creamy, and the chunks of chicken, potatoes, and kale make it so hearty. It's especially nice considering that this was my view this afternoon, and it's only been snowing harder since! A lovely dinner for the first snowstorm of the winter.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Flavors of Fall

Oh, food. I love food. It is a wonderful necessity that is wrapped up in every part of my life, and forever linked with my mood and emotions. I'm sorry; did that just get weird? It's true, though.

The changing seasons also affect my food choices, and this fall all I've been craving is macaroni and cheese, and tomato soup with grilled cheese. Seeing a pattern? Cheese.....warm, gooey, tangy cheese! Unfortunately, that's on my no-good list, so I can only enjoy the thought of it!

But, I have been making some very autumnal foods to help fill the void. In fact, as I write I have tomatoes, onions, peppers, and garlic roasting in the oven to make tomato soup; it smells so good and I am so hungry that I hardly know how I'll survive the next 30 minutes. I hope you're glad to know that you're acting as a distraction while I wait for dinner.

Anyways, here are a few of my favorite autumnal inspired foods!

First, a breakfast recipe. Since going grain-free, I've really missed oatmeal, because it used to be a staple breakfast food. I've experimented with several recipes for "n'otmeal" and porridge, and this Pumpkin Porridge is definitely a good option. I tweaked the recipe a little bit, doubling everything except the pumpkin (using only 3/4 cup of that), using coconut milk instead of almond milk, and using maple syrup instead of stevia. Actually, a few times I didn't put any sweetener in it at all, and it was still good. I topped mine with apples and walnuts, but raisins, pecans, or a whole host of other things would be good on top. It's definitely still not oatmeal, but it gives you that same warm, creamy goodness feel.

Second was a recipe that I concocted on my own. It's based off a basic chicken salad recipe, but instead of grapes and celery, I used roasted butternut squash, pears, and walnuts. I used leftover grapefruit vinigrette for my binder, and a little dash of apple cider vinegar. The only thing I think I'd change would be adding a creamier binder - something mayonaise based. I served it with Irish Soda biscuits. Super yummy, and really similar to the wheat version. Only problem was that they got stale really quickly.

Lastly is a chowder that was half recipe, half made up. Last year I made potato corn chowder a lot in the fall, sometimes with sausage and sometimes with bacon. It was so wonderfully creamy and flavorful and delicious, and I was really craving it when the cool weather started coming. Of course, I can't do the traditional milk and flour based chowders, and I also can't do corn, so I started looking around for other options. I stumbled upon this cauliflower soup recipe, and although very skeptical, decided to give it a try. I then added some pre-cooked Italian sausage and potatoes to mimic my old chowder. Wow, did it turn out well! I seriously think that if someone wasn't told they were eating cauliflower, they'd never know. It was the perfect, creamy base to highlight the flavors of the sausage and potatoes. And, super fast to make! I'll definitely be returning to this recipe as a base for many chowders to come.

There you have it - three cheese-less recipes to satisfy your craving for fall foods. Now, please excuse me while I go finish cooking my tomato soup and devour it whole-heartedly.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Beat the Beets

I'm sorry for my recent silence. I was storing up photos in preparation for several posts, and as soon as I got them all collected my internet stopped working. A week and a half later, I'm back up and running, and all ready for several blog posts!

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine gave me a bag full of beets, and mealtimes suddenly became a race to use as many beets as quickly as possible, before they went bad. I've often heard beets referred to as the "candy of the veggie world". Personally, I think roasted broccoli is the vegetable candy (seriously, even my I-don't-like-veggies friend is in love with roasted broccoli!), but beets aren't half-bad. Pickled beets are always a good option, but I wanted to experiment with other ways of cooking them.

The first recipe I tried was from the Whole30 book. It's basically just roasted beets mixed with slivered almonds, served over arugala with a grapefruit-thyme vinagrette. The vinagrette is made from olive oil, grapefruit juice, garlic, mustard powder, salt, pepper, and fresh thyme. The first night I ate them hot, and the second night I ate them cold as the recipe suggested. I actually liked the beets better hot, but the fact that they were acceptable cold makes them a great take-to-work leftover.

I served the beets with a lemon-rosemary chicken. I had an actual recipe to try for it, but I was cooking with a tight time-limit and little attention, so I just made it up on my own. It turned out okay, but I still need to try that recipe sometime.

My next recipe was also a concoction of my own, after a little Pinterest searching. One hot morning I was looking for a smoothie to supplement my meager breakfast, and used what I had on hand - beets, strawberries, and apple juice. Now, if you hate beets, don't get your hopes up; this is full of earthy beet flavor and is NOT a good way to hide beets. But if you're like me and have a love-hate relationship with beets (as in, they don't rank in your top five favorite veggies, but you don't gag at the sight of them), then this IS a good way to mellow out the beet flavor and get more of them into your diet. The nice thing about using beets this way is that you don't have to cook them first - just peel, chop, and blend away!

The last recipe really is a good one for hiding beets! Beet brownies....yum yum! Any time you can get a serving of vegetables while also eating chocolate is a win. Unfortunately, this doesn't *really* count as a serving of veggies, since there's not much beet in them, but it still counts for something, right? You can still taste the beets in these, but it wasn't BEET with chocolate, it was CHOCOLATE with beets. I topped them with this frosting - good, but I'll keep experimenting. Still, though, these were good enough that after taking them to a movie night (which only four people were at), this was all that was left!