Meals: August 16 – 22

In a continuation of my effort to play catch up on food posts, today I’m giving you another entire week’s worth of meals!  I am kind of liking this format where I post photos of a whole week’s meals.  Maybe in one of the upcoming weeks I will post our menu at the beginning of the week and photos at the end, so you can see how the meal plan comes to life.  But, for now, please enjoy another week’s worth of meals I prepared.  (Disclaimer: I uploaded these photos the same day I wrote my last post, so I didn’t crop or adjust any of the photos.  Hopefully, once I’m caught up, I will have more energy to make the photos perfect because there won’t be so many to do at once.  It takes longer than you think!)

Sunday: Spinach Salad with Bacon, Hard Boiled Eggs, Dried Cranberries, Walnuts, & Feta

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Monday: Creamy Butternut Squash Soup

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I’m on a soup kick for vegetable night lately because it’s by far the easiest way to have a meatless meal.

Tuesday: Moussaka with A Side of Broccoli

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Moussaka is a traditionally Greek ground lamb dish similar to lasagna. My version has a ground lamb and tomato sauce spiced with cinnamon, eggplant slice, chunks of feta cheese, and shredded Parmesan.


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This dish really did not look very pretty once plated. The hubby suggested I cut the Moussaka in triangles instead of squares. That didn’t work out so well, as they pretty much fell apart. I guess that’s the last time I take plating advice from the hubby…

Wednesday: Balsamic, Blackberry, & Raspberry Pulled Pork Shoulder with Collard Greens & Mashed Sweet Potatoes

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I mixed together balsamic vinegar, blackberry jam, and raspberry jam to create both the cooking liquid and the sauce for this pork. I cooked the pork in a low heat oven for several hours, and when it was finished cooking I reduced the sauce on the stove top.

Thursday: Roasted Chicken with Carrots & Mushroom Risotto

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For this dish I did, in fact, roast a whole chicken with lemons, carrots, and celery in the bottom of the pan. When the chicken was done roasting, I strained out the aromatics and reduced the rest of the drippings with some sauteed leeks to make a sauce.

Friday: Coconut Shrimp with Grits & Green Beans

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Breading and frying the shrimp for this dish was enough work, so I used store bought “General Tsao’s Chicken” sauce. It had a sweet orange and slightly spicy flavor that paired perfectly with the shrimp.

Saturday Lunch: French Omelet with Arugula Salad & Cantaloupe

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This French style omelet is rolled and only contains a light layer of melted Gruyere cheese, along with fines herbs.


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I served the omelet with a side of cantaloupe and a glass of water with lemon for a light, refreshing brunch-style lunch.

Saturday Dinner: Cheese-Stuffed Hamburger with Parmesan Zucchini

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We forgot to buy cheese slices for these burgers, so we only had shredded cheese in the refrigerator. To change things up a bit and make the cooking less messy, we stuffed the burgers with shredded cheese before cooking instead of putting it on top.


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I served the burgers with pickles, tomato, leftover arugula from lunch’s salad, mayonnaise, and whole grain mustard.

That’s all for meals the week of August 16.  I hope you enjoyed seeing everything we made for dinner that week!

Bon Appetit everyone!  Please subscribe!

Meals: August 10 -15

Because I am SO behind on my food posts, today’s is going to be a little different.  Instead of giving you separate posts for each dinner meal I prepared, I’m going to give you a whole week’s worth of photos in one post.  During my absence from blogging, I still diligently took photos of the meals I prepared.  But, because I haven’t gotten around to posting them until just now, I have far too many to write in detail about each one.  Plus, enough time has passed that I don’t really remember enough about how I prepared each meal to describe it.  So, instead, feast your eyes on what I prepared from Monday to Saturday a few weeks ago (I apologize in advance that many of these photos are not totally level or centered – I just didn’t have the energy to crop and adjust them all this time around):

Monday: Vegetable Soup

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Vegetable Soup with Haricots Verts (French green beans), Carrots, Celery, Grape Tomatoes, & Cauliflower

Tuesday: Beef Lasagna with Eggplant “Noodles” & Bechamel Sauce

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This dish was originally supposed to have zucchini in place of the noodles instead of eggplant, but the grocery store was completely out of zucchini that week.

Wednesday: Pork Ribs with Carrots and Maple Bacon Brussels Sprouts

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Thursday: Champagne Chicken with Mushrooms, Asparagus, & Creamy Polenta

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Friday: this was an anxious day because my mom had surgery, and I have no idea what we had for dinner.  All I know is that I didn’t cook it, so there are no photos to share.

Saturday: Broccoli, Cauliflower, and Gruyere Cheese Souffle

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I don’t have photos of this on plates because souffle doesn’t really hold together once you serve it. It also ended up being a little wetter in the center than I would have liked, but it still tasted good!

That’s all I’ve got for meals I prepared between August 10 and 15.  I may consider switching to this multiple meal per post format, since it’s a bit less stressful (and requires fewer posts).  If you have strong feelings one way or another, please let me know.  For now, it’s off to make attempt number two at miniature cheesecakes, though.

Bon Appetit everyone!  Please subscribe!

Absence

It’s been quite a while since I published a post – nine days without one is certainly a departure for someone who publishes two or three posts in a day at times – and for that I apologize to my few loyal readers.  I have tons of photos of meals sitting on my camera, waiting to be uploaded.  I did a few small interior decorating projects that would probably make for an interesting post.  But, quite frankly, I just haven’t been motivated. The thought of uploading and cropping all those photos, or photographing my little design projects, and then actually writing something to accompany each of those photos is completely daunting.  Doing all or any of that stuff requires a level of energy and focus and desire I have just been completely incapable of mustering lately. 

My emotional life is somewhat of a roller coaster.  There are good days, and there are bad ones.  I’ve been in a stretch of low energy, bad days since probably the beginning of August.  Even the good days within this stretch have been marked with unexplainable sadness.  I’m sure that probably makes no sense to some of you, and that’s ok.  I find this emotional experience to be difficult to explain or describe.  Perhaps an example will help illustrate.  Last week, we had a stretch of a few cooler days; a very welcome relief from the blazing heat that’s been plaguing us so far this summer (I hate summer with a passion).  One of those days, I decided to abandon the “plan” and spend the day reading on our deck.  It was a perfectly nice, peaceful, beautiful, and relaxing day with a good book (which I actually finished).  But all I felt was sad.  The kind of deep, nagging sadness that sort of sits just beneath the surface and primes your eyes for tears.  But I wasn’t thinking about anything. There were none of those negative automatic thoughts I learned about in graduate school, no maladaptive thoughts to correct. I was just sad for absolutely no discernible reason.  I don’t know why this happens to me, but it seems to happen to me a lot, especially lately.  Maybe someone out there can relate to my experience, but I have yet to find anyone who really understands this feeling.  Hell, even I don’t really understand it.

I’ve been trying to trace the origins of this dreary funk, and the only thing I can really attribute it to is the stupid plan I tried to set for myself at the beginning of August.  That plan was supposed to help me make better use of my time and achieve more things.  Instead, I think it has backfired in a spectacular way.  Before the plan, there were no expectations.  It didn’t matter how much I did or didn’t do in a given day.  Doing anything at all was an accomplishment.  And now?  Now I’ve given myself a great big list of ways to fail on a regular basis.  Yoga: not happening.  These blog posts: too much thinking required.  Actual work of any kind: so overwhelmingly difficult and taxing that the mere thought makes me want to cry.  Evening walks: again, requires more energy than I’ve got and requires incessantly nagging the hubby (again, requires too much energy).  Reading: too hard to focus, minus that one day.  Every time I’m unable to do any or all of these things is just one more failure to add to the tally.

The fact of the matter is, I’m burnt out, spent, drained.  People who think they know better want to say just focus, just set your mind to it, push yourself.  I can’t. I have no energy left. There is nothing left to give, and no amount of focusing or pushing yourself will make a difference.  For those of you exercise fanatics out there, here’s an analogy.  When you are lifting weights or doing pull ups or whatever, at a certain point your muscles will give out and you won’t be able to do any more reps, no matter how much you try or focus. You will eventually reach muscle failure.  And, guess what? If I’m your trainer, no amount of me yelling at you or encouraging you will make any difference whatsoever. Muscle failure is muscle failure; your body physically cannot do anymore, and no amount of thinking will change that.  Mentally and emotionally, this is where I am.  I’ve reached muscle failure.  (Oh, and for all you doubters out there saying “it’s all in your head,” emotional pain is real and processed by the same brain areas as physical pain according to SCIENCE, and I’ll take that over your opinion any day.)

Maybe having any goals is just too high of an expectation for me.   Maybe I haven’t given myself enough time to recover.  The problem is, I can’t figure out how to balance that with the expectations or needs of others.  I don’t think I can be out of work indefinitely; we won’t be able to make it financially until the move back home next summer. At the same time, I haven’t really been able to find a part time job that requires sufficiently little mental effort and meets my schedule requirements (normal business hours only; no evenings or weekends – and before you scoff, I’m already friendless out here, so I’m not willing to sacrifice the only time I have with my husband), much less actually apply for anything.  I know the hubby wants me to have a job, but I don’t feel ready or strong enough.

As a final note, I think there are probably very few people who actually read this blog or miss my posts when I am absent.  Hell, I don’t even think members of my family who claim to support me or many people I thought were friends actually read it.  With a few exceptions, nobody misses my writing, my stories, my pictures of food.   And if nobody cares, why push myself to exert energy I don’t have?  That just seems foolish. 

Love it or hate it, that’s the honest truth.  And that’s all I’ve got to give for now.  Maybe one of these days I’ll make it back to regular posts, but it doesn’t really seem like anyone is missing them for now, unless something tells me otherwise.  Until then, it’s probably time to crawl back into bed with the cat until it’s time to make dinner. 

Weekend Meals: Flounder, Vichyssoise, Crab Cakes, & Palacsinta (Crepes)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This past weekend featured a range of different meals: some simple classics and some more complicated.  For starters, we decided on a less expensive fish to prepare for fish Friday this week.  Instead of going for something like last week’s Halibut, or even red snapper, we went back to a good old flounder filet.

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This is similar to, but a step up from, tilapia in my opinion.  They’re both flaky white fish and are probably interchangeable.  Because we chose a simple, inexpensive white fish, I tried to jazz up the preparation a little bit to elevate it.  I happen to have a lot of almond flour in my pantry, so I figured it would work well for a nut crusted fish preparation.  In the past, I have always had trouble with my nut coatings coming off of fish when I’m cooking it.  My guess is I’ve had trouble because (1) I wasn’t using a proper breading procedure, which starts with flour, then and egg wash, and then the breading agent, and (2) my nuts weren’t ground finely enough.  I attempted to remedy both of these problems this time around: I did, in fact, use the proper breading procedure with gluten free flour, and my almond flour is already very finely ground almonds.  I think it worked pretty well, so next time I may try to actually grind whole nuts with my mini food processor, which has a “grind” function.

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To go with the fish, I served mashed potatoes and green beans amandine (or something akin to it).  We haven’t had mashed potatoes in a long, long time, so it was something a bit different.  Also, we purchased a giant bag of potatoes at the grocery because I needed some for another dish I planned to make (coming up next in this post), so I figured I might as well use them.  I peeled my potatoes, though I don’t always, then boiled them in water for 20 minutes.  Because I cut the potatoes into pretty small pieces, they were super tender by the time they finished cooking.  I didn’t even need to use my potato masher to crush them!  I was able to mash them with a fork.  To make the potatoes a nice consistency, I added several tablespoons of sour cream.  For the green beans, I simply steamed them then tossed them into a pan with some butter and chopped almonds.  I added the almonds to make the green beans a little fancier, give them some texture, and echo the flavor of the breading on the fish.

For Saturday’s lunch, I experimented with a classic French recipe: Vichyssoise, which is cold potato and leek soup.  It seemed like it would be relatively simple to make, plus potatoes are cheap, and it doesn’t require heating to serve.  All winning characteristics in my book.

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This soup actually ended up being easier to prepare than I expected.  There really was more chopping than there was to the cooking, and there wasn’t very much chopping.  I peeled and cut up three medium sized  potatoes (the basic brown baking potatoes they sell in big bags at the grocery store).  Then I cleaned (the most laborious part of the whole cooking experience) and chopped three large leeks.  I put both the potatoes and the leeks in my stock pot, added the required quantity of chicken broth, and let it simmer on the stove top for 25 minutes.  When the vegetables were finished cooking, I pureed the whole thing with my immersion blender (the absolute best tool for making pureed soups).  Then I added the heavy cream called for in the recipe, let everything simmer together for maybe five more minutes, and turned off the heat.  Beyond that, it was just seasoning with salt and pepper and letting the soup cool completely before putting it in the refrigerator.

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To make this extra special, on Saturday I rendered a few pieces of bacon to serve on top of the soup.  Then I topped it off with a sprinkle of fines herbs.  It was delicious!  And also, incredibly easy.  I made enough soup for four main course servings, so we had this for lunch on Sunday too.  I will totally make this again.  And, surprisingly, my stomach wasn’t upset by the leeks, which are a member of the onion family.  So, overall it was a win.  It didn’t use nearly as many potatoes as I had anticipated, though, so I will have to come up with creative ways to use potatoes in several dishes this week.

Dinner on Saturday was a more complicated and fancy meal: crab cakes.  Actually, I think I made this too complicated, and I’m really not pleased with how it looked.  I’m giving you the photographs anyway, though.

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We bought some really nice quality lump crab meat in the seafood section of our grocery store.  My first problem was choosing to buy 16 oz. instead of 8 oz.  I guess I lost my marbles for a minute there and forgot that I aim to serve 4 oz portions of protein.  I sometimes serve larger portions of seafood because I don’t find it that filling, but I certainly didn’t need a pound of crab meat for two people.

I haven’t attempted crab cakes in a while, so I used a recipe from one of my many cookbooks.  This, too, was sort of a mistake.  The recipe I used called for a lot of seasonings and spices.  Honestly, I think it was really too many.  Maybe you need that many if you’re using canned crab, but we bought fresh crab meat, and I think my aggressive seasoning just covered the flavor of the crab too much.  The breading and cooking of the crab cakes was fine, though.  To serve with the crab cakes, I made a very simple aioli (flavored mayonnaise) in my food processor with mayonnaise, whole grain mustard, lemon zest, and parsley.  The sauce was actually perfect, in my opinion, but the crab cakes themselves were too complicated in the flavor department.

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With the crab cakes, I served broccoli and rice.  The broccoli was all well and good, although I think there was too much of it.   I just steamed the broccoli for 7 minutes over a pot of boiling water with some slices of lemon in it.

And then there was the rice.  Another mistake.  I wanted to do something less boring than plain white rice, and the hubby suggested curry rice, but I vetoed that (because I’ve already posted several curry rice pictures on this blog).  Instead, I went for a mixture of paprika, a dash of chili powder, ground cloves, ground allspice, ground ginger, dill, and probably some other stuff I’m forgetting that was also in the crab seasoning.  Although the rice tasted fine, it was still too much with all those crab cakes, and I completely failed to think about what color everything would be.  The yellow curry rice or white rice would have looked better.  This turned into a big plate of brown.  I was originally thinking the crab cakes would be white, but I forgot they were going to be coated with gluten free breadcrumbs.  So we have a lot of brown, and it really didn’t look appetizing.  I tried to hide the rice underneath the broccoli for a better presentation, but I really wasn’t happy with it at all.  And it all ended up being too much food, so I felt lousy later that evening.  Ginger ale to the rescue! (Upset stomach is the only time I will drink soda, and ginger ale is the only one I’ll drink.)

I originally wanted to make these traditional Hungarian crepes (called palacsinta) for dessert on Saturday night, but I was way too stuffed.  I felt better on Sunday morning, so they ended up being breakfast instead!

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I absolutely love these crepes.  They remind me a lot of my childhood.  My great grandmother always made these with sour milk, so I use buttermilk in my recipe, and I added a few squeezes of fresh lemon juice too.

I actually took the lazy way out and filled these crepes with mascarpone.  This was a bit of a naive move.  My mom told me my great grandmother used to fill hers with something like a cheese blintz filling, but chefs on Food Network are always raving about adding mascarpone to things.  I figured I would try it instead of looking for a cheese blintz filling recipe.  Mistake.  I guess that’s one way to learn that mascarpone has absolutely no flavor whatsoever.  It was kind of like eating delicious crepes filled with butter, only without the flavor of butter.  Good thing these are traditionally served with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice and a generous sprinkling of powdered sugar.  The hubby and I actually ate the rest of them without the filling!

01 Breakfast - 08-9-2015 - 1I guess this means I need to go on the hunt for a filling recipe.  I hope I can find something that works to make these even more delicious than they are plain.  If any of you want the recipe for these, please leave me a comment and I’ll try to do a post about them with the recipe included.

I hope you all enjoyed this look at what the hubby and I ate over the weekend.  My next food post will be right back to the normal weekday menu.  Bon appetit everyone!

Please subscribe!

 

Thursday’s Riff on Coq Au Vin

For dinner last Thursday night, I prepared a riff on Coq Au Vin, which is chicken with red wine.  I served my chicken and vegetables over a bed of roasted asparagus.

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I say this is a riff on coq au vin because I have many of the elements of that dish, but I didn’t follow a recipe, so it isn’t really authentic.  I basically used a similar cooking method several of the other chicken dishes I’ve posted recently.  And, I happened to have chicken thighs in the freezer, so that’s what I used, but that’s probably not the cut of chicken coq au vin actually calls for.

First I browned my chicken thighs in a pan with some butter and canola oil.  Then, once the pieces of chicken were browned on all sides, I removed them and set them aside.  Then I added my carrots and pearl onions to the pan along with some salt to soften them.  I bought frozen pearl onions because they are already peeled, but I peeled and chopped the carrots myself.  Also, as a side note, I didn’t actually eat the onions because they don’t agree with my stomach, but I wanted to use them anyway to add their flavor to the dish (and the hubby ate all of his).  Once those veggies were softened, I added the mushrooms to the pan as well and tossed everything together.  Then it was time to add the wine.  I think I added around a third of a bottle of merlot (because that’s what the hubby likes to drink), and I also threw in some heavy cream because I like it (although it’s probably not in a traditional recipe).  At that point, I added the chicken pieces back to the pan, covered it, and just let it simmer away for a good long time – probably at least 30 minutes.

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Once I was pretty close to ready to serve the dish, I added my thawed frozen peas in to let them cook for just a few minutes.  If I had added the peas at the same time as the other veggies, they would have been complete mush by the time I was ready to serve the meal.  Peas really don’t need much time to cook, so I always add them at the very end.

The asparagus this week was very simple.  I lined two sheet pans (technically half sheet pans I guess) with aluminum foil.  Then I spread out my asparagus, drizzled them with oil, and seasoned with salt, pepper, granulated garlic, and Parmesan cheese.  Then I roasted them in a 400 degree oven for 20 minutes.  That was plenty of time because I had pretty thin stalks of asparagus, but if you have thicker stalks you may need to let them roast for a little bit longer.

All in all, this was tasty, although the chicken and vegetables were a little bit difficult to photograph.  There was kind of a lot of darkness and brown going on there, which can be challenging to make look pretty.  I hope I did a good enough job for you!

Thanks for reading everyone.  I hope I’ve made your mouths water at least a little.  Bon appetit!

Braised Pork Tenderloin with Creamy Polenta & Maple Bacon Brussels Sprouts

Wow, so apparently I really fell off the map in terms of posting about meals.  I didn’t realize just how far behind I was until I checked my site to see what the last food post was! Today I’m sharing another pork tenderloin meal with you – braised pork tenderloin with creamy polenta and maple bacon Brussels sprouts:

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This week, I did another brine/marinade on the pork for a few hours before I cooked it.  Honestly, I actually kind of forgot about brining this meat, so it didn’t get to sit and absorb flavor for as long as I would have liked.  Oh well.  This time around, I mixed orange juice, pomegranate juice, maple syrup, and beef broth, along with a hefty helping of salt, a bunch of whole peppercorns, a bunch of rosemary I actually bought for the previous week but forgot to use, and several bay leaves.  Then I added the meat and let it sit in the refrigerator for 2 or 3 hours (I can’t really remember now).

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I decided to braise the meat this week because I grilled last week and also because I planned two stove top side dishes.  So, sticking my pork in the oven in a pot half full of liquid for an hour or so was the perfect cooking method.  I seared the meat on all sides in my braising pot before I added the braising liquid and put the whole shebang into the oven.  I was a little bit naughty this week and I actually just poured my brining liquid into the pan to serve as the braising liquid as well.  I figured, this liquid is already touching raw meat, so why use even more to touch raw meat again?  Plus, it was going to sit in the oven for an hour and likely boil for a good long while.  Nobody got sick, so I’m pretty sure it was fine.

I did make one really dumb move with the meat this time around.  Actually, the problem was with the sauce for the meat.  Again, I was lazy, and I figured I could just take that braising liquid and boil it down to make a sauce once the meat was finished cooking.  And I did.  And the sauce was beautiful.  And then I tasted it and realized the error of my ways.  I forgot how much salt I added to the liquid when it was brining the meat in the refrigerator.  Oh my god, so salty!  Completely inedible.  The hubby actually didn’t believe me, so I made him taste it.  And then he believed me.  This, my friends, is why you should always taste things before you serve them.  I should have tasted that liquid before I boiled it down to make the sauce; then I would have realized how salty it was, and I could have started my reduction with fresh liquids.  But, I didn’t taste it until it was time to plate, and at that point it was much too late.  So, I had to improvise a quick sauce from what was left in the pan from the maple bacon Brussels sprouts.  It turned out fine, but lesson definitely learned.

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In my opinion, the stars of this dish were actually the two sides, not the meat!  I served the meat on top of polenta.  And it wasn’t just any polenta; it was actually the best polenta I’ve ever made!  I think I’ve mentioned before that I pretty much just combine yellow corn meal and chicken broth according to the directions on the back of the cornmeal container.  This week, after I did so, I added a splash of heavy cream at the end.  Oh my goodness, did that ever change the texture of the polenta completely.  It was amazingly creamy and delicious, but still tasted plenty like normal polenta.  It was just better in every way.

The Brussels sprouts were also amazing.  Now, I’ve tried Brussels sprouts in the past and never really been a fan.  I always found them tolerable for a few bites but then too bitter after that.  Well, these were different.  First, I chopped up and sauteed some bacon in a big saute pan.  Then I removed the bacon but left the grease in the pan.  And then I added the Brussels sprouts, which I had already washed and cut in half.  I cooked the sprouts in the bacon fat until they were tender, and then I added a good helping of pure maple syrup to the pan.  I stirred everything around until it was nice and coated, and then I added the bacon bits back to the pan.  I let everything cook together for a few more minutes, and then I served them.  Seriously, they were to die for.  I usually try to stay away from adding sugar to dishes, but this was pure maple syrup (not the fake stuff loaded with high fructose corn syrup), and that natural sweetness was totally worth it to make the sprouts edible.  The sugar really helps counter the bitterness (case in point: many of us add sugar to coffee or tea to help temper their natural bitterness as well).

Overall, I was so pleased with how this meal turned out that some of these items are making a reappearance on this week’s menu!  Those Brussels sprouts were too good not to have again, though I will be pairing them with something different this week.  If you are not a fan of Brussels sprouts, try this preparation method and maybe you’ll change your mind.  Minus the sauce debacle, this ended up being a delightful meal!

Thanks for reading everyone.  Bon appetit, and please subscribe!

Reflections on Going Forward: What Worked & What Needs Improvement

Last week, I started off the week with a post on my new plan for going forward and trying to get my life together.  So, it’s only fitting to start this week with some reflections on how last week went and how this week can be better.  For some things, that means I just have to keep on trucking; for other things, I need to make some adjustments.

As a refresher, here’s a quick run-down of the plan I laid out last week:

  • 7:30-8 am – Breakfast with hubby
  • 8-9 am – Coffee on the couch/ de-mental fogging time
  • 9-10 am – 30 minutes of yoga, followed by basic hygiene and getting dressed
  • 10 am – 12/12:30 pm – Writing blog posts
  • Lunch
  • 12:30/1 – 5pm – Actual work (e.g., resume, job application, dissertation work)
  • 5-6:30 pm – Kitchen clean up & meal prep
  • Dinner
  • Hubby washes dishes
  • 30-45 minute walk with the hubby
  • 9-10 pm – Reading
  • 10-10:30 pm – Shower, get in bed

Having breakfast with the hubby, writing blog posts, lunch, meal prep, dinner, hubby washing dishes, and showering all went according to plan.  So, in those arenas, I just need to keep on doing what I’ve been doing.  It certainly helps that most of those activities either involve the hubby or are his activities (dishes were not a problem for me because I wasn’t the one doing them!).  Even though meal prep is something I’m doing by myself, it goes just fine because I’m preparing a meal for someone other than myself, and also because I know I’m going to photograph whatever I make.  I had no problem writing blog posts last week, until Friday when it was cool and rainy and I just ran out of energy.

Coffee on the couch was somewhat successful.  I say that because I did sit on the couch each day with my coffee and give my brain some time to come out of its morning cloud.  However, other than on Monday, I had a hard time breaking away from this activity.  I actually spent more like 2 hours sitting on the couch with my coffee each day.

That leads me to yoga, which is an area that needs some adjusting.  I was super energetic and excited about starting on the plan on Monday, so I did manage to do my half hour of yoga that day.  And that was it.  Two things happened here I think.  First, the half hour class I chose was too hard for my current fitness level (I use an app called Yoga Studio).  As someone who was once an athlete, I feel like I pretty much have no muscle tone now (I know that can’t be entirely true because I can still physically function, but I am much, much weaker than I should be).  I chose a combined strength, balance, and flexibility class, and although I made it through the class just fine, I was incredibly sore for the next several days (don’t laugh, I know it’s pathetic).  This morning I switched to a 30 minute sequence focused only on flexibility.  I hope that will be better; my balance is pretty good from all my years of skating and ballet, but I really need to loosen up and my muscles were shaking during the stretches.  That tells me I’m nowhere near strong enough to do the targeted strength building exercises yet.  Second, I think the goal of doing yoga every day is also too much right now.  Like I said, I’m really pretty weak, so these exercises make me sore.  Working out every day is not realistic at this point; I need to ease into it more.  So, I’m going to cut this week’s goal back to yoga on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday only.  I managed to get myself off the couch today (albeit a little later than planned) and work through those 30 minutes of stretches, so I’m off to a reasonable start.

Actual work was mostly a fail, but not entirely.  I say not entirely because, although I didn’t actually work on my resume or dissertation like I intended, I didn’t just sit on the couch and watch TV during this time either.  I actually did some projects, just not projects on the computer.  On Monday I did that baking project that turned into a little bit of a disaster.  Dropping that tray all over the floor pretty much ruined my mood for the rest of Monday and a bit of Tuesday, so I’m trying to give myself a pass for accomplishing pretty much nothing on Tuesday.  I’m calling it a mental health day.  Later in the week, I went through my closet and edited things out of my wardrobe again.  I still have too much stuff, but a lot less than was in my closet before, so hopefully getting dressed will be a little bit easier.  I have a LOT of fall/winter long sleeve shirts and sweaters (possibly because I love fall and find getting dressed in cooler weather to be much easier and more fun), so I will probably need to make another pass once the weather actually cools off, but I’ve pared things down for now.  I also went through all of the storage bins in our closets to sort out clothing items to donate (both mine and the hubby’s) and rearranged them so all our sentimental items are stored together.  And I put all the clothing items I would only wear to an office for work away into storage as well.  These things were not the “work” I meant to do when I set this time aside, but at least I accomplished something useful.  (I also recognize  I tend to be a procrastinator, and cleaning has always been something I do before I move onto other things I need to do.)

Going for walks was a total fail, as was reading.  Both the hubby and I were pretty tired last week, so the time we set aside for this got eaten by TV instead.  I actually have several books I’m reading that I need to pick up again, but I think we need to head to the library and find something else for the hubby to read.

I’m still battling major fatigue each day, so I know this plan is still going to be a struggle going forward.  I’ve already mentioned how I think I need to adjust the yoga to make it more feasible.  As for work, that’s going to be tough.  I’m not sure how to get over my inertia there, other than just forcing myself to get started.  I keep trying to remember to pick the easiest things to do first in the work department.  Although starting with the hardest thing might work for some of you, with depression the hardest thing seems too hard.  Trying to start with the hardest thing results in nothing ever getting done.  Starting with the easiest stuff gets me going at least, and once I’m going, it’s much easier to push ahead.  I guess my goals for today are to look at that posting for the freelance proofreading job again.  If nothing else, I can move all of the lines in my resume that mention something related to writing or editing to the top of their sections.  Beyond that, an easy dissertation-related goal would be to make copies of my data files to send to the friend who offered to help me figure out some of the statistics pieces.  I doubt I will manage to do both of those today, but at least they both seem achievable for this week.  And, who knows, maybe they will get me into the groove a little bit more.  I can only hope.

Once again, I’m behind on my food posts.  I fell off the posting wagon a bit toward the end of last week, so I’ll try to get back on that today.  Look for some more new posts later on this evening and afternoon.

Thanks for reading everyone!  If you like my blog, please subscribe or like my Facebook page to follow my posts!

Body & Hair Care

In this post, I want to share my current favorite body and hair care products.  Let’s start with key things I use in the shower.  These are the products I’m loving right now:

  1. I just started using this shampoo and conditioner, and I am oddly in love with them.  Both products feel thick and luxurious (in contrast to the Pantene I was using before), and I especially love the smell of the conditioner.  I don’t know why, but it’s just amazing to me.DSC_0869I was actually inspired to pick these up after our trip to Chicago several weeks ago.  My future sister-in-law and I went out to do some errands, and I suggested we stop at the store to pick up some bathroom supplies we could just leave there – shampoo, conditioner, body wash, shaving cream, etc.  My in-laws have three sons, so their bathroom usually has a good supply of things that smell like man, but neither of us really wants to smell like man, and we need more products than the men do (hello, conditioner!).  Since we both live quite a distance from Chicago right now, it’s easier for us to just have products already there in the shower than to have to pack that stuff each time we travel.  Anyway, she suggested the smaller version of this when we were at the store, and now I’m hooked.  Before I stopped working, I was using much more expensive Paul Mitchell shampoo and conditioner from Ulta, but it became really hard for me to justify spending $60 on shampoo and conditioner.  This stuff is from the drugstore, and they’re by far the best drugstore shampoo and conditioner I’ve ever used.
  2. For body wash, I needed to choose something moisturizing.  I’m pretty bad about actually applying moisturizer; my mom never did it, so it’s not a routine I grew up with.  Consequently, my skin does get a bit dried out if I just use regular soap in the shower.  Enter the Olay Daily Moisture Quench body wash.DSC_0871This was the only moisturizing body wash at my grocery store that didn’t have a scent that made me want to gag (I have actually gotten nauseated in the shower from other strongly-scented body washes, so I’m super picky about smells).  It doesn’t have a lot of scent, but it smells better than the unscented one.  I find it to be moisturizing enough for regular daily use.  If I’m doing something special that day, though, like shaving, I typically also have to apply a separate moisturizer.  Since I’m generally lazy about moisturizing, I usually just end up rubbing aloe baby oil on my legs in the shower.

To style my hair, I use a few different products.  My hair is short (chin-length bob) and super stick straight, so it typically doesn’t have any shape unless I actually do something to it.  The good news is, the short cut makes me much more willing to actually spend time styling my hair because it doesn’t require very much time at all.  These are the products I use absolutely every time I style my hair:

  1. The Aveda Volumizing Tonic, which is available at Aveda salons, Aveda stores, and Nordstrom.
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    The salon where I went before I moved out east was an Aveda salon, and my stylist recommended this root volumizing spray to me because I can use it on dry hair.  I typically take showers at night, so my hair is dry in the morning when I need to style it.  Even though I no longer go to an Aveda salon, I still use this because I love it.  It smells a little bit like licorice, but I find it to be quite effective.  My hair is typically a bit limp without this, but I can really get a nice rounded shape with this spray.  I just lift my hair in sections and haphazardly mist it on my roots all over my head.  Then I use my blow dryer and a round brush to create the volume and shape I want.
  2. I’ve tried a lot of different hairsprays, and I don’t really notice much difference between them.  This Herbal Essences hair spray smells nice at least.
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    The hold is a little stronger than what I would normally choose, but it’s becoming increasingly difficult to find a mid-strength drugstore hairspray.  This one actually smells better than the salon hairspray I had previously, and the nozzle doesn’t clog like that one did.  I mean, really, shouldn’t the packaging on the $30 hairspray be better than the $5 stuff?  Not worth it.  This works just fine and holds my style all day.

I also occasionally use this Bumble & Bumble Bb. Texture cream, but that’s only if I’m feeling fancy that day (Sephora is the only place I know of outside of salons where you can buy this).
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My hairdresser uses this on me every time I go to the salon, but she seems to be better at making it look great than I am.  I always end up with clumps or sticky patches; maybe I’m not spending long enough working it through my hair.  Who knows.  Anyway, this is an occasional product for me.

Beyond the shower and my hair, there are a few other products I use regularly.  First of all, perfume.  I was never much of a perfume person until I found the right scents (and the right allergy medication – Nasacort for the win!).  I discovered the Chloe Eau de Parfum when it was a rewards points gift at Sephora.  I actually got both of the perfume samples they had, but I absolutely loved this one (the other one I actually gave to my future sister-in-law, who loves Tory Burch).

DSC_0852The scent is very light and fresh but feminine at the same time.  I don’t usually like floral scents because I find them too heavy, but this one is very fresh and also floral.  It probably doesn’t hurt that one of it’s components is lily of the valley, which is my second all time favorite floral scent (the first being lilac).  I loved the scent so much I asked my husband to get me the full sized bottle for Christmas, and he did!

My runner up perfume is Marc Jacobs Daisy Eau So Fresh.
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The scent of this is also very fresh and light, and it’s kind of fruity.  I really like this one too, but I’m not using it as much now that I’ve found the Chloe.  Chloe is really my signature scent.

**Also, I know this is a little bit of a departure, but I want to address an issue with perfume.  Perfume is great to add a nice little bit of scent.  Nobody, and I mean nobody, want to smell you if you’ve drowned yourself in it.  So, listen up.  Do not, I repeat, DO NOT decide that the smell of a perfume fades and continue spritzing yourself with it unless someone ELSE tells you he or she can’t smell it anymore.  If you’re not sure about purchasing a scent, get a sample, spray it, and then ask someone else 4 or 8 hours later if they can still smell it.  You alone cannot judge the staying power of perfume because your nose habituates to smells.  What that means is after a little while of wearing it, you won’t be able to smell it anymore because your nose is used to its scent, but other people will still be able to smell it.  This is why, if you have pets and aren’t sure how deeply you need to clean your house before other people come over, you really need to go outside or elsewhere for several hours and then come back home and take a good whiff.  If your house smells like animal urine, there’s a good chance you won’t notice it unless you leave and come back because, again, your nose habituates to the smell.  So, please do us all a favor and spare us the assault on our olfactory systems by continually spraying yourself with perfume (or cologne).  Two or three sprays max is plenty.**

My last product is a little random, but I’m including it anyway.  It’s a candle.
DSC_0890As I’ve already mentioned, I’m incredibly picky about scents.  I’m allergic to a lot of them, and many others I just don’t like.  I like things that actually smell like what they claim to be, and I don’t like sweet smells (no cookie or cake-scented candles for me; yuck).  Things like “ocean breeze” and “fresh cotton” never actually smell like that and always kind of make me want to hurl.  But this Lilac Blossom candle from Bath and Body works is amazing.  I hate probably 95% of the scents in that store, but this one I love.  It actually smells like lilac, and it has a hint of lily of the valley in there (which is my second favorite floral scent).  It has really good throw, meaning the scent extends a pretty good distance from the lit candle.  I think this is one of their spring scents, so it’s not available right now, but I always buy several when they’re in stock because I burn through them like crazy.

Obviously, there are other products I use too, like shaving cream and deodorant, but these were the ones I really felt like sharing.  I mean, who really cares what brand of deodorant I use, as long as I don’t smell bad?  Nobody.  Unless you desperately want to know, in which case I’ll share.  What are your favorite products?

As always, thanks for reading!  Please subscribe!

 

Beef: It’s What’s for [Tuesday] Dinner

We rolled back around to beef/lamb night earlier this week, and I happened to have (and still have) a very large quantity of ground beef in the freezer.  We actually bought the 6 lb “family pack” of ground beef for the tacos we had on Saturday (read about that here), so I needed to find a way to use at least one more pound of that for dinner this week.

When I think of ground beef, pretty much the first things that come to mind are hamburgers and meatloaf.  We’ve eaten a lot of hamburgers this summer, and vegetables always go by the wayside with a hamburger meal, so I was hesitant to go that route again.  And meatloaf?  Well, that just doesn’t sound appealing right now.  Don’t get me wrong, meatloaf is a perfectly acceptable meal, but it’s also pretty basic and kind of boring.  It’s a loaf of meat; how unexciting.  The other obvious thought I had was lasagna, but that’s really kind of a lot of work, and gluten free lasagna noodles are difficult to work with.  Plus, I’m trying to stay away from pasta because it really isn’t that good for you, gluten free or otherwise (most pasta meals in the U.S. are so over sized its almost unfathomable.  Pasta is rarely an entire meal in places like Italy but instead is one small course in a larger meal, and as such the serving size is small).  I don’t really think starch should be the primary component in any meal, and pasta is all starch. (Although I might try making a lasagna with vegetables in place of the noodles some time soon.)

Then, randomly one night, meatballs popped into my head.  I think I was actually looking through my news feed on Facebook, and there was an article from one of the food magazines about spicy lamb meatballs.  And that gave me an idea.  I could certainly make meatballs with my ground beef, and I made a mean marinara sauce last week to go with my eggplant Parmesan.  So far, so good.  The only issue was replacing the pasta.  Luckily for me, I happen to have one of those cheap vegetable spiralizer gadgets, and summer squash makes excellent vegetable “noodles.”  And so, this meal was born:

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To make my meatballs, I mixed together 1 lb of ground beef, one egg, chopped fresh parsley, chopped fresh thyme, salt, pepper, grated Parmesan cheese, and some gluten free breadcrumbs ( I didn’t measure so I don’t know how much I used; I just went for the right consistency when I was mixing).  I browned them on all sides in a big saute pan with some butter and canola oil, and then I tossed them into the pot of marina sauce to finish.

I have recently realized how amazing and simple it is to make marinara sauce from fresh rather than canned tomatoes (although canned work just fine if that’s what you have).  I put 12 Roma tomatoes into a large sauce pan with some butter and canola oil, then I covered the pan and let it heat until the tomatoes burst.  Once all the tomatoes were soft and blistering, I broke them up with my tomato masher.  Last week, I used the immersion blender to puree the sauce at this point, but this time I left it a bit more rustic.  I also tossed half a large package of grape tomatoes in because we had leftovers from some salad or something last week and they were starting to get soft.  For flavoring, I added fresh chopped parsley and basil, as well as salt and pepper.  Then I just let the whole thing simmer with the lid ajar to boil off some of the liquid.  At the very end, I added a splash of heavy cream to thicken the sauce.

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My “noodles” are a combination of zucchini and yellow squash, which I cut with the spiralizer tool.  Then I pretty much just sauteed these for a few minutes in the same pan I used to brown the meatballs.  I had to add a little more butter and oil when I added these to the pan, but not that much.  I will note that I did NOT salt these vegetables when cooking them.  Zucchini and yellow squash tend to leach out a lot of moisture when you salt them, and they won’t brown if they’re sitting in a pan full of liquid.  I did add salt and pepper; I just did so at the end, after I had already finished actually cooking them.

All of the liquid from the tomato sauce settled at the bottom of the dish, while the actual chunks of tomatoes stayed on top of the noodles.  That’s why it looks like the “noodles” are sitting in a pool of orange water in the photos.  I probably could have afforded to add some tomato paste to my sauce to thicken it up a bit more, and I think the liquid would have been thicker and better incorporated if I had given the sauce a few pulses with the immersion blender.  (Note, if you’re a person who likes to make a lot of pureed sauces or soups and you don’t have an immersion blender, buy one right now.  The stick blender lets you puree things right in the pot, which is ideal for something like a soup or a sauce where you might want to keep cooking it after it’s pureed to let the flavors develop.  It is also free of the hot liquid pressure problem you get with a regular blender when you try to puree hot liquids – there is no heat build-up and no risk of the lid flying off and splattering you with piping hot liquid.)

This could just as easily have been a meatless Monday dish if I eliminated the meatballs and instead added more veggies to the sauce (mushrooms come to mind as nice and meaty but not actually meat).  It tasted pretty good, but I will probably make a few adjustments to the sauce and increase the amount of cook time on the squash just a tad the next time around.

Thanks for reading.  Bon appetit everyone!

Meatless Monday: Portobello Mushrooms, Eggplant, & Kale

Meatless Monday was a Herculean effort this week.  As you may recall, Monday was the day of my afternoon kitchen disaster.  It took several hours to clean up that mess, including having to wait for the hubby to get home from work so we could take apart the bottom of our oven and vacuum all the huge crumbs out from around the heating element.  Neither one of us was in a particularly good mood that evening, and I didn’t even get to start on dinner until well after the hubby got home.  I think we actually ended up eating around 8 pm, which is extremely late for us.

Needless to say, I really, really did not feel like making dinner on Monday night.  But, alas, I had to press on.  We both needed to eat (especially because lunch didn’t seem appealing that day, so I was starving well before we even started making dinner), and this was our only option.  Despite the huge setback that day and bad moods all around, here’s what I was able to produce:

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On the bottom of this dish is a bed of kale, which I basically steamed with chicken broth.  I actually put this all in my stock pot with the pasta insert this time, and it worked fabulously.  No more greens oozing broth when I try to serve them, and easy drainage.  I don’t seem to be able to win on the kale portion size, though.  One bundle of kale is not enough for four portions, but two bundles is too much.  Apparently there’s no middle ground.  I guess I just need to figure out some other way to use half a bundle of kale during the week (maybe it could go into a breakfast casserole?).

On top of the kale, I have two grilled portobello mushrooms, two pieces of Parmesan crusted eggplant, and two tomato slices.  This, again, was way too much.  Why do I struggle so much with portioning vegetables?  We really only needed one mushroom per serving because these mushroom caps were huge.  The eggplant slices were thin, so I think their quantity was fine actually.  The two slices of tomato were all fine portion-wise, so the kale and mushrooms were really the problem here.

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I had the hubby grill the mushrooms outside, since he was home before we started dinner, while I breaded and cooked the eggplant inside on our two-burner griddle.  I managed to convince him that it would take me twice as long to prepare both the mushrooms and the eggplant, so, thankfully, he agreed to help.  Things would have gone even faster with an appropriate quantity of mushrooms (it doesn’t help that we can currently only use one side of our grill because the ignition switch for the second side fell out during the last big storm and is missing some pieces).

The sauce on top was a delicious mustard, lemon, and parsley aioli (a-ole-ee) that was super simple to make (aioli is just a French flavored mayonnaise, by the way).  I just put some mayonnaise (the real stuff, not miracle whip or whatever fake mayo is out there) in the mini food processor with some lemon zest, lemon juice, chopped parsley, and a hearty scoop of whole grain mustard and blended it until it was all combined.  Voila, cold and yummy sauce with almost no work.  The sauce was a little strong on its own, but it worked perfectly with the vegetables.

I’m sorry about the quality of these photos.  I tried to do the best that I could, but my heart wasn’t really in it that night and I couldn’t use my usual photographing spot on the kitchen island.  Between the dishes I made while making the cookies, the dirty oven racks that I had to remove so I could clean the oven, and a full contingent of clean dishes I wasn’t able to put away before the hubby got home because I spent that time on my hands and knees cleaning apricot pie filling out of the oven with a toothbrush, there was no way we were going to be able to clean off a space on the island for me to photograph.  I had to just take these pictures on the dining room table instead, which is a little more cluttered than I like a food photograph to be.  It also looks like I forgot to crop these photos.  Oh well; it’s too late now (well, I guess that’s not true, but I’m not going to bother going back to crop them.  You all won’t mind one night of less than stellar food photos).

I hope you enjoyed seeing this meal despite the challenges that went into actually making it.  I’m looking forward to a more inspired meal post coming up!

Bon appetit everyone! Thanks for reading, andplease subscribe!