Life By Kristen

Go, and embrace your liberty. And see what wonderful things come of it. – Little Women

Archive for the category “In the Kitchen”

Whole30 is Over, But Not Done

My Whole30 days were up on March 2. How do I feel. Fan-freaking-tastic.

The whole point of the Whole30 for me was not to lose weight, but rather, to assess what I was eating, what was in the food that I thought I loved, and really to get back on track after a few months of laziness in the kitchen and way too many sweets/cookies throughout the holiday season.

But I am, of course, thrilled that I lost 12 pounds and the weight keeps just coming off, so many of the Whole30 principles will be remaining in my life.

The whole ‘tiger blood’ of crazy focus was also a huge selling point for me– the winter is my busiest time at my day job and I found the ability to get things done much different than previous years. There was one Sunday about a week or two ago that I was downright amazed at how much I accomplished– cooked breakfast, did taxes, rearranged furniture, cooked lunches/meal prepped for week, did laundry, and about a million other little to-do items.

Honestly, I didn’t think I was going to be able to stick to the plan. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve made it 2 or 3 days into a way of eating, but give up when I’m tired/bored. What was different this time?  I had 2 work buddies doing it with me, plus Q, so there really was a huge accountability network there. The few other people in my office who were not doing the Whole30 were very supportive– didn’t bring in Valentine’s Day treats, asked how things were going, etc. At home, Q and I realized that while it’s more expensive at the grocery store, it’s actually not so hard to plan meals and make sure the fridge was stocked with lots of veggies and plenty of nuts in the pantry.

This past weekend was my birthday so I had some amazingly delicious cake made by my sister-in-law that was my first foray into sugar. And while delicious, I can definitely say it was way too sweet for me and within hours of having it, all I kept thinking about was another piece of cake. It’s amazing how quickly the sugar can get addicting again. I didn’t even like how the coffee tasted with a tiny teaspoon of sugar in it, which may be one of the biggest surprises of all.

So for life, I’ll be refraining from sugar and carbs, particularly at home and in the lunches I make for work. I think my biggest takeaway from the Whole30 is how much better I feel, especially since I didn’t think a lot of what we were eating before was all that bad. It’s not like we were big eaters of fast food, though we had more pizza in our diet than we probably should. It was amazing to me to read labels and see how much sugar is hidden in our foods like salad dressing.

The Whole30 isn’t for anyone, and as a person who likes to limit her red meat intake, I definitely had more steak this month than usual. I’ll definitely be incorporating some of the “no foods” back in( we had sushi for my birthday lunch, so that was the first time with rice), but some things like pasta or sweets, won’t be making their way back into my regular diet, but become more special occasion foods.

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Whole30: Halfway There

Halfway through the Whole30!

How am I feeling?

Honestly? Pretty darn good.

The first few days of the Whole30 were tough– I had an almost constant headache, though that could have also been hormonal. I was definitely exhausted in the afternoons, which I expected. I wanted donuts, which is weird because it’s not something I eat on a regular basis. I attribute this mostly to social media where various folks were posting about a few new gourmet donut places that have opened around me in the last few months.

I thought the first weekend we had Little Man, which occured on days 3-5, I would cave when making food for him, but through a series of events, he only ended up having one meal and snacks at our house that weekend, both of which had no appeal to me ( ham& cheese sandwich and Cheezeits). We did go out to eat as a family and it took me longer to read through the menu to find a suitable option (grilled salmon with broccoli, though steak was also available).

The Whole30 is expensive and we’re at the store more than usual because we’re going through a lot of the veggies faster than I anticipate because we’re snacking a lot on them. I’m trying to buy some things frozen so that we can save a bit there. Q is slowly weaning himself back into regular food at this point, as his super fast metabolism is making it hard for him to not be hungry all the time. This weekend alone, he went through 4 bags of sugar snap peas and 2 bags of beef jerky just in snacks! He has been incredibly supportive, but we’d need a second job to afford all the food he eats!

Even after we end this experiment, I think we’ll continue to keep a lot of the Whole30 ideas going. Q and I both admit to getting lazy with cooking and buying items that were more convenient like bottled marinades that are basically just flavored sugar instead of making our own easily at home. I’m not sure that I’ll do coffee with cream and sugar anymore, or it might just become a special weekend treat when Q and I can have a fresh brewed cup and enjoy it, instead of my quick on the go coffee for my commute.

I think this whole experiment has just made us more aware about what we eat, how we make it, etc. but I definitely will be having cheese as soon as I can!

Dinner Stories: Blue Apron Review

As I mentioned on Friday, I have been mildly obsessed about meal planning lately. I’m trying to lose weight and get control of my cholesterol through changing my diet and exercising more, while my amazing partner Q continues to have the fastest metabolism in the world, eating whatever he wants! It’s been a struggle for me to find a happy medium of making healthy options for me and enough filling meals for Q. Of course, he’s an adult and can cook his own meals, but after a long work day for him, he admits he’d much rather order a pizza than make a meal. And pizza ( and many sweets) are the things that challenge my willpower every.single.time.

So all that being said, I’ve been struggling with the meal plan stuff lately. Some of it is because my work days have been tough and many days I feel I have barely enough brain power after work to do more than boil water. I try to make a few things and prep stuff on weekend for the week, but again, sometimes life gets in the way and that doesn’t happen either. The other issue is I hate eating the same thing over and over again, so I try to mix up the meals with new recipes.

When I saw an offer for a discount on Blue Apron, I jumped at the chance. Three meals for the two of us, delivered right to our door!?! Genius idea. Even though I still had to make the meals myself, having all the ingredients and the thinking about what to make out of the equation was a huge relief to me.

But that’s pretty much where the relief ended.

To start, I wasn’t super impressed by the options for the meals the week that I chose to start, but kept an open mind. I was impressed with how they arrived ( FedEx, everything insulated and on ice), how everything was labeled and portioned out, and the recipe cards to explain it all. It was a steak dish with mashed plantains and greens, a vegetarian quiche, and  chicken with potatoes. IMG_1090

It arrived on Tuesday night when I had to unexpectedly work late and there were 2 accidents on my way home, so by the time I walked in the door at 630, I was not in the mood to cook anything, considering all of them were going to take at least 30 minutes to cook ( never mind prepare all the parts). So last night Q and I, in a rare moment of kitchen bonding, decided to make the steak dish and quiche, saving the chicken for another time.

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I feel I should say here that Q and I cook together fairly frequently, but more in a sous chef/chef relationship. One of us takes responsibility for the protein ( if it’s red meat, it’s almost always Q since he likes it a certain way) and the other chops all the veggies or does the side dishes ( usually me because I have pretty awesome knife skills, if I do say so myself). But the complexity of the meals we made, with so many parts and tiny little bits of ingredients, led to a few heated moments and more than a few curse words ( we’re all made up- hangriness is real!)

My review of Blue Apron: it’s a bit too fussy and involved for a weeknight meal for us. I liked the introduction to new ingredients ( creme fraiche in the quiche made it so deliciously creamy and we both really liked the mashed plantains), but mostly it wasn’t for us. Maybe we’re just simple folks who like a protein, veggies, and starch for dinner. Or maybe we just aren’t interested in that level of detail for a Wednesday night meal. I liked how Blue Apron portions everything out for two people, but when one of the two people has a huge appetite that usually involves a second dinner an hour after the first one, there definitely was not enough food for both of us. The steak alone was about the size that Q normally eats so if I was more of a meat eater, we would have had an issue.

Also, it involved way too many dishes and parts. This is the kitchen aftermath.

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Overall, this foray into dinner delivery gave both of us some insights. One, we definitely liked the food delivery aspect so maybe we need to give the grocery delivery option a try. Secondly, we should just trust our instincts in the kitchen a bit more and with a little more planning and communication, our dinners might get back to the sweet spot where we both feel we’re eating what we want. And that I might be overthinking dinner too much. As my wise sister-in-law says, “it’s just dinner, not a dissertation.”

 

I was not compensated in any way from Blue Apron for this review. I purchased the service independently. All opinions my own ( well some observations are from Q). 

Kitchen Goal: Homemade Bread

As a lover of food, I have a few ‘kitchen goals’ that have long been on my to do list. Making a meal for a major holiday, risotto at home, and others, have almost annually moved from one list to another. For whatever reason, they are seldom accomplished. That changed this weekend- I successfully made, from scratch, homemade bread!

Bread dough

I used the famous NY Times no-knead bread recipe; years ago I was at a gathering where someone made it and commented on how easy it was to make, so I was hooked. When I still lived at home, I gave it a try once but I misread the recipe or over measured or something because the dough was a wet, sloppy mess and I ended up throwing it out. This time, I read the recipe several times over and made sure I paid attention to everything, even reading the comments and reading them aloud to Q several times too.

I was fully expecting that for my first attempt at a load of bread that it was going to be a flop, but it wasn’t!

Bread loaf

It looked amazing and tasted delicious too. I’m quite proud of myself.

Making Dinner

I like to cook. I love to eat. I like trying new recipes, foods, restaurants. I wouldn’t call myself a foodie since I’m not too much of a snob when it comes to what I eat. Food plays an important part in many memories, family experiences, and life.

All that said- making dinner is probably one of my least favorite activities. Actually, I should amend that to say making dinner on work nights is one of my least favorite activities. So in my efforts to ‘cultivate’ in 2015, I wanted to really focus on cooking better and smarter. This meant using up what we bought since throwing away food is one of my biggest pet peeves in life. This also meant meal planning since the anxiety-filled drives home from work and roaming around the grocery store looking for inspiration were not cutting it anymore.

I should preface everything here by saying that this is, of course, a first-world problem so I don’t want to come across as a complainer. As my wise soon-t0-be sister in law says “it’s just food, not a dissertation.” Of course, she’s right and I’ve never starved. I should also add that while I complain about cooking weeknight meals, I’m not the only person in the house and Q does his fair share of cooking, and almost exclusively is the weekend chef in the house. It just happens that most nights I get home much earlier than he does, so I take on the meal prep.

What stresses me out? It’s a handful of things. Part of it is trying to find something that both Q and I will like, want, is healthy, and is within our budget. If I was on my own, I’d probably eat shrimp with broccoli every night and Q probably beef tacos or pizza, or some other similar concoction. I try to accommodate his tastes for all things meat, while still maintaining the healthy profile we both want. I also want to try new things, but also not have recipes that are overly complicated or involve too many ingredients for a weeknight dinner- my mind can’t handle more than 5 or 6 things after a long day at work.

I know cooking/meal planning isn’t rocket science so I shouldn’t worry about something that can be as easy as rice and vegetables; food is an extension of love and showing how much I care for a person. This somewhat emotional attachment to food is probably why I care so much about preparing a good meal for the one’s I love and put so much thought into its preparation.

So 2 months into 2015, how am I doing? I’m giving myself a 6 out of 10. We’re doing really well with eating all the food we buy, especially produce. I’m also succeeding in meal planning a bit– with the exception of nights when I know I’m going to be late or out of the house, I basically just pick 4 or 5 dishes for during the week that I’d like to make and shop from that. I’m using Pinterest and a small weekly notepad on the fridge to organize. That’s helping a lot and also alleviating my concern about feeling trapped within a meal plan– what if I didn’t want chicken parmesan on Tuesday? How could I know on Sunday what I wanted on Tuesday? ( I know, silliness right there). This way,  I have a somewhat organized meal idea for most days and for the other days, I either kick the dinner making responsibility over to Q or we do takeout or go out. With the ridiculously cold, frigid weather we’ve been having, we haven’t been out much.

I’ll give myself a 10 out of 10 in saving money on groceries by buying better, as well as using the food we have in pantry/freezer. I’m also killing it with some awesome slow cooker meals– last week we had an awesome pulled pork and I’m practically drooling reading the recipe for tomorrow night’s beef roast that I’ll make in the slow cooker. Even after the winter subsides ( soon please!), I think I’ll still use that slow cooker into the warmer months to make meats ( seriously, Q would eat right off the cow if he could, man is a meat-a-tarian).

There are a few culinary challenges I didn’t accomplish from last year that I want to still take on like making my own risotto and baking bread from scratch without a bread maker. I’m hoping my new organized and relaxed approach to creating in the kitchen helps me achieve them!

Post- Kitchen Meltdown

I had a kitchen meltdown last night and while during and immediately after I sort of let it get me down, I’m thinking with new perspective this morning.

It was hot. It was my night to cook and other than taking chicken out of the freezer, I didn’t have a plan. I’m trying to be less about planning, more about spontaneity and free spirit. If you know me, or follow this blog at all, you know I don’t do spontaneous well, though I’m embracing it since I’m learning life with a 5 year old little boy has lots of unplanned events in it.

There were many things that led to my meltdown, all of which this morning I can see with clear eyes, are all due to my trying to get everything done at one time. When will I learn that my multitask skills are limited to 2 things at once!?! I was trying to hardboil eggs for my breakfasts, boil pasta for a future meal, make corn on the cob for dinner, grill chicken, clean out the fridge, make a lunch for today, and take care of dishes ALL AT THE SAME TIME. And in doing all this, I also walked out of the kitchen two or three times to put something away, water plants, or sit to talk with Q. I’m a lunatic for thinking I could do it all at once, plus IT WAS HOT and I was already cranky.

The end result was burnt chicken, underdone eggs, boiled over water from corn on the cob that blew out the gas burner and made a yucky mess ( plus the sugary milky water I use for the corn on the cob made some weird emulsion and the corn tasted burnt too). I also never finished making lunch and almost put my hand through a knife. The result was snapping at Q and ordering take out. It was dramatic and I was being ridiculous. After I ate ( it’s entirely possible this madness was all the result of being HANGRY) and cooled off, I realized I made a huge deal out of all these things, for no single reason at all. I was being dramatic calling myself a failure and yelling “what kind of an adult can’t boil an egg?” ( it turns out by the way, a lot of people struggle with this, since Q googled the question to make me laugh and feel better. Love that man).

This morning, I’m laughing at how ridiculous I was and how once again my stubborn nature and desire to be Wonder Woman in the kitchen overtook the practical things of the time which was- it was hot and I should have made a salad. I learned my lesson in keeping it simple and doing one thing at a time before, yet continue to try to outdo myself. It’s perhaps my worst habit and I have a feeling something I know I will always be working on. I’m a glutton for punishment but I also have this part of me that thinks one day I’ll be able to do it and win some multitasking, super kitchen award for awesomeness. That’s only going to come from me, of course, because as Q said last night after I was blabbing on about not being able to provide a decent mail, ” I would have been happy with rice.” ( once again, he’s the best).

As frustrating as it was to not realize these things in the moment and immediately stop the insanity before it escalated, but I’m feeling sort of good about the fact that I’m not sulking about it still today. Kristen a few years ago ( heck, even a year ago) would have let this get her down.  I know I need to have more of a plan about making a meal so I don’t feel so frantic, also- it’s only dinner, not serving a buffet for the Queen. The biggest lesson of all though- dinner out on hot nights!

The Power of Tea

I’ve long been a tea drinker. I have a very clear memory of my first cup of tea that my mother ( an avid tea drinker) made me one evening when I was maybe 9 or 10. She had a cup of tea every night after dinner and to me, my first cup of tea signaled some sort of arrival into being a grown up. That first cup was more milk and sugar than tea, but I loved it.

When I quit coffee years ago ( though I’m back to one cup a day now), it was black caffeinated tea that took away those first few cold turkey day jitters and green tea that got me through the afternoon slump. A mug of tea is my constant reading & movie companion. it gets me through work days in ways coffee can’t. When I sit down on my couch on a cold winter night, I want my down blanket throw, my man, and a cup of tea. I’ll drink hot cups of tea even in the worst summer heat.

To me, there is no problem that can’t be solved by having a cup of tea first. Of course it isn’t the tea that solves the problem, but the act of taking a few moments to calm down with a cup of it to get a clear head and relax. I also think almost any ailment can be soothed or healed with a good cup of tea- upset stomach, scratchy throat, or broken heart are all made a bit better in some way by drinking it. In the hours and days after my Dad died, drinking hot, milky sweet black teas were often the only thing I could stomach ( and often the only thing I could get my mom to have to!)

I love trying new teas and tea spots- my favorite is the Duck and Bunny in Providence, RI. Even more, I love introducing people to the fabulous world of tea drinking- I think my boyfriend is hooked on chai now!

I bought my mom a coaster with the following phrase on it, and it’s so true to me. Tea is restorative, meditative, soul nourishing stuff that anchors my day. 

TeaHopeImage via here

 

Recipe Recommendation: Kielbasa

I think yesterday was a new record for how early I brought the slow cooker out, but I wanted to make dinner for the man and I, but it was so grossly humid and damp in MA yesterday ( Labor Day), that the thought of standing in the kitchen for more than a few minutes to make anything made me cranky. I took to my Pinterest slow cooker board in search of inspiration with things I already had in the freezer, pantry, and fridge.

And of course, I had virtually nothing that matched any thing I had pinned or was in the mood for last night.

But what I did have was a thing of kielbasa my parents gave me to over the weekend. I was sort of noodling about what to do with it and after my first attempt at finding a recipe was a fail, I went in search of something to make with the kielbasa.

This proved harder than I thought because I didn’t want anything with cabbage, potatoes, or anything resembling a comfort, heavy meal. After some different searching, I found this recipe which I HIGHLY RECOMMEND. Essentially it’s kielbasa in a cacciatore sauce ( which I normally don’t like when it’s with its usual friend, chicken).

It was beyond easy- instead of Trader Joe’s fire roasted frozen veggies I used a spaghetti sauce with fire-roasted tomatoes and garlic. I also did not use the entire jar of sauce- I knew the frozen veggies would add water to the sauce already and I didn’t want it to be too liquid-y for eating. We ate it over white rice, but it would definitely taste excellent on pasta and had we not eaten spaghetti a few nights prior, probably would have done that ourselves.

This recipe is definitely easy enough to make on the stovetop too  & if I did that, I would use fresh veggies instead, and might even do that again for the crockpot version. No photo of my completed dish though- we ate it all!

Family & Food

This weekend- in honor of the chilly weather, my focus on action, and my desire to make food for my family, I cooked up a bit pot of kale soup, one of my absolute favorites. It’s not a soup I grew up eating all that much of or even that we had a lot of in the house, but this is one of the many foods that I make now that makes me feel connected to my family.

 

Just today I was listening to an NPR report on memory and food and the role it plays in family life and one caller described her Southern mother’s kitchen as a ‘benevolent dictatorship.’  The author of the new book who was the subject of the program said he grew up in a kitchen democracy where everyone contributed. That definitely was my household too- though I think my dad and brother would say my mother and I can be pretty militant on Thanksgiving!

Growing up in a predominately Portuguese area and being half Portuguese, I took for granted a lot of the foods that were a regular part of my life like sweetbread or chourico and peppers. When I went away to college and being Portuguese was a diverse ethnic background, I came to have a new appreciation for the food and culture I grew up with. Going to Portuguese restaurants has become part of the regular restaurant lineup and cooking Portuguese foods is something I try on a frequent basis. Last Christmas my aunt bought me an Azorean cookbook and I’ve enjoyed slowly making my way through it.

As a child, I watched both parents and my paternal grandparents frequently in the kitchen. Both households involved the men pulling their own weight in the kitchen- my grandfather made the best Portuguese baked beans, among many other things, and my Dad had ( and has!) a long list of kitchen specialities. The joke between my brother and I growing up is that my father’s macaroni & cheese far surpassed my mother’s. As with many families, food is at the center of so many memories and occasions and we take great pride in family recipes like the specialty Portuguese stuffing for THanksgiving, my mother’s lemon lush, or my Aunt Cindy’s pasta salad. It’s not even that these things are landmark culinary creations ( though the Thanksgiving stuffing, I think, is mindblowinging amazing, though I am half responsible for its creation now), but the food just brings great feelings of love, laughter, and great times.

In the past few years, my family has been undergoing a bit of a food renaissance if you will. It may be that this was going on all the time with my aunt and father, but because I was never that interested in cooking ( or any good at it!), I just never noticed that they were in the kitchen more trying new recipes. My father has become quite the chef extraordinaire ( his zucchini cakes and ribs will change your life) and my aunt and I frequently email back and forth with new recipes we find. I love having this extra added element of food enjoyment in my life- cooking and creating in the kitchen has become one of my favorite things to do, so to be able to share it with my family is even more profound.

 

 

Ten on Tuesday: Food Edition

Today is last day to vote in the Stratejoy Essay Contest! My essay is #14 & you can vote here. Voting closes tonight at midnight PST. I would be so incredibly thankful for your vote- $500 will go a long way for me!

Ten random facts about me & food!

1. I dislike almost all cooked fruit, in particular fruit pies. Not. A. Fan.

2. I like ketchup with cucumbers.

3. In my version of heaven, there is lots of bread, vegetables, shrimp, chocolate, and cheese.

4. I like trying and cooking new things, especially Indian and Thai dishes

5. I’m slightly afraid of deep frying things, but I love fried food

6. I’ll take delicious seafood of any kind over a steak any day.

7. I greatly dislike oatmeal, smoothies, wet cereal, milkshakes, some yogurt, and rice & tapioca pudding, but I love pudding. It’s a texture thing, but still sort of weird, right?

8. I love just about every vegetable under the sun, with Brussels sprouts and broccoli tied for first.

9. Chocolate and peanut butter, in any way I can get it, can make the worst situation seem far better.

10. Having a dessert in place of a meal, in particular breakfast or dinner, is not uncommon for me.

What sort of random food likes or dislikes do you have?

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