Big City Life · Easy recipe · Life Balance · Tasty Sides · Tex-Mex Recipe · Travel

Arizona Adventures

Last week was my last spring break, probably for the rest of my life, and I went to Arizona to spend 6 amazing days with my boyfriend.  It’s been a long time since I’ve lived like the locals anywhere outside of New York City, and I had forgotten how easy life can actually be.  We have a lot of conveniences within a short walk here in NYC, but getting there is like playing a game of Frogger: dodging kids on scooters and oblivious adults walking with their noses buried in their phones.  Then, when you get to your destination, there’s almost always a crowd.  Don’t even get me started on the public transit.  Being bumped by, having close physical contact with, and inhaling the coughs and sneezes of everyone on a packed train is glorious.

In Arizona, we had so much space!  We had to drive everywhere, which is both good and bad.  Clearly, there’s the benefit of avoiding the aforementioned public transit scenario, but it is more expensive and less environmentally friendly.  And the stores and restaurants are big and not always crowded…it’s incredible.  The only complaint I have was the heat.  It hit 100 degrees at least three of the days I was there…in April.  Summers there must be miserable.

Anyway, we kicked off the trip with a visit to the zoo.  Yes, we are adults, but we still love the zoo.  We got there when they opened to avoid the crowds for the main attraction – the baby animal nursery.  They had baby jackals and hogs and lions!  Unfortunately, I didn’t get any pictures because I was too busy squealing and trying to figure out how to get through the glass that separated me from them, but trust me when I say they were all ADORABLE!

Next, we went flying!!!  My BF is out in Arizona training to be a commercial pilot.  He already has his private license, so he took me up for a nice tour of the Phoenix area.  This is the first time I’ve flown with him and, to be honest, I was a bit nervous.  Not because I don’t trust his abilities, but because those tiny planes scare the crap out of me.  I don’t know what I was worried about, though.  We had smooth skies and it was incredibly peaceful.  Such a great experience!

To end the trip, we drove up to Sedona for a fun little hike to a swimming hole called ‘The Crack’.  The day we went was much cooler than the rest of my visit, which was good for the hike but not so great for swimming in cold water.  It was nice and relaxing to sit on the rocks and enjoy the the cool air and sunlight, though.  We had the place to ourselves for a while and it was so tranquil.  We were surrounded by the mountains with gorgeous red rocks and we had the background noise of the stream running over the rocks below us.  If you’re ever in that area, I highly recommend it.

Throughout the trip, we ate really well and stayed active.  Another perk you wouldn’t find in NYC without paying an arm and a leg is a gym in his apartment complex.  Oh, and swimming pools with grills.  We made good use of all of it.  We grilled steaks and fish, we swam, we hit the gym every day.  We ate out a few times, too.  There’s a lot of Mexican food in Arizona, so we took advantage of that.  One thing that bothers me at Mexican restaurants is the rice.  They usually give you a side of Spanish rice and beans with your meal, and the rice is almost always really bland.  It’s usually an orange-yellow color, and they sometimes toss in some chopped vegetables – bell peppers or corn or carrots.  At most restaurants, though, I have to dump an entire bowl of salsa on the rice to give it some flavor.  It’s disappointing because I do love a good, tasty rice dish.  So, I made my own Spanish rice and it is so flavorful you won’t even think about adding salsa.  It makes a great side for tacos, enchiladas, fajitas…really anything.  It’s also pretty easy to make and a lot of the ingredients are things I usually keep on hand anyway, so sometimes I throw some beans in and eat over spinach for lunch or dinner in a pinch. This version has a bit of spice to it, so if you don’t like spicy foods, you can skip the cayenne pepper and/or jalapeno.  You can also use vegetable broth instead of chicken broth for a vegetarian option.  Enjoy!

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Simple Spanish Rice
Servings: 8
Serving Nutrition: 111 calories, 2.8 g protein, 0.9 g fat, 23.2 g carbohydrate
Ingredients
1/2 medium yellow onion, diced
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 cup long grain brown rice
1 cup chicken broth
1-1/4 cup water
1 (15 oz) can diced tomatoes
1 medium bell pepper (any color), diced
1 medium jalapeno pepper, minced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp ground cumin
1 Tbsp dried oregano
1 tsp smoked paprika
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (optional)
1/4 cup roughly chopped cilantro for garnish (optional)

Directions
1. In large saucepan, add olive oil and onion and cook until onions are translucent.
2. Add rice, chicken broth, and 1 cup of water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 20 minutes.
3. Stir in tomatoes, bell pepper, jalapeno, garlic, spices, and 1/4 cup water. Cover and simmer another 25 minutes or until liquid is absorbed.
4. Add salt and pepper to taste.
5. Serve with chopped fresh cilantro.

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Big City Life · Chicken Recipe · Easy recipe · Life Balance · Mid-Life Career Change · Veggies!

Hunkering Down for the Weekend

Oh, hello there! It’s been a bit since I last posted and I was starting to miss this little blog thing here. As you may know from my previous post, I went on a road trip after Christmas that lasted into the new year and it was so much fun!  I am working on a post recapping the whole adventure, so stay tuned.  Since I got back, though, I’ve been in over my head with applying for dietetic internships.  It’s hard to believe the time has finally come to put what I’ve learned into practice and I have to say that, even with all of the excitement of finally reaching this milestone, it’s a wee bit overwhelming.

First, before I can even think about hitting “submit” on that application, I had to put together a professional portfolio so that my program director can give the official thumbs up that I completed all of the required courses.  I’ve also been attending internship fairs and open houses for the programs I’m interested in.  The application itself is a lot of work, too.  You have to request letters of recommendation and transcripts, make sure your resume is beyond impressive, and write an amazing personal statement that not only speaks to your character and capabilities, but also provides insight into what motivates you to pursue dietetics in general and, more particularly, what makes the program to which you’re applying the right fit…all in less than 1,000 words.  That’s not a lot of words, y’all!!  And apparently, “I want to help people and I love food, soooo…” isn’t gonna cut it. If applying to more than one program (and with only 50% of students getting into programs each year, applying to more than one is a good idea), then you’re writing multiple statements.  Needless to say, things are a little crazy around here.  That said, I wanted to pop in and say hi and share a nice, hearty slow cooker recipe that might come in handy when trying to avoid stepping foot outside in this wintry mess we have headed our way this weekend.

This Slow Cooker Ginger Orange Chicken recipe has been in the works for a while and I think I finally got it right.  Good thing citrus is still in season!  It’s a complete balanced meal in one, with lean chicken, brown rice, and loads of colorful veggies.  With a little spice from the ginger and crushed red pepper, some bright sweetness from the orange, and a little savory from soy sauce, this dish hits all the right notes.  It smells really good while it’s cooking, too.  So, throw everything into your slow cooker and let the aromas fill the air while you bundle up on the couch with a good book or a little binge watching (I highly recommend the Netflix series You…loved the show despite the fact that I will never see Dan Humphrey the same way again).  Stay warm, y’all!

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Slow Cooker Ginger Orange Chicken
Servings: 4
Serving Nutrition: 298 calories, 32.8 g protein, 4.5 g fat, 32.5 g carbohydrates, 4.1 g fiber
Ingredients
1 lb boneless skinless chicken breasts
1/2 Tbsp olive oil
1 cup reduced sodium chicken broth
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup water
3 tsp fresh grated ginger
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
1/2 tsp salt & pepper
1/2 cup uncooked long grain brown rice
1/2 medium red onion, thinly sliced
1 medium red bell pepper, cut into slices
2 cups sliced mushrooms
1 cup carrots, sliced on a diagonal
3 cups kale, deveined and roughly chopped
Zest of 1 navel orange
1 navel orange, cut into 1/2 inch thick rounds

Directions
1. Salt & pepper chicken and heat olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat until it shimmers. Add chicken and cook until golden brown, or about 3 minutes on each side.
2. Combine ingredients 3 through 9 in slow cooker and mix well.
3. Add veggies and stir.
4. Nestle chicken into veggie mixture. The kale will be really bulky – that’s ok as long as it fits well enough to put the lid on. The kale will wilt as it cooks.
5. Lay orange slices across the top of the chicken.
6. Cover, and set slow cooker to high temperature for 3 hours*
7. Str veggies to coat with sauce and serve with orange slice as garnish.

* Note: cooking time may vary for different slow cookers, so check to make sure rice is cooked before serving. If not, add a little cooking time.

Tell me, have any of you watched You yet?  Did it creep you out as badly as it did me?  Any other binge-worthy recs?

 

 

 

Breakfast Recipes · Cheese, cheese, and more cheese · Easy recipe · Life Balance · Mid-Life Career Change · Travel · Veggies!

Happy Holidays!

I hope you are all surviv…errr…enjoying this holiday season!  I haven’t yet been able to get in the spirit over here with final projects and exams, but I am happy to say that the semester is now officially over and I AM DONE WITH MY DPD CLASSES!!!!!!!!  If you’re getting the impression that I’m really freakin’ excited, you are very perceptive. For those who aren’t familiar with DPD classes, they are the series of courses that are required before you can apply to a dietetic internship and sit for the registered dietitian exam.  This has been 3.5 years in the making and, while it doesn’t mean that I’m done with school and stress, it is a major hurdle in this career-changing journey.  The next step is to apply to dietetic internships in February and continue to take classes for my master’s program.  If all works out and I get matched with an internship program, that will begin in late August and will take 9-12 months to complete.  In summary, I’m not done, but I’m making progress and I’ll take it.

Other big news in Buttercup-land is that my BF is moving away temporarily to complete training for his career, so we are going on a road trip!  While I’m not excited to have to live thousands of miles apart for any amount of time, I am excited to have some good quality time on the road, checking out parts of the country neither of us has ever seen.  If you follow me on Instagram (@eatupbuttercup.blog), I’ll be sure to post some pics along the way.  They will probably include food.  Oh, who am I kidding? They will definitely include food.

But, now that school is out and we’ve mapped our trip, I can focus on getting jolly.  For starters, we put lights on Milo the Moose (the papier mache moose head on our living room wall), and I made Christmas cookies for co-workers. And today at around 4:30 pm, a light bulb went off in my head and I finally realized that Christmas is just a few days away.  Yikes! So this is as good a time as any to talk about holiday eating strategies.  Some people think they have to fast all day until the big dinner.  Admittedly, I have done that in the past (before I began studying nutrition, of course).  You really should eat a good breakfast, and lunch or a snack or two if your holiday meal is on the later side, for at least a couple of reasons.  First, you’re going to be starving by the time dinner rolls around, and you’re likely to eat 5 times as much as you normally would.  While I don’t think a holiday is the time to count calories, nobody wants to eat so much that they are in pain from overeating.  Second, eating at regular intervals is necessary to maintain stable blood sugar, which helps with both weight management and mood.  I don’t know about you, but I get HANGRY, y’all!  You will be eating for the sake of those around you, and they will thank you.

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I made this breakfast strata for Thanksgiving and it was just what we needed to start the day off on the right foot.  Lots of veggies and protein to fuel a full day of festivities.  I assembled it the night before so that the bread had a chance to soak up the egg mixture, then in the morning I threw it in the oven without having to even think about it.  We also had enough left over to eat for lunch and dinner the next day.  And it was delicious.  Win, win!  This would be great for Christmas morning, New Year’s Day hangover breakfast, or hosting weekend brunch.  Enjoy!

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Italian Sausage & Veggie Strata
Servings: 6
Serving Nutrition: 282 calories, 19.7 g protein, 12.9 g fat, 24.7 g carbohydrate
Ingredients
1/2 loaf sourdough bread
1/2 medium red onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium jalapeno, minced
2 bell peppers, diced (I used one red and one yellow)
1 cup spinach, roughly chopped
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
2 cooked Sweet Italian chicken sausages, chopped
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
6 large eggs
1-1/2 cups low fat milk
2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper

Directions
1. Cut or tear bread into 1-inch pieces and place in a 9” square baking dish that has been sprayed with cooking spray.
2. Add ingredients 2 through 8 (onion through sausage) plus 1/2 of cheese and stir.
3. Whisk eggs with milk, oregano, salt, and pepper.
4. Pour egg mixture evenly over top of bread mixture.
5. Sprinkle remaining cheese over top.
6. Chill in refrigerator for at least an hour; overnight is preferable.
7. When ready to cook, pre-heat oven to 350°.
8. Bake for 45-55 minutes, or until a fork poked into the center of the casserole comes out clean.

Batch Recipes · Chicken Recipe · Easy recipe · Fall Food · Life Balance

Do the Hustle

Anyone else do a little dance after reading that title? No? Alrighty then…

I hope everyone had a fabulous Thanksgiving filled with friends and/or family and more good food than you could handle!  As the title to this post suggests, we are now officially knee deep in the holiday hustle and it’s all coming at us like a freight train.  Regardless of which holidays you celebrate and whether those holidays are joyful or stressful for you, I think we can all agree that this time of year can be very emotional.  It’s definitely a balancing act with school/work deadlines, social engagements, figuring out where you’ll be celebrating the holidays or planning to host, shopping for the perfect gifts in overcrowded stores, and travel.  There’s also the inevitable family member (or friend) who you would normally dive under a school bus to avoid running into, yet, on the holidays you’re the jerk if you don’t spend an eternity listening to how his or her dogs are doing.  And let’s not forget about all of the food surrounding this time of year.

Over the past few years, I’ve made some changes in my mindset regarding food and they have helped relieve a little of the holiday stress.  So, here are a few tips that have worked for me:

  1. Eat a lot of veggies. Really, this is something I do throughout the year now, but during this time of year there are sweets galore and gatherings that involve eating heavy food, so eating more veggies in between celebrations helps ensure that your body is still getting properly nourished. Bonus: fill up on the good stuff and you won’t want to eat the entire gingerbread house.
  2. Eat in as much as you can.  Clearly, you can’t bail on the company holiday dinner, but maybe you can bring your lunch that day.  Or say no to the holiday soiree your friend’s husband’s sister’s cousin is throwing and stay home instead.  I have to admit, saying no to social functions used to be a hard one for me, but these days I don’t feel guilty for opting out of an event or two if it helps keep me sane.  And having good food at home makes staying in so much more appealing.  Making big batches of a couple of meals on Sunday will help ensure you always have something good to eat at home.
  3. Relax.  You’re going to splurge a little during the holidays.  We all do it and it is not the end of the world, or even the end of your health or diet goals.  The worst thing you can do is beat yourself up every time you indulge.  Actually, even worse is to give up because you think you blew it anyway.  Take a step back and breathe.  One cookie, or one day of eating (ahem, Thanksgiving), or even a week of holiday parties is not going to destroy what you’ve worked for.  Just resume regularly scheduled healthy habits and move forward.  And remember to be present and enjoy time with your loved ones rather than worrying about how many calories you just ordered to, “get in my belly”.  It will all be OK.

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Need a good batch recipe? Make my chicken and dumplings!!!  In this post, I talked about trying to recreate my Grammy’s chicken and dumplings.  I kept the essence of Grammy’s chicken & dumplings, but bulked it up with more veggies and made the dumplings from scratch rather than using a biscuit mix (I didn’t love the ingredients in the mix and the BF and I agreed that it tasted a bit like plastic).  I struggled with getting the perfect fluffy dumpling and we ate a lot of them in the process, but I finally got it right and the result is sooooo good.  This also happens to be a great soul-warming cold weather meal.  It’s easy to make, but does take a bit of time (about 1.5 hours total prep + cooking), so plan ahead. Enjoy!

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Fluffy Chicken & Dumplings
Servings: 8
Serving Nutrition: 258 calories, 13.7 g protein, 5.7 g fat, 38.1 g carbohydrates, 774 mg sodium
Ingredients
Stew
1 lb boneless skinless chicken breasts
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
4 cloves of garlic, minced
4 cups reduced sodium chicken broth
4 stalks celery, 1/4 inch slices
1 cup carrots, 1/4 inch slices
1 medium potato, diced small
1 bay leaf
1/2 cup parsley, roughly chopped
2 Tbsp cornstarch (or flour)
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper

Dumplings
2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
3 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
2 Tbsp unsalted butter, softened
1 cup milk (I used 1%)

Directions
1. In large pot over medium heat, sauté onions in olive oil until they begin to soften.
2. Add garlic and cook for about a minute.
3. Add celery, carrots, potato, salt, and pepper and stir to mix.
4. Add chicken breasts, chicken stock, bay leaf, and enough water to cover chicken breasts and bring to a boil.
5. After chicken has boiled for about 20 minutes, reduce heat to a simmer, remove breasts from pot and shred with a fork. Return chicken to pot.
6. In a small bowl, combine cornstarch with about 3 tablespoons of hot water and mix until a smooth paste forms. Add cornstarch mixture to pot and mix thoroughly.
7. Let stew simmer for about 20 minutes or until liquid thickens to desired stew consistency.
8. While stew is simmering, combine flour, baking powder, salt, and pepper in a mixing bowl.
9. Cut softened butter into flour mixture until little beads of dough form consistently throughout mixture.
10. Slowly stir milk into flour mixture a little bit at a time until all dry ingredients are incorporated into dough. It will be a thick dough that will be difficult to stir.
11. Once stew is thickened to desired consistency, lower heat if needed to maintain a low simmer, remove the bay leaf, and stir in parsley and more salt & pepper if needed.
12. Drop 1 tablespoon of dough at a time onto the top of the stew, starting along the edge of the pot and working your way inward.
13. Cover pot and let simmer for 20 minutes.
14. Remove lid and continue to simmer for another 10 minutes.

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Look at how light and airy that dumpling is!
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The stew underneath is delicious too.
Cheese, cheese, and more cheese · Easy recipe · Life Balance · Mid-Life Career Change · Shrimp Recipe

Fall Comfort

We are now more than half-way through October (what???) and I’m not gonna lie, the change of seasons is kicking my butt. I blame it on the change of seasons because of the shorter days, but in reality it’s probably a combination of things. In addition to the mild seasonal blues I get when we start to lose daylight hours, I’ve had some tough exams and projects at school and I’ve been looking (unsuccessfully) for additional part-time work that I can fit into my existing school and work schedule. It turns out that when you’re over 40 and have worked in the corporate world for most of your adult life, people are a little weary of hiring you to sit at a front desk and greet people. Go figure. Regardless, it all has me a little stressed out and I’ve been dealing with a mild bout of anxiety over the past couple of weeks. Luckily, it’s not debilitating by any means. I usually just breathe through it when I feel like it might become a full-on panic attack, but the heightened emotional state hangs around a bit.

If I’m 100% honest, I don’t even think school and work are all I’m worrying about. I think aging might have a bit to do with it. I’m not one to blame my age on everything, but hear me out for a minute. The older I get, the more I expect from myself. I expect that I have to work twice as hard to be the absolute best at everything I do. I have to make straight A’s at school and I have to always be at the top of my game at work. I also tend to get down on myself about where I am in my life. I realize that I chose to give up a good career to follow my passion, but the longer it takes to finish what I started, the harder it gets to make the sacrifices that come with it. I feel like I’m constantly declining events and/or travel because of cost, schedule, or a combination of both. And don’t even get me started on the fact that I can’t seem to drink coffee anymore. I’m only half kidding about this one. I really love my coffee! I know many people who say they can’t drink coffee after a certain time or they won’t sleep, but that’s not my issue. I have no problems sleeping most of the time, but my nerves aren’t quite what they used to be and coffee sets them on edge like you would not believe. If I have more than one small cup, I feel so anxious I want to crawl out of my skin and curl up into a ball in the corner. As a result, I mostly just drink tea, but on weeks where I am particularly stressed, even tea can cause a bit of edginess. This situation has me a bit bummed, so if you have suggestions for good coffee alternatives, I’m all ears.

When I get down or anxious, like a lot of people, my first instinct is to reach for comfort food. And I allow myself to indulge a little, but I’m careful not to overdo it. As with any situation, moderation is key. Not only do high sugar or starchy foods tend to lead to overeating that makes me physically feel bad, but these types of foods are not good for anxiety and stress. They cause your blood sugar to spike, and then it drops and you’re left feeling tired and energy-less (is that even a word?). It also doesn’t keep you satisfied for long, so you end up eating more. This is the type of emotional eating that can lead to an unhealthy relationship with food and weight gain if you let it. So, when I need comfort food, I make sure to load it up with vegetables and lean protein and I keep my portions in check so that a little indulgence doesn’t lead to a downward spiral of binge eating and self loathing. One of my recent favorites for comfort food indulgence is shrimp and grits. In fact, we’ve made it a recurring dish in our weekly meal prep for this fall. I love Cajun food and, coming from a state that borders Louisiana, you would think that I have eaten this my entire life. Not so. I was just exposed to this amazing dish a few years ago and I loved it so much I felt the need to make my own spin on it. Apparently shrimp and grits can be made many different ways, but I like mine spicy with Cajun seasoning and a tomato-based sauce. Enjoy!!

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What’s your favorite comfort food? And don’t forget those coffee alternative recommendations!!!  Much appreciated!

Spicy Shrimp & Cheesy Grits
Servings: 6
Serving Nutrition: 361 calories, 28.4 g protein, 11 g fat, 3.5 g fiber, 33.5 g carbohydrates
Ingredients
1 lb peeled & deveined shrimp
1/2 medium red onion, diced
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 bell pepper (any color, but I like yellow or orange), diced
3-4 stalks celery, diced
2 chicken andouille sausages, sliced
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 Tbsp dried oregano
2 Tbsp Cajun seasoning (this has a bit of kick, so adjust down if needed)
1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes (adjust according to your desired spice level)
1 (15 oz) can diced tomatoes
Salt & Pepper to taste
Optional – chopped green onions for garnish

Grits
1 cup quick grits
1 cup milk
3 cups water
1 Tbsp unsalted butter
3 oz (3/4 cup) shredded cheddar cheese
Salt & Pepper to taste

Directions
1. Spray large skillet lightly with olive oil & sauté onions until they begin to soften.
2. Add garlic and cook for about a minute.
3. Stir in sausage, bell pepper and celery.
4. Add white wine, stirring to get any cooked bits from bottom of pan, and cook until smell of alcohol diminishes.
5. Stir in seasonings and tomatoes and bring to a low boil.
6. Reduce heat to simmer and spread shrimp in single layer in sauce. Cook for a few minutes on each side, or until shrimp turns pink.
7. Taste and add salt and pepper as needed.
Grits
1. In medium saucepan, bring water, milk, and 1/2 tsp salt to a boil.
2. Reduce heat to low and whisk in about 1 Tbsp grits until it soaks up liquid, then continue slowly adding remaining grits 1 Tbsp at a time and whisk until all liquid is absorbed.
3. Add butter and cheese and stir until well mixed.
4. Add salt & pepper to taste.

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Eaten with a side of sauteed spinach with lots of garlic, onions, and tomatoes.  So good!
Easy recipe · Life Balance · Tasty Sides · Vegetarian · Veggies!

If at first you don’t succeed…

I just heard a quote that really resonated with me – “Failure is not the opposite of success; it’s a part of success.” ~ Arianna Huffington. Full disclosure, I actually heard it on the new Queer Eye season on Netflix, then had to look it up to find out who originally said it. Yes, I love the Fab 5. Judge me all you want; I don’t care.

Anyway, if I had heard this quote a long time ago, it might have saved me a lot of heartache. Nobody likes to fail, especially when it seems like everyone around you is doing so well. I personally have had my share of situations where I felt like a failure. For example, when I moved to New York after business school without a job. Admittedly, I had a bit of an ego thanks to my newly acquired MBA, and I felt certain that I would be able to find something relatively quickly. Well, that was in the summer of 2007, right as the sub-prime mortgage situation was beginning to unravel. I was looking for work in commercial real estate. You get where I’m going with this, right? The economy and the highly competitive job market in New York gave me a big heaping dose of reality. It took many months of networking like crazy, sending an uncountable number of resumes, and what seemed like endless interviews to finally land something. I ended up staying with that company up until the time I decided to go back to school for nutrition – over 7 years – so it all worked out and I was successful in landing a job in my career of choice (at the time) in one of the greatest cities in the world. It just took perseverance, hard work, and the extreme bullheadedness I was blessed with. This same mentality has helped me through many a difficult situation in my life, so I take it with me into every new challenge I face. [I should note that I had a pretty awesome support system, too. Without these people, I might not have made it.]

What does this all have to do with my current career path and/or food? Well, my latest challenge involves a dumpling. Specifically, one of the chicken & dumplings variety. One of my favorite meals my Grammy made when I was growing up in Texas was chicken & dumplings. Her dumplings were so light and fluffy and floated effortlessly over the stew beneath them. It was like they were made of air. Despite multiple attempts and even enlisting the guidance of my sister, who once got a tutorial from Grammy on how to make this coveted dish, my dumplings seem destined to sink and become a dense, doughy blob every single time. I am bound and determined to make the perfect chicken & dumplings, though, and when I do I promise to share them with you. We might have to eat chicken & dumplings every night for the next few weeks to get this right…it’s a tough job but somebody has to do it.

You know what I never fail at? Roasting vegetables. Fall is officially the season for roasting vegetables, and I kicked it off with some Brussels sprouts we had hanging out in the fridge. This recipe is sweet and tangy with a little spice from the mustard. It’s a great alternative to loading your sprouts with bacon.

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Honey Dijon Roasted Brussels Sprouts
Servings: 4 (side servings)
Serving Nutrition: 114 calories, 4 g protein, 0.4 g fat, 277 mg sodium, 4.7 g fiber, 26.8 g carbohydrates
Ingredients
1 lb Brussels sprouts
1/2 medium red onion, sliced ¼ inch thick
2 Tbsp whole grain Dijon mustard
3 Tbsp honey
3 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
Salt & Pepper

Directions
1. Pre-heat oven to 400°F.
2. Trim then cut each sprout in half.
3. Combine all ingredients in bowl, making sure mustard seeds are evenly dispersed.
4. Spread sprouts cut side down on baking sheet sprayed with cooking spray (I lined mine with foil for easy clean-up).
5. Sprinkle with salt & pepper.
6. Roast in oven for 15 minutes, then remove from oven and stir.
7. Return to oven for about 5-10 more minutes, or until desired level of browning and cripiness is achieved.

BrusselsSprouts

Batch Recipes · Easy recipe · Life Balance · Mid-Life Career Change · Pasta · Tasty Sides · Vegetarian · Veggies!

Easy is the Name of the Game

I’m not gonna lie, I have it pretty good here in my little world. I’m not saying it’s perfect by any means, and I can get a little overwhelmed at times, but thus far my BF and I have been able to help each other out when one of us has too much on our plate. That’s all about to change. Next week, my BF starts training for his new career and he is going to be gone most of the time. It’s all very exciting for him, but we are going to have to prepare big time. And by prepare, I am of course talking about the only thing that matters, which is food. Right now, on the days I don’t get home from class until almost 10 pm, he cooks dinner. Those days are over for a while. He is also going to need to take lunch every day. Basically, we’re going to have to do a lot of planning and batch cooking and we will need to expand our repertoire of super simple and quick dishes. Being the food nerd that I am, I’m getting really excited about it.

This past weekend, we went up to Connecticut to spend some time with his family, and his mom took us to LaRocca’s Country Market, which is like my kind of heaven. LaRocca’s is a gourmet market where you can get fresh produce, groceries, prepared foods, or made-to-order sandwiches. Their deli counter has a ton of salads that look amazing. I wanted to try everything, but I settled for just using some of it for inspiration.

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One of the salads that looked particularly yummy was an orzo salad with artichokes, tomatoes, dill, feta cheese, and olives. I didn’t get a chance to taste it at LaRocca’s, so I have no idea how my version compares to theirs, but it sounded so good I had to give it a shot. I used basil instead of dill, and I have to say that it was so incredibly easy to make and we could not stop eating it. We had it as a side, but you could easily make it a main dish by adding some protein. In fact, for lunch today I ate leftovers with some spinach and chickpeas, plus a little extra lemon juice and cracked pepper to flavor the chickpeas. It was delicious.

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Easy Orzo Salad
Servings: 10 (side servings)
Serving Nutrition: 264 calories, 8.6 g protein, 9.6 g fat, 262 mg sodium, 37 g carbohydrates, 2.3 g fiber
Ingredients
1 (16 oz.) box orzo, cooked al dente
1 (6 oz.) jar marinated artichoke hearts, drained
2 medium tomatoes, diced (or 1 can diced tomatoes, drained)
1/2 cup sliced black olives
1 cup fresh basil, roughly chopped or torn
1 cup crumbled feta cheese
Juice of 1 lemon
1/4 cup olive oil
Plenty of fresh cracked pepper

Directions
1. Combine all ingredients in bowl and mix well.
2. Taste & add pepper or lemon juice as needed.

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Orzo salad + spinach + chickpeas + lemon juice/cracked pepper = perfect lunch!
Batch Recipes · Big City Life · Chocolate · Easy recipe · Life Balance · Mid-Life Career Change · Running · Snacks

More Snack Balls…

This past weekend, I had the pleasure of catching up with a couple of friends over a run followed by brunch. The three of us have trained for marathons together in the past, which involves very long runs that can sometimes be uncomfortable, if not downright painful. You get to know each other very quickly and very intimately on these runs. Talk of bodily functions, odors, and other highly personal issues is not only within the bounds of normal conversation with runner friends, it is sometimes the only thing that keeps you going and has been the basis of many a lifelong friendship. We are all bound together in our gross and strange commonalities. It’s a beautiful thing…for us. If you have to sit next to us on the subway after a sweaty run, you probably don’t think it’s so beautiful. Sorry ’bout that.

Unfortunately, I am not able to catch up with these ladies as much as I would like. Life has gotten busy for all of us and it can be tough to coordinate schedules. That said, when we are together we often speak about how to manage a busy schedule and still take care of ourselves by eating well and exercising. Basically, it isn’t easy and none of us have found the perfect solution, but we can continue to work on it one small change at a time. I have been doing pretty well with my diet lately, so my goal for this new semester, which just started 2 weeks ago, is to prioritize exercise. Even just 10-20 minutes on a busy day is better than nothing.

On our run, one of my friends requested that I post some slow cooker recipes. Honestly, I don’t use my slow cooker nearly enough, but it is always a great way to make a healthy home cooked meal when you’re busy. I typically think of the slow cooker as being for fall and winter dishes like stews and roasts, but it really can be used year-round for a wide variety of foods. This summer when it was so hot I refused to turn on my oven, I made a chicken and rice dish in the slow cooker and it was way better than I expected…and so incredibly easy. That said, I tried to recreate it and it was not nearly as good the second time, so back to work I go! While I work on perfecting that recipe, I will share another flavor of my favorite convenient snack balls…dark chocolate & peanut butter. Yum!

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Dark Chocolate and Peanut Butter Snack Balls
Yield: About 24 balls
Nutrition per ball: 66 calories, 2.6 g protein, 3.2 g fat, 26 mg sodium, 7.6 g carbohydrates, 3.6 g sugar
Ingredients
2/3 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1 cup uncooked rolled oats
2/3 cup nonfat Greek yogurt
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 Tbsp chia seeds
1/2 cup almond flour
4 Tbsp peanut butter powder
1 Tbsp honey
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup dark chocolate chips

Directions
1. Put coconut, cranberries, and oats in food processor and chop to your desired consistency.
2. Combine all ingredients in a bowl and mix well. It will be a thick dough, so you might need to use your hands to combine everything.
3. Form dough into golf ball sized balls.
4. Store in refrigerator for easy snacking.

Big City Life · Life Balance · Tasty Sides · Vegetarian · Veggies!

Variety is the Spice of Life

If you think nutritionists/dietitians only eat kale, salmon, quinoa, and organic artisanal almond butter, you would be wrong. First of all, nobody eats healthy all day every day. We all need to splurge once in a while, and every good health enthusiast does too, we just try not to overindulge most of the time. Secondly, eating the same things over and over again is not really healthy either. You need a lot of variety in your diet to get all of the vital nutrients. Did you know that the color of your food contains nutrients? The pigments found in food are made up of important chemicals and antioxidants that your body needs, so you really should be eating a rainbow of foods. Eating a mix of red, yellow, purple, orange, and white fruits and vegetables is just as important as eating lots of green.

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The red onion looks almost neon in this lighting. Sadly, I am not glow-in-the-dark purple today.

Beyond just a lack of nutrients, anyone who eats the same three or four things every day, no matter how clean or healthy those things are, is destined to go on an out-of-control binge at some point. Especially if they prepare the food without butter, oil, or salt like some athletes preparing for competitions do. Boredom + no flavor = no joy. And depriving yourself of joy eventually leads to a complete breakdown of self control…if it doesn’t, you are a saint. Food should taste good! I mean, God wouldn’t have given us taste buds if he/she didn’t want us to enjoy our food, am I right? That said, when trying to eat healthy, cutting back on things like butter, oil, and salt can be challenging because these things contribute so much flavor. Never fear, though! There are other great ways to add flavor to your food without adding calories. Here are some of my favorites.

  • Onions and garlic – I put these pungent vegetables from the allium family in almost everything. They have a lot of flavor and they’re packed with nutrients…and as a bonus they make your home smell like heaven when they’re cooking.
  • Citrus – squeeze a little lemon or lime juice over almost anything and you get instant flavor. You can also roast chicken, fish, or veggies with sliced lemon or orange on top to infuse them with citrusy goodness.
  • Herbs & spices – you may have to experiment a little with different herbs and spices because they all have a distinct flavor. Just be careful with spice mixes like adobo or chili powder as they can sometimes have a lot of salt. Something I’ve recently discovered is that a little cinnamon added to a spicy dish like spicy shrimp tacos adds a really unique flavor that I can’t resist. I always thought of cinnamon as a spice just for sweets…who knew it was so diverse?
  • Vinegar – my pantry currently holds at least 5 different types of vinegar. Like spices, each one has a unique flavor, but they all add a tangy pop of flavor to your food.

I still use butter, oil, and salt too, but I don’t have to use nearly as much when getting such great flavor from these things.

A standard go-to meal when we’re busy or we don’t really want to cook is a quick stir fry or fried rice. Below is a fried rice I made last night that is loaded with colorful veggies and has a ton of flavor without a lot of oil and much less sodium than you find in most other fried rice recipes. We ate it as a meal, but it would make a great side dish as well. I used whatever veggies I had in my fridge, but you can switch them out for other fresh or frozen veggies based on your preference or what you have at home. Frozen peas and carrots or a frozen stir fry veggie mix are always great time savers that we tend to keep in our freezer at all times.

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I had some leftover sprouts, so I threw them on top as garnish. Pretty, but completely unnecessary. The fried rice is great without them.

Easy Veggie Fried Rice
Servings: 4
Serving Nutrition: 296 calories, 9.1 g protein, 10.9 g fat, 40.7 g carbohydrates, 573 mg sodium, 4.4 g fiber
Ingredients
1 Tbsp vegetable oil
1/2 medium red onion, diced
3 sprigs green onion, sliced, white and green parts separated
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups sugar snap peas
1 red bell pepper, diced
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes (adjust for your desired spice level)
1 tsp ground ginger
3 cups cooked chilled brown rice
1/4 cup low sodium soy sauce
1 Tbsp sesame oil
1 Tbsp rice vinegar

Directions
1. In large skillet, heat vegetable oil over medium heat. Once hot, add red onions and white parts of green onion and saute until translucent.
2. Add garlic and cook for about a minute.
3. Add sugar snap peas and cook about 2 minutes, stirring often, then add bell pepper and cook for 2 more minutes.
4. Push veggies to one side of skillet and pour beaten eggs into other half. Let sit until edges of eggs are cooked, then with spatula or spoon push edges of eggs so that any uncooked egg liquid on top runs off onto skillet. Let cook until eggs are cooked through (it will look like a small omelet), then remove eggs from skillet and chop into small pieces.
5. When peppers and sugar snap peas begin to soften, add chopped eggs, rice, soy sauce, sesame oil, rice vinegar, red pepper flakes, and ginger to skillet and stir to mix well.
6. Add green parts of green onion, stir into mixture, remove from heat, and serve.

Bonus points if you can eat it with chopsticks. I have yet to master eating rice with chopsticks…I end up with more of it on the floor than in my mouth. Any pointers you can give me are welcome!

Life Balance · Mid-Life Career Change

The Beauty, and Stress, of Change

We humans are creatures of habit.  We fear and dread anything that takes us outside of our comfort zone.  When I tell people about my career change, I often get responses like, “you’re so brave”, “you have balls” and, of course, “I wish I could do something like that”.  Well, you can.  I don’t have super powers, I just learned how to get comfortable living outside of my comfort zone.  The first, and hardest, step is deciding that you are willing to forego a little comfort in the short term to make changes that will make you happier in the long run.  No easy task.  Recently, my BF made the decision to make a major career change as well and I have relived every moment of that crazy emotional roller coaster with him.  So, here’s a little of what I learned from my own experience with career change.

First of all, it is never easy to uproot what you’ve known and built over the course of however many years.  It is especially difficult when you are making a decent living and the change you want to make will take you out of the full-time workforce for months or years on end and/or you know the new career will involve a substantial pay cut.  I realize that everybody has different circumstances and for some, this just isn’t an option.  That doesn’t mean you can’t make changes, you just might have to do it in a way that allows you to continue working.  Either way, it really just comes down to one question – what motivates you?  If money is all you need from your career, it’s a no-brainer – keep climbing the ladder you’re on.  If feeling happy/satisfied/rewarded is what’s truly important to you and you’re not getting that from your current career, you might want to consider a change.

So now what?  I don’t know about you, but I didn’t have this vibrant glowing image of exactly what I wanted to do.  I just knew I was unhappy where I was and I had a lot of interests floating around in my head.  I needed to narrow it all down.  Take all of those interests and evaluate for each one what exactly your role would look like and whether it fits not only with what you want to do, but also (1) what you’re good at – job satisfaction is enhanced when you are able to use  your strengths and shine, (2) what will fit with your lifestyle – for example, if you have kids (or dogs) you might not want to be on the road 5 days a week, and (3) whether you will be able to earn enough to support that lifestyle – OK, I know we said money isn’t the motivator here, but let’s be honest, we all need to eat.  Don’t expect to be able to sit down, make a list, and magically have all the answers in one day.  Give it some time.  Everyone is different, but in my case I was reading about nutrition and playing with recipes for a couple of years before I had my aha! moment.

So now you know what you want to do and you need a plan.  Does it involve going to school?  Research all programs in the geographic areas you’re willing to consider, evaluate quality of education, whether or not they have a focus in the area of the career path you want to pursue, how long it will take, how much it costs, when you will have to start, etc.  If it doesn’t involve school, start working on that resume to highlight the experience and skills that will fit with your new role then get to networking.  Networking is exhausting and, for some, nerve wracking.  It’s a necessary evil, though.  I wouldn’t have gotten a job when I moved to New York if I hadn’t networked.  Go to professional meetings, lectures, and happy hours.  Reach out to alumni from your college who are in your field of interest.  Talk to friends and family…they might know someone.  Don’t be afraid to tell people what you’re doing because you never know who can put you in contact with the right person.  It only takes one.

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The test associated with this book helped me narrow down what I’m good at.

Now it’s time to pull the trigger.  If you have been networking and making connections, the change might just happen naturally.  But for the rest of us, this is the hardest part.  “Take the plunge” or “make the leap” – there’s a reason there are such ominous phrases to describe making a big change.  It’s risky and scary and we all get anxiety just thinking about it.  In my case, I needed reassurance that I was making the right decision, so I hired a career coach.  We explored my strengths, my interests, my daydreams… everything.  I wanted to make sure that there wasn’t anything I would be just as happy doing that wouldn’t require another 4 years of school.  In the end, all signs pointed to dietitian, so I dove in head first.  Some people, like my BF, need to sit with the decision for a little longer.  However you process it all is up to you as long as you don’t let the fear of change stop you.  Just remember that without change, great things will never happen.  It’s all up to you!