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!

SpanishRice1

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.

SpanishRice2

Easy recipe · Snacks · Travel

Road Trippin’ Into 2019

I am so far behind on finishing this post, and for that I apologize!  I am happy to say that I have officially submitted my dietetic internship applications and I can get back to regularly cooking and sharing on here.

As you may know, I spent a couple of weeks over the holidays on the road moving my BF from Brooklyn to Arizona, and it was a pretty awesome trip, albeit a little rushed at times.  We kicked it off before the sun came up on December 28, stopped in Dallas for some family time and New Years festivities, then continued westward to the Phoenix area. Day 1 was the most notable because we made a few stops along the way. First, we did a quick driving tour of the Gettysburg battlegrounds. That was one of my favorite parts of the trip. Admittedly, I didn’t pay much attention in high school history classes, but as I’ve gotten older I’ve developed a deep appreciation for the events that shaped our world. Due to the government shutdown, some of the monuments in Gettysburg were closed, but we at least got to peek into the cemetery where Lincoln gave his famous address, and we spent quite a bit of time at Little Round Top, the site of a famous battle involving troops mostly from New York and Texas (the original NY vs TX standoff).

After several more hours of driving, we stopped for dinner at The Tavern in Abingdon, VA then checked out The Martha Washington Inn just down the street, both of which served as hospitals for Union and Confederate soldiers during the Civil War.  Unfortunately,  I was way more interested in eating my dinner than photographing it, so I have nothing to show you.  Trust me when I say, though, that The Tavern is worth checking out if you’re in the area and I can definitely recommend the baked salmon with tomatoes, feta, and spinach.  It was delicious.  The Martha Washington Inn was interesting as well.  It’s a gorgeous mansion that is supposedly haunted.  We thought about staying there, but I was a wimp and didn’t think I would be able to sleep a wink.  Maybe another time.

After we filled our bellies, we went a little further down the road into Tennessee to check out the Christmas lights all around the Bristol Motor Speedway then take a lap of the track.  Although I wasn’t driving and we were only going about 30 mph, it was pretty cool to be on a real NASCAR track.  The angle on that thing is no joke. My BF said it felt like we were going to tip.  I couldn’t feel it from the passenger seat, but it looked steep so I’ll take his word for it.

IMG_1140

Days 2 and 3 were just a lot of driving – across Tennessee, down into Arkansas, then into Texas for a bit of a break from the driving.

After spending a few fun days ringing in the new year with my family, we got back on the road.  It took what seemed like an eternity to get out of the state of Texas.  Seriously, I lived there for the first 31 years of my life and still had no comprehension of exactly how huge that state is until now.  There wasn’t really much to see on our drive through west Texas except oil derricks and refineries.  On the plus side, I saw my first tumbleweed when it rolled into the middle of the freeway and I had to swerve to avoid it.  Luckily, there weren’t any cars around us at the time.  The route we took through New Mexico into Arizona wasn’t really all that scenic either, but 2 days after we left Dallas, we ended our trip in Phoenix.  We spent a few days exploring, then sadly I had to hop on a plane back to NY for a dietetic internship open house.

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How did we survive 5 days trapped in a car together?  My coworkers had given me a book of “Would You Rather?” questions, and that kept us occupied for long stretches.  It’s a really fun book – the questions stimulated a lot of conversation, so definitely check it out if you have any trips coming up.  We did a lot of belting out the tunes whenever we could get a clear radio station.  Ok, maybe it was mostly me doing the singing.  Alright, alright, it was really only me, but I did it to entertain us both!  We also  talked a bit of trash about the cars flying past us.  Seriously, there are some insane drivers out there, and we ranked Tennessee number 1 for the worst drivers encountered on this trip.  They drive crazy fast and cut people off…and a lot of them are in very large trucks.  Scary.

What did we eat?  Eating on a road trip can be tricky because roadside eateries and gas stations don’t generally have many nutritious options.  Sometimes we needed to just get out of the car and sit down for a meal, so we went with it and did the best we could, but we definitely would not have felt good by the end of the trip if that’s all we had to eat.  We planned ahead and brought nutritious snacks so that we knew we were at least getting in some good nutrients along the way.  The snacks really were clutch.  We had trail mix, chocolate & peanut butter snack balls, cheese, oranges, and smoothies.  One of the smoothies we took is one of my long-time favorites – Dark Cherry Oat Smoothie.   I packed them in reusable squeezy pouches like the ones they sell kids’ applesauce in.  Those pouches are awesome…I got them on Amazon for the trip and now I use them to take smoothies to work with me.

Anyway, if you’re looking for a tasty smoothie recipe to add to your breakfast (or snack) game, look no further!

CherryOatSmoothie

Dark Cherry Oat Smoothie
Servings: 2
Serving Nutrition: 253 calories, 7.3 g protein, 12.4 g fat, 31.6 g carbohydrates
Ingredients
1/2 medium banana
1/4 c rolled oats
1/4 c plain Greek yogurt
1 c frozen dark cherries
1/2 c vanilla unsweetened almond milk (or whatever type of milk you prefer)
1 Tbsp chia seeds
1/4 c shredded unsweetened coconut
1 handful of spinach or kale

Directions
1. Add all ingredients to blender and blend until smooth and serve.

 

 

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.

SausageVeggieStrata1

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!

SausageVeggieStrata2.jpg

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.

Chicken Recipe · Shrimp Recipe · Travel

Making Do

As mentioned in my previous post here, my boyfriend and I had a nice little vacation in the Caribbean to kick off 2018. After our adventurous night in Antigua, we headed over to Montserrat via the tiniest plane I’ve ever flown on. That was a little nerve wracking because even just a slight wind would push the plane around, but we made it safely and the rest of our trip was amazing.  We swam and played in the sand like 10-year-olds on beaches where we were often the only ones there, we swam in the pool and lounged on the patio of our villa just watching the ocean or the huge iguana that lived in the tree next to the pool (we named him Igor the Iguana), and we ate well. Usually, when I say I ate well on vacation, I proceed to provide a list of restaurants I tried.  Montserrat is a small island with a population of just about 5,000, so it’s not exactly a fine dining mecca.  On this vacation, we wanted to enjoy the peace and quiet at our villa as much as possible anyway, so we ate in a lot.  Before we left New York, I pulled together a couple of recipes for Caribbean food using fish and shrimp, thinking these items should be easy to find and super fresh…we were going to an island, after all, right?  Wrong!  Even though there is great fishing in the Caribbean, the people of Montserrat apparently don’t really fish much.  Most of the food on the island is shipped in from larger islands, so all meat is frozen.  I’m ok with frozen shrimp or chicken, but I prefer my fish to be fresh, so we had to adjust.  Sometimes when in a new place, you have to adapt and find ways to modify the plan a bit.  We had a fun challenge ahead of us.

MontserratRainbows
This island might be short on food variety, but they have rainbows every day…sometimes 2 at a time!

The first day we arrived, the property manager for the villa took us to the grocery store to stock up on supplies.  It was a tiny little store and it didn’t have everything we were used to seeing in our grocery stores in the US.  We also felt rushed because the property manager was waiting.  It was all a little overwhelming.  Not a problem.  We pulled together some canned goods, a bag of rice, and some cheese and crackers to get us through the next day or so.  Our “pantry meal” actually ended up being really good!  I used black beans, corn, diced tomatoes, jarred jalapenos, rice, and spices to make a really tasty beans and rice dish that lasted a couple of days.

On day three, we had a little more time on our hands, so we took a taxi back to the store and spent a little more time exploring.  We found the frozen meats and got a bag of shrimp and a couple of chicken breasts.  Then we realized that the fresh produce is all in the refrigerator at the side of the store – makes sense because the doors to the store are always open and bugs are everywhere.  Armed with this jerk shrimp recipe from Lawren Moneta, we went looking for everything else.  As mentioned, this was a tiny store where variety was limited, so once again we adapted.  Instead of cantaloupe, I just put some pineapple in the salsa.  We couldn’t find a scotch bonnet or habanero pepper, so I used the jarred jalapenos we previously bought.  Honey was extremely expensive and we couldn’t find limes, so the juice from the pineapple pulled double duty for sweetness and acidity.  We also didn’t have thyme or cilantro, so I just left it out.  The shrimp was still very good, and the sweetness from the salsa was a really nice compliment to the salty and spicy shrimp!  In fact, it was so good that I made it twice during our 9 days at the villa.

JerkShrimp
The second time I made the jerk shrimp, we didn’t have a cucumber or kiwi, so I just made a pineapple & jalapeno salsa.

Another dish we really enjoyed was chicken curry.  Curries are very common in Caribbean cuisine, and the grocery store where we did our shopping was owned by an Indian couple, so we decided to buy a bag of Indian curry powder so I could attempt my own.  It was really easy and tasty!  Here’s what I did:

ChkCurry

 

2 chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 medium onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbsp curry powder
1 can coconut milk
1 potato, diced small
1 box frozen spinach
1/2 cup chicken stock (I couldn’t find this, so I used a bouillon cube)

Saute onion a couple of minutes, add garlic and cook for a minute.  Add chicken, potato, curry powder, and chicken stock and cook, stirring frequently, until chicken is cooked through.  Add coconut milk and spinach and continue cooking, breaking spinach apart as it thaws.  Bring to boil, then reduce heat and simmer until potatoes are soft and spinach is thawed and integrated well.  Add salt and pepper to taste and, if desired, more curry powder.  Serve over rice or, as they often do in Montserrat, wrapped in a roti.

Enjoy!

 

Chocolate · Snacks · Travel

Happy New Year!

I know, I know…it has been a LOOOONG time since I’ve posted anything here and, to anyone who visited during my extended hiatus, I apologize for my absence.  I got a little wrapped up in school, work, and family stuff.  You know, life.  I’m not a fan of excuses, though, and one of my goals for 2018 is to get back to posting here somewhat regularly.  A lot has happened in the past year, so I’ll start with a really quick catch-up.

Last time I posted, I was struggling with fitting everything in with school, my volunteer work, a part-time job, running, personal life, etc.  I had even deferred the marathon for which I had been training.  I still continue to struggle with a routine given my schedule varies so much from day-to-day, but things are getting better.  School has been going great and I am still very happy with my decision to take the leap and make a career change.  In February, my boyfriend and I moved in together and it has been great seeing each other every day without trekking an hour between our apartments.  In August, my volunteer work in corporate wellness turned into a part-time job as a nutritionist working with teen moms.  It’s so amazing to be getting paid to do something I truly love, and I’ve discovered a new passion for menu planning and recipe development!  After a long break from running, I struggled to get back at it and in October 2017 I ran that marathon I had deferred from 2016.  I wasn’t in as good of shape as I would have liked, so it hurt really badly, but I finished!  All-in-all, it was a pretty good year.  Then, to start the new year, my boyfriend and I finally took the vacation we’ve been talking about for over 2 years.  We kept putting it off because of school, work, and finances, and it was so worth the wait!

We spent 10 glorious days in the Caribbean while Mother Nature was pounding NYC with snow and brutal cold. Well, it wasn’t all glorious, but I’ll get to that in a second. We wanted peace and quiet on this trip so that we could recharge our batteries and have time really connecting with each other, so we decided to go a little off the beaten path. We chose to visit the island of Montserrat, and proceeded to pick dates for the trip and look at flights. We booked flights for January 3 – 13 and went looking for a place to stay.  We found a lovely villa just up the hill from a beach that had amazing views. The only problem is that it would not be available until January 4. In order to get to Montserrat, you have to fly into Antigua and then take either a ferry or a short flight from there. We already had our flights to Antigua for the 3rd, so we decided it wasn’t the worst thing in the world to stay a night in a beautiful place like Antigua. We booked an early morning flight from Antigua to Montserrat on the 4th, so we decided to stay at what we thought was an inexpensive hotel near the airport. Our plan was to have a nice dinner then get to bed early, so we didn’t need luxury accommodations. What could possibly go wrong??

MNI Sunset1
Sunset view from our villa in Montserrat

Well, our lodging in Antigua wasn’t exactly what we expected. It was actually a “guest house”, which is just someone’s home where they rent out a room. Our hostess, though very sweet, was quite the talker! I think our check-in process took about an hour because she kept getting distracted with telling us stories about her knee or foot injuries (making us look at both of them) and her family of circus people. Not a problem. We decided to just make the most of it by going for a walk around the neighborhood to find a place to grab a bite to eat and maybe a tropical cocktail or two. Our hostess physically blocked the doorway on our way out because she wanted to keep talking to us, but after a few minutes we politely navigated our way around her and went on our way…only to learn that the neighborhood wasn’t exactly walkable. There were no sidewalks and cars were zipping past us at a scary pace. After dodging traffic for about 10 minutes, we decided to turn around and stop at the gas station for bottled water and snacks and go back to hole up in our room for the night. We were exhausted from travel and the drastic change in weather anyway, so it seemed like a good plan.  Well, over 12 hours in a tiny bedroom is a really long time! Thankfully, I had made snacks for the trip, including my Chocolate Chip Snack Balls, which served as our dinner that night. After that, we were a bit worried about what the rest of the trip would be like, but luckily the next leg of the trip was amazing. The lesson I learned from this adventure, though, is to always travel with plenty of good snacks!

Now, if you’ve read this far, you deserve a cookie…or a ball that tastes like a cookie! One of the big food trends these days is snack balls, AKA “protein balls” or “fat balls”. I’ve seen a few that looked good, but I thought I could make them better, so I decided to give it a go. After a little trial and error, I came up with these yummy little chocolate morsels. With almond flour, oats, chia seeds, and Greek yogurt, these balls are nutritious AND delicious. They make a great pre- or post-workout snack, and I’ve even been known to eat them for breakfast.  Here’s to a great 2018 and eating more balls!

BrownBalls
I did not put the coconut in the food processor, so you can see the chunks here. Mmm!

No-Bake Chocolate Chip Snack Balls

Makes about 24 golf ball sized bites.  Each bite contains 66.4 cal, 1.8g protein, 3g fat, 5.5g sugar, 1.4g fiber, 19mg sodium.

1/3 cup plain Greek yogurt
2/3 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
1/4 cup dried cranberries (or your preferred dried fruit)
1 cup dry oats
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 Tbsp chia seeds
1/4 tsp sea salt
1/2 cup almond flour
2 Tbsp cocoa powder
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup mini dark chocolate chips

Put cranberries, coconut, and oats in a food processor and chop until finely chopped (if you like chunks of coconut, leave out of processor).  Mix all ingredients together thoroughly, forming a thick dough, and roll into balls about the size of a golf ball.  Chill in the refrigerator until you’re ready to eat.