Reading List 2019 (so far)

Instead of recapping all the books I read for an entire year, I thought I would try and do this quarterly so that it’s not such a beast to read (or for that matter, type). My goal is to read 30 books in 2019, so let’s see where I’m at:
  1. Becoming, Michelle Obama (autobiography)- I purposefully started the year with this book and it did not disappoint. So many times I found myself in full-out bawling fits of emotion-of joy, sadness, pride, and longing. Michelle Obama believes in us all, y’all. A+
  2. You Are a Badass, Jen Sincero (self-help)- I guess this book has been around for a while? There were a lot of thoughtful nuggets in this book and I enjoyed the pep talk. I find Sincero to be much more down-to-Earth and in touch with life than others #coughcoughwashingmyface. Sidenote, I think I need to stop being so overly critical of self-help books that do not acknowledge how privileges plays a part in success but. A
  3. You Are a Badass at Making Money, Jen Sincero (self-help)-knocked both of these out to begin the new year and again, this book most definitely opened my little heart to being willing to hear the opportunities that ‘the universe’ is setting up for me. I carry a little piece of sponge with me wherever I go as a talisman to remind me to be open-you never know what is possible.  I’ve spent more time thinking about my financial health and professional growth this year than others, and while I still think it’s highly unlikely that I’ll become a millionaire from reading this book, I did enjoy it. A
  4. I Heart my Little A-holes, Karen Alpert (non-fiction)- This book is from a mommy-blogger (Babysideburns) that I had never heard of but the book was suggested to me as ‘funny’ so I gave it a go. I’m not a mom myself, but still could find some humor in her stories. It was a little repetitive and that really started to get to me but it seemed like a ‘real’ look into parenthood. B
  5. Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsberg,Irin Carmon & Shana Knizhnik (biography)- Yet another book that brought me to tears multiple times. RBG’s career has not been one of vile wit and brash tendencies, no no, RBG plays the long game-and she plays it better than probably most people in this world. I could go on and on about how inspiring it was to hear about her story (growing up, law school, love, and all the obstacles along the way that led to that SCOTUS seat), but really you should just hear it yourself. This book in print is beautiful, too. Notorious RBG started as a Tumblr thread (is that what they’re called? I don’t Tumbl) and grew quickly in popularity. I encourage you to see this book in print. A+
  6. The Greatest Love Story Ever Told, Megan Mulaly & Nick Offerman (autobiographical love story?)- K I wanted to fall in love with this and laugh my ass off and I really needed both of those things to happen with this book but it.just.did.not.happen. It pains me to be honest, because what if they see this and they don’t like me! But…the jokes didn’t do it for me. I enjoyed the stories about their upbringing (I really look up to Megan) and how normal their relationship is, but I suppose I was just hoping for more giggles. B-
  7. Confessions of a Domestic Failure, Bunmi Laditan (fiction)-This was an easy read with a fun, yet predictable, story.  Again, I am not a parent but I can relate to the “I want to be the person who has it all ‘put together’” vibe she was trying to share with the reader.  It had a very ‘We don’t need to be perfect-no one ever is! Be yourself and see the magic happen!’ feel. B
  8. The Hate U Give, Angie Thomas (fiction, young adult)-…I cried a lot. I thought a lot. I felt uncomfortable a lot. This book is fantastic. (I haven’t watched the movie yet.) A+
  9. Where’d You Go, Bernadette, Maria Semple (fiction)- The negative I hear most often about this book is the way it’s written, and I would assume that it gets difficult to tie together completely, but it was a fun story!  The book is written so that you are looking at a ‘file’ of letters, texts, and voice mails that have been pieced together by the main character’s daughter. The daughter narrates the story so you get some other context as well. I liked it. B+
  10. Lean In:  Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, Sheryl Sandberg (self-help)- So I randomly through this into rotation based off of library reviews and had zero clue who Sandberg even is-or the phenomena of this book (ope?) and I am eternally grateful I did! I adored this book and I admire Sandberg. I think she is very well-rounded and acknowledges privilege which is something (as you know) that I find lacking in SO MANY self-help/reflection books. I started Option B today (her second book) and just the forward has me floored. Love it, appreciate it. Team Sandberg all the way. A+
  11. Not That Kind of Girl, Lena Dunham (autobiography)- I started this years ago and never got far. Finished it this time.  Her stories were cringe-worthy but in that oh-I-know-how-it-feels-to-be-awkward-type way. If you liked her show, you’d probably appreciate the book, but it was almost too ‘Millennial’ for me (and I believe we’re the same age). Meh. Some of the stories were also just creepy. B-
  12. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, Marie Kondo (self-help?)- Much like the rest of the world, I binged through Tidying Up with Marie Kondo on Netflix when it was released and then went about sparking joy all over our condo (hah). I learned how to fold towels and shirts and really felt like I was A+, gold star level, konmari-ing my life. So as I was tardy to the Kondo/condo party (because I guess she’s been around and popular for a long time? But somehow I always miss these things?) I just finally read her first book. I do not feel like the book sparked as much joy for me as the show did. In fact, I struggle with how detached someone can be from any personal objects-but I’m pretty sentimental so I’m sure this is a bias.  I don’t really feel like I learned much extra from the book. B-
12! 12 books in 3 months! I have some really good ones coming up in the next quarter, so stay tuned! Do you have any recommendations? What’s your favorite book so far this year?

What’s up, Buttercups?

Do you ever feel like time speeds up just when you need it to really slow it’s role? That’s pretty much what the last month has felt like! Luckily, it’s been full of good things:

I’m so happy! It was so cold!
  • I bought a new (to me) car that I have named Toothless. It is beautiful and wonderful and it has heated seats so now I just want to drive my car everywhere. Or park in the drive and listen to audiobooks with a warm butt. Same difference.
  • I successfully surprised my husband for his 40thbirthday with a really fun brew bus tour! The Indy Brew Bus is one of my favorite group activities in Indianapolis. This surprise has been in the works for months and I am so grateful we were all able to keep in under tight lips.  Derek is really hard to surprise and ultimately figured out that we were going on the Indy Brew Bus tour but had no idea it would be a private tour of some of his most favorite peoples. We had a blast, drank some tasty brews, and lived to tell the tale. (Side note though, for about 10 hours I had him thinking we were going skydiving!)
  • I turned 34 lastweek and celebrated with birthday tacos and trivia. It was low-key and relaxing.
  • Our dinner club met for the second time and it is so fun/delicious/wonderful. We started doing this after being inspired by two of the coolest people I know, Cumin Loves Paprika (check them out! They do amazing cooking and craft classes, as well a travel blogging. All around fantastic people).  I promise to share more about this soon-you’re going to want to start your own club (or join ours, new friends!)
  • We recently spent the weekend at a very top secret location-one I can’t wait to share with you all soon!
So what’s not going so great?
Poor baby cat has hard a rough week and needs extra lovins.
Except he hates me because I have to keep giving him
medication!

Well, I took our two cats to the vet and as I was carrying on of them into the office the carrier broke in half and I dropped by precious baby on the ground!! He just looked up at me like, “um, mom? Why have you forsaken me?!” and just stayed laying down. Ugh. I grabbed him and carried him inside and basically threw him at the vet tech so I could go pick up the pieces of the carrier. I didn’t even have time to think of the potential bigger crisis that could have happened. Ughhh. And then we found out that the the poor baby has to have dental work. Poor Mathis is not having a great week, so let’s all look at his cute face and say, “aw”.

Next to my side of the bed. #cookinginspiration
 #catswillknockthemoffmynightstand

I haven’t felt very inspired recently to head into the kitchen and cook all the wonderful foods rattling around in my brain. I received several beautiful cookbooks recently and even have some interesting thoughts for recipes I want to work through, but I think with the busyness of the last month or so, I’ve just been trying to make it by. In times like this I’ve reworked my go-to of take-out food and move to easier tried-and-true meals.  This is progress (not relying on take out as much) but I wish I was able to do a little more with it. I actually spent some time compiling a list of these meals so I could just point at one if need be on any given busy or tired day. Not every meal has to be an inspiration, although I would love for it to be. Look for that list coming soon-and please feel free to add your own help-I-need-to-eat-but-I-am-too-tired-to-cook meals!

I entered two paintings into a local art show and they weren’t selected. I wish I wasn’t so bummed about it, but. L

I saw this today and really needed the reminder-perhaps you do too. The Militant Baker is actually a  fantastic blogger as well! The beautiful artwork is from Nikki Miles.
 
Here is hoping that this found you all well, or at least, having a day. Spring is almost here folks, let’s all smile a bit about that!

Sunday Self-Care

Hello there! My apologies for radio silence-but things got a little busy! I bought a new car that I l-o-v-e, had some fun times with friends (we started a dinner club [but more on that later], attended a Galentine’s Day party, pancake celebrations, and most recently- St. Patrick’s Day deliciousness, I mean party where we eat lots of corned beef), and I decided to undertake what I thought was going to be an easy clean-up project in our bathroom that turned out to be the opposite. Ugh. Isn’t that how it always goes with home projects?

So things got busy and I had to maintain some energies. This weekend has been no different-I made my second cheesecake ever (the first one went over so well that the same friends we watched the Superbowl with near demanded it again for our St. Patrick’s Day party), re-caulked my mess of a bathroom (again. lessons learned. ugh home repair!), hung out with some of my favorite peoples, and caught up around the house. Of course I got my Sunday snugs in with the kitties (this week makes 4 years since we adopted them) but I haven’t had a lot of down time to put together a really insightful  Sunday self-care blog. So what is a really quick way to keep yourself going with life gets a little too busy? Veg out on Instagram, of course! I really enjoy Instagram for the visual appeal and lately I’ve been keeping track of some of my favorite mental health/self-care/mindfulness accounts- I thought I’d share a few in case you also need some new accounts to follow! Feel free to leave your favorite accounts in the comments, too, I’d love to take a look 🙂

https://www.instagram.com/heyamberrae/

Oof. I have caught myself having the left thought a few times recently so this one really spoke to me. And her typography is just the best!

https://www.instagram.com/bethdrawsthings/
All of her work is spot on. The blob.
https://www.instagram.com/lisaoliveratherapy/

Some of the short reminders that she brings forward seem to be directly written for me. How nice of her!

https://www.instagram.com/gorkiegork/

Story.of.my.life.

https://www.instagram.com/stacieswift/

But I have a cape! What do you mean I’m not superhuman!!

For the Love of Hot Dogs

Last week was the five-year anniversary of Derek and I’s First Official Date. We met in December and had agreed to keep things easy for a bit, but he decided to plan a not-Valentine’s Day date in Chicago for the two of us. I am often asked why I have such a love affair with hot dogs-and you’re about to find out.
To be fair, I’ve always found hot dogs tasty-they have to have the snap, the sweetness of the relish, the tart of the mustard, and the softness of the bun. That’s how I prefer my hot dogs-char grilled with yellow mustard and sweet relish. It was only several years prior to this epic life-changing February 15th had I discovered the Portillo’s Chicago Dog, SuperDawg with crinkle-cut fries, or my beloved Hot Doug’s (RIP) fancy encased meats.  Before that, I took my dog just as I described above.
During the short time Derek and I had been hanging out I had mentioned how amazing Hot Doug’s was (and all the other delicious foods in Chicago) and he planned a non-Valentine’s Day date for us for February 15th.  We started the day by waiting in the cold in the notorious-but-worth-it line for the encased meats at Hot Doug’s and by the time we left, I was feeling something in my belly besides hot dogs. Hot Doug’s is forever my #1 dog-because it was the best hot dog I’d ever had and because I started to fall for my now husband on that epic date to the encased meats emporium.
Here is a terrible photo of some of the hot dog memorabilia that was in Hot Doug’s. I really want those lights.
And here is a terribly edited ‘artsy’ photo of my favorite sign 🙂
Still quite possibly the best rendition of American Gothic was in the bathroom at Hot Doug’s
(Hot Doug’s sadly closed several years ago but has a spot in the bleachers at Wrigley if you ever want to try the best dog in the land. There’s also another place in Chicago that is similar in recipe to what Doug was doing, and I have found it to be good but alas, it’s not the same. Also, one time we were leaving another delicious but unfortunately closed restaurant in Chicago and Doug himself opened the door for me and I didn’t realize it until it was too late so luckily I didn’t faint but HE HELD THE DOOR FOR ME. I’m not worthy. I digress.)
After our first hot dog (yes, there were multiple that day) we walked around with his brother and then girlfriend checking out book stores and record shops. For dinner we hit up another reputable hot dog spot-Portillo’s. Sharing a chocolate cake shake with him was the seal on the deal-I knew that he was special-that was it.  We didn’t become official until that April but my heart knew that he was a keeper. Any person who is going to plan an entire date around hot dogs is probably a pretty fantastic person-but it has just kept getting better with time.
Hot dogs have been a way Derek has shown me he cares for me throughout our entire relationship. One time after a particular grueling Amtrak ride from where we live to Chicago (I was teaching someone else how to use the train) he picked me up at the train station and automatically drove to the closest hot dog joint. Another time he went out of his way to buy me legit neon green relish so I could have ‘real’ hot dogs at home. He also has never made fun of me for loving encased meats, so, that’s pretty swell of the fella, too.
The one thing that involved hot dogs that I had just never had the chance to do was to see the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile up close and personal. I was always like 10 minutes too late, or I would see it driving down the highway just out of my reach. It was always tragic, really. Until one day, somehow, Derek knew where it was parked! He made sure to take me to meet the wiener on wheels before I dropped him off for a flight. We took pictures, I gave it a hug, and I noticed that it had its’ own website.  So when I got home I started perusing the Wienermobile site and found out that you could request its’ presence at your event! At this point we were several months away from our wedding and I thought, “eh, what the hell?” I wrote out our  hot (dog) love story and invited the Wienermobile to our wedding. (Unfortunately I don’t have a copy of the email I wrote but I promise you it was filled with puns about how wonderful it would be to have the Wienermobile as a guest of honor at our nuptials.)  I was told in an auto response basically to not hold my breath and that they would contact me a month before the event if we were selected.
I kept the hope in the back of my mind but a month before our wedding I had zero hot dog messages-so I let it go. I had way bigger things to think about at that point anyhow. So when a number showed up on my phone during a meeting three days before our wedding and left a voicemail I assumed it was one of the vendors (but probably spam because it’s always spam). As I walked to my car I went ahead and listened to the message and heard, “Hi this is *some wonderful angel* from the Wienermobile and I’d like to talk to you about your upcoming wedding!”
I died. It was the first time I can honestly remember ever being so overwhelmed that I laughed, cried, and screamed all at once. When I called Derek I was screaming so loudly that he thought I was in an accident. I could not control the sound of my voice. At all. Once I was back to my office I continued to scream. I screamed about the Wienermobile for a full 24 hours. Once I could finally contain my excitement I then had to call all of our vendors and explain that we needed to make room for a GIANT WIENER. Every time I called to secure parking I would have to explain exactly why the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile would be gracing us with its’ presence and every time I would hear a slight chuckle and get some response akin to, “that’s awesome!”
And it really happened ya’ll. On October 1st, 2016, a giant wiener pulled up outside our wedding venue with our initials glistening on the side. C + D in a heart on one side, “Just linked” on the other. And they didn’t just take a few photos and head out, oh no, they were there for the entire thing! The Hotdoggers (two of the sweetest people ever) drove us around town to take photos (at one point we had our own paparazzi following us!), took guests on rides, handed our wienie whistles, and even came to our reception!  We had been dubbed the wienie wedding by people who had seen the whole ordeal take place (we were married in the downtown district of our city-so it was kind of busy). After the wedding we went to an Oktoberfest that was taking place, too. I guess some guy went up to my sister-in-law and asked her if she had been in the wiener wedding that day. When she said yes, and offered to introduce him to the wiener bride, he looked like he had just met Her Majesty the Queen. It was a good day. Oh. And not a single person was shocked that we had a The Wienermobile at our wedding-surprised, yes. Shocked? Not at all. 
You know what I’m looking at here? I’m looking at the Wienermobile. It’s parked outside and it HAD MY NAME ON IT.
Our paparazzi was distracting us from in this photo.  
Our wonderful Hotdoggers posing with us  in true awkward prom poses. Derek was also distracted. These two were the best.
They even gifted us with our very own Wienermobile bank!

And that’s how it happened. folks. You know when you ‘like’ something and people find out and then they join in on the fun of you ‘liking’ something? I used to collect owls and people would gift me small owl trinkets and it was so sweet and heartwarming but now instead of owls…people give me hot dog stuff. And it’s freaking awesome. At work people even call me the wiener queen!
This is also how I became the Midwest Ambassador for the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council-because my admiration for hot dogs is so much more than just the taste-it’s my love story. If it weren’t for hot dogs, who knows where I’d be right now, but it probably wouldn’t be in bed next to my husband who I keep telling to stop talking to me so I can write (in a very loving way!)
Romance, with a side of relish, please. #noketchup

Another Self-Care Sunday

Hello wonderful peoples!
It’s Sunday! I just love Sundays-a time to take it slow and cozy before the week starts. I know that the Sunday sadness is a real thing (it happens to me too sometimes) but I find the peace right before the chaos to be my most favorite moment of the week. It’s like the deep breath you take right before you say “I love you” for the first time to someone, or the smell of cookies cooling on a rack before you can take a bite- it’s a fleeting moment but it is worth treasuring with all you have.
As I said before, I often spend Sundays on our couch in the ‘comfy spot’ in my coziest clothes and a blanket completely covered in cats. I drink coffee and watch cooking shows before I start a slow progression into any chores or other things I may want to accomplish.  My newest addition to Sunday Funday is yoga and writing J  These things fill up my emotional cup and help me practice self-care so that I can give my all to the week to come.
There is so much research on the benefits of slowing down and ‘self-care’ is something we all preach (#cantpourfromanemptycup#treatyoself). Yet as I’ve mentioned before, I am painfully aware of the difficulty that comes with actually practicing it (especially more than one day a year. When is Treat Yo’ Self Day this year anyway…I need a new crystal beetle…). One way I’ve found to help me achieve this seemingly unattainable yet totally necessary task is to be really mindful of all the small ways that I practice self-care every day. Here are some uncomplicated things I’ve done this week to build in some elusive self-care:
  1. I picked up a fun coffee drink at my favorite coffee shop. (I drink probably 2-3 non-black coffee drinks a year and today was one of those days.)
  2. I went to bed ridiculously early on a Friday night because I wanted to. (And I didn’t call myself lame for it.)
  3. Every morning before I got out of bed, I spent a minute or two snuggling one of the cats. (Purrs are worth slowing down for.)
  4. I went to lunch with one of my most favorite people, and made plans for lunch with another. (It can be difficult to break away from the grind, but I always feel refreshed after stepping away.)
  5. I worked on my 2019 financials so I have a clear plan of what’s in my wallet (and savings accounts!) This saves me a lot of stress (and makes me feel accomplished for reaching financial goals!)
  6. I read a couple cookbooks to spark some creativity in my cooking. (I usually have 1-2 on my night stand.)
  7. I had a fantastic dinner with Derek and we played a new board game together (nourishing our relationship and our tummies.)
  8. I bought tulips for the house (…and then Derek surprised me with tulips for Valentine’s Day!)
  9. I cleaned off my desk at work every night before I went home (it’s nice to walk into work and see a clear space for the day.)
  10. I downloaded a new meditation app and I meditated 3 times this week for a few minutes. (I’m working on this, it still feels incredibly weird/difficult.)
For me, the biggest part of self-care is actually acknowledging what you’re doing as self-care. Sure, grabbing a cup of coffee is pretty normal for me, but kicking it up a notch made it feel even more special. An added bonus? I didn’t do it because I ‘needed’ it or ‘deserved’ it-I did it because I love myself. I saw a post to Instagram today that said something along the lines of, “practicing self-care only when you’re struggling is like watering plants only when it’s raining”. If we only stop to think of ourselves when we’re already in the red we’ll be perpetually running ourselves ragged-and it took 30 some years to finally figure that out for myself. So now I try to stop and really think about the things I’m doing so I can acknowledge them as kindness to myself. Mindfulness has made all the difference in my self-care success rate. I am no longer constantly searching for time to do something ‘for myself’ because I don’t need extravagant acts to fill my cup up-I’m just topping off now (usually). Even bigger, I don’t make myself feel guilty if I do take care of myself-and I used to be terrible at that.
This doesn’t mean I’m perfect at all this, and it sure the hell doesn’t mean that my cup doesn’t hit bone dry sometimes. But being kind to myself, even when I’ve let the self-care run out, helps me pick back up and saunter on (I don’t beat myself up for falling off the self-care train. Once I notice what’s going on I have a pretty frank discussion with myself so I can get back on track).
 Much like meditation isn’t this grandiose idea of clearing your mind for 60 years and just being completely Zen 100% of the time, self-care isn’t about always doing it perfectly. It’s about being able to acknowledge when you’re getting low (and hopefully, you can notice it quicker every time) and being mindful of all the little ways you can show yourself just how much you love you.
And if you’re not to a point yet where you can say you love yourself, you’re not alone. If you are struggling with showing yourself some care and compassion, it’s okay. Just keep trying- take it moment to moment-and don’t give up. I can hold space until you’re ready, friend.

When a Facebook Group Dupes You Into Buying Lemons, Make Lemonies?

Did you know that Aldi’s has a cult-like following? I’m a member of a Facebook group that talks about new products and gives reviews and recently folks were talking about Meyer Lemons. Ohhhh they’re so sweet! You can eat like them like an orange! Ohh magical lemons! I’m totally down for some miraculous citrus so I buy in.  I picked up a bag a couple weeks ago and one night I peeled one of these mysterious fruits and took a big bite.
I had a very bitter surprise that these things are NOT in ANY WAY sweet. In fact, I found them to be more bitter than a normal lemon (which I will eat raw when served as a garnish. Don’t judge). I made probably 50 various bitter/tart/sour faces before I could get up and do something different with my life. I felt personally victimized by the Aldi cult. And was stuck with a bag of lemons. You know the saying, when life gives you (or an Aldi group tricks you into buying) lemons, make something.
I thought about making a lemon curd to go with that cheesecake I made last week (which, update: was delicious. Even the kiddos who typically claim to ‘not like’ cheesecake were fans. It’s be requested again for our next get together. I feel vindicated from that minor crack!) but ran out of time. I figured since my bffl is coming over for a late Christmas hang out that I’d use them for dessert. I decided to make lemonies? Which is kind like a brownie texture with a thick glaze on top. They smell delicious. They will be 100% better than just biting into a lemon, so win? The only thing I did differently was adding a little finishing salt to the top because the icing is intensely sweet.
It was a long week filled with lots of good things-I had dinner with a good friend and lunch with another. I finally got to try our Blue Apron x WW meals and they were a huge hit! We had three meals: seared pork chops and salsa verde with kale, radishes, and sweet peppers; smoky seared cod and lemon-date sauce over potatoes and kale; and roasted chicken and jalapeno-orange sauce with sautéed cabbage and mashed potatoes. I don’t have great pictures of any of these recipes but I was wildly impressed with all of them.
To say I was skeptical at first is an understatement. We had purchased another food box subscription several years ago and were seriously disappointed with how bland and overall terrible the recipes were-so Blue Apron was already facing an uphill battle with me. I’m a pretty proficient cook but sometimes I don’t have it in me to think out meals, prep, and cook them every night. Typically, that’s when I’d revert to the easiest thing possible-either at home or by eating out. Blue Apron x WW gives me another option when time and energy are at a premium.
The seared pork chops was our first go and I was concerned about the flavors they were throwing together. Also, pork can be pretty meh unless you know how to do something fun with it. However, this was a surprise hit! The salsa verde was a mix of capers, roasted red peppers, rosemary, lemon,  garlic, and olive oil and was so good! I cannot wait to make this again. I was also shocked how delicious sautéed radishes were? Who knew. Even the kale wasn’t terrible.
Next up was the roasted chicken with a jalapeno-orange sauce. I gave up my skepticism and gave into the flavor that Blue Apron was bringing. This dish was probably my favorite of the three and I’m already looking forward to making the chicken again. The chicken was baked with a smoky spice blend (sweet paprika, smoked paprika, ground mustard, garlic powder, and onion powder) and the sauce was added when plated (pickled jalapenos, honey, orange juice, and garlic)-it was delicious! The mashed potatoes were a little dry (I fixed that though) and the sautéed cabbage was a little so-so, but that chicken? One of the best baked chicken breast recipes I’ve found.
Our last meal was the smoky seared cod. I was excited about the lemon-date sauce (lemon juice, dried Medjool dates, garlic, shallots) but the rest seemed a little lacking. The cod was good (it had the same smoky spice blend as the chicken) but I was hoping for a little more from the sauce. The kale salad was fine (it was served with a simple vinaigrette) and the roasted potatoes (which we served on the side, not mixed in with the kale) were just your normal roasted potatoes.  A solid meal.
I look forward to our next two boxes from Blue Apron x WW! I hope that as they continue to grow with WW that they will focus on using more of the 0 point foods and keep boosting the flavor profiles. If you are looking for new recipes and need meals delivered to your door-give Blue Apron a try. I don’t know how cost-effective Blue Apron is for a family bigger than ours, or to use every week, but I am grateful for the option at the touch of a button (the app is super friendly and allows you to not only choose your meals for the week, but also skip weeks with ease) when I need something to help keep me on track.
Have you tried any food boxes? Thoughts?

I am Going to a Super Bowl Party and I am Taking…

Happy Super Bowl Sunday for any of you who enjoy football! I am not the biggest football fan (give me baseball, give me hockey, give me anything that moves quicker than a snail) but I do enjoy a.) food, b.) friends, and c.) commercials (okay, not all the time). We have standing Super Bowl plans every year with some friends and we all tends to be ‘in charge’ of a specific piece of the food array. Before Derek and I were together I believe he was in charge of ice and chips (and candy) but since I arrived on the scene I’ve been slowly infiltrating the plan (and it seems to be well received)! I enjoy having an opportunity to try out fun snack foods and of course, desserts. It can be a little challenging to feed the masses things that everyone will enjoy so,  I tend to keep my audience in mind (nothing too spicy, no mustard, and we have a peanut allergy in the mix) and hope for the best.
This year I’m bringing one tried and true dip, one snack that everyone has been raving about online, and a dessert that I’ve been wanting to make for forever.
This Unexpected Cheddar Cheese Dip combines so many of my favorite things. If you’ve never had Trader Joe’s Unexpected Cheddar Cheese I highly encourage you run to the closest store and buy two blocks-one for yourself and a finder’s fee for me. This cheese is often ranked in TJ’s most coveted sold items and it’s my go-to cheese when I shop there. Trader Joe’s is spot on in their explanation, “WhyUnexpected? Well, it looks like an aged Cheddar. At first bite, it tastes like an aged Cheddar. And then something unexpected happens. The smooth creaminess of the Cheddar gives way to a tangy flavor and slightly crumbly texture, a subtle hint of salt crystallization is discovered, and it begins to taste like an aged Parmesan. Surprising, astonishing, and unanticipated. Unexpected indeed!”
A couple things that I do differently: I don’t make it into a ball (it’s just in a bowl), I don’t add pecans (we have some folks who aren’t a fan), and while I use the other Trader Joe’s ingredients that it calls for, I just use my own cream cheese and lemon juice.
Pointed out I think this comes to about 2 smartpoints per tablespoon (but really I should measure it by the cup).

Next up are Buffalo Chicken Egg Rolls! I get so many recipes from SkinnyTaste and she does not disappoint. I have been using her recipes well before WW and her cookbooks are my go-to’s. I kicked back a little of the Frank’s Red Hot Sauce and added a stalk of celery for added crunch. I don’t have an air fryer like the recipe suggests so into the oven they’ll go! A lot of people are making these today so let’s hope they’re delicious! (2 of these are 4 smartpoints.)

And my piece de resistance? A cheesecake! Not a no bake one, either! I have wanted to try my hands at a cheesecake for a while now and this seemed like a great opportunity. One of my favorite ways to please a crowd is to make a solid ‘base’ food and allow an ‘accessory package’ for folks to choose from (like what I did with that car analogy there?). We have our vanilla bean cheesecake (God bless vanilla bean paste) and will have three toppings to choose from: salted caramel, cherries, and a homemade chocolate sauce!

One of the trickiest parts of baking a cheesecake is getting it to cool without cracking. Seriously, you know you’re a bona fide cheesecake maker if you can get this perfectly smooth top. Well, I gave it my honest shot. I tried the trick of letting it cool for an hour in the oven without opening the door and then allowing it to cool further with the door cracked (there’s a million variations to this, I know) and still, I have a few fault lines. When I told my best friend about this (she’s pretty good at baking these things) she just told me to cover the cracks with cherries and I called her the Bob Ross of cheesecake making (“see that crack? We’re just going to put a little cherry there and now it’s a cherry pocket!”). 

I’ll report back on how it is but I do know that the batter was pretty tasty J I have not pointed this out yet.

I also decided to make my own chocolate sauce rather than buy some because I had all the ingredients. You have to stir for quite a bit but it is worth the effort. I am so excited for this! (also haven’t pointed this but if you look at the recipe you can tell it’s not going to be light.)

I have also decided to take a firm stance against the robbery that was committed against The New Orleans Saints and wear Gold and Black in solitary of my new favorite city. Again, I know nothing about football but I do know I love an underdog! The Saints bring with them that same story of resilience that NOLA stands for and I am a fan in spirit because of that. If you’re bored, do a quick Google of all the things going on in New Orleans today in response to their loss a couple weeks ago.

Go food bowl!

The Power in the Mistake

Mindy Kaling is the best.
No one likes making mistakes, right? It’s painful-you feel embarrassed, like a failure, and worst of all…you may have let someone down. Ugh. I spent a lot of time in my younger years terrified to make mistakes but luckily I have learned (through some pretty painful lessons) that mistakes are human and so very often, force us to grow.  
 
I am not a perfectionist. I live a very Wabi-sabi approach to most of my life nowadays. When I create things (art, crafts, blogs even!) I strive for good work-but-I try not to beat myself up if there’s a minor mistake here and there (take my last blog-I learned that there were some formatting errors that weren’t visible to me so I apologize for that! I think it’s fixed now. Adding photos makes it all weird.) This is funny though because my professional career is very much about accuracy-if I make a big enough mistake it can lead to money lost or that big scary thing I said above-letting someone down. There’s a balance in my life then: Monday through Friday, from 8:30 am to 5:00 pm I use my brain muscles to really be accurate and limit mistakes. But. Ugh. I make them. Recently I continued to not change the address on some pretty important documents even after it had caused an issue that I already had to fix! Holy guacamole it was one number and I really did forget to change it 3 times! I was so embarrassed and truly felt like I was letting down everyone I work with (and work for).
But.
I didn’t allow that to turn into a pity party. What I have striven to do over the last several years is own my mistakes for what they are, and then, and this is key, let it go. That. Is. Hard. When I had messed up the address for the third time I just had to laugh at myself and apologize and guess what? It was a simple fix! And truly, I feel better knowing that I am building a reputation of being honest. It is so easy to either brush a mistake unto someone else or get huffy about being corrected but if you are able to work on telling yourself, “This is just a blip. I made a mistake, I’m not a failure.” You can truly start to shift your mindset.
Last night I came home from work and realized I had made, in my mind, a fatal error. I don’t often use our garage (I drive a bigger SUV, our garage is not connected to our house and is about 100 yards from our condo, etc.) but with the Polar Vortex that just shot through the Midwest I decided that I should probably take advantage of our garage since my husband’s car was at the airport. Well, when I left for work yesterday morning I must have not of hit the button, or hit it too many times?
Something. I don’t know. All I know is that when I came home from work yesterday our garage door was standing wide open. My heart sank thinking that something would be missing or God only knows what could be going on in there!! But as I drove by and held my breath…I noticed nothing was missing (or taking shelter.) Whew. But you see, if my husband had done that I would have probably been annoyed! All of our Christmas decorations are in there! Our awesome grill! I made a mistake but no one knew about it!! So I had an option-I could close the garage door and just say ‘no harm, no foul’ or, I could be honest and tell Derek that hey, I made a mistake-it didn’t end poorly, but I did it.
Well. I told him. He didn’t care (which I knew he wouldn’t) and basically said that he’s probably done it too in the many years he’s lived here and to not worry about it. Easy peasy. But I felt better knowing I had told him (even though I was embarrassed by my mistake).
We are all more than our single worst days. We are all most than our rotten moments. And we certainly are more than our mistakes. Like most things in life it is how we respond in those moments that defines our characters. Even how we can’t respond sometimes can help us to pinpoint crucial things that perhaps we need to take stock in and evaluate about ourselves.
One of the reasons I used to struggle so much with the fear of mistakes was really, my self-esteem. If I made a mistake then someone may not like me, I may lose my job, I may be categorized as incompetent….and so goes the snow ball down the hill until it’s an avalanche and I’m stuck in the middle of it because I CAN’T MAKE A MISTAKE. Sometimes this came out as know-it-all-isms. If I appear to know it all, then no one would see my faults and then label me as unworthy or unintelligent! If I blamed others for my mistakes then of course I’d be off the hook!
Do I really need to say that none of that worked well? It actually was a self-fulfilling prophecy-the more I worried about making a mistake or looking ‘dumb’…the more people labeled me some unflattering things.  I am still grateful for one of my internship supervisors for pulling me aside and actually calling this out (in a kind but very serious way). She did a world of good at planting the seed there and then through therapy, the rest of it worked itself out. Now, I take comfort in knowing that I don’t know it all-and that’s okay. That I may make some epic mistakes-but it gives me a chance to learn. Is it sunshine and rainbows to have to go back in fix mistakes? Hell no. But it does give me the chance to critically think (and that seems to build some pretty strong neural pathways….)
To now this topic has really related more to concrete mistakes-things at work, forgetting to shut the garage, etc. You know, very human woopsie moments. These happen all the time right? But what about when emotions get in the way? Yes, making mistakes at work can bring about feelings (as I just mentioned. No one likes feeling embarrassed.) While I’ve found that flipping my script on how I think about mistakes tends to lessen the severity of the emotions I feel (so I’m embarrassed for 10 seconds rather than all day? Maybe I don’t feel my boss thinks I’m a failure at everything she charges me with?) I still have to keep them in check.
And sometimes, we make mistakes where we hurt other people. Ouch. These mistakes aren’t always as easy to fix as a transposed number or a lost report. These types of mistakes are powerful in other ways-they can cause rifts in relationships. They cause us to view people completely differently. Sometimes they break apart relationships. Mistakes left unchecked can spread like wildfire in your heart. What do we do then?
Well. We do the same thing that we have to do with those more concrete mistakes-we have to ask ourselves why we may not feel so inclined to immediately apologize and make things right. Is it ego? Embarrassment? Misunderstanding? Sometimes being held accountable for our unintentional (or, sometimes intentional) actions can wrap us up in so many feelings that it seems impossible to own up to them. Maybe it’s easier to blame the other person, or just let it hang in the air like a lead balloon, or sometimes…just let that relationship come to a close.
Look, I’ve made some heavy mistakes toward those I love the most. And it S-U-C-K-S on so many levels. I don’t like to think of it as ‘eating crow’ or ‘swallowing pride’ when we have to apologize though. I think it changes the context and puts so much more pressure on pride when we think of it that way. Humility goes a long way but it doesn’t mean it’s humiliating. There is a huge difference there and perhaps if we stop and think about practicing more humility (freedom from pride or arrogance the quality or state of being humble) rather than humiliation ( to reduce (someone) to a lower position in one’s own eyes or others’ eyes to make (someone) ashamed or embarrassed ) our relationships will grow. Maybe they’ll become stronger. There is power in the mistake if we treat it like opportunity rather than a total misfortune.  It’s hard, yes, but the more practice we have-the stronger we become.
Whether the mistake is concrete or relational, remember this: the way you respond defines you, not the mistake itself. Do you learn and grow? Or do you stay stuck and repeat (and ultimately burn)? Do you own up with humility? Or do you let humiliation take over? Sometimes mistakes are costly and I won’t deny that, but more often than not, our mistakes can be opportunity if we’re willing.

The Big Easy-With a Whole Lotta Soul

Last week I was able to join Derek at the end of a work conference for a few days in New Orleans. We did a whirlwind tour and lived to tell the tales. Here’s a rundown of what we did and what we ate while visiting The Big Easy.

I can still vividly recall Hurricane Katrina and the devastation that came along with it for Louisiana and Mississippi. It was late August and I was driving from my university to my hometown and all I could do was cry. For whatever reason I felt with very serious conviction that I needed to drive the 50 miles home with no air conditioning in solidarity for all those living in the real-life nightmare after Katrina. I still remember all the semis loaded with goods to truck to survivors, the news coverage, and learning that some of my friends were going to step away from college to go help New Orleans rebuild. Any tragedy is tragic, but for whatever reason Katrina sat heavy in my heart.

But as many people may already know, and I can now attest to, New Orleans is resilient! That city is built on resiliency- and while I’m not here to gloss over the things that still need to be done (or the immense difficulties survivors had to face and in some cases are still facing) it was amazing to learn about so many personal stories of rebuilding. Things you don’t even think of unless you’ve had to live through that type of chaos. Suffice to say-I love New Orleans! (We’ll save the heavy for another day.) If you’re currently hungry I suggest going and grabbing a little snack because it’s about to get food-y up in here.

Day One

I flew out on a Wednesday and OMG Midwest weather, I hate you. Luckily it was just a huge rainstorm I had to drive in but I was nervous I was going to miss my flight because I had to watch my speed (I got there and through security with an hour to kill…but you just never know!!) Once I got to the hotel I kissed my cutie husband we were off for an early dinner at Mother’s. Mother’s is pretty notorious in New Orleans and I am so glad it was my first food there. I mean, look at this:

Famous Ferdi Special. That’s ONE sandwich.

Baked ham. The perfect chewy and soft roll. Roast Beef. Delicious sauces and au jus. It was just magical. I have had soul food before, but this sandwich felt almost like a religious experience. Sounds silly perhaps, but it’s true-I felt connected to the city in one bite.

Yet I wouldn’t be telling the truth if I didn’t disclose that my actual FIRST bite of NOLA was Mother’s Bread Pudding with Brandy Sauce. This stuff was heaven. The sauce was so boozy and caramel-y and the bread was soft but hadn’t lost all of its’ integrity and I think there was fruit in there somewhere so it was basically healthy. Easily my top three foods consumed. If I ever have to have a last meal, this will be on the menu.

I’m actually sad I can’t have that now. Anyway. After that transcendent experience I was hooked and ready for more! We decided to tourist it up and headed to Bourbon Street in the rain. (Full disclosure, I’m going to have some unpopular opinions from here on out.) Bourbon Street was mostly what I expected with a few bonus uncool things thrown in. Luckily it was not packed so we were able to ‘experience’ some of the finer things this party street has to offer before scooting along.

So someone forgot to mention that the NOLA Hand Grenade has multiple hard liquors in it including but not limited to: GRAIN ALCOHOL, rum, and vodka. Everclear is something I haven’t ingested in like 12 years? So yeah, that was just enough for me. (please note the plastic grenade on top of the drink. I’m a sucker for a good theme.) I ordered the ‘skinny’ version which was made with sweeteners rather than sugar because of course, that made a big difference.

It started to rain harder so we killed some time watching TV in the hotel before ticking off another NOLA institution- Cafe’ Du Monde. If you don’t know what this is, well, consider yourself lucky I suppose, because you don’t yet have any idea of what you’re missing out on. Do I need to explain beignets? Or chickory coffee? I think I’ll leave it for you to explore. We were very lucky because usually there is a line out the door-but the place was completely deserted (hah, get it) when we got there! Here’s an adorable photo of Derek using a single paper napkin to thwart the mounds of powdered sugar (it actually worked!):

#classytourist #mywifemademedoit

At this point we were somehow kind of, sort of, hungry again. Neither of us had eaten a proper breakfast or lunch so we decided that two dinners was totally acceptable. This time we tried Frenchmen Street which is known for pouring music from every building at almost any time of day. It was pretty surreal to see so much going on at one time. But we were on a mission for hot dogs and we most definitely got way more than we ever expected. Dat Dog, I love you. I know, I know, I’m the Midwest Ambassador and yes it did feel a little like I was cheating but…it was worth it. (Plus, the server was wearing a Murder By Death hoodie and that means instant friend). Just look at this, fall in love with this, this is the Guinness Special and it was phenomenal. This is probably the second best hot dog I’ve had in my life. (Number one you ask? Hot Doug’s Chicago Dog. RIP.)

Irish Guinness sausage, Andouille sauce, onions, shredded cheddar cheese, bacon, and yellow mustard.

Yeah. That was a good hot dog. Derek ordered the chef special which allowed the chef to create a hot dog for him in the moment. The dog was the Vaucresson Hot Sausage piled with so many toppings I can’t even remember them all. It was good. We were happy. We floated home to rest up for the night.

(Oh, and I bought a super awesome Christmas ornament that we have named Frenchie? Want to see her? Let me know in the comments and I’ll post about Frenchie. She’s such a beaut.)

Day Two

So I woke up feeling hungover-oh yeah, grain alcohol. We got our barrings together and headed to brunch before our Three Hour Tour! Derek had heard of a spot pretty close to the hotel called The Ruby Slipper and it was just what we needed. Banana Fosters French Toast for the fella and shrimp and grits for the lady. And coffee. Lots of coffee. Food was good but I don’t think my pictures do it justice. After brunch we were picked up for our Thee Hour Tour! The tour was through Southern Style Tours and I think our guide did a pretty good job. We learned a lot about New Orleans history and saw a substantial amount of the city itself.

I don’t want to give away too much about New Orleans in case you are hoping to visit soon but what I will suggest is that you try to make time to do a city tour (that includes a cemetery). The cemeteries in New Orleans are so unique and an interesting way to learn more about the melding pot of culture and necessity that the city is made of. It felt a little weird to take photos but it’s hard not to see the cemeteries as nothing short but beautiful.

When I die, I hope people bring me pumpkins instead of flowers.
This cemetery was home to a vault that cost a half of a million dollars! The story goes that the woman who had it built was mad at her kids so she decided to spend their inheritance to build one of the most ornate vaults in the entire cemetery. The thing has stained glass. (We visited St. Louis Cemetery Number 2 if you ever want to go find the stained glass vault yourself.)

We also got to stop by the city’s sculpture garden!

At the end of the tour we did go visit one of the levy breeches from Hurricane Katrina and learned more not only about what caused the breeches, but what has been done since then to hopefully never allow this devastation to happen again. We did not visit the Lower Ninth Ward where flooding hit some of the most vulnerable populations of New Orleans the hardest. Until you have seen the massive scale of the devastation, and really piece together every single thing that went wrong, it’s hard to have a clear picture of what a colossal cluster took place. Sigh. I have a lot of thoughts still on this subject that’ll I’ll hold onto for now but keep this in mind-there was a lot that went wrong but the people of New Orleans have done a fantastic job of rebuilding. It may not be the city it once was, but there’s a hell of a lot of good things happening there today. (Again NOLA=resilient)

After our tour we headed to dinner at Cochon Butcher which had a cool/weird space/star wars theme going on. One thing that Cochon Butcher is noted for is their take on the famous muffuletta sandwich. A muffuletta is composed of things I love: green olives, meats, and cheese. I love tangy green olives! I was hopeful with this sandwich! But, it kind of left me feeling ‘eh’. It’s not that the ingredients themselves were not tasty but the sandwich was lacking….something. Perhaps that’s just the story of the muffuletta and I should back off of one of the ‘Holy’ New Orleans food groups. I’ll give it another try another trip. Derek however had a cubano that was to die for, and the house made pickles made me do a happy food dance.

Derek and I had a whole conversation about what was happening here. What do you think?

We ended the night by trying the ‘other’ beignet spot in New Orleans-Cafe’ Beignet. Unpopular opinion #2 (maybe three depending on were you stand with my muffuletta story)-this is my favorite beignet place in New Orleans. The beignets were just a little crispier and the line was way shorter. Don’t get me wrong, both places are amazing, and I encourage you to go do a comparison yourself some day. 

Also, Derek brought back the napkin bib and it totally works!

#stopit #letmelivemylife

By this point my stomach is like “what are you doing to meeee??” So we decided to head back to the hotel.

Day Three

Last full day in NOLA and we were going to make it count! The Three Hour Tour (you realize I’m capitalizing that so that you’ll sing the Gilligan’s Island song, right?) was great the day before-we learned a lot about the history of New Orleans-but today? Today we are doing a food tour. I found the food tour through Groupon and ‘unfortunately’ they only had the Lower Garden District (LGD) Tour available during the time we were there. Initially I was a little bummed we wouldn’t get to try the famous NOLA food spots/foods (gumbo, po’ boy, etc.) but maaaaan, this was the luck of fate! This tour was phenomenal! Derek and I ended up being the only two on the tour that day so it was as if we were VIPs getting our own private show of the unique eats that the city had to offer. The tour guide, Ariadne, was just the best. She was knowledgeable, friendly, and a lot of fun to talk to. Sidewalk Food Tours is the way to go if you want to experience tasty foods and learn about the culture of NOLA. (They also have tours in other cities/countries-I’ll be looking them up again in the future!)

We met up at a place called Turkey and The Wolf which Bon Apetit named Best New Restaurant in 2017. Before Ariadne arrived we got to chat with a nice fella who was waiting for the place to open. He basically told us his life story but never his name and then pulled out a piece of King Cake from his pocket before we said farewell. Dude was living his best life.

Turkey and The Wolf surpassed all expectations I had…by like miles. Easily the best thing I ate not only in New Orleans, but perhaps one of the best sandwiches I’ve eaten in my life. Look, I realize what I’m getting ready to type may seem like I’ve lost my mind but you do not understand. The fried bologna sandwich at Turkey and The Wolf is absolutely worth whatever type of fare you need to spend to get there. Like today. And you need to bring me back this sandwich. One bite of this and I knew we were going to have a capital G Good Day.

Don’t judge the sandwich on my crappy photo taking skills. I was in a hurry and OMG it was so good. Also, bonus points for the 90’s era McDonald’s plate.

From there we visited Juan’s Flying Burrito, the world’s first Creole Taqueria. Juan’s is a cool story that is based on the ‘Renaissance’ of Lower Garden District’s Magazine Row (awesome shopping area!). Super yummy tacos here and a really cool vibe.

Believe it or not, we still had three spots left to try! We took a little detour and walked by some historic mansions in the LGD (hello, mansion used on American Horror Story’s The Coven; oh look at you, house owned formerly by Anne Rice!) before heading to Little Korea BBQ.

Little Korea BBQ sprung up out of, well, necessity, after Katrina. Something I hadn’t thought of was that after Katrina, there were no fast food restaurants left (and those that were left were having a hell of a time getting product in, needed to complete repairs, etc.). Little Korea BBQ saw the need and actually opened up shop initially in an abandoned Taco Bell. It did so well that it was able to move to the LGD (which is a big deal). We had all the fermented things and some fried vegetable dumplings. It was just enough of a change in pallet to let us carry on. And I love a good dumpling.

Stein’s Deli was our last stop before dessert (yes, dessert!) and happens to the NOLA’s only Jewish deli. We had The Sam. It was a damn good sandwich. 

And last but not least in any way, District Donuts. Oh my District Donuts has a rotating selection of amazing doughnuts and other pastries every day. We had this delicious yeast doughnut with peanut butter, chocolate, and bananas called the Gold and Black. (P.S. if for some reason you’re needing a King Cake, they are currently shipping them!) This was a great way to end our impromptu VIP walking food tour.

Cutest Space Invaders ever.

 As we were finishing up our guide mentioned she was leading a Haunted History Tour that night so we made a quick decision to do that too since she was such a phenomenal tour guide. I had looked at ghost tours originally but didn’t book one in fear that we would accidentally book a tour that had people positioned to scare you (not my thing) so after reassurance from Ariadne that her tour was 0% haunted house-like, we were sold. 

We had some time to kill before that though so we headed to one of the Mardi Gras museums. It was fine for what it was. There’s so much work that goes into those floats! We got to learn a little more about the history of Mardi Gras and see the artists at work-and it was definitely way different than what we did with Homecoming floats in high school 🙂

We spent our last night in NOLA learning some of the more unfortunate pieces of history. Whether you believe in ghosts or not, haunted history tours are other intriguing ways to learn more about the history and culture of New Orleans. We spent most of the night in the French Quarter and even got to visit the oldest continuously operating bar in America- Jean Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop (disclaimer, the internets seems to think that while this bar is one of the oldest, it’s not the oldest, so believe what you’d like). I won’t spoil any of the good stories because I probably wouldn’t do them justice anyhow, but I definitely suggest going on one of these tours if you get the chance (and look up Ariadne!) No ghosts were spotted unfortunately, but a great time was had by all.

After that, we had one last dinner in NOLA at Verti Marti. This is a 24/7 deli that gets rave reviews. The folks that took our order were super kind (although I’m short and couldn’t really see them over the counter) and the menu is expansive-which may have been my downfall. I basically ordered the first thing on the menu because I was a) hungry and b) overwhelmed with choices. I wasn’t a huge fan of my sandwich, but Derek loved his. So we’ll chalk this up to experience and next time, I’ll be prepared.

Good night New Orleans! I love you!

Day Four

Before we packed up to head home we took a walk down to the French Market and stopped to have (more) beignets. At this point we were basically professionals and no paper napkin bibs were even needed. French Market was a nice mix of food, art, and your typical market wares. We stopped in at a hot sauce shop and did a hot sauce tasting (I’m pretty proud that I tried the hottest one in the store and lived to tell the tale!), tried some pralines (if you like pecans, these are a must), and found one last lunch spot called Coop’s Place. Again, another awesome hole in the wall joint serving authentic NOLA essentials. We ordered some seafood gumbo and a sampler platter than included shrimp creole, cajun fried chicken, red beans & rice with sausage, and rabbit & sausage jambalaya. Everything was tasty. (also the seafood gumbo was pretty legit-Derek and I both had a little crab claw in our gumbo and were able to have a mini claw fight at the table like mature adults do in restaurants.)

And then, it was time to head home.

I have to say, I am a big fan of New Orleans. The city has soul and such an interesting story. I most definitely suggest NOLA as a weekend getaway (as you can see, you can really get a lot done in just a couple of days) but just make sure to pack your eatin’ pants!

Snowy Self-Care Saturday

Bonjour les amis! It’s another winter wonderland here in the Midwest so I thought this would be a perfect opportunity to practice some of the allusive ‘self-care’ we all talk about but never really get around to doing.
So I started my day with coffee and kitty cuddles. Made an egg scramble using some fancy bacon (pancetta). Watched some cooking shows and the snow finish up (for the afternoon anyhow.) I practiced a little French (I’m determined to learn at least basic French before we visit in 2020). I went and had an hour-long massage. I came home and had a lunch of some of my favorite foods (olives and cheese). I took a long bath (complete with hair and face masks) and then started a new (to me) show on Netflix (Chef’s Table). I just finished dinner-it wasn’t anything fancy but I sure do love a good bowl of ham and beans. I’ll finish the night with some tea and more kitty cuddles (I don’t necessarily have a say in this-they are clingy since I’m the only human home).
A lot of this is simple stuff but it’s all recognizing the importance of taking time to do the things that recharge us. Even if it’s something as small as just using a fancy fun food for breakfast rather than what may be quickest-it all adds up helps to lower our stress levels.
 
Being kind to ourselves can feel so selfish and contrary to the other roles we play in life-but it is just as necessary as breathing.  If we don’t stop and check in with ourselves things start to fall apart. Personally, I know that if I don’t take time to refresh I become more irritable and develop a negative outlook on pretty much everything. My first sign? I start to get road rage-and then I know something is up and it’s time for some TLC.
So this evening I encourage you to take a moment and check in with yourself. When was the last time you did something to recharge? No matter how small it may be-I hope you do something over the next few days to remind yourself how much you love you. Here’s some general ideas to get your imagination flowing (and more information on self-care), if you need it:
If you're interested in starting your own self-care practice or just want more examples of self-care activities, here's everything you need in one helpful guide! Practical ways to practice self care. Self-Care, Self Care Routine, Self Care Guide #selfcare

Want to read more on self-care? Check out this A-Z guide!
And if you’re curious about my amazing culinary skills:
 
Egg scramble
This is scrambled eggs, yolks (hah).
I feel fancy calling it eggs scramble.
  • Pancetta, cubed (1/8 cup maybe?)
  • Eggs, 2
  • Buttermilk, splash (I have some on hand but I did add an extra layer of yum)
  • Everything seasoning, a few cranks
  • Optional, but necessary for me-some sort of cheese (today it was Gruyere), however the hell much you want
  • Maybe a dash of Tapatio at the end
  1. Beat eggs, buttermilk, and seasoning until just combined and set aside
  2. Heat pancetta over medium heat until crisp and some fat has rendered
  3. Turn heat down to low and add eggs
  4. Move eggs in a figure 8 (I learned this from some chef who learned it from another chef. Also he said to do this in a non stick pan but I did not. Also, he’d probably not approve of anything I did here and frankly, I don’t care, my eggs are tasty.) until cooked to your desire (personally, I have to have my eggs a little drier than what others may enjoy) be light with the eggs!
Ham and Beans
This isn’t a fancy dish by any means, but it reminds me of my childhood. You can serve with cornbread for the real deal, but I chose not to make any today.
  • Ham bone from Christmas Ham (it should still have some pretty significant ham on it, too)
  • A bag of Great Northern Beans
  • Chicken Stock from chicken last week, 3 cups
  • Ham Soup Base, however much you want. You like salty? Add a lot.
  1. Soak beans in a bowl water for 30ish minutes, pick off floaters. Drain beans into a colander and rinse with water again. Use a big bowl-beans swell.
  2. Add beans back to the bowl and this time, add chicken stock. Cover with something if you have cats and set aside for like…hours. I was cooking my beans in an Instant Pot so technically, I didn’t have to wait but I did. Build flavors and also because I was lazy?
  3. Add beans, soup base, ham bone (mine was still frozen when I added it) and another cup or so of water. This really depends on how much your beans have soaked up and how soupy you like your ham and  beans
  4. Instant Pot-set on manual for 45 minutes, natural release (unless you want kind of still in tact beans, then manual release)
  5. On the stove top-you’re going to need to add more water and boil for a couple hours (really I suggest you look up another recipe at this point, I’m just telling you what I did here-I haven’t tested it on the stove top)
  6. Shred off the ham from the bone, discard the bone and any clumps of fat
  7. For the love of all things, let this cool for a moment (or risk the pain of a burnt mouth. I’m telling you this from experience.)
Also, if you need a massage and you’re in the area, I highly suggest BodyWorks Associates (I see Sara Curtis and I love her). The owner is in the Massage Hall of Fame and sits on the National Board of Massage Therapy (aka, he’s a VIP). He trains his staff to a really intense caliber and I just think the world of this group. Massage Therapy isn’t always the best feeling in the moment but I can turn my neck completely for the first time in months!!