Friday, April 29, 2016

A peek at prep...

Hey everyone....and collectively EXHALE.  You've made it to FRIDAY!  Weeeeeeeeeee!  Any good plans this weekend??  

So I've had this post floating around my head all week, and I wanted to talk today about menu planning for the week.  Sure, there have been more than my fair share of weeks where I just throw caution to the wind and see what winds up on our table.  But more times than not, I ALWAYS try to go into the week with a plan and (for the most part) stick with it.  I've always made meal planning a priority, and feel it's been a big factor in our weight loss and trying our best to stay on a healthy path.   Not to mention it's honestly, about 94% of the time, my favorite "chore."  I just love putting together a list of dinners I'm excited to make and/or I just love making lists in generalJ  I try to balance out the specifically healthier meals (aka- salads & lettuce wraps) along with the fun-ner meals so we don't get bored or too boring for that matterJ 
First things first, I take an inventory of everything we have in the fridge & freezer.  Here's a peek at the madness...
Lately I've been OBSESSED (capital O!) with keeping a running list of all of the items that need to be used up within the week or 2, as to waste as little as possible.  So anything that needs to be used, I figure out recipes or ways to incorporate them into the week's meals.  Nothing grates my nerves more than having to throw out 1/2 empty jars or wasted produce that didn't get used up.  So I try my best to not let that happen....(or face the wrathJ)

ALSO!  THE FREEZER!  Me & my freezer are BFF's and I WILL freeze anything that I can that I won't use right away and don't want to go to waste.  My freezer is currently stocked with a leftover lunch-sized portion of chicken stir-fry, a few cupcakes (I'd rather spread em out for desserts than throw them out or feel like I need to eat so many within a week, ya know), 1/2 a vegetable lasagna, a container of chili, leftover homemade cornbread and slices of sourdough bread among the frozen meat, fruit & vegetables.  My freezer rule goes like this:  if it's something you're going to cook with (aka- that sourdough bread for grilled cheese or basil to bake on top of a pizza), I think it's fine to pull them out of the freezer.  But if you're going to have those things fresh (aka- a side of Italian bread with butter or fresh herbs sprinkled on a salad or to finish to a dish) do the damn thing and buy it fresh!  There's not much better than freezing a meal you've have had enough of at the moment, and then pulling the leftovers out of the freezer a month later as a quick meal that all you need to do is reheat.  We ALL have those nights that are too busy or we JUST don't FEEL like being in front of the stove, and freezer meals can always save the day.

ANYHOW, once I have a list of all the ingredients that need to be used (jarred artichokes, kalamata olives & wonton wrappers were on last week's list), I get busy looking for inspiration.  I will fully admit I admire anyone who can take the contents of any fridge and whip up an amazing meal on the spot.  I'm so not that person!  I can do it if needed, (and/or default right to a fab dish of spaghetti with garlic & oilJ) but I'm much more of a person who likes a little inspiration.  Hence, THIS:

And in our modern times, consult my Pinterest board....which I psychotically keep mostly in seasonal categories because I need help love cooking around the what's in season...(asparagus & lemons....I'm looking at you right now...)
See also:  I'm crazy but LOVE IT!

Then it's onto picking all of the meals and setting the menu for the week (here's a sneak peek of this week's).  I also always try to balance EASY and super-quick meals with maybe 1 or 2 that I know might take an extra minute.  DO NOT go into the week thinking you're going to have any desire to stand over the stove for an hour.  KEEP IT SIMPLE.  Nearly all of these meals were made with less than 20 minutes of 'hands on' time.  Don't make healthy harder than it needs to be!  (It's hard enough as it is, ya know??J)
The bottom is also a rolling list of all of the breakfast & lunches I want to make with some of the ingredients we have laying around along with a few recipes I want to have/try in the very foreseeable future.  Because lists.

And finally, as I'm going through the recipes I want to make for the week, I make a running list of all the items I'll need from the grocery store.  And I'm TOTALLY this person...
Know thyselfJ

In proper Trader Joe's order.  Anyone want to guess what we're having next week... J 
ps-I also LOVE to keep this list AS SMALL as possible and I already kinda hate myself that this one is MUCH longer than I like.  But I had a few Cinco de Mayo recipes burnin a hole in my pocket, la one too many ingredientsJ

And one more note:  I ALWAYS try to have vegetables at each meal (unless vegetables are the main component of the meal, like lettuce wraps).  And to be honest:  I usually always try to keep it simple.  Salads & steamed or roasted broccoli are staples.  As much as I love a 'fancy side' (and I ironically DO have one planned in the coming week) most of the time, that just seems like ANOTHER plan and more pots & pans to clean.  Keeping a huge bin of lettuce in my fridge for quick side salads is just as good...and even better, when we finish the WHOLE THING by week's end!  It's the simple things that make me VERYHAPPYJ  But I will swear by the fact that having those side salads (especially with more decadent dishes like pizza & pasta) will keep your portions of the 'main stars' small while still helping you feel full and satisfied.  Oh yeah...and it's also worth mentioning I usually always eat them last.  It kinda helps my brain shift from eating slice after slice (after slice) of pizza to helping me put the brakes on and move on.  Whatever works, amIright??

ps-I keep this dry Italian season mix in a jar in my cabinet and mix 2 tablespoons of seasoning with the standard olive oil, water & vinegar.  I made it a few months ago with seasons I already had laying around in my cabinet and still have PLENTY to go round....

So I hope that helped give you a peek into how I plan my week and try to keep things exciting around here on the food frontJ  Having no plan usually makes me feel bored, uninspired and too easily reaching for that phone to order pizza from down the block (a real problem here in NJ, where we have not one, but THREE amazing pizza places within 30 seconds of our houseJ), but having a healthy & new/'exciting' menu makes me feel reenergized and inspired for the week ahead to stay on the healthy path. (and that may or may not also include homemade dulce de leche donuts because ya gotta live!J)

Hope you have a great weekend and see you on the flip side!

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Monday, April 25, 2016

Sorta balanced...

Well, this week definitely tipped the scales in the 'other' direction more often than not.  We just happened to have a lot of 'out' plans that piled on top of each other this week.  Some places I was super conscious and stopped when I was full.  And the other half, I didn't leave feeling gross, but still ate a bit more than I knew was necessary.  Viva la life, amIright??  So this week I feel like the dinners & splurges can just be all jumbled togetherJ

Monday:  Cashew & basil chicken lettuce wraps 
From my current still favorite cookbook:  "Eating in the Middle"

Tuesday:  Roasted Cauliflower Grilled Cheese with garlic aioli
I know you won't believe me, but this was SOGOOD.  Cauliflower + caramelized onions + cheddar cheese + THEBESTPART: garlic aoili.  Yesssss....

Wednesday:  Lunch/Dinner of nachos, fried chicken & ice cream at It's Nutts
I DID pay attention at this meal and had a few nachos, bites of a slice of pizza, 1/4 of the chicken breast with some of the mashed potatoes & cole slaw and 1 scoop of ice cream, but I still left feeling more full than I've felt in awhile and I didn't really enjoy that part....even if that meal was ACES!

Thursday:  Lunch/Dinner of Cuban Sandwich, split disco fries + ice cream sundae at The Pop Shop
Ate half of this sandwich...and then realized I was still hungry and ate about 1/4 more.  And ya know: cheese fries + gravy...

And here's my peanut butter ice cream + peanut butter sauce + Reese's pieces sundae sans the 2 cherries that Katie already plucked off and devoured before the waitress even finished putting this down...J
Kept checking to make sure I wasn't too full again while I ate this, and that day:  I didn't feel stuffed in the slightest...even if I managed to polish off a good 3/4 of that sundae.  No regrets!

Something about cooking from my old school Rachael Ray cookbooks makes me very, very happy.  I think it will always remind me of when we first moved in together and I got to try all sorts of new recipes and fun things to eat.  This was one of our early favs that I haven't made in at least 5 years!
(and in full portioned disclosure sake, I had another roll!)

Saturday:  Brunch at Agricola
Split a cheeseboard...cause there's not much I love more in life than a good cheeseboard.  It's "experience" food, ya know what I mean?  And throw in an actual honeycomb?  Done & done.

1/2 of this fabulous salmon burger & a few fries, pretty much solely to try that beet ketchup... 
...and I may or may not have eaten a few fries with some leftover goat cheese...J  And also a few bites of an un-pictured Almond cake...because LIVING!

Dinner at The Vault-
I'm still trying to figure out how many pieces I actually ate that nightJ  My friend and I swapped pieces of the traditional DOC & this fig jam + prosciutto I had 1/2 a slice of Scott's tomato, arugula & avocado pie.  I just know I wasn't stuffed when I left, so = win!  I also had most of a slice of coconut cream pie from Under the Moon, cause who can pass THAT up??

Sunday:  Chicken club lettuce wraps


And after:

Other fun recipes this week:

Homemade oat & quinoa granola (I'll share my quick recipe for this soon!)
Had small bowls of this for a snacks on a few days...VERY yummy and filling.

And that brings us to Monday...where the scale, THANKFULLY, was not as cold & cruel as I thought it would be, given all that icecreamcakepieburgerpizza.  So now I'm just ready to attack this week with LOTS of fruits & vegetables!  Oh yeah...and more exercise!  Speaking of...


Monday:  Hatha vinyasa yoga

Tuesday:  Taught vinyasa + gentle yoga classes & tap class

Wednesday:  Gentle yoga

Thursday:  Vinyasa yoga

Friday:  Taught gentle yoga

Saturday:  Taught gentle yoga

Sunday:  "Yoga for athletes" (lots of hips & hamstring stretching) + vinyasa yoga

Ya may notice a theme running here and I actually have a bit of a foot issue, so I'm keeping my cardio + jumpin around to a minimum for the moment.  Hope it heals FAST cause I'm already really annoyed at not getting to dance around as much as I likeJ hahahahahaha

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Friday, April 22, 2016

Friday food fun...

Hey, everyone!  With the weekend on the immediate horizon (weeeeee!), I've got a fun place to share with you today that you might want to check out on one of your lazy weekend jaunts.  This one takes you up Route 29, halfway between Trenton & New Hope to this little gem...
We've driven past "It's Nutts" about a zillion times, and every time I've mentioned "hey, I want to go there one time" as we've headed onward towards New Hope.  Well, it FINALLY happened this week and I'm SOGLAD it did.  Especially because if there's anything I love more than a place with great food, it's a great unassuming, authentic atmosphere (Spike's Fish Market also comes to mind).  I just LOVE old school, rustic simplicity and this roadside little restaurant has got all those charm buttons to my heart pinging! 

The interior was quaint and sweet (complete with a hutch that you'd have in your kitchen to store all of the ketchup, garlic powder, grated cheese and such)...

...but on one of the GORGEOUS days we've been having in NJ lately, we parked it in the sweet little outdoor patio, surrounded by large bushes to help you forget you're pretty much directly on a highwayJ....

...and dotted with the prettiest little cover of colorful umbrellas...

OH yeah...and the food.  My eyes got bigger & bigger as I read through the menu since its specialties ranged from "famous pancakes, pizza & fried chicken" to Greek, Mexican and Seafood.  But Scott & I had to start off with our favorite that is just TOO hard for us to pass up on any menu:  The loaded baked nachos...
This version with pork & chorizo chili and chickpeas (??), which you didn't even NOTICE because everything all just blended in a delicious pile of cheesy goodness.  Nachos, you'll always have my heartJ 

And, even though it was tough to narrow down our main dish choices, I just knew I had to sample as much of their "famous" items as we could, starting with sneaking a few bites from Katie's "famous Trenton tomato pie"... 
I'd be bold enough to say that it's probably better than half of the country's pizza, coming from a small roadside restaurant.  Say what you want about Trenton, NJ, but we KNOW about pizzaJ  Even Lily got in on the action...

And speaking of things you wouldn't expect to be great at a roadside restaurant:  Fried chicken... 

...but OMG, just so good!  Crispy on the outside, tender & juicy on the inside, it was perfection.  And those mashed potatoes & cole slaw we're none too shabby themselvesJ  A really awesome meal. 
I also got a bite of Scott's Cuban sandwich and went to get another and it was already all gone.  That'll give you an idea of how great THAT wasJ  It'll be hard to go back and NOT get that chicken, but we did steal glimpses of awesome chopped antipasta and what I hear is an incredible seafood chowder.  See also:  We'll be back soon.

Oh...wait, but FIRST:  There was of course dessert to be had!  And while they had a small dessert case filled with blonides & brownies as big as bricks & multi versions of different 7 layer cakes...

...I had one bite of Katie's homemade vanilla ice cream and knew I had to try a flavor of my own.  A non-toppings scoop of cookie dough ice cream was just the ticket.  ULTRA creamy & smooth, you can definitely taste the homemade difference.  Ya just need to try it for yourself (and yes, you can also just stop to get ice cream from the side stand) 

We left full & happy... 

Very happyJ 
We'll be back as soon as we can...and 'famous lemon ricotta pancakes,' I'm comin for ya!  Hope this gave you guys a little 'roadtrip' worthy review.  Great for a lazy Sunday afternoon cruzzzz.  (Oh yeah...and our waitress was a DOLL.  Just had to throw that in there!)  

Have a great weekend, guys!

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Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The default setting

Confession:  I've waved my "before" picture around like it's my job.  I must admit I definitely always enjoy seeing the reaction when they realize where I've been and once again reminding myself of how far I've come.  It brings me a giddy smile...I ain't gonna lie.  But I did once get a reaction that surprised me.  I had shown the picture to one of my great yoga teachers and after proclaiming "Wow," he said the very interesting follow-up:  "Never forget that that's who you are."  And while I definitely can agree that you can change and become a different person, that statement has always stuck with me.  Which leaves me to today's topic and one I call:  "The default setting."  And I often wonder if it's just human nature or just a part of 'who I am'...even if I'm many, many pounds from where I once was.

"The default setting" is that annoying little habit of making the choice of going, what I feel, is the unhealthier root.  Why, EVEN THOUGH WE KNOW BETTER, is it easy to fall into bad/unhealthy habits??  For example:  why is it ALWAYS easier to order the fully loaded nachos than it is to go for the APPEALING salad (not the boring salad.  And yes, there is a differenceJ)  Why is it easier to be lazy even though we KNOW working out will make us feel SO much better??  That if I'm not careful and paying attenion, it's so easy to plow through food (without even TASTING it, mind you!) until I have a clean plate and a gross feeling of disgust because I didn't even notice until I was finished that I was BEYOND full?  It boggles my mind that even after 10+ years of living a healthier lifestyle that is STILL so easy to default to those old habits.  Are they just ingrained in me or do we all struggle with the same things??  Or do some people not even feel compelled to go the 'lazy/habit' route??  Is that even possible??  Although I'm sure there are plenty of people who read my LENGTHY posts about 'stopping when you're full' and think that is just BEYOND common knowledge...and if that is you, I commend YOU!  But for some of us, it takes EFFORT.  CONSTANT EFFORT ALL. THE. TIME. to not let ourselves fall through that side of cheese fries...and if that is YOU, I'm right there with youJ

Why is it so hard to see the bigger picture BEFORE we place the mindless, "habit" order for the double cheeseburger with bacon vs. the pear, goat cheese, caramelized onions, pistachio topped arugula salad?? (come on, you know that sounds pretty good from the salad front!J)  And why is it so easy to lounge on the couch even though I WILL SWEAR on the fact that excerise is a natural anti-depressant and you ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS (and alwaysJ) feel better NO MATTER how much you DREADED it before hand??  Now, don't get me wrong...if you are ACTUALLY, PHYSICALLY tired, I think sleep is a WAY better option.  But if you KNOW (and you DO know) if you COULD work out but choose not to, than that's what leads to that lousy feeling when you know you're being lazy vs. being genuinely tired.  

I've also had trouble (and not sure if this is another post worthy, but we're just gonna go with it), where I've notice my good & 'bad' eating had gone in circles.  When I was doing really well and making all of the healthier choices, it was SO easy to stay on that path and make all the right choices.  But when I was in a BAD circle??  Holy hell, LOOK OUT.  It just feels like one bad choice gets piled onto of the next and you can't even grasp for that one healthier choice option if you tried.  It's as if you're just spiraling further and further down, making those healthier choices even TOUGHER to pick.  It's that whole "I've eaten a cheeseburger for lunch, so I might as well have pizza for dinner & ice cream to top it off."

I've done this a time or two.

Or 9 thousand trillion times.

Now lately (thanks in large part to meditation & a clear brain, I just have to admit & throw that in here) I feel like it's been MUCH easier to make EACH meal choice a moment by moment choice in picking the healthier option and that has sorta relived that sometimes overwhelming stress of thinking of health as a lifelong commitment.  Not to mention it's easier to make the healthier option when I have a clear mind and feeling much less stressed.  But my question is:  no matter how many pounds lost or how much I meditate, will those unhealthy habits always be my 'default setting??'  I know the answer seemed VERY obvious when I was pregnant and, even while trying to be healthy as I could for those 9 months, I still would gravitate towards those old favorites of bright orange, boxed mac & cheese and the occasional toaster pizza.  Will it always be an internal struggle to leave that person behind or do they eventually just drift away from that old mindset, one good choice at a time?  I haven't figured out the answer in 10+ years, so what do you guys think??

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Monday, April 18, 2016

A peek at balance, week 3...

Hey, guys!  This was one of the most fun weekends in recent memory, so I had to share some quick snaps with you guys before we get to the food today...because I just can't help myselfJ

It all started on Friday with a vision board making party with an awesome group of ladies...
(a reminder to myself to throw some Disney World Mickey ears on that board ASAPJ)

...a birthday party with my girl on Saturday...

...and a night out (OK, we ate at 5:30J) with my oldest girlfriends...

...and my FAVORITETHINGEVER of the day:  Celebrating the Olympic year at Katie's 1st gymnastics show!...

...and even Lily got in on the funJ

And, thanks to my Mom for taking the kids on Sunday afternoon, Scott & I got to take naps.  NAP.  Glorious NAPS.  AT THE SAME TIME.  I can't even pretend to remember the last time that happened.  That may or may not have even trumped Olympic gymnasticsJ

Kid.  I kid.  SortaJ

ANYWAY...back to a peek at my attempt at balancing the week on the food front...

Tuesday:  Croque Monsieur + broccoli
Just a fancy word for ham & cheese sandwich covered with bechamel sauce, but I've wanted to make this recipe for approximately 950 years and FINALLY got around to it (much in thanks to the leftover Gruyere from the French Onion grilled cheeses from a couple weeks ago.)  The bechamel was made with thyme and a sprinkle of nutmeg and was just so divine.  It will NOT be another 950 years before we make this again!

The basil-mayo really lifts these from standard lettuce wrap to O.M.GSOGOOD status.  
Plus bacon.

Thursday:  Pea ravioli & brown butter garlic sauce + salad 
More on this recipe coming soon...J

I was SOEXCITED to make this recipe from Andie Mitchell's Eating in the Middle cookbook that I even made a special stop at the Amish market on Friday for fresh ground sirloin and even texted Scott this picture...
Is my life sad?  
Probably.  It's OK.
Anyway, beef & beans replace the pasta in this recipe for a full-on burst of protein, but still all swirled together with all of that briny, salty goodness.  And just enough of a carb kick with mmmmm...fresh garlic bread.  Swoon.

Saturday:  Family-style dinner at the same Italian restaurant I blogged about on WednesdayJ   (ps-and I paid a fair amount of attention and left just barely full...hallelujah)

Sunday:  Caprese bake + salad


Wednesday:  Bites of Katie's Reese's Bunny...thanks, Easter BunnyJ

Friday:  2 SMALL scoops of this little number I picked up at Trader Joe's

Saturday:  Mmmm....bites of creme brulee & a double chocolate brownie from our Italian dinner.  And favorite part?  The strawberries mixed with vanilla ice cream and balsamic drizzle.  I don't even know who I am anymore.

Sunday:  Mixed bites of THESE...
In honor of Katie's gymnastics show, we had our Moms and niece over for lunch (that Caprese bake)  But, in reality, we were all WAYYYY more excited to crack open the dessert box from Nino's Pastry Shop aka-the best place for cannoli in central Jersey.  The chocolate mousse-raspberry cake wasn't really my jam, but a sliver of that carrot cake and maybe one too many bites of those cannoli cream-stuffed lobster tails were had and SAVORED.  Holy hell, worth every calorie!

Other yummy recipes from the week:

A leftover, lingering bowl of quinoa in my fridge was saved and turned into this dish, which gave Scott & I lunch for 2 days each.  SOOOOOOO fresh & yummy.

Since I was already at the Amish market, I figured I might as well also pick up some ground pork to quickly whip up this quick homemade sausage recipe for fast breakfasts during the week.  I pretty much just had a repeat of that exact dish a few minutes ago because it was SOGOOD (and put together in under 3 minutes!  BONUS)

Sunday breakfast dejour!


Tuesday:  Tap class

Wednesday:  TEACHING Vinyasa yoga class (and, again, shaking like a leaf until I started my classJ) + Body Jam

Thursday:  Teaching a private yoga session...we even tried chair yoga!  That was kinda funJ

Friday:  Gentle yoga

Saturday:  Vinyasa yoga


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