on chicken in a goat cheese sauce.

It has been so long since: 1) I have been able to blog and 2) I have eaten any kind of alfredo.

The first, you can blame on our recent move–although it did happen a while ago, we’re just now setting up internet.
The second, though, you can blame on our attempt to eat paleo-ish, and also on my hubby’s lactose intolerance.
However, we both love alfredo sauce, so I thought I’d try to come up with a substitute that wouldn’t harm us too much. And guess what? It worked! It’s not quite alfredo, since it uses goat cheese, but we found a gouda-style hunk of it at our farmer’s market, red rind and all. So yummy! We also found good-quality grass-fed cream (unfortunately, there’s no raw milk allowed in our state), and that makes a difference, too.
Here’s what you will need to gather to make your own almost-chicken alfredo:
~one whole chicken (pastured, not grain fed)
~a couple of tablespoons of melted unsalted butter
~one stick of not-melted salted butter
~one and a half cups of heavy cream
~one cup or so of shredded Gouda goat cheese (I don’t know how many ounces–I just used the whole hunk)
~a few handfuls of fresh herbs (I used oregano and parsley)
~four garlic cloves (minced)
~two or three zucchini, julienned
Here’s what you will do:
Preheat your oven to 425.
Check our your chicken cavity and make sure there are no guts or bloody stuff hiding in there. If you find any nasties, get all that mess out, then smother the whole bird with some melted unsalted butter. Sprinkle heavily with salt and pepper. Stick in a pan, then in the oven, then turn the oven down to 375 and roast for 20 minutes per pound. I had roughly 2.8 pounds of chicken, and I roasted mine for about an hour. Oh, and you should make sure you tie your little legs together so they don’t get roasted to smithereens.
Then, when your chicken is done (I don’t use a meat thermometer, but ours was perfectly juicy), set it aside to rest. Toss your julienned zucchini in melted butter, salt and pepper, and spread out in a baking dish. Bake until tender, but not mushy–you can it at 375, so keep your oven on.
While the zucchini bakes, melt the salted stick of butter in a saucepan. Add your minced garlic and simmer a bit, then add your cream and herbs. Heat gently until the sauce kind of spits, don’t boil it. When it’s puckering, add the cheese and stir until melted, and salt and pepper to taste.
Carve your chicken, and serve over the zucchini like pasta. Top with the goat cheese sauce, and you’re done.
Happy alfredo-substituting!

on smashed sweet potatoes with chia-seed topping.

My other favorite budget-friendly orange veggie! It’s also packed with beta-carotene, and will last a long time undisturbed in your pantry. Sweet potatoes make a great side dish for dinner, and leftovers are a yummy meatless lunch (paired with some kind of green thing).

I normally make my sweet potatoes like this, and if you do the same you should have about eight servings of orange goodness:

Take four regular-sized raw sweet potatoes, scrubbed but not peeled, and put them in a foil-lined baking dish. Roast at 425 degrees, uncovered, until done. You’ll want to flip them over half way through, and I’d check after about 20 or 25 minutes. They’re done when they’re soft and the skin has separated from the flesh, but you don’t want them to be gross and mushy! 35-45 minutes should do the trick, and less if your potatoes are on the shrimpy side.

After the potatoes have cooled for a bit, peel them and put them in a serving dish with half a stick of real butter, a pinch of salt, 1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon, and 1/4 cup of honey. Smash them around really good with a fork until all the ingredients have combined, and then sprinkle with 1/4 cup of chia seeds. If you’d prefer, you could sub coconut oil for the butter.

And that’s all! Instead of the brown-sugar-pecan casserole of yore, you can try a figure-friendly sweet potato dish with a chia seed topping that will lend you some fiber and protein, along with a satisfying little crunch.

Happy sweet-potato-smashing!

on maple-glazed carrots.

These neon-colored roots are a staple in our refrigerator, mainly because they are cheap, last forever, and pretty good for you with all that beta-carotene in them. Mostly, they wind up blended in our smoothies, but sometimes I cook a batch as a side dish. And cooking carrots is probably better for you, anyway, because it helps your body absorb those carotenoids (that may not be the correct spelling!), as long as you aren’t boiling them and dumping off the water, which is basically tossing out the nutrients. And carrots, as you probably know, are really good for your eye and skin health, since the beta-carotene turns into vitamin A.

This is what I put in my pot of maple-glazed carrots last night (but keep in mind, all measurements are approximate, as I hate measuring):

~two cups of sliced carrots 

~two tablespoons of butter

~one tablespoon of orange juice (freshly squeezed if you’ve got it)

~a big pinch each of cinnamon, ground ginger, and cloves

~salt to taste

~one to two tablespoons of maple syrup

Melt your butter in a saucepan, add the carrots, OJ, and spices, and cover. Simmer, still covered, until the carrots are getting tender, stirring every so often. If you cut them in fat chunks, you’ll need to add a little water to the pot, too, but it will cook off. You just don’t want your saucy stuff sticking and burning on the bottom of your pan. Anyway, then add your maple syrup, simmer uncovered until the glaze is kind of thick, and you’re done! Super easy. 

Happy carrot-cooking!

 

on morning drinkies.

Besides smoothies, and a few cups of coffee, we’ve added a few additional drinkies to our morning repertoire: 

Maca tea, for starters, is what I’ve been drinking. The more I research this powdered little tuber, the more I have great respect for it, gross though it may be. Maca powder is actually really good for keeping your hormones in check (and boosting libido, if you need that). I’ve been drinking a teaspoon mixed in hot herbal tea each morning, since I’m currently on the pill, but I plan to go off birth control and keep up the maca-drinking habits. This may have totally been my imagination, but I swear when I drank maca every day during my placebo week, I didn’t have any cramps (I normally have debilitating ones and down an embarrassing amount of ibuprofen). Maca gets clumpy in tea, though, so I recommend letting it steep (the herbal kind can steep for five or ten minutes, which seems to me good), and then I whisk in my tablespoon. You’ll need a bit of raw honey, too!

This technically isn’t a totally new drink, but we have added kefir to our breakfast smoothie blend. If you aren’t familiar with it, you can probably find a bottle lurking in the refrigerated foods section at your grocery store (unless you’re super hardcore, and make your own). It’s kind of like effervescent runny yogurt, but tangier. It’s also practically lactose-free, which is how a few bottles wound up in our fridge. 

You can get kefir in a lot of different flavors, but I’d recommend sticking with plain, and avoiding all the added sugar and other things they add in that you don’t need. You can make your own fruit-flavored kefir at home, anyway, if you drink it by itself and don’t sneak it in a smoothie. And kefir packs a more powerful healthy-bacterial punch than yogurt, so I think, as far as dairy products go, we’re sticking with this one. Kefir actually helps Timothy’s stomach issues, which is a big deal in our house!

I would recommend, if you are, too, a smoothie drinker in the morning, reducing the amount of dark leafy greens you put in your smoothie if you use kefir as a base. I love our kale, but kale and kefir are not, at least in my mouth, BFFs. 

Besides maca powdered tea and kefired smoothies, we’ve also been consuming two cups of gelatinous hot toddies a day (one in the morning and one at night). Gelatin has a lot of protein and collagen and amino acids (I think), and who doesn’t want more of that? I’m hoping to see a difference in my skin and hair, and a difference in Timothy’s gut. But anyway. We get the kosher, grassfed beef kind, I think the brand is Great Lakes. You’ll have to mix your tablespoon in a bit of cool water first, stir it up really well (it will turn the water to Jello), and then add hot water from your tea kettle to top it off. We also sweeten it with honey, add a few drops of lemon essential oil, and sometimes a few shakes of good cinnamon. It takes the icky taste out.

Well, there you have it! It’s a lot to drink, I know, but if you start out your day early and with a cup of maca and herbal tea, a glass of probiotic-laced smoothie, a mug of black coffee, and a hot cinnamon-lemon gelatin-toddy, you’re most likely off to a good start.

Happy morning drinking!

on coq au vin.

I probably had Joy of Cooking for at least a year before I cracked it open and tried a recipe. (To be honest, I think the guinea pig might have been mulled wine–not my thing, but it sounded good on paper). I’ve never been one for using cookbooks, but there’s a wealth of knowledge in this one, and lately I’ve been reaching for it more and more. A lot of the recipes are easy to tweak for those of us who are trying to be more health-conscious since they don’t call for processed ingredients.

Last night’s dinner is basically a gluten-free version of Coq Au Vin from Joy of Cooking. Here is what I used:

4 1/2 pounds of organic drumsticks. You could use any chicken part(s) you want, but the grocery store we were at had a pretty limited selection of organic meats, so this is what we came home with!

4 oz bacon (make sure it’s nitrite-free! Also, I fried extra to add to my mashed cauliflower).

1 chopped sweet onion

3/4 cup chopped carrots

1/2 to 1 teaspoon coconut flour (I might should have used more, but I was wary–I’ve only ever used coconut flour for baking, not thickening sauces)

1 bottle of red wine (I used cab sav, my go-to red)

1 cup chicken broth

2 tablespoons tomato paste

2 bay leaves

1 teaspoon marjoram and oregano (each)

4 tablespoons butter

1 cup pearl onions (frozen)

10 oz baby bells, sliced

Fry up the bacon, I used a big skillet, and take it out to drain on paper towels while you brown the drumsticks in the leftover grease. Make sure you salt and pepper your chicken before sticking it in the pan! Also, if you run out of bacon grease, that’s okay–I did too. Just add a tablespoon or so of butter and you’ll be fine (preferably unsalted, as it won’t burn).

When all your chicken has been browned, put it in a big pot, covered, and add your chopped onions and carrots to the skillet (with more butter if needed). Cook those until fairly softened, then add your coconut flour, red wine, chicken broth, tomato paste, and herbs. Simmer that until it’s all mixed, then pour your sauce over your chicken in the big pot, add the pearl onions, and bring it to a boil. Turn down the heat and let it simmer for a half hour or so until the chicken is done.

While the chicken simmers, sauté your baby bellas in a couple of tablespoons of butter until all the liquid has evaporated. If you’ve used some butter to sauté your chicken and veggies, don’t use four tablespoons on ten ounces of mushrooms–you don’t need that much.

When your chicken is finished cooking, fish it and the bay leaves out of the sauce. Toss the leaves, plate the chicken and drape it in foil. Then, turn up the heat and boil your sauce until it’s reduced and sauce-like. Once you’ve got it to the right consistency (make sure you taste-test!), reduce the heat and add the chicken and mushrooms back into the pot. Salt and pepper that bad boy, let everything simmer until it’s warmed the chicken back up, and you’re done! You can top with fresh parsley if you like–I didn’t only because I forgot.

I served my coq au vin with mashed cauliflower (and the leftover bacon) and roasted asparagus.

Happy cooking, and also Happy (belated) Valentine’s Day!

on quick breakfasts.

We’ve probably been consuming smoothies in some form or another for breakfast every single day for the past, I don’t know, eight months maybe? It’s a habit. In our pantry, you’ll always find bags of smoothie-goodies: seeds, raw honey, coconut oil, maca powder, dried berries, etc. I wouldn’t consider our habits part of a diet, as I think going on a diet just makes you feel guilty when you cheat, but we do try to eat as mindfully as possible. Sometimes that just means being aware that we’re not consuming the best food ever, but awareness is still valuable! 

Anyway, when we took off to Australia, I tried to cram as much health as I could into our luggage. As many essential oils as would fit in our quart-sized ziploc, baggies of fermented cod liver oil capsules, a to-go container of coconut oil (you can seriously use that stuff for everything). But I couldn’t bring our Vitamix, obviously, and so we ate out a lot. 

After coming home, I thought we’d be back to normal. And spend a week or so detoxing.

But I wasn’t counting on being as jet-lagged as we are, and I forgot that we don’t have any groceries, and there are more important things looming before me (like the mass of sandy laundry stinking up our not-unpacked luggage. Side note–we busted the wheels on all three of our suitcases. What a nightmare).

So here is what, for the past couple of days, we’ve had for breakfast: gluten-free toast smothered in coconut oil, raw honey, and enough chia seeds to make it all super crunchy. Washed down with a cup of maca powdered-OJ.

And you know what? I’m not going to feel guilty about eating toast. It’s fast. It’s not too bad. If we had bananas, I might try chopping one up over the toast, too. Or maybe adding cinnamon–the good kind, no cheapies. To make a long story short, that’s my suggestion if you need a fast brekkie.

Happy diet-cheating, or toast-eating, or whatever you may find yourself doing!

 

 

on the night circus.

It’s a book, by Erin Morgenstern, about a circus of dreams. Or dreamers. I can’t remember which.

To me, it was more nightmare than dream. Possibly because I have been stranded for several hours, and will be stranded several more, in LAX, waiting on a plane that was delayed by all the bad weather today, and I’m grumpy, and it will be Thursday night before we reach our final destination.

Anyway, the Night Circus revolves around an interesting idea, but it reads more like an outline of a piece that would have served far better as a short story than an actual novel. It’s populated with too many characters, and it’s patched together with a bunch of hasty, non-linear scenes. Some written awkwardly in second person, the rest just written awkwardly.

I’m being completely honest. I downloaded this book on Kindle to read while we travel, so I had no idea what the Night Circus was supposed to be about, and once I got started I couldn’t even tell the primary from the secondary characters. I kept cheering for the wrong folks.

I’ll try to summarize: two old and obviously demented magicians pit their pupils against each other in a never-ending battle of the magics. Actually, it’s more of a competition–who can outdo the other in spells and charms–than a battle. And it all takes places over many, many years–during which the characters (except children) never age or change–at the Night Circus, a black-and-white nocturnal carnival. The two competing magicians eventually fall into passionate, chandelier-shaking love.

I can’t remember what happens after that. I think the only thing I remember is that the Night Circus is supposed to be so magical and enchanting and always smells like caramel and smoke.

Anyway, I sincerely hope that, if you read it, you like the Night Circus better than I did.

Also, happy hump day!

on spaghetti sauce.

I hope you all are having a marvelous start to 2014, but I also hope you haven’t burdened yourselves with New Year’s resolutions that will only bring you guilt and failure. Before the ball dropped, I thought briefly about resolving to do away entirely with sugar and carbs (which I try, very hard I might add, to avoid anyway), but I’m not very good at following rules, so I didn’t make any resolutions this year after all.

However, I am trying to be as mindful as possible about what I put into my body, and that’s where this no-noodle spaghetti dinner came from.

I’m a big fan of spaghetti for multiple reasons. One, it’s a one-pot meal. Two, you don’t have to have a recipe to make it. Three, it always makes a much larger pot than I expect, which means leftovers and less meals to cook later in the week! Hurrah.

Here is how I made spaghetti recently (which I suppose is not really spaghetti, since we don’t eat any noodles anymore) and what I used:

1 ½ pounds ground beef

¾ pound Italian sausage (or three links)

1 large chopped onion (more if desired)

2 chopped green peppers

2 boxes of pre-sliced baby bellas

5 cloves minced garlic

4 bay leaves

Oregano, basil, parsley, tarragon, marjoram

2 jars of pasta sauce

1 big can of diced tomatoes

Half a little can of tomato paste

¼ teaspon cocoa powder

½ cup or so of Marsala, or any alcohol, really

(A swirl of honey, if you need a sweetener for your tart tomatoes)

salt and pepper to taste

I dumped my ground beef into a large stockpot with one large chopped onion. I’m not sure it matters terribly much what kind of beef, but I prefer ground sirloin, or whatever has a less fat percentage. If you use a higher-fat beef, then once it’s browned, just pour off the extra fat so you don’t have puddles of it floating on the top of your sauce.

Anyway, go ahead and brown your beef. If you’re really on top of things, you might add your Italian sausage at the same time (we like the kind that is freshly made, with a lot of fennel), crumbled, but I wasn’t that on top of things, so I just let my ground beef go ahead and cook. Since it wasn’t fatty, I didn’t pour any excess off, and then I added two chopped green peppers, garlic, and mushrooms.

A note on mushrooms: I love baby bellas, and I got pre-sliced because I was tired and lazy, but you can do whatever mushrooms you like. I’ve never tried any other kinds, but I would advise staying away from white button mushrooms, they just look gross to me.

I also added my jar of tomatoes at this point. I know, I know, there’s probably BPA in those cans, but I didn’t have a Mason jar of garden tomatoes on hand, so whatever. I used organic, does that count for something? And you can add your sauces at this point, too, and your sausage. Pretty much everything else on the list.

I used Marsala, but you don’t have too. Cab sav is fine, however much you want to dump in there, I would just recommend simmering your sauce uncovered if you make it really runny. You also don’t have to add cocoa powder, and you can add more than I did, but I have in my head that it deepens the sauce or something, I don’t know.

And for the herbs, you can use any you have on hand, too, but those were close by so I dumped them in. I like a lot of herbs. If you add honey, make sure you add it once your sauce has finished cooking and you’ve taken it off the heat.

We served ours over steamed green beans, tossed with olive oil and sea salt, but you can choose any veggie you like. I prefer roasted zucchini slivers, but that’s hard to come by in the dead of winter.

Happy dinner!

on savasana.

For ten or eleven years, I’ve been practicing yoga.

I could probably count on one hand the number of times that I have ended in savasana.

I generally close in a forward bend, a favorite being baddha konasana, but I rarely roll backward, flip my palms up, and breathe in corpse. I guess that, when I’m crunched for time, it just doesn’t become a priority. I lie on my back when I sleep (sometimes). I don’t see the need to do that when I’m awake, and there are sweet potatoes roasting in the oven, and a load of laundry I forgot about in the washer, and I feel like I’ve done enough if I managed to get into monkey or maybe some kind of modified pigeon.

I was thinking about this earlier, when I was plotting my afternoon in my mind, and thinking about how long I would have to practice yoga, and which postures I should do, and mentally writing off corpse.

I don’t know how to meditate.

Isn’t that terrible? I practice yoga, and I follow Jesus. Yoga leads toward meditation (or, at least, from what I’ve studied, it seems like that is what the asanas are designed to do). The Scriptures call us to be still. To meditate. To know. And yet I never do that; I don’t even know how. I could blame it on our fast-paced culture, I suppose, or the Christian tendency to shy away from meditation. But there are no excuses.

I have not learned how to be still.

You know why? I think I know why.

I think, deep down, I am terribly lazy.

Meditation is not mere stillness. It’s an intention, a focus, a deliberation. It does not come naturally, and it does not come easy. And I know very little of it. I practice yoga, but I stop before I have to stay for too many long minutes in savasana. I read the Bible, and I pray, but I do not wait in silence for a response. I am chronically lazy in my mind and in my spirit.

I think that, today, I may just start there. In savasana. Not at the end, but the beginning. And maybe I can learn something of repose.

Happy Sunday!

on In Her Shoes.

The book, not the movie. The only knowledge I have of the movie is that it stars Toni Collette, who is in so many movies that I do like (Sixth Sense, obviously; Little Miss Sunshine, of course; and, more recently, The Way Way Back).

But this is the book, by Jennifer Weiner, and I bought it at our local used bookstore because it was only a couple of dollars and I needed something that I wasn’t emotionally invested in to read during my bubble bath, just in case I splashed water on the pages, and it looked perfect for that. Paperback, already creased, a fat chunk of easy-reading chick-lit.

And it was mostly easy to read, although very rarely actually enjoyable.

My biggest problem? I didn’t like any of these characters. Rose and Maggie are sisters, both complete opposites, so you’d think if you didn’t like one, you’d like the other. Oh, not so.

Rose is incredibly boring. She wears granny panties, eats bran cereal, becomes a dog-walker (or something, I wasn’t really paying much attention at that point). We’re told that she has lots of friends and is successful, and that her closet is overflowing with gorgeous shoes. She is also overweight, which, to me, is just ridiculous. If she eats bran cereal and rides her bike religiously, why are we continuously reminded that she’s overweight? While, on the other hand, Maggie eats terrible food and drinks too much, and she’s thin and beautiful. That just got on my nerves.

Maggie is not at all boring, though less believable a character than Rose. Maggie has a learning disability and an acting career that’s about as successful as Joey’s on Friends (except he does get on Days of Our Lives). She’s immature, needy, steals Rose’s shoes (and eventual co-worker boyfriend), and racks up bills that she never pays.

The majority of the book revolves around Rose and Maggie’s moving in together, fighting, and then Maggie leaving to live in Princeton’s library and discover her future as a basically homeless, literary genius, then subsequent personal shopper, while Rose finds herself in dog-walking (or is it sitting? Can’t remember) and falling rapidly in love with a different (less attractive) colleague.

Honestly, I really do think that Jennifer Weiner is talented and good-humored, but there just wasn’t much going on in this book besides sibling rivalry (and descriptions of all the shoes that Maggie steals from Rose).

So, all in all, this really was a good choice for a bubble-bath.

Happy chick-lit reading!