Healthy, Protein Packed Breakfast Cookies

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These healthy, protein packed breakfast cookies make the perfect grab-n-go snack!

Freaking Thanksgiving. Scratch that, freaking holiday season. Why does it always have to cause such a damn wreck to my body? I know I sound like a Scrooge, but when most of your life is completely outside of your control and the only thing you have some control of is how you look and feel, things can be a little stressful when even that falls to the wayside.

I know it’s just one speckle of time, and my workouts should combat it, but everything feels and looks like half-set Jello. Jiggly, wiggly and very unattractive. How I still have a boyfriend who doesn’t want to lock me permanently into a gym is beyond me. Maybe it’s my witty charm or the fact I keep feeding him the sweets I’m stress-baking. We’re both struggling with ourselves this year. In fact, I feel more and more like THIS and less and less like THIS. I find myself struggling with sleep again, daydreaming about what butter-laden treat I’m going to make and forcing myself to do anything that would benefit me as a person – like write, apply for jobs, pin things for our new house.

I guess on the plus side, we finally have a house and we’re moving in at the end of December. It wasn’t the place I alluded to in this post (jerks pulled it off the market), but is instead a nice, two-bedroom condo with updated appliances and beautiful windows in this adorable neighborhood called Rogers Park. It requires no work to start with, but we’re already daydreaming about the beautiful bathroom updates we’re going to make to the ones we currently have.

A new year in a new place is always a good start to something, especially since last year started off with so much uncertainty. Knowing my year will be starting in a beautiful new place in a city I just adore with a man who I can’t believe I’m lucky enough to have found and with two jobs that actually pay me. I guess it could be worse, huh?

Healthy, Protein Packed Breakfast Cookies

CLICK HERE FOR THE PRINTABLE VERSION OF THIS RECIPE!

Yields about 8 – 10 cookies.
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes

Ingredients: 

  • 2 1/3 cup quick cooking oats
  • Dash of salt (about 1 teaspoon)
  • 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
  • 1 cup homemade peanut butter (I love this recipe)
  • 2 tablespoons pure clover honey
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 2 large bananas, smashed
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1/3 cup chopped or sliced almonds
  • Drizzle of honey for garnish

Directions: 

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper and spray with nonstick cooking spray.
  2. In a large bowl, mix the oats, salt and pumpkin pie spice together. In another bowl, whisk the peanut butter, honey, brown sugar, bananas and almond extract together. Mix the dry mixture into the wet mixture and stir to combine.
  3. Scoop the dough (about 2 – 3 tablespoons dough) and roll slightly into a ball. Place about 1 1/2 inches apart on the parchment paper. Press the cookies down with the back of a spoon or a spatula.
  4. Bake for about 15 – 20 minutes, or until browned. Let cool slightly on the parchment paper and then let cool on a wire cooling rack.
  5. Serve immediately or freeze for up to 2 – 3 months.

Nutritional information per cookie: 

Calories: 280
Fat: 14.2 grams
Carbohydrates: 29.7 grams
Fiber: 4 grams
Protein: 8.9 grams

Apple Cheddar Hand Pies

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These amazing apple cheddar hand pies are the perfect mix of cheese, apple spice and buttery crust, all in one bite!

About my overall lack of preparedness for any holiday: 

Y’all, I know not all of you have your Thanksgiving s&*^ together. I’m just not convinced that everyone in the US is completely prepared for this upcoming holiday. I mean, please. I can’t possibly be the only person on the planet who is scrambling to figure out what to make for my first Thanksgiving with my boyfriend and his family. (Yes, I’m still FREAKING out about it and NO, I HAVEN’T DECIDED WHAT ON EARTH I’M GOING TO MAKE).

Okay, that’s not entirely all true. I have about 10 things pinned that I could make, but none of them are really singing to me. That’s neither here nor there, though. Let’s go back to that question I posed earlier – y’all can’t all be ready for Thanksgiving, right?

I’m holding onto hope that a few of you are planning on hitting the grocery store tonight, after a long day of work, and are going to start in the wine aisle and hope that you at least remember to pick up a turkey or potatoes after opening said wine and chugging it as you throw everything but what you need into your cart (Christmas themed Oreos, anyone?) I’m praying that a few of you haven’t even looked at a holiday recipe, better yet picked up any ingredients for said Pinterest-worthy perfections. I’m just crossing my fingers that a few of you are hoping that your in-laws won’t mind that the beloved turkey is being served on the fanciest of Chinet paper plates because your youngest child decided it would be fun to smash your nice plates during a temper tantrum and you’ve been too busy to worry about buying other ones.

I’m just really hoping that a few of you are going to buy your pies from the store’s bakery section, pull them out of the boxes, arrange them on your nicest cake stand and add a few dollops of whipped cream (from a can) and toss some cinnamon sticks on a few minutes before your overly critical mother comes over and pretend you made them yourself.

A few of you are doing these things, right? Even if you’re not, maybe just say you are so I don’t feel like a complete and utter failure for being busy, stressed, a little depressed and completely overwhelmed this year. It doesn’t have to be true, but just tell me, okay?

Apple Cheddar Hand Pies

Yields about 8 pies. Slightly adapted from Oh Sweet Basil.
Prep time: About 45 minutes
Cook time: About 15 minutes
Total time: About 1 hour

Ingredients: 

**For the crust:

  • 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cold and cut into bite-size pieces
  • 1/3 – 1/2 cup cold water

For the filling:

  • About 2 large apples, core removed and chopped
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons corn starch
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons apple pie spice
  • About 4 ounces (1/2 cup) Cabot sharp cheddar, cut into bite-size chunks

For the egg wash:

  • 1 large egg white
  • Splash of water
  • chopped walnuts for garnish

***You can sub in store-bought pie crust if you don’t have time (or patience) to make your own.

Directions: 

  1. To prepare the crust, whisk the flour, salt and brown sugar together. Using a pastry cutter, cut the butter into the flour mixture until mixture resembles coarse sand. Add water, 2 – 3 tablespoons at a time, or until mixture starts to come together. You want the crust to be relatively crumbly, but should form a soft enough dough when formed with your hands.
  2. Turn the dough onto a floured surface and knead lightly with a floured rolling pin. Roll into a disc and wrap tightly with saran wrap. Chill for at least an hour.
  3. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Line two large cookie sheets with parchment paper and spray with nonstick cooking spray.
  4. Meanwhile, prepare the filling by mixing the apples, lemon juice, honey, brown sugar, corn starch and apple pie spice together. Let sit for about 10 minutes.
  5. Once the pie dough is done chilling, remove from fridge. On a floured surface, roll the dough out with a floured rolling pin until about 1/8 inch thickness, or however thick you want it. Using a circle cookie cutter (about 3 – 4 inches), stamp out about 16 circle shapes, or as many as you can get.
  6. Add about one spoonful of filling into the middle of half of the crusts. Add 1 – 2 chunks of cheddar cheese over the apples. Carefully cover the apple mixture with the remaining crusts. Using a fork or your hands, press the edges together and crimp to seal (so the filling doesn’t spill out). Poke the top of the crusts with a fork or cut a cross in the middle.
  7. Using a pastry brush, brush the egg wash over the top crusts and carefully transfer to the prepared baking sheets.

Nutritional information per serving (about 1 pie):

Calories: 300
Fat: 17 grams
Carbohydrates: 38 grams
Fiber: 2.4 grams
Protein: 7 grams

Easy Fall Cheese & Charcuterie Board

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This easy entertaining fall cheese and charcuterie board is the perfect addition to any fall party, especially Thanksgiving!

Surprise, it’s Thanksgiving tomorrow! Not really, but you get the gist. That’s precisely why I’m sharing one of my favorite entertaining recipes with you today – a fancy a&# cheese and charcuterie board! Now, people ask me all the time why I bother making boards like this when I can’t eat half of the things on it (like the meat). My answer to them is really quite simple.

MORE CHEESE FOR ME. Jokes aside, there’s nothing I love more than preparing food for the people I care about. It just so happens that all of the people in this category are die-hard carnivores. So, even if I’m not going to be indulging in prosciutto, I know they’ll love it and that’s reason enough for me to want to add it to the plate.

Even though I love an nice cheeseboard, the was entirely my boyfriend’s idea. This particular day wasn’t just a regular one, it was the day he was going to meet my mother for the first time. So, knowing she has a penchant for fancy cheeses, cured meats and wine (like mother, like daughter), he suggested we make her a little board so she had something to enjoy when she got home from work.

I know, he’s the best. As we were unpacking the groceries and he was guzzling wine out of nerves, he suggested that we make the board beautiful enough for her and for the blog (#thatcontentlife). At that point, the rusty wheels in my brain started turning and, before you know it, I was cutting petals off the flowers he got me and was arranging pancetta and fig jam like a mad woman. After almost an hour of styling and photographing, my little brother got home and demolished half the tray. Luckily, I was able to snag a photo to send my mom so she saw the beauty it was before two hungry boys had their way with it.

She approved, by the way. Of both the tray and the boyfriend, which is the best we could have hoped for. Oh, and I haven’t had any cheese since because I might have eaten about 5 pounds in the form of soft camembert and raclette.

Quick and Easy Fall Cheese & Charcuterie Board

CLICK HERE FOR THE PRINTABLE VERSION OF THIS RECIPE!

Serves about 4 – 6.
Prep time: About 15 minutes
Total time: 15 – 20 minutes

Ingredients: 

  • 1 loaf crispy french bread, sliced into 1 – 2 inch slices
  • 8 ounces your favorite crackers (I love these buttery table crackers)
  • 8 ounces thinly sliced proscuitto
  • 8 ounces thinly sliced pancetta
  • 1 log of your favorite cured salami (we used this pepper crusted one from Boar’s Head) 
  • 4 – 6 ounces olives
  • 1/4 cup fig jam or your favorite fruit preserves, divided
  • 1 bunch grapes
  • Fresh berries (about 2 cups)
  • 6 ounces soft cheese (we used camembert)
  • 5 ounces strong profiled hard cheese (we used raclette)
  • 6 – 8 ounces mild cheese (we used this Cabot cheddar)
  • 2 – 4 tablespoons dijon mustard

Directions: 

  1. Arrange the cheese and meats around a large wooden cutting board or serving platter. I like having the cheeses on separate ends of the board and the meat filling in around it.
  2. Then add the berries, olives, grapes, crackers and bread around the cheese and the meat. Make sure to save some spots on the board for the jam and other condiements.
  3. Place the jam and the mustard where there are some empty spots. You can either put them in small ramekins or directly on the board like I did. There’s really no rhyme or reason to how I decorate, just stack the ingredients high and add some fresh blooms and greenery for contrast.

*Note, because it’s hard to determine the serving size, we can’t really figure out the nutritional information. Apologies in advance for the inconvenience.

Pumpkin Whoopie Pies + Home Renovation

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Y’all, it’s pumpkin whoopie pie season and I’m not even mad about it. 

About these cookies: 

Actually, pumpkin whoopie pie season started two months ago but I was in Croatia eating truffles so…I know, my life. However, now that I’m home for the entire month of November, I’m catching up on all the things i’ve missed – like pumpkin desserts. And cream cheese frosting. And cookies. And cake. And pie. Good thing I chose TODAY to go Paleo, right?

WRONG. All I want to do is eat these cookies, thankfully I made them weeks ago and there’s not even a morsel left to remember. Because I’m weak and I’d probably eat 4 in a row and then force myself to go to Orange Theory again tonight out of shamerage. It’s a thing, google it. My mom, the ultimate cookie baker, said these are one of the best things i’ve made all year, and after taking a big bite (for photo purposes, obvi), I had to agree. They’re most definitely one of the fluffiest, sweetest and most decadent cookies I’ve made to date.

The thing with whoopies is they’re almost always left off the desert table because they’re not the most attractive. Unlike thumprints or pinwheels, which are radiant and beautiful, whoopies aren’t the most festive. However, that’s no reason not to indulge in these cakey little bites this holiday season. Add some styling, like I did. Serve them with some fresh star of anise or roll them in crushed walnuts or even edible glitter to give them a pop of color. I’m all about the accessorizing, even in food. Do yourself a favor, make these for Thanksgiving. Whether you style them or not, they’ll be the biggest hit on your pie table. You might have to seperate them from the apple because nobody is going to touch that pie after trying these. And we all know how jealous apple gets.

About life: 

Beyond whoopies, I’m basically just sitting on pins and needles because we’re still patiently (cough not really) waiting for the offer to get accepted on the most beautiful two-bedroom condo in all of Chicago. But, I’ve been pinning all of the rain showers and claw-foot tubs, subway tiles and vintage sinks in the world to get ready for it. See, the place is actually in AMAZING condition, but the main bathroom needs to be gutted. Completely. So, we’re going to install a rain shower (insert heart eye emoji here), subway tile, a vintage sink and some cute industrial lighting fixtures to bring it all together. I’ve never had a place that needed a reno like this, so I’m beyond excited for the potential possiblity.

[Pin inspiration]

If we get it, of course. So please, cross all of your appendages. It’s in such a fantastic part of the city and is within walking distance to great cafes, an OrangeTheory, Whole Foods and everything in between. And, you know, it would help me get out of my parents house. Because at nearly 32, it just isn’t cute anymore.

Pumpkin Whoopie Pies 

Yields about 10 medium – large sandwiches.
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 14 – 16 minutes

Ingredients:

For the cookies:

  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
  • Dash of salt
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 15 ounce can pumpkin puree (not pie filling)
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract

For the filling:

  • 6 ounces light cream cheese
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • Dash of cinnamon

Directions: 

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper and spray with nonstick cooking spray.
  2. In a mixing bowl, whisk the whole wheat flour, all purpose flour, baking powder, baking soda, pumpkin pie spice and salt together. In another bowl, mix the brown sugar, canola oil, applesauce, pumpkin puree, egg and vanilla. Once mixed, add in the flour mixture a cup at a time and stir until fully combined.
  3. Using a spoon, scoop the dough onto the sheet. The cookies will spread a little, so place them about 1 1/2 – 2 inches apart. If you want the tops to be smooth, use a piping bag or smooth them out with your hand. I left them as is and kind of dig the almost oatmeal like texture.
  4. Bake for about 12 – 16 minutes, or until they spring back at the touch. Place on a wire cooling rack and let cool.
  5. Meanwhile, beat the cream cheese, butter, powdered sugar and cinnamon together until thick and creamy.
  6. Once the cookies have cooled, add a large dollop of frosting on the top of half of them and place another cookie on top to make a sandwich. Dust with powdered sugar and enjoy!

Nutritional information per cookie sandwich: 

Calories: 350
Fat: 16 grams
Carbohydrates: 34.3 grams
Fiber: 1.23 grams
Protein: 5 grams

Creamy Squash & Carrot Soup

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This creamy squash soup is perfect for fall evenings in! Plus, it makes a great Thanksgiving side dish!

A story about the soup: 

If you want to hear a little bit about my life, scroll down. If you’re just here for soup, stay here. I found this recipe in a copy of Food Network Magazine and knew almost instantly I had to make it. For one, who doesn’t love creamy squash soup? Two, look at those garnishes! The roasted broccoli, the crunchy croutons, the salty pumpkin seeds? Not only are they beautiful, they add the perfect textural contrast to the velvety texture of the base. Soup has this incredible ability to warm you up, both figuratively and literally. It has this almost therapeutic power to it. Even on my worst days, a bowl of soup has the ability to take me back to a world and a life that wasn’t as scary, complicated or lonely. This soup is no different. I made it during a time of true uncertainty and I remember feeling a little better every time the spoon hit my lips. It may sound silly, and it probably is, but this soup helped me out of a pretty serious funk.

And a little bit about me:

It’s hard to believe Thanksgiving is two weeks away. I mean, in all honesty, it’s hard to believe the end of the year is just a month and a half away. While the rest of my friends are all “CHRISTMAS! SNOW! COOKIES!” I’m just trying desperately to keep my head afloat as I look for a job, wait for an offer to get accepted on a house and sort through where the next year of my life is going to take me.

I do know one thing, it’s going to involve a heck of a lot less traveling. Travel is my life and it fuels every single part of who I am. And as exciting as it was to pack up and leave for a new country and a new city every other week, it made a few other parts of my life nearly impossible to manage. From the outside, my life looked perfect. I was always somewhere different, experiencing an exotic place so many people only dream of going to. But peel back that wrapper and you’d see that my life was so far beyond perfection. It was a crumbling mess.

Without divulging too many personal details in a post about soup, I will say the decision to stay put in Chicago for the foreseeable future wasn’t an easy one. Even though I felt the world falling to pieces around me, I still loved travel. Partly because it was an escape. If my life at home was a mess, I knew in a day or two I’d be in Australia, China, Spain or Norway and wouldn’t have to face those issues for a few weeks. In a way, I was running away. I also truly love to travel. There’s nothing I love more than stepping off a plane and immersing myself almost immediately in a world so different than my own.

As life does, though, it all caught up and I found even the escape to be nearly overwhelming. I was focusing on everything I left at home when I was abroad, making it impossible to even enjoy the times I had wandering around a new country with new people. That’s why I’ve decided to tuck away my passport and plant my feet firmly on the ground. At least for the next few weeks. What next year will bring nobody knows, but I know one thing – Chicago has my heart and I’m enjoying every second exploring this incredibly vibrant and beautiful city of mine.

Creamy Squash & Carrot Soup

CLICK HERE FOR THE PRINTABLE VERSON OF THIS RECIPE!

Serves 4 – 6. Recipe adapted from Food Network.
Prep time: 15 minutes.
Cook time: 30 minutes
Total time: 45 minutes

Ingredients: 

  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 butternut squash, chopped
  • 1/2 acorn squash, chopped
  • 3 cups broccoli florets
  • 2 shallots, chopped
  • 1 scallion, minced
  • 2 tablespoons fresh ginger
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon crushed red pepper**
  • 5 carrots, shredded and chopped
  • 15 ounce can chick peas, drained
  • 1 can (14 ounce) low-fat coconut milk
  • 2 cups low-sodium vegetable broth
  • 1 cup water
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1/4 cup pumpkin seeds (or other nuts)
  • French bread, cooked and cut into bite-size pieces

**optional. I added it for heat, but you can omit.

Directions: 

  1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Line two large cookie sheets with foil. Place the squash and broccoli on the sheet (evenly distributed). Toss with 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil.  Roast for about 20 – 25 minutes, stopping to toss the vegetables after 10 minutes. You want the vegetables to be fork tender.
  2. Meanwhile, heat the remaining olive oil in a large dutch oven over medium heat. Add the shallots and scallions and cook for about a minute. Mix in the ginger, garlic and crushed red pepper, heat for about another minute. Add in the carrots and cook until just softened, about 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.  Add in the chick peas, coconut milk, vegetable broth and water. Bring to a boil, cover and reduce heat to a simmer. Cook for about 10 minutes.
  3. Mix in the 3/4 of the squash, saving about a one cup for the garnish. Cook for another 5 – 10 minutes, or until warm. Remove from heat. With either a tabletop blender or immersion blender, blend the soup until creamy. Serve with a handful of broccoli florets, remaining squash, pumpkin seeds and crispy bread.

Nutritional information per serving: 

Calories: 485
Fat: 16 grams
Carbohydrates: 48.45 grams
Fiber: 13.4 grams
Protein: 10.5 grams

Peanut Butter & Banana Overnight Oats

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These peanut butter and banana overnight oats are an easy breakfast for busy weeknights!

Remember that time I wrote an entire post about how much I loved peanut butter and then the whole thing disappeared into the deep dark abyss that is the Chinese wifi system? Oh, WELL if it seems like news to you, it’s because it just happened last week. Before we get into a brief rant about Chinese internet, I do want to discuss the day I had the moment I got back. In case you were feeling a little off about yours, let me regale you with the total complete s&$%storm that was mine.

For one, I spent 20 hours in airports and on airplanes. Two, when I landed in Chicago, the airline kind of just “misplaced” my bag for an hour. It had made it to O’hare, it was just missing for a little bit. Decided to step out for a PSL or something. Back to the flight for a second, it was BRUTAL. I couldn’t sleep or get comfortable and the person next to me found it fun to squeeze on top of me. Literally. So, after I got my runaway bag, I hopped on the train for the 45 minute commute to my airbnb.

The train in Chicago is great. It’s almost always on time, super cheap and really easy to navigate. So, I checked my phone (in a massively sleep deprived state) for the closest stop to where I was staying and it told me Clark/Lake. Now, I thought to myself “Clark/Lake is downtown, not River North. But, my phone wouldn’t lie!” Fun fact. It did. The stop was, in fact, 40 minutes away from where I was staying. And Chicago decided to go from 245,345 degrees to 10 in the span of 4 days so I was massively underdressed.

The fun doesn’t stop there, though! When I landed in China on Tuesday, my phone had decided it hated having battery and told me instead that it needs a new one. Basically, my phone now goes from 100% charged to 43% in less than 10 minutes. So, after schelping on the train, I find a Starbucks to charge my phone for a minute so I can Uber my exhausted face to this airbnb. I order a PSL (BASIC.COM) and just as I was about to pay, the phone shuts down and I have to plead with the barista to hold while I charged it to pay.

Then, for some reason unbeknownst to me, that Starbucks decided to close at 4:30pm on a Saturday, so I’m rushing out to catch an Uber and I drop my phone on the ground, something I’ve done about a million and one times. Except this time? The screen shattered. Like, giant crack across the screen and about a million hairline cracks at the top and bottom of both corners.

I finally got to the airbnb and promptly fell asleep, sitting upright, for 3 hours before my boyfriend came over with a bottle of wine (he’s literally the best person on the planet, more on that soon). So yeah, that was my day in a nutshell. Thankfully, after a hug, a few tears and a few more glasses of wine, all was fixed. So, those are the days you’d want these overnight oats in your fridge. Because those are the days you’d eat cereal and wine for dinner.

Peanut Butter & Banana Overnight Oats

CLICK HERE FOR THE PRINTABLE VERSION OF THIS RECIPE!

Serves about 4.
Prep time: >10 minutes
Chill time: 5+ hours

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup low-fat milk (can use soy, almond or coconut)
  • 1 cup nonfat Greek yogurt
  • 2 cups Quaker rolled oats
  • 3 tablespoons chia seeds
  • 2 tablespoons ground flax seed
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 1 large bananas, smashed
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Directions:

  1. In a large bowl, whisk the milk and yogurt together. Add in the oats, chia seeds, flax seed, honey, peanut butter, smashed banana, chopped walnuts and vanilla extract. Stir to combine.
  2. Pour the mixture into a large mason jar and seal. Chill in the fridge overnight, or for at least 5 hours. Serve chilled or warm with chopped walnuts and bananas as garnish.

Nutritional information per serving (about 1/2 cup):

Calories: 356
Fat: 15.5 grams
Carbohydrates: 35.25 grams
Fiber: 8.2 grams
Protein: 16.75 grams

Spicy Chicken, Vegetable & Noodle Soup

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Welcome Autumn with a big batch of this warm and cozy spicy chicken, vegetable and noodle soup!

As I’m writing this, the ship I’m on is plunging to and fro in waves that roar over 3 meters above the surface of the freezing Atlantic Ocean. Although the movement is sporadic and ravenous, it’s also a little contrived. As soon as we rise above after hitting one, we plunder back into the icy waters. The rhythmic motions haven’t left me seasick, but instead feeling incredibly at peace. The solitude the ocean brings, even when you’re amongst 125 other people, is like therapy to a writer.

Don’t get me wrong, at first, the movements are jarring. You find yourself being thrown around and completely off-kilter. Something happens to you when you lose your balance. In a way, you lose your mind. However, when you let it kind of consume you, you fall into the movements of the waves and it all starts to feel normal, natural even.

There’s truly no place I’d rather be than on the water. Maybe it’s because I grew up with a lake as my playground. I’d spend every waking second I could at my cottages on Lake Erie. I’d swim, sail, boat, jet-ski – if it was on the water, you can believe I was there. I think that’s why I feel so at peace when I can see the glisten of the sun against a body of water.

However, that being said, the charms of rocking back and forth for 40+ hours are starting to fade. As my new British friend on board would say, it quickly sends you into a spiral of madness. As much as I love the water, not having my feet firmly planted on dry land for the better part of 3 days is a bit jarring, and I’m actually craving solid ground in a way I didn’t think I would. I always prided myself on having strong sea legs, but there’s even a limit to my love of water and I *might* just be reaching it. Thankfully land is on the horizon and a hike is calling my name this afternoon.

Sailing, boats and Fjords aside, let’s briefly talk about this bowl of cozy heaven in front of you. Chicken soup is an institution in my house, and even though I’m a vegetarian now, I’ll always remember the feelings of comfort it brought me whenever I was feeling sick, sad, down, blue or cold. Everyone has a version of this soup, and I’ve got quite a few (one with green tea, a classic and a kicked up Mexican version). This one, though, is a little different. It’s a blend of standard chicken noodle with hearty vegetable.

This is a real “stick to your guts” kind of soup without add any extra weight at all. The noodles, which are homemade, add energy boosting carbs, while the chicken and mushrooms give you a healthy dose of protein. The broth, which is kicked up with a bit of jalapeno, is made with heaps of herbs to help fight away seasonal colds. It’s a jack of all trades, much like myself.

The best part? It’s easy as sin, keeping with the theme of this week. The only laborious part, of course, are the noodles, but you can easily make those (with this rustic recipe or recipe with spinach) or buy them at the store. Whatever fits your schedule do it. Just know that after one spoonful of this healthy, delicious soup and you’ll too be transported to your happy place. Whether that’s on the water like me. on a beach, in front of a roaring fire or next to a mountain.

Spicy Chicken, Vegetable & Noodle Soup

CLICK HERE FOR THE PRINTABLE VERSION OF THIS WEBSITE!

Serves about 8. Pasta recipe from The Little Kitchen.
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 60+ minutes
Total time: About 80 minutes

Ingredients: 

For the soup: 

  • 2 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 12 ounces baby bell mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, chopped & seeded
  • 1 large zucchini, sliced and then quartered
  • 2 celery stalks, chopped
  • 2 carrots, chopped
  • 3 cans (about 14 1/2 ounces each) low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 28 ounce can diced tomatoes (not drained)
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 1 whole roasted chicken, cooked and shredded (can sub in rotisserie chicken if you’d like)
  • Few sprigs of fresh thyme
  • Few sprigs of fresh rosemary
  • Few springs of fresh sage
  • Fresh parsley, chopped
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Bean sprouts for garnish
  • Cilantro for garnish

For the noodles: 

  • 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 4 large eggs
  • 2 – 4 tablespoons water

Directions: 

  1. To make the pasta, place the flours, salt, eggs and water into the bowl of a standing mixer. Turn on medium and start mixing until fully combined. Note, if the dough is too dry, add additional water, but in teaspoon increments. After about 2 – 3 minutes of mixing, attach the dough hook. Mix for about 2 minutes. Then remove the dough from the bowl and place on a very floured surface. Using your hands, knead until soft and elastic. Cover with a damp cloth and let rest for about 5 – 10 minutes.
  2. Once rested, cut the dough into chunks. Fit your KitchenAid with a pasta making roller attachment. Using a rolling pin, roll out one chunk of dough at a time (careful to keep the other dough covered so it doesn’t dry out between use). Carefully push the rolled out dough through the roller. I did this about 3 times to get a very smooth and thin sheet of pasta. Once you’re happy with the thickness, attach the spaghetti and fettuccine attachment. Carefully push the rolled out pasta through that until you get strands.
  3. Using a pasta drying rack, dry the pasta noodles until ready to use.
  4. To make the soup, heat the olive oil over medium high head. Add the onions and cook for about 2 minutes. Add in the garlic and cook for about one minute. Add the butter and stir in the mushrooms, zucchini, carrots, celery, jalapeno and bell pepper. Cook on medium heat for about 3 minutes, or until the vegetables start to tenderize.
  5. Gradually add in the broth, diced tomatoes and lime juice, stirring well. Mix in the fresh herbs and salt and pepper. Reduce heat to low and simmer for about 8 – 12 minutes, or until the vegetables are soft. Add in the chicken and simmer another 2 – 4 minutes.
  6. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta in batches and cook until al-dente. Rinse in cold water and add to the large bowl of soup or serve separately. Add some bean sprouts & cilantro for garnish and enjoy!

Nutritional information per serving (about 1 cup of soup):

Calories: 215
Fat: 3.8 grams
Carbohydrates: 12 grams
Fiber: .5 grams
Protein: 3.5 grams

Easy, Cheesy Crock Pot Tortellini

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This easy, cheesy crock pot tortellini is the ultimate fall comfort food dish. Plus, it practically makes itself!

It’s hard to believe how many people quickly turned from “SUMMER BERRIES! TOMATOES! ALL THE ZUCCHINI!” to “PUMPKIN SPICE EVERYTHING!” as soon as Labor Day passed. Trust me, I get it. I’m a basic b who loves all things fall too. (You should see the extensive collection of scarves, boots and cardigans I own, it’s uncomfortable). But, as I said here in this berry frozen yogurt post, I’m not a fan of wishing away seasons while we’re still in them. 

However, I am a fan of cheesy and hearty carbohydrates, and for that, I’m happy #winteriscoming. 

I mean, look at all that cheese! I’m pretty sure this photo was why the heart-eyed emoji was created. 

As excited as I am for fall and winter, I’m also a *little* stressed. As crazy as summer was for travel (just look at my Instagram), fall and winter are going to be even busier. I’m currently floating in the middle of the Arctic sea in Greenland, and from here, I go to China, Spain, Chile, Argentina, Peru, Australia, Mexico, Belize and then Nepal. Just reading all of those countries has me in a dizzy. Don’t get me wrong, I’m completely thrilled at the prospect of visiting so many new-to-me places and revisiting places I’ve fell in love with, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t completely bummed to miss my favorite season in its peak.

That’s the life, though, of an intrepid and adventurous travel writer and I’ll never complain about the life I’m blessed (and have worked HARD) to have. It’s actually these insanely busy months that make the moments at home even more meaningful. Plus, after 8+ weeks of eating out for every meal, there’s nothing that tastes better than something you’ve made yourself. 

I have this routine when I get back from a trip. First, I do all of my laundry (self explanatory), cuddle the heck out of my dog, spend a few hours catching up with my mom and then immediately get to meal prepping and planning. I write down every single dish I’ve dreamt about making when on the road and then immediately start planning a grocery list. When your ilfe is so void of any sort of normalcy, there’s nothing more exciting than going to a grocery store, shopping for food and then making the dishes you’ve spent the past 8 weeks dreaming about. 

Like this easy, cheesy tortellini. Even though it’s not fancy or complicated, it’s homemade. And when you’re on the road for weeks on end, nothing is more comforting than a taste of home. 

Easy, Cheesy Crock Pot Tortellini

Serves about 4.

Prep time: 5 – 8 minutes

Cook time: 7 hours

Ingredients: 

  • 1 pound ground turkey or chicken*
  • 1 tablespoon Italian seasoning
  • 2 cups marinara sauce (homemade or store bought)
  • 1 1/2 cups mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 cup chopped red and green bell pepper
  • 1 can diced tomatoes (I used fire-roasted Italian), drained
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 package (9 ounces) tortellini (you can even make your own if you’re feeling brave)
  • Salt and pepper
  • 8 ounces fresh mozzarella, chopped
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan 
  • Fresh basil chopped

**Can substitute soy-based meat or tempeh if you’d like. 

Directions: 

  1. Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add the ground meat and break up with a spatula. Add Italian seasoning. Cook, stirring occasionally, until meat is golden brown and crumbly. Remove from heat and drain the fat.
  2. Spray the bottom of a 4 – 5 quart slow cooker with nonstick cooking spray. In a large bowl, mix the meat, marinara, mushrooms, bell peppers, diced tomatoes, onion and garlic together. Mix in the tortellini and add salt and pepper to taste. 
  3. Cover and cook on low for about 6 1/2 – 7 hours, stirring occasionally. Add in the chopped mozzarella and parmesan and cook an additional 30 – 40 minutes, or until cheese is melted. Garnish with fresh basil and serve. 

Nutritional information per serving: 

Calories: 525
Fat: 26.5 grams
Carbohydrates: 61 grams
Fiber: 3.2 grams
Protein: 37 grams

Deconstructed Pulled Pork Carnitas Plates

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These deconstructed pulled pork carnitas plates are an easy, low carb weeknight  dinner idea!

*NOTE: This recipe was made and tested before I became a vegetarian. Although I don’t eat meat anymore, I plan on sharing a few more meat-centric dishes that were made during that timeframe. Please see options in the recipe if you want to make these vegetarian!

Since taking almost a full year off food blogging, I’ve acquired *a few* recipes in my arsenal that I just never shared. Even though I wasn’t updating this little piece of the internet, I was still cooking, recipe testing and, well, eating of course. Travel, life changes, a move and a focus on my career just made it hard to share them as soon as I made them. But, lucky for you, I’ve got all of these mouthwatering recipes written up and re-tested so I can bring them to your faces IMMEDIATELY.

Like these deconstructed pulled pork plates. I originally got the idea for these after noshing on amazing pulled pork tacos from a joint in Charleston. Weighing a solid 35 pounds more than I do now, I was really trying to lose weight and be more conscience of what I was putting in my body. Which for me at the time meant low-carb. Now that I’m doing HIIT workouts 6 times a week, carbs have become my best friend. But for a girl who didn’t move and could barely run a mile a year ago, carbs were the devil’s work. Which is where these plates came to fruition.

I actually remade these last week and my family ate them EXACTLY as pictured – no tortillas or crispy taco shells in sight. Just meat and veggies with a bit of rice. My little brother, who is basically a body builder in training, demolished 3 plates of these in a sitting. And I can’t blame him! They’re loaded with protein and naturally low in carbs, things he absolutely needs for his 360 pound squat workouts.

Not only are they healthy (and good for you), they’re pretty darn beautiful, don’t you think? Even though I’m a strict vegetarian, I can still appreciate the beauty a nicely cooked collection of meat can bring to a plate. The pork was cooked so simply – in a crock pot with just a few select spices. You cook on low for 8 hours and then the meat just falls apart when you shred it with two forks. Plus, the recipe makes HEAPS – so you can easily stash some away for later and stuff into a sandwich or mix with pasta.

To round out the meal, I’d suggest pairing it with some homemade cilantro brown rice. Or just eat three plates of it like my little brother did and immediately go squat 6,000 pounds. I mean, whatever floats your boat.

***To make these vegetarian, sub the pork for crispy baked tofu!

Deconstructed Pulled Pork Carnitas Plates

CLICK HERE FOR THE PRINTABLE VERSION OF THIS RECIPE!

Pork yields about 12 servings. This recipe makes about 4 – 6 plates.
Prep time: 15 – 20 minutes
Cook time: 6 – 8 hours (for the pork) and 15 minutes (vegetables)

Ingredients: 

For the pork: ***

  • 1 5 pound pork shoulder
  • 1 large red onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 jalapeño, seeded and chopped
  • 1 habanero, seeded and chopped
  • 1/2 cup orange juice
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons taco seasoning (or a Mexican spice blend)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil divided
  • Salt and pepper to taste

For the blistered peppers:

  • 2 large bell peppers, seeded and sliced
  • 1 – 2 tablespoons olive oil

For the plates:

  • 8 ounces cherry tomatoes, sliced
  • 1 can diced chilis, drained
  • 2 large sweet potatoes, cooked and mashed with a dash of salt & pepper
  • 1 large red onion, chopped
  • 2 avocados, seeded and diced
  • 1 serving cilantro lime rice
  • Cilantro

Directions: 

  1. To make the pork, rub the oil all over the shoulder. Liberally coat the entire pork shoulder in Mexican spices. In the basin of the slow cooker, mix the red onion, garlic, jalapeño, habanero, orange juice and water together. Place the pork shoulder (fat side down) into the crock pot. Cook on low for about 8 – 9 hours, or until meat is tender (it will fall off the bone when you try to shred it with two forks). Reserve 1/2 cup of the liquid and skim the fat off the top.
  2. Remove the meat from the crock pot and place on a large cutting board. Using two forks, shred the meat. To serve, heat the remaining one tablespoon of olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add 1/4 of the meat and drizzle with juice. Heat for about 2 – 4 minutes or until slightly crispy. Repeat until all the meat is cooked.
  3. For the peppers, preheat the broiler. Place the peppers on a large baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil. Broil for about 10 minutes, turning after 5, or until the skin are blistered (they’ll appear blackened in spots). Remove from heat.
  4. To make the plates, divide the pork, cherry tomatoes, blistered peppers, sweet potatoes, onion, avocado, cilantro and rice. Serve with your favorite taco seasoning, hot sauce or just a dash of salt and pepper!

Nutritional information per serving: 

Calories: 610
Fat: 22 grams
Carbohydrates: 45 grams
Fiber: 4.2 grams
Protein: 29 grams

Mango Coconut Smoothie Bowl

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This is, hands down, my favorite flavor profile in the entire world. This mango coconut smoothie bowl might just be my new favorite thing.

Crunchy creamy smoothie bowl

When I was in Thailand, I’d get a mango sticky rice for dessert every. single. day. See, the Thai people do it right. They don’t eat shitty desserts filled with preservatives or sugar, they eat all natural desserts made from things found in nature.

smoothie ingredients

I miss Southeast Asia more than I can verbalize. I miss the sounds, the smells, the people. What I miss the most, tough, is the tastes. Despite the fact I got sick (from the water – NOT the food), the food I had there in the kitchens of the locals, picked up from the markets and made for us at local restaurants was some of the best I’ve ever had. Every dish was so incredible packed with flavor – fresh chiles, homegrown spices, locally sourced meats and veggies. Everything tasted like it was made with nothing  but love.

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Now, I know the US has an incredible food culture – I’m not doubting that. I love visiting the states and biting into every delicious morsel. Food is here is made with love, but not in the way the Thai dishes are. It’s so hard to explain and maybe someday I’ll be able to say what I actually mean.

Mango coconut smoothie bowl

Until then, I’ll talk about that dessert. Now, I’ve thought about recreating it for the blog about a million times. But I know it wouldn’t do the actual dessert justice. So instead, I took those exotic and refreshing flavors and turned them into something you can have for breakfast – a smoothie bowl!

Easy delicious smoothie bowls

Unless you’ve been living somewhere without Pinterest, you’ve probably seen the smoothie bowl craze. I’m not one to jump on bandwagons, but I just couldn’t resist. I mean, look at how frackin’ beautiful these bowls are? It’s a smoothie with added fruits and crunchy stuff. (“But I love caramel and crunchy stuff!”) Once you get over how pretty it is and stick your spoon into the thick, creamy smoothie, you’ll melt.

creamy smoothie bowl with mango

Or, if you’re really lucky, you’ll wake up on the white sandy beaches of Phi Phi Island.

Mango Coconut Smoothie Bowls

Super creamy smoothie bowl

CLICK HERE FOR THE PRINTABLE VERSION OF THIS RECIPE!

Serves about 2.
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 0 minutes
Total time: About 10 minutes

Ingredients: 

  • 2 cups frozen mango chunks
  • 1 medium frozen banana
  • 1 – 1 1/2 cups coconut milk (I used low-fat, feel free to sub in full-fat)
  • 1 tablespoon flax seed
  • 1 – 2 tablespoons honey

For the toppings:

  • About 1 cup fresh blueberries
  • 1/2 – 3/4 cup crunchy granola
  • 2 tablespoons unsweetened coconut flakes
  • 1/2 cup mango chunks, defrosted
  • Additional honey for drizzle

Directions: 

  1. Combine the mango, banana, coconut milk (start with 1 cup and add more if necessary), flax seed and honey. Pulse on high until thick and creamy.
  2. Pour the smoothie into two deep bowls. Top with blueberries, granola, coconut flakes, mango chunks and additional honey for sweetness. Serve immediately!

Nutritional information per serving:

Calories: 475
Fat: 16 grams
Carbohydrates: 70 grams
Fiber: 3 grams
Protein: 7.5 grams
Weight Watchers Points: 12

My Life With Anxiety

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I wish I could just sit here and share a new recipe with you. I wish I could talk about low fat coffee cake, crunchy apple bars and gooey caramel. But I can’t today. I have to talk about me and something I haven’t been 100% honest with you guys about.

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(Image via Pinterest)

I’m not dying. I’m not getting a divorce. I’m not pregnant nor was I. As the title precludes, today we’re going to talk about something deeply personal and hard. For the past year, I’ve been facing some really hard mental demons of my own. Instead of hiding from my diagnosis anymore I’m going to sit down and talk about it frankly with you guys. I’ve been living with severe anxiety for the past year and a half, and I think I’m ready to talk about it.

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People have so many misconceptions about anxiety. For one, everyone thinks they have it. My neighbor, my family members, every friend I confide in. They all believe they’re suffering from the same anxiety I face. And while I agree that everyone does face anxiety once or twice in their life, that doesn’t begin to scratch the surface at the amounts I face daily, hourly, every minute. So many people laugh when I tell them about it, saying “oh I have that too” or “exercise totally helps me” or “oh stop, everything’s fine.” My favorite though is “oh I’m sort of anxious about this and that, can I have a few of your xanaxs?”

Yes, people actually ask that. And people constantly belittle my disease saying it’s something I can just get over. Don’t you think I’d just get over it if I could? Don’t you think I would trade ANYTHING to not get physically sick when panic attacks hit or I break into a hysteria that leaves me broken? If I could just “get over it” I would have a long time ago.

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I’m not here though to bad mouth people who say those things, instead, I’m going to enlighten them and hopefully open the doors for people who are going through the same thing. See mental illness, despite it being 2015, is still something that carries a bit of a stigma. Anytime a major celebrity dies from depression or suicide, this conversation comes up again and again. “Why can’t they just seek help? Why didn’t anyone try to help them?” And there are even people who don’t think depression, anxiety or any mental ailment is a real struggle, they think it’s something a few pills and some therapy can help. Well, that works for some and it doesn’t for others. No wonder so many people hide their problems and deal with their struggles behind closed doors, so many people are so quick to judge them for having these kinds of problems. In a world where we broadcast our lives on social media and are constantly trying to portray our lives as perfect, it’s hard to sit there and go “I’m not perfect, and here’s why.”

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Trust me, writing this post isn’t easy for me. I struggle with so many inner demons, one of them being jealousy and inadequacy. I’m terrified of admitting that things aren’t shiny and glamorous, especially when it seems all of my friends and colleagues lead these post-card perfect lives. But I’m going to because I know I’m not the only person hiding behind the curtains, staring over at the neighbors greener lawn.

I’ve been struggling with some form of anxiety my entire life. As a kid, I was also a big worrier. My parents never saw that as a point of concern, they just noticed that I seemed to worry about everything, things 8 year olds shouldn’t worry about, like bills and college funds. As I grew up, some of that worrying faded and soon I was faced with the normal anxieties of a teenager. In college my anxiety deepened. It started to manifest itself inside of me and it scared me. Instead of talking to a therapist or confiding in my friends, I drank. I drank nonstop so I could stop feeling this constantly pull inside me that was weighing me down. Untreated anxiety can turn into many things, and my first two years of college it turned into depression. A depression I self medicated, which made things worse. A depression that finally forced me to open my eyes about my problems and find a solution.

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When I transferred schools, most of my depression went away, because I started talking to my family about it. Minus one very traumatic event my junior year, my anxiety had mostly dissipated. I still had it, well after graduation, our move to DC, my first job and break into freelancing. But it was manageable. The moment it became unmanageable was the day after the fire.

The fire left me completely broken. It changed everything about my life. I couldn’t leave my apartment without having a panic attack. I couldn’t walk down the street without having a fear that I’d come home to a burnt down house. Anytime I heard a fire truck, I literally had to take deep breaths to prevent myself from breaking down in public. Every single day was a personal nightmare for me, wondering what horrible thing could happen next.

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I wish I could sit here and say that moving to a safe new place and having a great year made all of my anxiety go away. I wish I could. But I can’t. My anxiety today is as severe as it was the day after the fire. I wake up every morning with a nervous pit in my stomach. From the moment I’m awake, my mind starts processing negative thoughts. I have frequent panic attacks where I feel like I can’t breathe or control myself. When I’m traveling, my thoughts are “my plane is going to crash” or “i’m going to get mugged.” People without anxiety can combat these thoughts easily by deducting odds and understanding chances. I can’t do that. My mind functions in a black and white way. It’s either this or that. I’ll either die in a fiery plane crash or I won’t. I’m constantly thinking of worst case scenarios.

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There was a moment last year where my anxiety completely took over while on a trip for work and I was so worked up, I couldn’t sleep, despite an early flight the next morning. I was so panicked, not even a call with my husband could calm me down and I ended up keeping him up most of the night as well.

That was a breaking point for me, I knew I couldn’t live like that anymore and neither could my husband. As soon as I got home, I talked with my primary care doctor about medicines that could help me deal with my anxiety. She prescribed me two kinds of medicine, one for daily anxiety and one for extreme situations. And I’m happy to report that after 8 months of taking the daily pill, I feel like I finally have some of my daily anxiety managed. But it’s not gone. I’m not someone who wants to spend their life mediciated, so I’ve recently started talking with a therapist. It’s scary at first, but incredible once you completely open yourself up to them. I was reserved, but now I look forward to our meetings every week. She doesn’t judge me or make me feel like I’m crazy for the thoughts. Instead she and I find ways I can handle it without the need for panic attacks or higher dosage medication.

I know my anxiety will never go away and that’s something I just have to find a way to live with. But I do know that I can finally manage it in a way that doesn’t leave me dependent on medicine. It’s been a very hard road and very windy one, but I’m here and I’m so grateful to have the support of the people around me. And I’m grateful to you guys for listening and letting me post this. To anyone who is facing crippling anxiety or any mental illness, don’t be scared anymore. Don’t be afraid to talk about it. Don’t be a slave to your demons, conquer them.

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If I can, you can. And that’s a promise.

Thanksgiving Prep: Mexican Rice Stuffed Butternut Squash

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This Mexican rice stuffed butternut squash makes the ultimate Thanksgiving side dish! Plus, it’s beautiful to boot!

About this squash:

Stuffed squash is the new sweet potato casserole. At least in my book, only because I don’t like sweet potato casserole. At all. It’s squish mashed potatoes with cinnamon and topped with marshmallows. Marshmallows have one place they need to be, and that’s delicately smashed between two graham crackers and a giant piece of Hershey’s chocolate.

I’ll tell you one place they don’t belong, ANYWHERE NEAR THANKSGIVING. I have some pretty aggressive feelings on sweet potato casserole, and I refuse to apologize for them. Moving on, though, let’s talk about this Mexican stuffed squash for a hot second. Stuffed squash is one side dish that’s guaranteed to please. For one, it’s beautiful. The vibrancy of the colors make it almost as pretty as a bouquet of of flowers. Except instead of dying, this squash gets devoured. Horray!

About Thanksgiving and life: 

This Thanksgiving is a little different than last years, because instead of going back to Cleveland to spend it with my family, I’m going to Chicago to spend it with my boyfriend’s family. Yep, we’re officially THAT official, although we might have hit that mark when we decided to put an offer in on a condo downtown.

BUT, in my head, spending the holidays with a new boyfriend is kind of a big step. I’ve met his family plenty of times, and absolutely love them (we’re even Facebook friends). There’s just something, though, about spending the holidays when them. It’s intimate, a cherished time of year often reserved just for close friends and your close family members. Joining as the new girlfriend to the eldest son is a little bit daunting, to say the least.

So, friends and fans, what would YOU bring to Thanksgiving dinner when you’re the new girlfriend? His mom and sisters are gluten-free, and I know they’re going to have desserts down pat. A side dish, maybe? Something simple, like this squash or these carrots? Or would you opt for something sexier? I’m a little nervous, which means I’ll bring a bottle of wine (that I’ll chug out of nerves), four side dishes and at least 3 bouquets of flowers. Seems normal, right?

Mexican Rice Stuffed Butternut Squash

CLICK HERE FOR THE PRINTABLE VERSION OF THIS RECIPE!

Serves about 4.
Prep time: 40 minutes
Cook time: 15 minutes
Total time: About an hour

Ingredients:

  • 1 medium butternut squash (about 2 pounds)
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 cup uncooked cooked rice (I used brown)
  • 2 cup vegetable broth
  • 15 ounce can of black beans, drained
  • 2 large tomatos, chopped
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and chopped
  • 1/2 red onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup shredded cheddar
  • 1/2 cup shredded mozzarella
  • 1 large avocado, seeded and chopped
  • Fresh parsley or cilantro

Directions: 

  1. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Slice the squash in half and clean out the seeds. Separate the butter in half and place chunks over each half. Roast for about 40 – 45 minutes, or until fork tender. when squash is soft, use a spoon and remove the flesh. Either mash or cut into bite-size pieces. 
  2. When the squash is roasting, make the rice by mixing the rice and two cups of vegetable broth in a medium size saucepan. Bring to a rapid boil and then reduce to a simmer. Cover and let cook for about 15 – 20 minutes, or until rice is fully cooked. 
  3. Fluffy the rice with a fork and mix with the butternut squash, black beans, tomatoes, jalapeno pepper, red onion, garlic and 1/2 cup cheddar. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  4. Spoon the rice mixture into the squash halves and divide evenly. Sprinkle with mozzarella cheese and bake until everything is heated and cheese is melted, about 8 – 12 minutes. Garnish with avocado and chopped greenery.

Nutritional information per serving (about 1/2 squash):

Calories: 250
Fat: 9.2 grams
Carbohydrates: 12 grams
Fiber: 3 grams
Protein:  8.5 grams

Thanksgiving Prep: Easy Balsamic & Garlic Roasted Carrots

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These easy garlic roasted carrots are the perfect Thanksgiving side dish!

About these carrots:

Can you get an easier dish than these garlic and balsamic roasted carrots? No, you can’t. They’re so easy, it’s almost embarrassing I’m posting a recipe for them. But I’m a food blogger and that’s what food bloggers DO during the holidays. With a week away to the stuffyourfaceuntilyourpantsdontfit holiday, you’re probably looking for recipes that are easy to make and relatively healthy, right? I mean, I know I am and I’m not even cooking the entire meal. My favorite part about these carrots is the garlic. 5 cloves, you guys. 5 delicious cloves are minced and sprinkled over these beauties. You may not be able to kiss your loved ones after noshing on these carrots, but at least your kitchen will smell aromatic and absolutely delicious. Plus, who kisses anyone on Thanksgiving anyway? Your mouth is busy doing other things, like eating ten pounds of mashed potatoes and an entire turkey.

About life:

Can we talk about how I failed at Paleo 3 days after starting it?

Diets have never been my strong suit, which is entirely why I keep going up and down within the same number on the scale and can’t seem to make it budge in the direction I want it to. It seems to always move UP instead of down, despite my best efforts to eat healthfully and workout 5x a week. But, there’s one thing I’m trying to learn and apply to my 2018 – that a number doesn’t matter as long as you’re happy and healthy. Of course, you want to have some idea as to how much you actually weigh, but the number shouldn’t be your only driver to your health.

It’s a hard lesson for me, as a girl who still weighs herself everyday and does feel down when the number doesn’t align with the one I have in my head. We all have that number, the oh so desirable “goal weight.” The number where we say to ourselves “When I’m this number, I’ll be happy,” or “When I finally hit XXX, I’ll fall in love.” Funny enough, that’s not how life works. Because that kind of thinking only means one thing, you’ll never be happy with your weight, even at that magical number. Trust me, I’ve hit my goal a few times in my life and when I hit it, I only wanted to lose more. I replaced the number I hit with another one, an even more unrealistic number. Was I happy? No. I picked and purged just as much as I did 10 pounds heavier.

So this year, and especially this holiday season, I’m going to try NOT to think about the numbers. I’m going to try just to focus on keeping up with the healthy habits I’ve already adapted and find other ones that’ll continue to bring me strength and happiness. for me, that’s my workouts, my studies and eating a healthy, balanced vegetarian diet. What is it to you?

Easy Balsamic & Garlic Roasted Carrots

CLICK HERE FOR THE PRINTABLE VERSION OF THIS RECIPE!

Serves about 6.
Prep time: >10 minutes
Cook time: About 20 minutes
Total time: 30 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 12 large carrots
  • 5 large cloves garlic
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh herbs (I used thyme, rosemary and parsley)
  • Dash of salt
  • Dash of pepper
  • 2 – 3 tablespoons high quality balsamic vinegar

Directions: 

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Line a 9 x 13 baking dish with parchment paper and set aside.
  2. Chop the ends off the carrots. Cut into 1 1/2 inch slices or julianne. Chop the garlic.
  3. Layer the carrots onto the parchment paper. Drizzle liberally with the olive oil. Sprinkle the carrots with garlic, herbs, salt and papper.
  4. Roast for about 20 minutes, stopping to toss 10 minutes in, or until fork tender. Remove and serve hot!

Nutritional information per serving:

Calories: 150
Fat: 7.2 grams
Carbohydrates: 12 grams
Fiber: 4 grams
Protein: 1 gram

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