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

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

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.

Garlic and Butter Mussels over Butternut Squash Bisque #AD

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This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of Rediscovering America . The opinions and text are all mine.

One thing I loved about my job as a freelancer was that I constantly challenged myself in the kitchen. Because the site I wrote for relied heavily on social media networks like Pinterest for traffic, we were constantly having to come up with extremely unique and innovative recipes. Now that I’ve quit the world of freelancing and am just cooking for pleasure — food and my blog — I’ve sort of hit a creative wall block when it comes to inspiring ideas.

That’s why I was thrilled to try out Chef Sean Mendes’ restaurant — Gillie’s Seafood — and taste his take on a farmer’s casserole for Walmart’s Rediscovering America program. As part of Walmart’s Rediscovering America Program, Walmart tasked nine chefs from across the country, including Chef Sean of Gillie’s Seafood, to create one-of-a-kind dishes using fresh, local and organic fruits and vegetables available in Walmart stores.

The farmer’s casserole I tried at Gillie’s was packed with a hearty serving of in-season produce, like zucchini and squash, sourced from Walmart, along with gooey cheese, and all other things delicious. Every bite was absolutely heavenly. When chefs use fresh, local ingredients, you can always tell the difference like it’s night and day. Little did I know, my local Walmart store has those types of local, high-quality ingredients, making it that much easier to create a dish to really satisfy my cozy, warm, autumnal soup cravings!

Inspired by the local flavor I found at Gillie’s, I stopped by Walmart to pick up carrots and butternut squash to make a Garlic and Butter Mussels over Butternut Squash Bisque. While there, I also learned that they also have an online grocery pick-up service,which actually makes grocery shopping speedier if you’re in a time crunch!

I love to make a good butternut squash bisque, and this time I added mussels for two reasons. One, my husband is obsessed and demanded I make him some. Two, they add such a gorgeous textural element that really balances the soft, velvety soup. Plus, they’re freaking gorgeous, don’t you think?

On a side note, I wanted to share that I’m trying a lot harder to step outside of my comfort zone in the kitchen. As part of my goals with revitalizing this lonely little food blog, I’m trying to make writing recipes something I do because I love it and something I do more frequently. I’m happy it’s not something I rely on for a source of income (how I did that, I have no idea) anymore, but I also want it to be something I’m proud of again—something that reflects who I am as a person, a cook, and a foodie.

In addition to recipes I want to be proud of, I also want to make food that’ll inspire my picky daughter to eat. She has absolutely no desire to eat outside of her own comfort zone, so I’m always trying to find ways to sneak protein, vegetables, and new flavors into her food. This soup is the creamiest, smoothest and most amazing bisque I’ve ever had. Paired with buttery and garlicky mussels, it’s like a dream team when it comes to flavor. In fact, I’m going to remake it this week for a fun little date night in for me and my husband!

GARLIC AND BUTTER MUSSELS OVER BUTTERNUT SQUASH BISQUE

CLICK HERE FOR THE PRINTABLE VERSION OF THIS RECIPE!

Serves about 4. Soup adapted from All Recipes.
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 45 minutes
Total time: 60 minutes

INGREDIENTS:

For the mussels:

  • 3 pounds fresh mussels
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 green onions, chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 leek, chopped
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine (I used Chardonnay)
  • 1/2 cup low sodium chicken broth
  • Cracked black pepper
  • Fresh sea salt

For the soup:

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup chopped onions
  • 1/4 cup chopped leeks
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup chopped orange carrots
  • 1/4 cup chopped yellow carrots
  • 4 cups peeled and chopped butternut squash
  • 3 cups low sodium chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • Fresh parsley or cilantro for garnish
  • Cracked black pepper and salt

DIRECTIONS:

  1. To make the soup, heat the butter in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the leeks, garlic, and onions. Stirring constantly, heat the vegetables until soft and fragrant, about 3 – 4 minutes. Add in the carrots and squash. Heat another 3 – 5 minutes, or until they just start to soften.
  2. Pour the chicken broth, salt, and pepper over the vegetables. Cover and reduce heat to low. Simmer for about 20 – 25 minutes, or vegetables are extremely tender. Remove from heat and pour into blender in batches until smooth and creamy. Whisk in heavy cream.
  3. To make the mussels, rinse them under cold water and scrub lightly to remove dirt and excess film from outside of the shells. Remove the mussel beards (or those loose hairs on the shells) and discard them.
  4. In a large Dutch oven or pot, heat 1 tablespoon butter over medium-high heat. Add the green onions, garlic, and leeks. Reduce heat to medium and cook, stirring frequently, until the vegetables are soft.
  5. Add the mussels and toss with some tongs. Add in the white wine and the broth. Cover and let steam for about 10 minutes, or until the mussels start to open up. *While the mussels are steaming, it’s important to stir them around so the vegetables don’t stick to the bottom and the mussels are on contact with the heat.
  6. To serve, ladle the soup into four large bowls. Top with a hefty spoonful of mussels and drizzle with remaining melted butter from the mussels. Garnish with fresh herbs.

NUTRITIONAL INFORMATION PER SERVING:

Calories: 276.5
Fat: 22.2 grams
Carbohydrates: 26.25 grams
Fiber: 2.8 grams
Protein: 32 grams
Weight Watchers Points: 11

Cinnamon Sugar Baked Donut Bites

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These cinnamon sugar baked donut bites are so easy, you’ll want to make them all week long!

We’re keeping with the easy theme this week, and I’m pretty sure y’all aren’t mad about that, are you? With back to school in full swing, the seasons changing and the stress, I mean excitement, of upcoming holidays, easy is something we all need a little bit more of.

Especially when it comes to donuts, which is one of the hardest things I’ve had to give up on my quest for fitness. Can I live without meat? Yes. Dairy? Probably. Donuts? UGHH.

The thing is, I rarely indulge in a flakey, cakey, sprinkle topped donut, but when I do, it’s like armageddon. I black out and before I come to, all of the donuts in sight are devoured and I’m in a sugar and fat induced coma that’s nearly impossible to shake. Maybe it’s because as a kid, I’d enjoy donuts anytime I went home to see my grandparents and have such fond memories of them.

Or maybe it’s just the simple fact that they’re sweet little balls of dough that are deep-fried, dredged in glaze or chocolate and often filled with an insatiable variety of creams, jellies or custards. I’ve never met a donut I didn’t like, and considering how many people I meet that I loathe, that’s saying something. I kid. Mostly. Even though I adore these baked banana nut donuts and could consume 62 of these bite-size whole wheat strawberry ones, these decadent little morsels might be my favorite yet. I feel a bit like a hack, though, because they’re not homemade at all, actually.

They’re made with biscuit dough! Doing my best Sandra Lee impersonation, I really just made these out of boredom one day. I had two rolls of biscuit dough in the fridge, enough cinnamon to coat a baby (thanks to a recent trip to India) and heaps of milk (thanks to a farmers market impulse buy). Normal people would probably bake the biscuits for dinner, but I decided to turn them into little donuts and then slather then in a cream cheese cinnamon roll icing glaze.

You could omit the glaze, but why would you? Only truly terrible people would do that, and none of you lovely folks fit that category. So just don’t, okay?

Cinnamon Sugar Baked Donut Bites

CLICK HERE FOR THE PRINTABLE VERSION OF THIS RECIPE!

Yields about 12 – 16 donut holes, depending on size. Recipe adapted from Pillsbury.
Prep time: >8 minutes
Cook time: About 18 minutes

Ingredients: 

For the donuts:

  • 1 can (16.3 ounces) buttermilk biscuit dough (I used the reduced-fat version)
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/3 cup butter

For the glaze:

  • 4 ounces low-fat cream cheese
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/4 cup butter, softened
  • 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions: 

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a cast iron skillet with nonstick cooking spray. (Note, you can also use an 8 x 8 round cake pan or a 9 x 13 glass baking dish as well).
  2. Remove the biscuits from the canister. Using your hands or a knife, break each biscuit apart into two or four pieces (depending on how big you want the bites to be).
  3. Melt the butter in a microwave for about 30 seconds (at 100% power). Whisk the cinnamon and the brown sugar together.
  4. Using a fork or your hands, dip the dough bites into butter and then cover liberally in the cinnamon brown sugar dusting. Place into the skillet. If you want, you can place them further apart to make separate bites, or do as I did and lump them together. This gives you almost a pull apart doughnut cake in the end.
  5. Bake for about 16 – 18 minutes, or until golden brown.
  6. While the bites cool, make the icing. In a mixing bowl fitted with a whisk attachment, beat the cream cheese, sugar, butter, almond extract and vanilla extract. While the bites are still warm, drizzle the glaze over them (or pour liberally, your call). Garnish with chopped nuts and enjoy!

Nutritional information per serving (about 2 bites):

Calories: 322
Fat: 12.5 grams
Carbohydrates: 42 grams
Fiber: >1 gram
Protein: 4.2 grams

DIY Salsa Chicken Taco Bar

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You know what’s better than a taco party? Nothing – because nothing in this entire world could be better than a taco party. Except, well maybe, a DIY Salsa Chicken Taco Bar.

  chicken taco bar

Okay I promise I won’t say taco bar anymore. But in all reality, this is the ultimate summer party idea for literally any occasion – from new neighbor welcomes, 4th of July get togethers, best friends birthdays or a warm Friday night where all you have to worry about is just how many toppings is too many for your one (or 10) tacos.

Easy tacos

Luckily, I knew the perfect party couldn’t happen without the help of the ultimate appliance – Braun’s Multiquick 7 hand blender and chopper. Now, we all know I’m a huge fan of Braun’s ultimate blender and knew the Multiquick 7 hand blender would be just as amazing. This item comes just in time for any summertime party or meal prep you have in mind, whether it’s chopping onions for this taco bar or preparing the fruit you need for the ultimate margarita.

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News flash – IT IS. As much as I love my countertop food processor, this thing is even easier to use. You simply dump your ingredients and huzzah – you have perfectly chopped onions, cilantro, jalapeños and more for your fabulous taco party.

taco bar

I’m not even embarrassed by how many taco nights E and I have every week. One of the first meals we ate together in college was tacos, adn without a doubt, when I get home from any trip, there are leftover taco fixings in the fridge and taco shells on the counter. Plus, to me, tacos just scream summer. Paried with a homemade margarita, crispy chips and homemade queso and you’ve got dinner, appetizers and cocktails taken care of.

margarita

Have you ever hosted a party where you had all three courses done in the span of just an hour? Plus, this taco bar really brings people together. It’s all hands on- there’s no need for fancy utensils, napkins or serving spoons. Just stack your taco as high as you want with as many toppings a pssobile, pour a few margaritas and just enjoy a party without the stress.

taco bar2

Isn’t that exactly what summer is all about? Meeting up with people you love, sharing a meal with your hands and not worrying about the clean up? Now that we’ve moved to the South, that’s exactly what summer means to me. Our parties are low-key, but beautiful, and we almost always eat withour hands outside, standing in the kitchen or on a homemade picnic blanket. These longer days, warmer nights and cicanda nightime symphonie aren’t going to last forever. The only thing that will are the memories you make throwing parties or dinner nights with easy to make dishes like this DIY Salsa Chicken Taco Bar.

tacos

So, put away the fancy cookbooks, put down the phone speed dialed to Papa Johns and enjoy some tacos outside. Don’t let another summer night slip away without enjoying every second of it.

DIY Salsa Chicken Taco Bar

taco bar 2

Serves about 8 – 10.
Prep time: About 15 – 20 minutes
Cook time: 7 1/2 hours (for the chicken)
Total time: About 30 minutes + slow cook time

Ingredients: 

For the salsa chicken:

  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 1 1/2 cups salsa
  • 1/2 cup diced petite tomatoes
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 tablespoons Mexican seasoning
  • Chopped cilantro

For the toppings:

  • 1 medium red onion, chopped
  • 1 bunch cilantro, chopped
  • 1 jalapeño, seeded and chopped
  • 1 cup chopped cherry tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons Mexican seasoning
  • 1/2 cup queso
  • 1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
  • 1/4 cup spicy red pepper sauce
  • 3 avocados, seeded and sliced
  • Chopped tortilla chips
  • 10 – 12 flour tortillas
  • Key limes

Directions: 

  1. Mix the salsa and the diced tomatoes together. Place 1 cup of salsa in the basin of a crock pot. Layer the chicken breasts over the salsa. Top with remaining salsa, chopped cilantro Mexican seasoning and salt and pepper. Set the crock pot to low and cook about 7 hours.
  2. After about 6 1/2 hours, shred the chicken with two forks. Cook another 30 minutes and remove from the crock pot.
  3. To assemble a taco bar, spread the toppings into separate bowls. Place the toppings, meat, tortillas and margaritas on a large tray and let the party begin!

fresh tacos2

This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of Braun. The opinions and text are all mine.

Mexican Spiced Mushroom Caps #SimplyAvocado

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This shop has been compensated by Collective Bias, Inc. and its advertiser. All opinions are mine alone. #SimplyAvocado #CollectiveBias These Mexican spiced mushroom caps are the ultimate football snack or easy weeknight dinner!

Tis the season for eating your body weight in cookies, butter and all things candy. My mom and her best friend are spending the entire weekend making cookies, and I’m actually a little worried about the amount of butter and sugar I’m going to consume in the span of 48 hours. Which is why I’m cutting the sugar and fat with things like these WHOLLY® SIMPLY AVOCADO™ Mexican spiced mushroom caps.

I mean, sure, there’s a hearty amount of cheese sitting atop these, but in my mind, it’s still healthier than spoon-feeding myself softened butter mixed with brown sugar. The problem with holidays for me is that I get so feverish trying to get all the cookies, sweets and breads baked (for holiday gifts and this little blog), that I completely forget to make actual dinner. By 4pm, I’m covered in flour and chocolate and haven’t eaten a vegetable or lean protein the entire day. As a healthy food blogger (and slightly functioning adult), that’s probably not the best plan of attack.

That’s why I love these cheesy, spiced and oh-so-delicious stuffed mushroom caps. For one, they take less than 40 minutes to make, start to finish. Two, they’re filled with good for you ingredients, like brown rice, fresh vegetables and  this SIMPLY AVOCADO™ dip. Honestly, I love avocados but sometimes I love not having to pit, scoop and squash. Somedays (like this holiday season), I just want the dip to already been in dip form so I can stick my face, er spoon, directly into it. The easiest part? You can buy these at Walmart (while you holiday shop) and can sample both flavors – sea salt and garlic herb. I couldn’t be trusted with the sea salt, it wasn’t a pretty sight.

As much as I love to just snack on it, I have to say the addition of this avocado dip makes these mushrooms. It adds such a creamy taste and adds a good dose of healthy fat. Which is good considering there’s about a pound of cheese laying beneath it. But that’s neither here nor there.

Mexican Spiced Mushroom Caps

Serves about 8.
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: About 30 minutes
Total time: 40 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 4 large portobello mushroom caps
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 medium red onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced and chopped
  • 1/2 large red bell pepper, chopped
  • 3/4 cup cooked brown rice
  • 1 tablespoon Mexican seasoning
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 cup cheddar cheese
  • 1 package SIMPLY AVOCADO™ dip
  • 1/2 cup pico de gallo
  • Fresh cilantro for garnish

Directions: 

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a large baking dish or two smaller ones with foil and spray with nonstick cooking spray.
  2. De-stem the mushroom caps and scoop out the gills and some of the insides of the mushrooms so you can stuff them. Rinse out the mushroom caps and dry.
  3. Heat olive oil in a large pan over medium heat. Add the red onion and garlic, cooking until lightly softened. Add the pepper and cook for about 4 minutes, or until softened. Stir in the brown rice and mix with the Mexican seasoning and salt and pepper.
  4. Stuff the mushroom caps with the rice mixture. Top each cap with 1/4 cup cheese. Place in the prepared baking dishes and bake for about 20 minutes, or until the cheese is melted.
  5. Let cool slightly, top with pico de gallo, the avocado and garnish with cilantro. Serve with cracked black pepper.

Nutritional information per serving (1/2 mushroom cap)

Calories: 92.5
Fat: 7.25 grams
Carbohydrates: 7.75 grams
Fiber: 2.1 grams
Protein: 4.25 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.

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