Monday, October 31, 2011

The Promise of What Lies Ahead

You know how a song can take you back to a specific time and place in the past?  Or maybe it's a moment, like when you feel the first sun-filled breeze of spring, that places you into a memory--a memory so vivid in your mind and so familiar to your body, that if you close your eyes, you feel like you have gone back in time.
The beauty of Ireland... a few photos from my 2007 trip
But what about the future?  It's not as clear as a memory (well, some experiences aren't remembered exactly as they occurred anyway)... but what about the feeling you get when thinking of the future?  The anticipation, the anxiety, the excitement, the hope, the contentment in knowing everything will happen as it should.


Just as something can take me to the past, there are those rare moments when a sound, smell, taste... a feeling can take me to the future.  I don't know the setting or the characters--or even the exact plot--but I sense the joy of being right where I'm supposed to be.  It's that full, happy feeling like my heart is going to burst.

It's like a premonition, a foreshadowing.  It's like experiencing a dream that feels so real, that upon waking, you have to reassure yourself or check in with someone to confirm it is not.  (As a side note: my personal occasionally-reoccurring nightmare is of tornadoes... I am from Kansas and grew up with the Wizard of Oz and tornado drills, but I've also heard tornadoes symbolize emotions, stress or upcoming changes in life... exciting and scary at the same time.)

I think part of this reflection comes from the fact that my birthday is on Sunday and that we are nearing the holiday season, which for me is full of family and tradition and the possibilities presented in the new year.  It's amazing to see what has been accomplished in a year's time, in a lifetime, but it's also fascinating to look forward.  Where will I be in a year?  Five years?  Twenty years?

Even if I don't know exactly what the future holds, I revel in the promise of what lies ahead.  For now, I can dream all I want--and maybe the future that I glimpse through those fleeting feelings of hope and contentment will someday come true, will someday surround me in the reality of my present.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

What I've Been Eating Lately

...besides hot salsa and tortilla chips.  (Tell me I'm not the only one who likes salsa so hot it can clear your sinuses?)  I don't want this post to sound like certain people's facebook status updates... "I just ate a cheeseburger." "I feel like an ice cream sundae."

What I do want to do: share a couple of my recent go-to meals.  It is so easy to get stuck in a food rut.  To break out of it, I usually flip through a magazine, browse recipes online, or ask my mom for ideas.  I seek inspiration from other people and then incorporate their favorites into my own rotation.

A couple weeks ago, I was heading to the grocery store and complaining to my mom that I needed something easy, tasty and healthy to bring to work for lunch.  She shared her usual sandwich: sliced meat, Laughing Cow Queso Fresco & Chipotle cheese (35 calories a wedge), and hot peppers on thin, round sandwich bread (100 calories).

So I gave it a try, substituting pickles instead of peppers, and I've brought this sandwich for lunch at work or a quick dinner before evening class numerous times.  (The Laughing Cow cheese adds flavor as a great creamy spread!)  Pairing the sandwich with a fruit cup and some Baked Cheetos or Goldfish crackers, I feel full and energized... no more tempting fast food, which wastes calories and cash.

My other recent favorite: my own take on Potbelly's Chickpea Veggie Salad.  I love to grab that salad for lunch since the flavors are strong and it helps me get some veggies into my day.  But for $7 or so, it's not a smart idea on a regular basis.  Good news though--the ingredients are easy to replicate.

I picked up some salad mix, chickpeas, red onion, cucumber and blue cheese (used sparingly so the calories don't get out of control).  I could also include hard-boiled egg and tomatoes to pull off a complete copy of the Potbelly's version, but I kept it simple for now.  And sometimes for extra protein, I have added some sliced turkey or grilled chicken too.

After chopping the vegetables and storing them in the fridge, it is so easy to throw all the ingredients in a bowl along with some light dressing for a quick and filling dinner.  (Beware of onion breath though!)

Swapping favorite food ideas with friends and family is the easiest way to add variety into your diet.  What are some of your go-to snacks or meals?

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Book Club: A Stolen Life: A Memoir

Hello, friends... and apologies for the long delay in between posts.  I spent a relaxing five days visiting my family in Kansas last weekend, and since then, I've been catching up with work, school--and having some fun too.  Scott and I enjoyed a beautiful fall day at Notre Dame on Saturday (too bad the Irish couldn't have played better!), and I got to see a bunch of ND friends (and my sister J who is a junior there).

I did want to update you on our last book club meeting, which was held a couple weeks ago at C's place.  After a crazy day at work, we enjoyed Skinny Girl margaritas, spinach dip, and some "I-could-have-eaten-the-whole-tray" paninis.  C assembled "grown up grilled cheeses" and a version with turkey, roasted red peppers, and cheeses.  We settled in on the couches for our discussion and dessert--raspberry crumble bars and lemon cheesecake bites.  Delicious!

With just three of us able to meet this month, the conversation about the book, Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, was fairly short.  But the general feeling was that the story was entertaining and suspenseful--an exciting page-turner, especially after the initial pages.  The photos definitely added a "creepy" factor, and the ending felt a little open-ended, as if a sequel could be in the works.  It was refreshing to read something in a different genre than my typical picks.  If you haven't read Miss Peregrine's yet, it would be a great mysterious story for this Halloween time of year.

We've already lined up the next couple months' books.  For our November meeting, we'll be reading A Stolen Life: A Memoir by Jaycee Dugard.  Though it is fascinating to learn how someone can come out of such a horrible experience with courage and resilience, I think it will be an extremely difficult read.

via Amazon Review:
When Jaycee Dugard was eleven years old, she was abducted from a school bus stop within sight of her home in South Lake Tahoe, California. She was missing for more than eighteen years, held captive by Phillip Craig and Nancy Garrido, and gave birth to two daughters during her imprisonment. On August 26, 2009, Garrido showed up for a meeting with his parole officer; he brought Jaycee, her daughters, and his wife Nancy with him. Their unusual behavior raised suspicions and an investigation revealed the tent behind the Garridos’ home where Jaycee had been living for nearly two decades.

A Stolen Life was written by Jaycee herself and covers the period from the time of her abduction in 1991 up until the present. In her stark, compelling narrative, she opens up about what she experienced—and offers an extraordinary account of courage and resilience.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Mind-Body Connection

I've been struggling lately with low energy levels.  Caffeine is a temporary fix, but I wonder what the cause is, what I can do to change things.  As much as it seems to be a physical issue, I feel like there is something deeper--something mental or emotional or maybe even spiritual--that holds the answer I need.

My mom sent an article to me and my sisters about five things that can contribute to a shortened attention span.  The reasons include a mix of physical, mental and environmental causes for loss of focus.

- Technology overload
- Lack of sleep
- Poor job satisfaction
- Too much stress
- Too little exercise

But in reading through the five items, I also realized these can cause more than concentration problems.  Just like during my yoga practice, the mental and the physical of everyday life are closely linked.  This strong mind-body connection means things that affect our minds also have an impact on our bodies--influencing energy levels, digestion, weight, and a whole lot of other physical aspects.

If I want to boost my energy levels (and I'll admit, lose some of the weight I have gradually gained over the past year), I can address those things that influence my mind--and in turn, I'll be able to make changes to my body. 

- I can power down and not be connected to the computer, my cell phone, and everything else electronic 24/7.
- I can go to bed at a reasonable time and do my best to sleep through the night (another problem I've been having!).
- I can focus on the positive during my workday and savor my accomplishments, big and small. 
- I can stay calm and make time to relax and rejuvenate.
- I can incorporate more exercise into my routine through regular yoga and walking.

More focus, more energy--and maybe even a little less weight--would be a wonderful result.

Oh, and let's not forget to stop and smell the roses from time to time...

Thanks, Scott, for this sweet surprise... pink roses to celebrate 16 months of marriage!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Make-Ahead Meals: Week 6 Recap (The Finale!)

Hello hello!  We've arrived at the final make-ahead meals post!  It's been a very rewarding experience, making and serving dinner at least a couple nights a week and challenging myself to use new ingredients and try new dishes.  This week, my favorite dish was the Mexican Chicken-and-Rice Soup, while Scott's was the Mediterranean Chicken Salad Pitas.

Since this is the final post, I have a special twist for you all.  My friend Mike writes an informative and entertaining blog entitled Beer For Dinner about...well, beer and food...two things that guys and girls alike can enjoy.  Through reading his blog, I've learned a lot about local breweries, lesser-known "must try" beers, and the perfect pairings to make the most of your beer + dinner experience.  Even better, he has used his expertise to select a great beer pairing for each of the last three Make-Ahead meals... what a treat!

Mediterranean Chicken Salad Pitas + Mike's beer pairing Stone Pale Ale
Building blocks: pulled chicken, roasted peppers
Ingredients: pitas, chicken, roasted peppers, tomato, cucumber, red onion, lettuce

Rigatoni with Apple and Squash + Mike's beer pairing Sierra Nevada Tumbler
Building block: roasted squash
Ingredients: pasta, bacon, sage, shallots, tart apple, roasted squash, parmesan

Mexican Chicken-and-Rice Soup + Mike's beer pairing 5 Rabbit Golden Ale
Building blocks: pulled chicken, rice pilaf
Ingredients: chicken broth, tomato salsa, lime juice, chicken, rice, monterey jack cheese, sour cream, avocado, cilantro

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Fall Football with Friends

You know what goes well with football?  Friends and food.  Scott and I hosted a little party for the ND-Purdue and Nebraska-Wisconsin games last night.  It was a spectacular fall day--a bit chilly but the sun was out.

One of my former roommates (from college and our Melrose Street days) and her husband just moved into a gorgeous place practically around the corner from us (welcome back to the neighborhood!).  After grabbing breakfast with them and taking a peek at their new home, Scott and I hit the grocery store to stock up for the party.  We loaded down our cart with a couple of pumpkins and a squash for our fall decor, as well as some Oktoberfest and autumn-flavored brews (to add to our collection of beer and wine left over from my family trip to ND for the MSU game).

Earlier in the week, I had consulted my mom about what to make and decided on a couple old favorites plus some new recipes.  Everyone brought meat for the grill, and we served up side dishes, booze, and desserts.  After Notre Dame beat Purdue, a bunch of us watched "Bridesmaids" until 1 am.  The sign of a successful party: late night, not many leftovers, lots of empty bottles and cans and plates.  The ND victory didn't hurt either.

7 Layer Mexican Dip
Tortilla Roll-ups
Salad with dried cranberries, chopped pecans, goat cheese
Crockpot Mac & Cheese
Oatmeal Carmelitas
Pumpkin Bars

The 7 Layer Mexican Dip and Tortilla Roll-ups are favorites I've tried in the past, and the salad simply involved throwing everything into a bowl.

I previously served up Crockpot Mac & Cheese in my pre-blogging days, so I was excited to try it again--especially since most of us are addicted to the cheesy dish in general.  And the desserts were just right for fall (oats, brown sugar, caramel, pumpkin, cinnamon...) and--according to our party guests--tasted delicious.

Crockpot Mac & Cheese (Paula Deen's version minus the eggs)

2 cups uncooked macaroni (I just poured in the whole 1 lb. box)
4 tbsp. butter
2 1/2 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese
3 eggs (I omitted the eggs)
1/2 cup sour cream
1 (10 3/4 oz) can condensed cheddar cheese soup
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup whole milk (the small containers of whole milk were out, so I used 2%)
1/2 tsp. dry mustard
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1) Boil the macaroni for six minutes.  Drain.
2) In a medium saucepan, mix butter and cheese.  Stir until the cheese melts.
3) In slow cooker, pour in cheese mixture and add eggs (I left these out), sour cream, soup, salt, milk, dry mustard, and pepper.  Stir until combined.  Add drained macaroni and stir again.

4) Cook on low 2 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally.

Oatmeal Carmelitas (from my mom--this is one of those recipes that keeps getting passed along from friend to friend)

1 1/2 cups butter, melted (don't substitute anything for butter)
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
2 cups flour
2 cups oats
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
12 oz. chocolate chips
1 1/2 cups butterscotch-caramel topping (found with the ice cream toppings--the recipe recommends Mrs. Richardson's; I used Hersey's version)

1) Mix melted butter with brown sugar, flour, oats, baking soda, and salt.
2) Press 3/4 of the mixture into 13x9 inch baking pan.  Bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes.
3) Sprinkle chocolate chips and pour caramel topping over crust.  Add reserved crumbled mix over the top.
4) Bake 15-20 minutes.  (It may not seem done after that time, but after it sits for awhile, it will firm up.)  Cut into bars for serving.

Pumpkin Bars (from Taste of

1 package (18-1/4 oz) yellow cake mix (my box only included about 15 oz)
1/2 cup butter, melted
1 egg

1 can (30 oz) pumpkin pie filling (or two 15 oz. cans)
1 can (5 oz) evaporated milk
2 eggs, lightly beaten

1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
3 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1) In a large bowl, combine cake mix, butter and egg until crumbly.  Set aside 2/3 cup for topping.  Press the remaining crumb mixture into a greased 13x9 inch baking pan.

2) For filling, in a large bowl, combine the pumpkin pie filling, milk and eggs; pour over crust.

3) For topping, combine the sugar, flour, cinnamon and reserved crumb mixture; sprinkle over pumpkin layer.
4) Bake at 350 degrees for 45-50 minutes or until top is golden brown.  Cool on a wire rack for 1 hour.  Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours before serving.  Yields 12-15 servings.


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