Monday, June 16, 2014

The Constant Battle of Eating Well

Over the last few months I've been trying really hard to start eating better.  I'm a girl who loves pasta, red wine, and cheese (you know things that are wonderful for my waistline), but I was tired of having clothes in my closet that no longer fit and I realized that at age 28, it's now or never with regards to feeling good in my own skin.   It seemed like I was always trying some type of different diet (Advocare, vegan, low carb, clean eating, etc.).  I'd stick with something for several weeks and see some results, but eventually I'd just fall off the wagon.
About 6 months ago I read Kris Carr's Crazy Sexy Diet, and my views on food and diets were completely changed.  Something finally clicked in me that eating well wasn't just to lose weight---imagine that!  Instead, I finally learned that I should eat well to feel better, feel stronger, and have more energy.  While I don't follow Kris Carr's plans perfectly (i.e. I'm not vegan and I'll never give up red wine), her book taught me so much, and I incorporate a lot of those lessons into what I eat throughout the week.

In addition to lessons learned from books and food blogs, I've also discovered the following on my own:
- It's Not the Cooking Olympics.   This one probably needs a little explaining.  I used to think that if I was cooking and spending the time to find recipes and go grocery shopping, it needed to be epic.  If not, then what was the point?  Might as well buy a freezer meal.  I also thought that if I was cooking a meal it needed to have a meat, a carb, a veggie, and salad.  My meals ended up taking a lot of time and contained a lot of calories.  I've realized that eating well throughout the week will likely mean a lot of repeats.  I now cook 3 or 4 things per week and eat those for every meal.  Yes, it's semi boring, but when I get to the weekend and want a couple cheat meals, I don't feel so guilty because I've made good choices all week.
-  Plan Ahead.  After realizing that not every meal needed to be Top Chef-worthy, it relieved a lot of pressure and allowed me to work towards planning meals ahead. This was the most important step for me.  If I haven't planned ahead, I'm not eating healthy, that's all there is to it.  If all that's in my pantry is pasta and spaghetti sauce, that's what's for dinner.  It took me a long time, but I'm realizing that a few hours spent on a Sunday afternoon for a week's worth of meals is well worth the effort.  I'm no longer spending 45 minutes after work making dinner, and I'm making better choices throughout the week.  If the meal is in the fridge and already made, that's what's for dinner.  Rocket science, I tell you.
- Gotta Limit the Carbs.   I'm petite, 5'2" on a good day, and I've learned that my small frame and carbs don't mix.  This realization obviously throws me into a deep depression pretty regularly, but I'm learning to do without on most days or limit carbs to one meal per day.  I also only eat whole grains (during the week mind you!!), so if I do eat a carb, it's at least nutritional.
- Eat Breakfast.  I know. I know. Everyone says that.  But it's so true.  It's impossible to make smart choices at lunch if you are starving.  Up until probably only 5-6 months ago, I was a coffee only breakfast girl.  The thought of eating solid food in the morning made me gag, but I've learned that I've got to have something.  I usually do oatmeal (natural, added flaxseed or something) or some type of quiche.

With those lessons in mind I've come up with quite a meal rotation.  Lots of planning and learning, but it feels good to have several go-to recipes to rotate throughout the month. My goals for meal-planning are the following: lots of veggies; add in animal products but not to every dish; low-carb; and minimal dairy, if any.
I hope to put together some posts with a few of my favorites, but I'll start with a tried and true recipe, Bean and Swiss Chard Soup (Adapted from this Annie Eats recipe).


2  Qts. Unsalted Chicken Stock
2  15 oz. Cannellini Beans
1  Bag Shredded Carrots
28 oz. Petite Diced Tomatoes
1  Large Onion
1  Bunch Swiss Chard
2  Tbsp. Tomato Paste
3  Garlic Cloves, minced
2  Tsp. Herbes de Provence (heaping teaspoons)
Red Pepper Flakes to taste
2  Bay Leaves
1  Tbsp. Salt
Pepper to taste
Parmesan Rind

Here's what you do:

Prep your Swiss Chard.  Separate the stalks from the leafy green parts, the stalks are pretty fibrous and tough, even after sautéing, so I toss them aside.  Stack your chard leaves, roll them like a burrito, chop length wise piece, then chop.

I sauté my the swiss chard for a few minutes in the same pan I'll use for the soup, no need to dirty multiple dishes.  After the chard has softened, I remove from the pan and set aside.  

Next up come the other veggies-- diced onion and shredded carrots.  

I love carrots in soup, but I know they aren't everyone's cup of tea, so you can leave out entirely or only add half the bag depending on your tastes.  Also, the original recipe calls for tortellini (which, hello, yum!), but when I make this during the week I omit that, so I need to bulk up the veggies in order to thicken up the soup.  See? Carrots in lieu of tortellini, this healthy eating is so much fun!  After your carrots and onions soften up (about 10 minutes or so), add your garlic, red pepper flakes to taste, and tomato paste.  

Sauté that mix for 3 minutes or so.  Then pour in your diced tomatoes and cannellini beans (rinsed and drained).  Add in the chicken stock, herbs de provence, bay leaves, salt, pepper, and parmesan rind.  Bring soup to a boil and then reduce heat and allow to cook on medium-low for 30 minutes.  After 30 minutes, add back in the swiss chard, heat for another 10 minutes or so, remove bay leaves and parmesan rind and then enjoy!

While I love a good soup recipe, I have to laugh because I realize that to a lot of people, soup is no meal.  But hey..... if you're eating well, you better start eating soup!    Reminds me of this video-- a man complaining about his wife making soup for dinner  :)

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Chicago Trip

This past weekend, my friend and I ventured up to Chicago to visit our dear friend who moved there a few months ago.  It was a quick weekend trip, but we had a blast.  (Minus being stuck in traffic forever because of an awful semi fire....luckily I read afterwards that the driver wasn't injured).

On Saturday, we drove up just north of the city to the Chicago Botanic Garden.  All I can say is, wow!  The entire grounds were unreal.  I honestly wish I could go back every other week since there were so many things not yet blooming and we also just missed the tail end of the spring blooms.  If you are near the Chicago area, it is well worth the trip.  

One of my favorite parts of the gardens were the handwritten signs by the staff that contained little "factoids" regarding the layouts and actual plants.  In fact, a lot of areas had signs discussing the damage the gardens suffered because of the horrible winter.  Most of their knockout rose bushes were significantly knocked-out (pun definitely intended).  You could tell the rose bushes were at least a quarter the size as the year before.  It made me feel a lot better about my own knock-outs that are barely little shrubs this year.  

It may be hard to tell from this pic because of the sunlight, but this 
was an adorable water feature.  The water came from the turtle's mouth
and trickled down the stone into the small basin below.  It was just enough
sound to be very tranquil.  I'd love to try to mimic this in my own yard this summer!

The Botanic Garden was divided into different sections based on style of garden.  The English section was my absolute favorite.  The brick walls, trellises, ponds, and punches of royal blue made the entire section feel so cozy.  I got several ideas, including the wooden framed trellises up against the brick.  Our entire house is brick, so I think I can mimic this pretty easily.  I also love the placement of pots and benches throughout the flower beds.  

After the Botanic Garden, we enjoyed a wonderful dinner near Navy Pier and also some famous Garret popcorn while taking in some fireworks.  

Probably a "ya had to be there story," but I'll tell it anyway. While I was 
waiting on the small popcorn I ordered, the cashier called my name and handed
me this baby bag.  I looked at her and proclaimed, "This is the small?!?"  She 
bust up laughing and said, "Ma'am, that's your salt."  My friends then proceeded 
to inform the cashier that I am an attorney.  How embarrassing.  

In addition to taking in the sights, we also met our friend's adorable chocolate Shih Tzu, named Reggie.  He was of course adorable, and it was rather funny to see our friend become a "daddy."  

I'm thankful for a great weekend with wonderful friends!  Don't worry, Chicago, I'll be back.