Farewell, 2013!

As we take our first steps into 2014, I feel the need to write a little something to sum up our last year. 2013 was a big year for us in a lot of challenging ways, and I’m glad to put it behind us.

Our big move to Boston was in December 2012, but I consider it the start of our year. Our animals took this first move very well, we humans much less so. We seemed to have struggled with everything on moving day, and certainly learned a few things which would come in handy for our second move of the year. By the time we collapsed on the bed in our new apartment, there was a tangible sense of having turned a page in our lives together.

I started my new job a couple of days after the big move, and my family arrived for Christmas just a few weeks later. It was crazy, but exciting. Doug found work managing the chocolate shop not too long after the holidays, and before long we felt ourselves settling into our Massachusetts life.

That first winter was rough, especially with me commuting to satellite clinics via rental cars and rides hitched with new colleagues, and Doug working long hours learning the ropes at the shop. By summer time we were happily able to find a loan company that didn’t mind my Canadian-ness, so June 2013 marked the purchase of my very first car!

By summer time we were heaping on the activities. We went to our good friends’ amazing wedding in NJ, and I spent a long weekend on the Cape with my family. I somehow managed to give half a dozen lectures and grand rounds within a couple of months, which was exciting, and educational, and stressful! I had always wanted to give expert talks to other healthcare providers so I was thrilled to be invited to speak to so many different audiences. Another exciting event from a work perspective was the publication of my first peer-reviewed journal article.

Somewhere in the middle of the summer it became clear that our first Massachusetts apartment was not going to be ours for much longer. We had ongoing trouble with the property management agency, and the proposed 50% rent increase at the end of our nine month lease was untenable. We made the difficult decision to start looking for another apartment, and after a few bumps (ok, blockades) along the road we found a lovely place in a much more happening neighborhood.

This fall Doug celebrated his big 4-0 by having loads of friends over for barbeque, poker and whiskey. It felt great to host, and I hope to do more of that in the coming year!

Looking back on the year I am very grateful for so many things. I have grown leaps and bounds professionally with my more challenging patient base and higher risk case load. I have been thrilled with the opportunity to lecture (guess I did get the teaching bug after all, mom and dad!), and have been empowered to make meaningful changes. I am also grateful for the friendships I’ve developed at work and at home despite having transplanted myself here just 13 months ago. I’m grateful for our new apartment where we hope to stay for a few years at least, and for our neighborhood welcoming us open arms. I am so thankful for the amazing steadiness Doug has shown throughout this tumultuous year, and for his endurance of a stressful job to help us get back on our feet.

At the beginning of 2013 I set up a list of 101 things to do in the year, as a more fun and productive alternative to traditional “resolutions.” I managed to accomplish about half of them, very impressive considering the number of big projects I accomplished that weren’t on the list! Looking back I can’t imagine how we could have gotten more out of this year.

For the coming year, I’ve decided to use a similar format, but linking each thing on the list back to a bigger goal or plan for my life. The categories are pretty broad (ie. house, friends, work, money, etc.) but I find they give me a nice structure to build my year around. I have 60 on my list so far, and it’s shaping up to be a great year!

I’m not sure yet where or if blogging fits into my plan, but if it does you’ll all be the first to know… Here’s to hoping 2014 is a little less eventful, but no less fun!

 

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Let’s take a break

I’m sorry for the radio silence.

Actually, scratch that. I’m not sorry. It is necessary.

For the time being.

Since making our big move, life has been one big series of changes and adjustments. The most dramatic of these have had nothing to do with our new jobs, apartment or location.

Moving is an opportunity to reinvent oneself, which is where my energies have been focused as of late. I am finding my new job far more emotionally challenging, and am re-learning how to make and keep friends.I have also re-discovered the cleansing power of sweat (and yoga!) and the glory of simple food.

I’m working on figuring out who I am as an adult, as a partner, as a counselor, as a friend, and as a human being. All of this work leaves little room for figuring out who I am as a blogger. Sorry, but the real world takes priority! (There’s that word again. I’m not really sorry.)

In short, I’m working hard, doing well, and staying (relatively) sane through all of the craziness.

But I’ll be back.

So, sorry.

Or not.

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Carrot Breakfast Muffins

Since our big move, we’ve been waiting for “normal” to come back. With starting a new job, living in a new state, and Doug looking for work we had a lot of adjusting to do. Then the holidays, the flu and historic winter storm Nemo happened. Most recently, I (almost) simultaneously found out that one of my new colleagues has accepted a new position and another was selected for jury duty for a month or more. We’re down from six to four people for the foreseeable future, which means the workload is going to be a challenge. These days, I say bring it on.

Stress management has been at the top of my mind since embarking on this move. Working as a counselor in a hospital my day job stresses the importance of “self-care,” which has usually meant simply indulging in a venting session with colleagues or an extra afternoon cookie. Lately I’ve found I need to break out the big guns, and it’s making all the difference.

I’m challenging myself not to dwell on the issues we’re facing. I’m challenging myself to “dance in the rain,” as they say, rather than waiting for the storm to pass. I’ve started meditating, which has been critical in keeping my cool lately. Doug will tell you I’m generally bad at relaxing, so I’ve also been devouring books, one of the few things I’ll sit still for to unwind. We’ve made an effort to hang out with friends and get out of the house at least once a week. The rest of the equation, despite my cravings (and occasional caving in) for chocolate and gummy candy, is nutrition.

Make-ahead foods are critical to staying well nourished when time, energy, and/or patience may be running low. I baked an enormous batch of these tasty little muffins, which have ensured a healthy start to each day without any fuss.

Carrot Breakfast Muffins

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 20 minutes

Yield: 24 muffins

These little powerhouses are packed with good stuff and taste like sunshine on a cold morning! Adapted from http://livelearnloveeat.com/tag/vegan-carrot-muffins/

Ingredients

  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup almond flour
  • 1 cup oat flour
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 Tbsp pumpkin pie spice
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1 cup pure maple syrup
  • 1 cup sunflower oil
  • 1 large ripe banana, mashed
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened almond milk
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 2 cups shredded carrot (about 3 medium carrots)

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F and line two muffin pans with baking cups.
  2. In a medium bowl combine the flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt and spices. Add the chopped walnuts.
  3. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the maple syrup, sunflower oil, banana, milk and vanilla. Add the shredded carrot and stir to combine.
  4. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and mix until just combined (don't over-mix).
  5. Fill the baking cups 3/4 of the way. Bake for 18-20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
http://www.madebyleah.com/2013/02/17/carrot-breakfast-muffins/

It’s rare that I get complicated with flour, but in this case I wanted to make sure these had extra protein from the almond flour, but only had a cup left at the time! You can grind oat flour from oats in a food processor or magic bullet, it just takes a moment. Feel free to use half and half oat and wheat flour, or all wheat flour if you like.

I was momentarily concerned about the amount of maple syrup in these guys, which I reduced slightly from the original recipe. However, if you measure it out there’s just a teaspoon of syrup per muffin, which we found perfectly acceptable for breakfast. I may even try making these with less syrup next time since the carrot itself is sweet.

Perfectly spiced, moist, nourishing muffins. These make a big batch so freeze half, they’re just as moist after defrosting.

With yet another snow storm coming through Boston today, I’m happy to snuggle up with some tea and a muffin for some mandatory relaxation!

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Happy Valentine’s Day!

I hope you get to spend today doing whatever you like best, with whomever you like to do it with!

Also, I hope you get to eat something sweet. Like these cupcakes.

These chocolate cupcakes stuffed with chocolate ganache and raspberry jam, topped with raspberry coconut frosting and chocolate drizzles.

We’ll be lucky if they make it to our dinner party tonight!

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Budget Cleaning

So maybe I lied about posting a recipe, but my last post has me on a roll, thinking about how to be health and eco-conscious on a budget. The truth is, these goals have to do with more than just the foods we eat, but also the beauty products we use and the way we clean our space. Doug and I have long been on the bandwagon of “natural*” cleaning and beauty products, but the cost and questionable “naturalness” of these products had me looking for other solutions.

Enter baking soda, vinegar and hydrogen peroxide.

Before moving out of our old apartment we reveled in the ability of simple peroxide and baking soda to get the grout in our kitchen and bathroom clean. Since then we’ve experimented with baking soda and vinegar in the wash to de-smellify our towels, and I’m readying spray bottles full of the good stuff to wash our floors, mirrors and counters. Desiring virtue has a great list of ways to incorporate “natural” cleaning into your routine.

I’m also embarking on some beauty experiments.

Doug giggles when I call it the “no poo” method, though he expressed real concern until I explained that it had nothing to do with bowel movements and everything to do with hair washing! It’s a simple concept – rub a tablespoon of moistened baking soda into your hair, massage and rinse, then rinse with a solution of 1 Tbsp cider vinegar in 1 cup of water. Voila, no (sham)poo!

I generally only wash my hair twice a week anyway, and found that stripping all of the oil out of my hair left it dry on the first day and oily within 2 days. There were only one or two days a week that I felt like I was having a “good” hair day, meaning it was neither too oily nor too dry. With the no poo method it’s evened out substantially! And despite my initial concern I don’t smell like vinegar all the time. This technique really seems like a win-win: no chemical shampoo, no expensive “natural” products, and no oily/dry hair issues! I guess that makes it a win-win-win…

Next on my “let’s try” list is the oil face wash method. My face goes through much the same routine as my hair: too dry right after washing (despite having tried a million kinds of  face wash and moisturizer) then oily by the afternoon. Although counter intuitive, oil does dissolve oil and I like the idea of knowing exactly which two ingredients are in my face wash/moisturizer (castor oil and olive oil, for my first try). All it requires in an appropriate combination of oils, hot water and a face cloth. I’ll let you know how it goes!

What are your favorite low-tech, low-budget cleaning methods?

*I, personally, hate the term “natural” when talking about foods/products because it doesn’t really mean anything. Perhaps I’ll write a post about terminology at some point.
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Balance

It’s been a while since I posted a recipe, which I hope to change soon. In the meantime, I want to share with you something that’s been on my mind a lot lately – balance.

Namely financial balance. At the moment Doug is still looking for work, and we’re doing alright on just my salary, but it’s taking some effort and is forcing me to confront some of my spending habits. Particularly the habits that have to do with food.

My two priorities for food often contradict one another: eat whole, chemical free foods, and stay within a budget. The trouble is that pasture-raised hormone-free meats cost 2-3x as much as the chemical-laden sickly stuff. The same goes for gluten-free whole food pasta, “natural” nut butter, non-dairy milk, etc. The two main types of food blogs I frequent seem incongruous, using either luxurious whole foods or bare bones budget basics. But how does one combine these ideals into foods that keep us both happy *and* healthy?

I’m still working on the solution to this question, but there are a few things I’ve figured out along the way:

  1. Avoid prepared/processed foods. They are always more expensive and often more chemical-laden than their unprocessed alternatives. This means more quinoa, less quinoa pasta, more carrots, fewer crackers, and more homemade vinaigrette, less prepared dressing.
  2. Stretch out expensive foods. Get more bang for your buck by using expensive meats etc. as flavor enhancers instead of the main event. We bought a pound of pastured, hormone-free ground bison this weekend (for $9, woah) and sauteed it with mushrooms (which were on sale) and onions to give it some bulk. We then used it as filling in 2 large veggie-ful lasagnas, further stretching that precious (delicious) meat!
  3. Eat more beans. Dried beans are super cheap and healthy. On the weekend I cook up a batch of chickpeas and black beans then freeze them for easy use throughout the week. When they’re ready and available we tend to eat more of these little powerhouses.
  4. Avoid temptation. This should be my mantra. If you have a soft spot for fancy cheeses (guilty!), don’t set foot in the cheese monger. If you’re anything like me, avoid markets like Whole Foods unless you’re prepared to splurge. And whatever you do, don’t browse the fancy chocolates…
  5. Sales, sales, sales. I’ve gotten good at planning our meals based on what’s on sale (or which coupons I’ve got). I’ve saved an average of $25 per shopping trip by taking advantage of discounts, which always feels like victory to me! I’ve even started emailing companies who make foods I like, and have gotten loads of coupons in return.
  6. Pack a lunch. Homemade is always cheaper and generally healthier. Not living in NY has been helpful from this angle – there aren’t nearly as many tempting restaurants in our new neighbourhood (at least not that we’ve found yet). I’ve been on a salad kick for work lunches, with a big bin of greens, prepped veggies, a batch of homemade dressing, and sprouted lentils, roasted chickpeas or canned tuna for a ready-to-go protein punch.
  7. Eat what you’ve got. It’s so tempting to buy “just a couple more” items when I run to the store for the missing ingredient in a recipe. More often than not, if I just take a minute to be creative, I can find a substitute in our own kitchen. If not, a different recipe will probably do.

Trying to keep with number 7, my goal for next week is not to do any grocery shopping. We have tons of food in our cupboards and freezer and could probably survive a month without shopping, but for now I’ll try a week. When I implored Doug to help me stay on track, he gave me a wary look and called me “a bit of a steamroller. But a cute steamroller!” When it comes to food, I can’t say he’s wrong! But here’s to hoping I can keep that steamroller moving in the right direction.

Do you have any tips or tricks for eating well on a budget? I’d love to hear them!

Posted in Tips and Tricks | 1 Comment

We Made It!

Despite a number of setbacks and the giant stress-tastrophe that is moving, we made it to Boston. And I started a new job (well, three, sort of, if you count having to learn the various protocols in three different hospitals…). And we hosted my family for Christmas. Whew!

Despite all of this craziness and the enormous “to do” list for our new apartment, we’re so happy. It is so obvious to both of us that we needed this change, and our stress level is already much reduced when compared to NYC levels. Doug is still looking for work but he has had a number of interviews and we both feel like a breakthrough is just around the corner.

I have been taking advantage of my big, beautiful new kitchen which made Christmas dinner possible and has me falling in love with cooking all over again. Since my family left we’ve had a major leftover issue which has turned into a fun challenge.

Sauteed greens with onion, quinoa and salami before adding eggs and cheese.

This quinoa scramble was probably my favorite leftover creation so far. Quinoa and eggs are a match made in heaven, and there was just enough salami leftover to give it all some kick.

Quinoa Scramble

  • Leftover egg whites (from crème brûlée)
  • Spicy peppered salami (from Christmas hors d’ouvres)
  • Smoked gouda (from New Year’s stuffed mushrooms)
  • Quinoa (from quinoa & spinach with pesto)
  • Onion
  • Kale (from Icky’s dinner!)

We’ve also made use of soups to revive some of our fridge stock:

Leftover soup

  • V8 juice (from christmas Caesars, we drank all the Clamato!)
  • Carrots & celery (from holiday crudités)
  • Cabbage from freezer (leftover from other soups)
  • Spinach (from quinoa & spinach with pesto)
  • Withered grape tomatoes (from lunch salads)
  • Onion
  • Zucchini
  • Stock

And, with our leftover ham, we made some awesome split pea soup. One of my goals for 2013 is to be more conscious of reducing food waste, and I’m off to a great start!

Things are far from “normal” at home, but I’m looking forward to coming around here more often! See you soon!

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CSA Week 24

It’s the final week of the CSA, and what a fews months it has been!

As a new blogger I’ve found the weekly posts throughout the farm share season to be a great way to form a writing habit. It has forced me to post something even when I don’t feel like it or when I’m overwhelmed with a giant to do list. It’s also helped me to start finding my voice as a blogger, by experimenting and figuring out what feels comfortable. In short, it’s been a great learning experience, though I clearly have a lot more experience to gain!

This Thursday I’m heading up to Toronto to take care of some visa paperwork while Doug gets some extra hours in at work. Talk about holiday spirit! Next week we’ll be packing everything we own into a truck to move to a new state. It’s mind boggling to think about uprooting our lives and starting over in a very different place with new jobs and a new apartment. I’ve been practicing my accent, which should at least get me a few chuckles around Beantown!

Luckily we have one last share to nourish us in our packing mania.

It is currently impossible to take a photo in our apartment without boxes and/or packing supplies in view. Displayed here are some of our color-coded labels!

In the share this week:
Beets - Beet soup
Carrots - Maple glazed carrots
Red Russian Kale - Kale quinoa
Garlic - I’m gonna miss this stuff!
Celeriac - Beet soup
Potatoes - Mashed potatoes and turnips
Turnips - Mashed potatoes and turnips
Turnip greens - Sesame garlic greens
Parsley - Kale quinoa
Dill - Kale quinoa

I’m planning a mini Thanksgiving tomorrow night with a humanely raised chicken, mashed ‘taters, maple glazed carrots, garlicky greens and cranberry sauce. Putting together any type of meal on my last day of work seems like a tall order, but I’ll be making the sides ahead of time and will simply have to pop the chicken in the oven tomorrow. That is, if everything goes according to plan!

Between moving over 200 miles and starting a new job I may take a break from blogging for a short while. I’ll be eager to start posting again in the new year, from my new kitchen, where I can take advantage of my new double oven to bake so many cupcakes!!

Happy Thanksgiving!

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CSA Week 23

We’re at the point in this stressful process of moving where all I want to eat is cheese. I’m doing my best to balance that out with kale salad…

Beet and Kale Salad with Goat Cheese

…with cheese!

I’ve been channeling my anxious energy into kitchen experiments, including these unusual tacos with butternut squash, sage, black beans, caramelized onions and, you guessed it, goat cheese!

Butternut Squash Tacos

In turn, I heated the leftover squash and onions from the tacos along with other various leftovers and cashew cream to eat over pasta for a quick dinner. Yum.

My brother and his lady friend were in town for the weekend, which was a glorious excuse to get out of the house (and to visit the cheese monger)… and yesterday I needed Doug’s help to bring home our CSA veggies along with the leftovers from the lunch my amazing coworkers hosted for me (including Indian food with deep fried paneer!).

In the share this week:
Beets - Beet mashed potatoes
Carrots - Rice noodles with carrots and bok choi
Brussels Sprouts - Steamed sprouts
Kale - Black bean and kale tacos
Garlic - Can’t get enough of this stuff!
Sage - Sage baked sweet potatoes
Bok Choi - Rice noodles with carrots and bok choi
Potatoes - Turnip potato soup, Beet mashed potatoes
Celeriac - Turnip potato soup
Turnips - Turnip potato soup
Turnip Greens - Bulgar with greens
Pop Corn - Snack!

I can’t believe next week will be the very last share!

Today is Doug‘s birthday, so dinner will be 100% comfort food: Bacon-topped mac and cheese with buttery brussels sprouts on the side. So. Much. Cheese.

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CSA Week 22

Things are far from quiet here with finalizing details about our new apartment, sorting out paperwork for my visa, health screening and other paperwork for the new job, packing, and tying up loose ends at my current job. Doug is feeling the pressure with finding a new job, and we’re both getting antsy!

I’m doing my best to take time out and breathe. We have a lot to be grateful for, particularly in light of the ongoing horror of the aftermath of hurricane Sandy. I have no doubt these next few weeks will go by quickly, and I’m excited to start this new adventure.

In times of stress, the importance of food skyrockets for us. Although it takes time, the process of preparing a healthy meal for the two of us and sitting down to eat it together can have a soothing effect. Nutrition is going to help our bodies to get through the next few weeks none the worse for wear.

In the share this week:
Beets - Beet, kale and goat cheese salad
Carrots - Rice noodle stir fry
Brussels Sprouts - Roasted brussels sprouts
Butternut Squash - Black bean, squash and greens tacos
Garlic - Mmmmmmmmm
Sage - Sage roasted potatoes
Bok Choy - Rice noodle stir fry
Potatoes - Sage roasted potatoes
Parsley - Black bean, squash and greens tacos
Kale - Beet, kale and goat cheese salad
Turnips - Rice noodle stir fry
Turnip Greens - Black bean, squash and greens tacos (and lizard food!)

That’s a lotta roots…

Tonight we’re having a green salad and chicken soup with rice that I made in a huge batch and froze last week. After dinner the plan is to relax with my dude, fantasize about leaping into the next chapter of our lives, and breathe.

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