Tuesday, April 27, 2010

the food series continued: simple is good.

I said earlier how I was going to try and make tasty meals this week from just what was in our kitchen already. Well, today, I picked up some broccoli, onions, and bananas ($6 worth of groceries). So I cheated a little.

Today I made three pretty freakin' yummy dishes. I think my food pictures are improving a little also ;)

1. (Almost) Vegan Apple Bread
-it would have been totally vegan (no eggs, milk, butter, etc.) if I hadn't run out of hemp milk and had to use the rest of the cow's milk.

The apple part of the apple bread happened because we had a bunch of mealy apples that I didn't want to throw out, so....I turned them into unsweetened apple sauce and mixed it into the batter.

I can't remember what I did exactly, but instead of 2 cups of all-purpose white flour, I used stone ground whole wheat flour, barley flour, oats, wheat germ, and flax seed. Voila! Apple bread. Low fat, high fiber, low calorie, filling, delicious. I think this is going to be breakfast for this week.

For dinner, I wanted something with meat and/or cheese so badly. Instead, I made homemade spanish rice, black beans, and roasted corn, topped with chopped cilantro and green onions from our garden.

And for dessert, something not vegan and not incredibly healthy. We'll just call it soul food :) I needed to use up the last of the milk and bread, so I made a first attempt at bread pudding.
It definitely hit the sweet spot.

Reasons for existence: good friends and snowballs

Chris got back from San Diego late Saturday night, and I've never been happier to see anyone in my life. I was watching a TV show the other night, and one of the lines was about old maids who "sit at home on Friday nights watching Ghost Whisperer with their cats." This is precisely what I did on Friday night while Chris was in San Diego. Now that I've had a taste of it, I'd like to thank my dear husband for marrying me and saving me from a life I could have had.

Also saving me from a life of being a perpetual loner who hangs out with her cat and studies Chemistry on a Saturday night are my very dear friends. I got a wonderful surprise visit from Shannon, Emily and Brittany on Saturday night. They took me out to dinner and joined me at the airport in welcoming Chris back home. My semi-regular phone calls from Katie and Erin keep me going as well. Ladies, I am so grateful for your friendship!!! You have no idea how much you inspire and motivate me.  I am so blessed to have you in my life.

On Sunday, Chris and I celebrated his coming home by going uptown to an art festival at Palmer Park. Our first stop was to see Chris' mom. She is a wonderfully talented watercolor artist who was displaying some of her art work at the show. See her beautiful paintings at Marina's Watercolors.

It was absolutely gorgeous outside on Sunday and it seemed like a perfect day for...a snowball! Maybe kids up North love the first snowball of the winter, but I really look forward to the first snowball of the summer. My dad got me hooked on snowballs and my favorite flavor, nectar.

Besides the fact that I had to study when I got home, it was a perfect Sunday: Mass, live music, great art, yummy snowballs, and my husband safe and sound at home.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Cheap, healthy, tasty--Vegetable Pasta

I (try to) stick to a tight budget, especially with groceries. In some ways its cheaper since we changed our eating habits - we don't buy packaged cookies, chips, etc. We limit our meat, cheese and dairy. However, since we switched from animal fats to primarily veggie fats, we go through a lot more olive oil, not to mention twice the amount of fruits and veggies that we used to. I use tons of spices to bulk up flavor while keeping the salt content reasonable, and those get expensive too. Since I haven't quite figured out how to budget for the new groceries (and since I'm not amazing with money in the first place) I blew our grocery budget with about a week and a half left in the month. Part of me instantly wanted to run to the store, stick it on credit or just go over into other parts of the budget/reserve money. Instead, I looked in the pantry, gave myself a pep talk and decided to get creative with what we have for the remainder of the month. I'm determined to make nutritious, yummy, filling meals out of what we have at home already.

Since I've been posting about our weight loss and change in diet, I thought it was about time to post some recipes! These are still being tweaked and I don't make any recipe the same way twice, but it'll give you an idea of what we've been eating.

For dinner tonight we had Roasted Vegetable Pasta. The recipe is really simple and has become a recent staple for us. There are a million ways to change it up to your taste preferences.

Roasted Vegetable Pasta (with Homemade Marinara)
Preheat oven to 400.
1 large can crushed tomatoes (28 oz)
1 can petite diced tomatoes, or another crushed if you like it really smooth (14.5 oz)
1 medium yellow onion
2 tablespoons of minced garlic or a few cloves
olive oil
vegetables- I recommend red bell pepper, broccoli, zucchini, cherry tomatoes and carrots, but experimenting with your favorites is fun too! If you use peas, though, do not roast them.
pasta (I like Whole Foods whole wheat rotini. I would use anything that has a true "shape")

1. *see marinara recipe below* Let the marinara sauce simmer (It doesn't have to be homemade, but I'll include by very basic, super-easy marinara recipe below.) Simmering will benefit homemade by letting all of the flavors meld together better, and will benefit a jar/can sauce by helping it taste less "canned". I don't usually measure, but I throw maybe a tablespoon (small "cup" part of your palm) of basil and some cracked pepper in at this point as well.

2.Chop up all of the veggies (they don't have to be small, just not so big that you have to unhinge your jaw to eat them). Drizzle olive oil over the veggies, toss until evenly coated. Crack a little pepper on them if desired. Pop in the oven for 20 min.

3. Put roasted vegetables into the marinara sauce and mix well. Prepare pasta according to directions and pour marinara/veg mixture over cooked pasta. Top with fresh basil and Parmesan cheese (optional).

Basic Marinara

1. Go about two seconds around a large skillet with a bottle of olive oil. Heat on medium. Chop onion and garlic and sauté in pan until onions are soft, about 5 minutes.
2. Pour one can crushed tomatoes and petite diced tomatoes in skillet. Let heat until bubbly, reduce heat. Let simmer and throw in a tablespoon or two of dried basil and/or oregano. If you like a little kick, some crushed red pepper is good too. Let simmer for at least 30 minutes. Taste, and add more seasoning if needed.

This picture isn't as pretty as I intended, but I forgot to take a picture while cooking. This is the leftovers for Chris' lunch tomorrow...

mall versus sunshine

Last weekend, Chris and I ran around New Orleans trying to get him ready for his trip to San Diego this week. One stop was the dreaded mall. Chris has recently lost a lot of weight and the section of his wardrobe that fits is rapidly narrowing. Not to mention that since never go shopping for clothes, the section of the closet where all the paint-stained, holey clothes hang out is growing exponentially.

We stepped into the mall with extreme optimism and a little bit of money in our pockets. When we left, we were dejected, depressed, grumpy and empty-handed. We didn't know what half of the stores were and why they were selling a flimsy shirt made in Taiwan for $60. The whole place was like one big sensory overload nightmare. Sales and people everywhere and sparkly things and smells and noise. I could never figure out what floor we were on in those big department stores and I think if you have a store so big that you have 3 sets of escalators, you need to scale back a little. I think Abercrombie & Fitch wins the award for the most obnoxious store in the mall with it's loud techno music, that putrid smell pouring out of its doors so strong that you can smell is 6 stores down and the overblown photos of half naked people displayed in the store's windows.

We burst into the parking lot grateful for fresh air and sunshine. I went home and cleaned and ironed all of Chris' nicest, best fitting clothes and packed them in his suitcase. Maybe all of this is due to our old people tendencies or our distaste for consumerism for its own sake. Regardless, I'm not the mall's #1 fan.

However, one thing made our mall trip worth it. Growing up, we called the nuns that don't wear full habits or opt for more mainstream clothes "JCPenney Nuns". I always think of this when I walk into that store. We happened to have parked outside of JCPenney's and were walking through stacks of clothes, trying to make a beeline for the exit when we saw nuns in JCPenney's, buying Saints t-shirts. Maybe you think we're creepers, but this moment had to be documented, so Chris took a picture with his camera phone.

To soak up some more of that awesome sunshine, we went on a date to Old Algiers Fest, a free festival right alongside the river. The crowd was large enough for it to be a festival, but small enough to enjoy ourselves. There were lots of booths with local artisans and restaurants, and we wandered around looking at some gorgeous jewelry and pottery before we settled down on the ground in front of the stage for the main event - Irvin Mayfield. He's a Grammy-winning jazz musician and Cultural Ambassador of New Orleans. What a treat to see this show for free! You could tell him and his band were improvising a lot and their easy-going nature spread to the crowd who started dancing by themselves, their family and complete strangers.

Of course, the scene was littered with several distinct characters you could only find in New Orleans! The last photo is my favorite. Irvin Mayfield had his four or five year old son on stage playing his little trombone the whole time. You can see the awesome guy in the front too, decked in Mardi Gras beads and feathers. The woman to the right danced by herself, with her dog, and with strangers. I LOVE THIS CITY!

Friday, April 16, 2010

The Art of Manliness & the Smoke Monster

My husband and I are about to have the longest separation of our married life together. Chris is taking a four day business trip to San Diego. While poor Chris is on an all-expense paid trip in a nice hotel next to the beautiful bay in downtown San Diego (of course I didn't mean that sarcastically), I'd like for him to be worry free and be able to use this as a mini-vacation. I thought it might be nice to do his pre-trip shopping and planning for him, have everything nice and neat in his suitcase so he can just grab his luggage and hop on that plane.

I'm a listaholic. I make little lists everywhere, although I lose them 85% of the time and rarely have the opportunity to scratch anything off. Still, it helps me a lot to keep organized by seeing my brain dumped out onto a page. The moment I begin thinking about what to pack for this trip I picked up a pen to start a list.

My pen remained in mid-air for quite awhile because I realized since I've never been a man, I don't know what "man things" men put in their man bags for their manly trips. So like any modern woman, I googled it. I did find some guidance, but I found something I think is even better: The Art of Manliness . The following is a great picture from the website next to the article titled:

The Menaissance: The Death of the Metrosexual and the Rise of the Retrosexual

I'm telling you, this website contains some gems including: the Essential Man Library and articles on "Manly Skills" like How to Jump From a Speeding Car.   As a plus, the format is easy and the old timey pictures give the website a great vibe.

As for the trip, I haven't started packing yet. Although, Chris and I have discussed important things such as how much yoga I would have to do to fit into his suitcase. We also had one more crucial conversation that went somewhat like this:

Nicole: Four days isn't that long. I'll be waiting for you at the airport on Saturday.
Chris: But what if I...you know.
Nicole: I don't even want to think about that. (pause) If you hear the smoke monster coming, just run like hell.
Chris: That is actually what I meant. I'm not as worried about crashing, it's just if I land on that island...do I run towards or away from the smoke monster?
Nicole: Away. And find a tree to get inside of.

(If you don't know what I'm talking about, see this clip from Lost.)

Thursday, April 15, 2010

this frugalista shops at Whole Foods

The following "hippie" post is for you, Katie Steiner. May you mock me for the rest of my life.

A self-proclaimed frugalista, I would rather die than pay too much for something. I routinely buy toothpaste and shampoo for under a dollar. I'd rather repair and reuse than throw away and waste. I don't look twice at most things unless they are on sale. However, when it comes to food, I stretch this ideal a little.

Chris and I have recently made some huge changes in our eating habits. A couple of months ago, we "de-high fructose corn syruped" our house, waved good bye to most packaged snacks and anything else with iffy ingredients. Meat is a once or twice a week event, and we try our best to buy hormone-free organic milk and eggs from cage-free, vegetarian fed chickens (are those other chickens NOT vegetarian fed? scary.).

A lot of people think we're weird.

We initially made these changes because we were sick of being fatties. We both have a good bit of weight to lose, but popping in a lean cuisine and eating off a plastic tray every night did not sound appealing. So I experiment on my poor husband who graciously eats my attempts at wholesome cooking like lentil soup and homemade bread (delicious) and tofu breakfast sausage (which will take some getting used to).

I had a 2 hour break between classes on Monday and was itching to get off campus. I was SO hungry and did not bring lunch. Regardless of my lack of money and commitment not to put junk into my body, I pulled into a Chick-fil-a and let the glorious aroma of chicken waft into my nostrils. I read the menu, picked out what I wanted....and left without getting anything. I was pretty proud. Hungry, but proud.

After letting my low blood sugar allow me to briefly entertain the idea of stealing a loaf of bread, I had a brilliant idea. I waltzed into the Whole Foods down the street and stepped into the glorious land of free samples. I grabbed a basket and pretended to shop while I had a lunch of the most beautiful free samples ever to be seen by man. Orange slices, turkey pastrami, smoked provolone, broccoli & carrots with dressing, pineapple wedges. Oh. my. Probably the best little lunch I've had in awhile.
(I'm not endorsing doing this regularly. I ended up feeling guilty and bought a lemon and some wheat germ.)

While I was munching on my free carrot, I wandered around and checked prices. As the main grocery shopper in the house, I'm familiar with how much certain food items usually cost. I discovered that if I pushed past the prepared foods and the novelty items, either at Whole Foods or Winn Dixie (or Walmart or wherever you shop) there is an entire world of wholesome, affordable, delicious food that doesn't come in a McDonald's wrapper.

My grocery cart looks a lot different these days. I came home today with black beans and walnuts from the bulk bins, organic milk and eggs, hemp milk & frozen fruit (Which I made delicious smoothies out of). Eating like this can be expensive. In the U.S., it's way cheaper to rot your insides than to make a good wholesome meal. But I'm determined to make it work.

The moral of the story is:
Stay with in your budget and eat delicious, wholesome food. You'll be rewarded with a long life and  free samples.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Muse Herself

Here are some pictures of our cat, Gabby. Maybe it'll give you a better idea of how quirky she is and why we like to talk about her. Or maybe it'll just let you know how quirky we are.

Making her first blog post. I typed for her.

Gabby playing Monopoly. She jumped up there and sat the entire game.

Her favorite toy. She likes to hide inside the bag or snuggle on top of it and take naps. I think she's trying to promote organic eating ;)

And so it begins...

The original muse of this blog is the beloved Gabby…our cat. We’re always telling people stories about our cat’s antics revolving around her affinity for hiding in Whole Foods paper bags, hunting inanimate objects and trying to act like a person. Chris’ mom said Gabby should write a blog about the adventures of being a cat in our house (we think jokingly) but we thought it was a good idea. Since Gabby’s claws get in the way of her amazing typing abilities, we've decided to take her place.

Although a Gabby story will surely slip in occasionally (she's just so gosh-darn cute), blog posts will be mainly snapshots of our life together as newlyweds living around New Orleans. I'll be the primary poster, but Chris has promised to share whenever he has time.

Hope it's some good reedin' for ya.