New Year, Same Old Me

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I’ve created blog posts before to try and keep myself accountable to the lofty goals we all try to set for ourselves every January. Spoiler alert: I just tallied, and last year, I went 1 for 15…

In the 24 days of 2015, it’s been increasingly weighing on me to put some semblance of commitment to myself into words. I take on too much and leave too little for leisure. I have so many lofty goals but they’re always on hold as I catch myself saying yes and yes to more and more. I’m declaring 2015 as the year of ME. I’m taking my life back.

I’m off to a good start, at the end of last year I shed some much needed skin and started working at a place that values me as a human being, has a no working on weekends policy, and actually told me they were happy I was finding my voice instead of stifling it under impossible expectations and even more ridiculous deadlines. I cannot tell you how much happiness you find when you simply feel supported.

But, beyond all of that I still need to make room for more of what I want to do. Truly, you only live once, (cringe-worthy YOLO, and all that jazz).

2015, the year of ME includes more:

  • Painting
  • Being Outside (will this be the year I finally go kayaking?)
  • Yoga (thanks to my relentless and incredible friend Chantil)
  • Vegetables (and other healthy habits)
  • Seeing the world (this is simply non-negotiable)
  • Languages (I’m going to finally learn spanish, or get damn close)
  • Reading, Exploring, & Learning
  • Budgeting
  • Spending time with the people I loveThe 2015 year of ME includes less:
  • Dairy & Carbs (I’m crying already, but we’re doing the Whole30 starting in Feb..)
  • Negativity (which thanks to my new work life balance, this has almost disappeared anyways)
  • Excuses
  • Projects I don’t want to take on
  • Stuff (I LOVE buying stuff – see oniochalasia – but I need to focus on doing it less)And there you have it. Habits are hard to break, but wish me luck – and expect some very different recipes in the coming weeks…

 

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SLOW COOKER CHIPOTLE CHEDDAR MAC ‘N CHEESE

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I find that when I’m feeling happy, I like to cook. There was a large piece of my life that thankfully ended recently that saw take out, pick-up pizza, and heat & eat food every night. I did not have the time, the energy, or the will to devote more than 30 minutes to feeding myself (much less my poor boyfriend) when I crawled in the door at night.

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Before I get ahead of myself here and act like I’ve accomplished some great feat, let me just say that this recipe (which I modified to my own liking from this one) took MAYBE 30 minutes to put together.. However, it feels so much more satisfying to gently check a slow cooker every 45 minutes or so than to try to decide if I want pepperoni, meat lovers, or cheese crust tonight.. (usually the answer was 2 out of 3, always choose cheese crust my friends, always).

But enough about me. Enjoy this super easy, (super cheesy) delicious comfort food now that our South Texas weather is finally ducking under 90 degrees…

Slow Cooker Chipotle Cheddar Mac ‘n Cheese

Ingredients:

  • 2 Cups Elbow Macaroni (or noodle of choice) cooked for about 6 minutes
  • 4 Tablespoons of Butter
  • 1 Cup of Milk (I used 1%)
  • 1 Cup of Shredded Gouda Cheese (or any mild, easy to melt cheese)
  • 2 Cups of Shredded Chipotle Cheddar Cheese (or again, choose another)
  • 1 Cup of Fat Free Sour Cream (or you know, at this point, full fat.. why bother?)
  • 1 Can (10.75 oz.) Campbell’s Cheddar Cheese Soup (it killed my soul a little bit to buy this… FYI)
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Salt
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Pepper
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Dry Mustard

Directions:

Set aside your almost-cooked noodles and make sure you have your slow cooker (and a liner) handy. Spray the liner with non-stick cooking spray.

Melt the butter in a sauce pan. Once butter is fully melted, slowly add all of the shredded cheese and milk, about a half cup at a time, alternating, stirring constantly (do this at a low enough heat it doesn’t stick, but high enough it keeps fluid).

Add the noodles, cheese mixture, sour cream, cheddar cheese soup (again, gag, why does this stuff make me so queasy? maybe I just feel my inner Paula Deen coming out?), salt, pepper, and dry mustard to the slow cooker and mix evenly.

Cover and cook on low for 2 hours, stirring occasionally.

Seriously, this is way too good.

Next adventure? Lemon Chicken Orzo soup..

 

Kitchen Ambitions

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Maybe Hump Day’s not the most exciting day of the week, it’s definitely not typically a day for me to strive for many accomplishments. Since this is a week of firsts for me, I ambitiously planned not one, but TWO culinary extravaganzas. Here I will outline the first.

Much to my boyfriend’s dismay, I planned a healthy dessert (well, a healthy FAT dessert – see, avocado) to follow a healthy dish (here comes the bigger shocker . . .) & then, I actually made both of them. Though, I will say, I had to stop at the grocery store on the way home to pick up a pasta just in case. He was fully resigned to hating it.

He loved it. 

Here’s the recipe (please note: I modified the recipe a bit, but the link to the original is on the Trader Joe’s website) & a step by step in pictures below (because, I’m admittedly a spaghetti squash newbie).

1. Milk, english peas, light cream cheese, & parmesan 2. Slicing that squash was not easy, but all my digits are intact  3. You can really scrape all the way out to the skin, so waste not! 4. Spaghetti Squash is no longer daunting, it practically falls apart with no pressure. 5. BACON 6. The sauce with peas, great thickness to it that I wasn't expecting 7. Finished product 8. Happy (Empty) Plate!

1. Milk, english peas, light cream cheese, & parmesan 2. Slicing that squash was HARD, but all my digits are intact 3. Scrape all the way out to the skin 4. Spaghetti Squash is no longer daunting, it practically falls apart with no pressure 5. BACON!!! 6. The sauce with peas, has a great thickness to it that I wasn’t expecting 7. The finished product 8. Happy (Empty) Plate!

Spaghetti Squash Carbonara via Trader Joe’s (with my modifications, serves 4-6)

– Large Spaghetti Squash
– 6 slices TJ’s Applewood Smoked Bacon, chopped
– 4 cloves of garlic, minced
– 1 cup of light cream cheese, cubed
– 1 cup Fresh English Peas
– 1 1/2 cups of Low-fat Milk
– 1/3 cup of grated fresh Parmesan Reggiano

Cook the squash: Use a sharp knife to cut squash in half lengthwise. Use a large table spoon to scrape out the seeds and string (this had that old pumpkin smell to it, I put it down the disposal rather quickly). Season with salt and pepper, place cut side up in a microwave safe dish and add about an inch of water to the bottom of the dish. Cover dish with cling wrap and microwave on high for 8-10 minutes. (I had to do each half of the squash separately) Allow to cool enough to handle before unwrapping. Use a table fork to scrape squash from top to bottom to separate flesh into strands of “spaghetti.” Prepare Sauce: Cook bacon in large skillet until crisp. Remove from skillet with slotted spoon and drain on a paper towel. Pour off bacon drippings. Add garlic to pan and sauté until opaque, about 1 minute. Add milk, cream cheese and peas; simmer over very low heat until cream cheese is melted and mixture is well blended and heated through (you can add more milk if too thick). Add squash and bacon; toss to coat. Sprinkle on Parmesan cheese and serve right away.

Verdict: Absolutely delicious. I can’t wait to try more spaghetti squash as a substitute for pasta. Obviously, it’s much healthier, & I would be lying to you if I felt good about myself while saying “I couldn’t even tell the difference”. Because really, what kind of asshole who can’t tell the difference between a squash and a delicious carb? Well, I promise you, I couldn’t (or didn’t) notice.

Now, onto dessert!

A Few of my Favorite Things

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Dark Chocolate + Avocado ??

Certainly raises a few eyebrows. BUT if you’re looking for an easy (& I seriously mean easy) & healthy dessert option, may I suggest this Dark Chocolate Avocado Mousse recipe via Refinery29?

1. Ingredients ready to mix. 2. Mashed with fork 3. Loaded up & ready to go 4. Fresh pomegranate seeds 5. Another favorite, raspberries 6. Delicious. Pure heaven.

1. Ingredients ready to mix. 2. Mashed with fork 3. Loaded up & ready to go
4. Fresh pomegranate seeds 5. Another favorite, raspberries 6. Delicious. Pure heaven.

Recipe:

  • 2 avocados (fairly ripe – but obviously, not overripe)
  • 5 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder (recommended 60% cacao or more – in my opinion, the darker the better when it comes to chocolate, also helps to mask “avocado” taste)
  • 4 Tbsp agave syrup (I used some organic, raw blue agave syrup found at Trader Joe’s)

Ready? You may need to take notes. This is fairly complex.

Peel, & dice avocado. Add cocoa powder & agave syrup. Mash with a fork until all lumps are gone & ingredients are evenly blended.

If you really wanna get picky, you could do this with a mixer & it would be even smoother & creamier. Serve with fresh berries (I added raspberries & pomegranate seeds – YUM). This recipe is seriously THAT easy, probably impossible to screw up, AND I can think of a million ways to modify depending on how you like your chocolate . . .

  • Throw in some peanut butter.
  • Throw in some hazelnuts, or even better, hazelnuts AND nutella. Or just nutella.
  • Go crazy with fruit, add blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, all berries.
  • Dark Chocolate and orange pair nicely – throw in some mandarins if you’re feeling adventurous. Citrus also helps to keep avocado from getting weird as quickly, so toss in some fresh orange juice if you don’t plan to eat within a day or two.
  • Top with your favorite fro-yo, ice cream, sprinkles, etc. & enjoy a variation on a sundae.

Avocado is a healthy fat, great for skin, hair, nails, among other things. So, while this is not necessarily a guilt-free indulgence, you should certainly feel good about getting your dessert kicks in with a fat that’s good for you.

American Horror Stories

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I finished reading The Monster Show by David Skal on a recent trip to Paris. Skal’s book presents an intriguing and well researched look into the cultural history of the horror genre in America. From the early 1900s to the late 1990s, Skal examines everyone from Tod Browning to Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

This may strike you as an odd book choice, but for me, my fascination with horror film began with my mother recounting the terror of The Birds when I was 12. (Fun fact: 2 Halloweens ago, I channeled that same Tippi Hedren..) I have many vivid memories of Saturday nights after club soccer with Blue Bell chocolate ice cream and the latest movie suggestion. This highlight reel includes, but is certainly not limited to Wait Until Dark, What Lies Beneath, and Psycho. Fast forward 13 years and I’m super into American Horror Story, Guillermo del Toro, and now continuing to read books like The Monster Show as I grow the depth of my understanding. Horror films, as a genre, are not simply colored corn starch, advancing special effects, and shallow attempts at shock. People turn to horror as a coping mechanism to help them personify their conflicting feelings and fear of the unknown about the world’s current circumstances – or in short, the latest true American horror stories.

To wrap up (and further pique your interest), three super interesting things I learned from David Skal’s The Monster Show:

1. There is a movie called Cat People.
Actually, there are 2, and I had never heard of either. The particularly riveting 1942 tagline reads: “Lovely Woman… Giant Killer-Cat… The Same “Person”! It’s Super Sensational”, while the 1982 remake appears to more sharply focus on the obviously disastrous consequences of female sexual awakenings. Women enjoying sexual urges? Extremely dangerous stuff, you guys.

2. “Suddenly, in the sixties, the womb was the new graveyard”
This continued into the 1980s, but perhaps nowhere near as obviously as Rosemary’s Baby and The Brood. Skal cites “the sexual revolution, the Pill, thalidomide… unstable family structures… [and] the emerging abortion rights struggle” as a powerful cultural catalyst for horror’s new favorite playground. This blog post is SCREAMING at me to write itself… alas, another time, my friends.

3. Carrie was also a musical.
On Broadway. In the 80’s. Absolutely terrible. Where can I find this to watch!?

Bonus: After Paris, we traveled onto Madrid and, in what seemed like a strange, real life, full-circle moment, discovered this Erro painting at the Reina Sofia Museum. I spy quite a few Lon Chaney Jr’s down there…

Erro's Victors of Leningrad Supported by the Coulor-Blind Monster Matisse

Spring Eating

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One of my very best friends and her boyfriend invited us over for dinner tonight. Outside of this being a guaranteed good time (did I say friends? at this point, we’re family) the food is always incredible. Her boyfriend hails from Turkey and never fails to disappoint in the kitchen.

The menu: Kebobs. My task: A Side.

Feeling inspired by the recent spring weather and wanting to provide something unique to compliment the grilled meat and veggies, I thought to myself “Lemon. Lemon and mint.” What resulted was a delicious pesto incorporating several popular spring flavors, and surely something I will make again.

The Recipe:

2 Tbsp Olive Oil
1/4 Cup of Lemon Juice
1/4 Cup of Almonds
1/4 Cup of Pistachios
Zest of 2 Lemons
1 Cup of Fresh Mint Leaves (I used Spearmint, bought the whole plant)
2 tsp of Crushed Red Pepper Flakes (or if you like a kick, more, to taste)
Salt & Black Pepper to taste
1 16 oz. Bag of Orzo (or any pasta, grilled veggies, etc.)
Shaved Romano, Parmesan, Asiago, or Grana Padano (or if you’re feeling adventurous, a blend)

Cook the orzo according to package directions. Drain and place in a large bowl. While it rests, toss with another tablespoon of olive oil and some salt if desired.

Combine olive oil, lemon juice, lemon zest, almonds, pistachios, lemon zest, fresh mint leaves, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper in a food processor. Toss with the orzo and top with the shaved cheese.

You can serve this hot, or cold. I’m adding some fresh peas. YUM.

This is light, fresh, delicious, and easy.

Thanks Walt

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It’s been awhile, but we’re back in action. Sometimes, in life, you have to hit the hard reset button – and then, perhaps not so surprisingly, you move on with it.

Appropriately enough, our blog challenge topic choices both inspire creativity and our views on two very different types of media.

1. A Haiku on Fox News
2. What Disney has Taught Me

While I prepare to mull over the endless 5-7 syllabic lines of prose-commentary on the ever-riveting Fox News, I think I will first begin with the happiest place on earth.

What Disney has Taught Me

 

As a child of the 90’s, let me state frankly: what hasn’t Disney taught me? I learned to love, laugh, and cry (hell-ooooo Bambi) through Walt & Co.’s imaginative and colorful classics. From Snow White to Hercules, I was hooked hard and fast.

Nickelodeon? Cartoon Network? GARBAGE. As a child as young as 4, I stuck up my nose. There was just something about the voices, the dialogue, the line, and color quality that I recognized from an early age. If you’ve ever met a child with a brand preference so strong before age 5, please let me know.

I may be turning 26 this year, but my favorite movie is still Beauty and the Beast. While many associate Disney princess fables with undermining young girls’ abilities to succeed in the world, I have always harbored a slightly different sentiment. Belle could be the reason I loved to read as a child, and was never afraid of being the odd ball or refusing to settle into what I’m supposed to want to have. Ariel could account for my hard-headed, and sometimes fool-hearted stubbornness, and unending sense of adventure. Megara could be the reason I practically drip with sarcasm. Mulan certainly helped me realize that gender non-conformist tendencies are just part of who I am. I loved these characters, and these stories. I still do – but as an adult, my investment has grown tenfold as I continue to realize the genius of this massive corporate giant.

Climb the beanstalk with me for a moment – my affinity for all things Disney most likely led me to my current job aspirations and passion for branding. A brand is how you build your empire – your voice, your face, and your promise to your audience. Your brand is simultaneously all you have, and the most invaluable thing you will ever own. With great branding, you can be anything, and everything to endless facets of customers – but even more than that, you can be immortal.

Everything Disney has to sell is flawless. Whether a churro from Fantasyland, a DVD from the vault, or a spot in line to meet your favorite character for the first time as a 3 year old (and someday, with your own 3 year old), Disney never misses a beat.Their commercials are golden, their properties impeccable, whimsical, and perfect. I’m simply enchanted. I have been devoted since I could make choices. I will be devoted a lifetime – ah, the immeasurable power of a compelling brand. Does anyone, or anything else hold such power?

Walt Disney knew the power of imagination, but he also knew the power of GREAT business. With his extraordinary vision and unbridled passion for creative innovation, his empire is arguably the most sound in history. I love the house of mouse for all of its glory – both the carefully crafted and constructed facade and the painstakingly executed behind the scenes operations.

And speaking of… when are we leaving? It’s about time I got back.

 

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