Weekend Meal Prep, plus Navy Bean and Potato Soup Recipe

As you may know, I’ve undertaken to eat healthier lately. To this end, since my latest show closed and I’ve found myself with more free time on the weekends, I’ve started prepping food for the week. I’ve found that it’s much easier to eat healthfully if I have easy, delicious, healthy options at hand, rather than having to wake up and spend time prepping a lunch in the morning. Bentos are adorable and delicious, but my patience with spending 20 minutes in the morning wears thin rapidly, particularly in the dead of winter, where we are now.

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Because the aforementioned winter has continued to be cold enough, I find that hot lunches are preferable, and what is more comforting than soup? The past few weeks, I’ve been prepping a big batch of a hearty soup and freezing it in jars. Then, I need only remember to take a jar out of the freezer the night before and pop it into my bag before heading to work.

I’ve also found that breakfasts happen more regularly, and with fewer croissants guiltily acquired from the cafe near the train station, if I prep a little ahead of time. This weekend, I made two berry-yogurt smoothies (I can make another two on my work-from-home day mid-week) and a batch of pumpkin muffins. The muffin will defrost quickly to eat as I get ready, and the smoothie will thaw slowly in my bag as I go to work, making an ideal second breakfast at my desk.

But back to the soup. This navy bean and potato soup was designed particularly to push iron and potassium into my diet, nutrients that I apparently lack, as I’ve discovered by charting some of my intake. Over the last week, I’ve made a concerted effort to increase both and have found a positive effect on my mood and energy levels. Of course, not being out until all hours at tech rehearsals and performances may also help. Whatever the case, the soup is delicious, filling, and relatively cheap to make.

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Navy Bean and Potato Soup
Makes 4 servings

Ingredients:

3 thick strips of bacon, chopped
1 sweet onion, diced
1 tsp garlic powder
1 Tbsp smoked hot paprika
1 can of navy beans, drained
3 cups of chicken broth (I used a long-simmered bone broth)
2 medium red potatoes, diced
1 10-oz package of frozen cut-leaf spinach
salt and pepper to taste

  1. Saute the bacon until the fat starts to render out. Add the onion, and saute until translucent and starting to brown.
  2. Add the spices, beans, and broth. Simmer for 15 minutes or so.
  3. Add the potatoes and simmer until the potatoes are tender, about 15-20 minutes.
  4. Add the spinach and cook through. Season to taste.
  5. To freeze, spoon into 16-oz jars or containers and seal tightly. Chill in the fridge and then freeze.

The “Butter on My Bread, Cream in My Coffee” Diet

It’s the new year and once again people are talking about dieting. In particular, I’ve realized that I’ve let my health go a bit, and would like to remedy that before my wedding. That said, I have a long, tumultuous relationship with dieting.

I suppose it begins in childhood, when I was very sick and actually had trouble keeping weight on. My mother used to make me a milkshake every afternoon when I came home from school to help me gain some weight. I got to choose the flavor (I like chocolate best, and it’s how I discovered that I’m not a big fan of strawberry ice cream). But at the same time, I watched my mother struggle with her own weight.

When I was older, my natural perfectionism and detail-oriented nature, which would later be diagnosed as OCD, led me to try to help her in her efforts to lose weight. I poured over Weight Watchers cookbooks and made her recipes so she could have treats within the strictures of her diet. I even made a batch of cookies that I marked in 1/4″ intervals so she could slice and bake them herself and have cookies that were only 1 “point” each. Soon, I found myself hitting puberty and “filling out,” as it is so distastefully called. I realized that I was no longer “the skinny girl” necessarily. It was strange; I had spent my life reveling in how much I could eat without gaining weight, and insisting to myself that I wasn’t worried about dieting or my weight. But now, I was terrified of not being skinny anymore.

So I started to diet. I started to count calories and make up the same special restricted recipes for myself. I’ve since come to realize that part of it was about trying to maintain a sense of control over something in my life during a time when I felt like I was losing control. I had changed schools and had no friends in my new school, plus the changes of puberty can be a bit off-putting, to say the least.

I will skip over the middle, where I drift in and out of disordered eating for 20 years, and instead come to now. I’ve tried a lot of different diets and detoxes and elimination diets and things, and my number one lesson learned is that I cannot restrict what I eat. The healthiest thing for me is to allow myself my indulgences, but try to focus on eating the healthy stuff. So that means looking at it as adding a salad to my lunch instead of removing a fried chicken sandwich. I still have butter on my bread and cream in my coffee. And I try to move around and do things more often than not. I eat and do things that make me feel good. And that is now my “diet” philosophy.

And, yeah, I’m not skinny anymore. I’m on the low end of the size spectrum, and plenty of people still consider me thin, but in a group of women, I’m rarely “the skinny one.” And that’s okay. I have so much more to my identity by now that I don’t need to be identified by what I weigh or what I eat or what I do for exercise. Instead, I can identify with my love of fiber arts or theater or skin care. I can be “the one with the good skin” (maybe not this week, though), or “the theatrical one.” And that’s pretty good, I think.

Quick Recipe: Apple Porridge for a Chilly Autumn Morning

Well, it’s certainly getting cold around here lately. Yesterday, we had sleet and rain all day. By the time I got home, I was soaked through and chilled to the bone. It was a nice evening for curling up under blankets with hot tea, hot cocoa, and hot food. Fiancé grabbed a heating pad to help with a sore muscle he had and TweedCat discovered that he was extra-cozy because of it, so he got the cat. But I had plenty of warmth with blankets, shawls, and warm things in my belly.

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This morning, the rain had passed, but it was still quite chilly. I always find myself gravitating towards porridge the instant the temperature dips below any semblance of warmth, so I put together one of my favorite quick breakfasts to take to work. I add diced fruit to my porridge before cooking it, which bulks it up, adds a bit of nutrition, and sweetens it lightly. I also added some warming spices, and topped the whole thing with nut butter for protein and fat. It preps in minutes, cooks in minutes, and is a lovely, hearty, warming breakfast for a chilly morning.

Apple Porridge

1/4 cup quick cooking steel cut oats
1/2 apple, diced
scant 1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/8 tsp. each of ginger and allspice
3/4 cup of water

Add the ingredients to a tupperware or mason jar in the order given. It’s important to put the oats at the bottom to ensure they’re thoroughly hydrated. Seal up the container and take wherever you are going. When you are ready to cook them, give the container a little shake and empty the mixture into a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave for 3 minutes on half power, then stir, and then microwave for another 2-1/2 minutes on half power, or until cooked. Top with butter, nut butter, sweetener, or whatever strikes your fancy. Makes one serving.

Holiday Recipe: Maple Pecan Pie

Yesterday, we celebrated Thanksgiving in the States. Now, being the technically-Southern woman that I am, one of my favorite Thanksgiving treats is pecan pie. Of course, the traditional version is mostly corn syrup and sugar, with eggs for body, and some pecans. Apparently, one of my uncles loves pecan pie, but when he eats it, he picks off the pecans, which invariably float to the top of the filling, and then just eats the sugar-corn-syrup goo underneath.

Appetizing, no? Well, I’m not a fan of corn syrup goo, so when I was developing my own recipe, in addition to adding many more pecans than my traditional family recipe, I also decided to swap out corn syrup for maple syrup. Because even though I’m technically in the South, I’m a Northern lady at heart, right? Anyway, maple syrup also lends a delicious flavor and richness that blends beautifully with the pecans. Here’s my recipe, if you’re in the mood for an American holiday treat.

Maple Pecan Pie
serves 8-12

Crust:

1 cup flour
1 stick butter, cold
1 pinch salt
1/8-1/4 cup cold water

Filling:

2 cups chopped pecans, plus more for the top
6 Tbsp. butter, melted
1 cup dark brown sugar
1 cup Grade B maple syrup
3 eggs
good pinch of salt
2 tsp. vanilla extract

  1. Make the crust by blitzing together the flour, salt, and butter in the food processor until it resembles coarse crumbs. Add the water a little at a time until a dough just forms. Squeeze together into a ball and wrap in plastic wrap. Chill for at least half an hour.
  2. When the dough is chilled, roll it out into a large disk and place in the bottom of a 9″ pie pan. Trim and crimp the edges. Pop back in the fridge to chill while you make the filling.
  3. Preheat the oven to 350. Mix together the melted butter, brown sugar, maple syrup, vanilla, and salt. Whisk in the eggs until smooth.
  4. Scatter the pecans in the pie crust and top with the filling. Arrange more pecan halves on top to make it look pretty. Bake for an hour or so, or until the filling is just set. Cool completely before eating. Can be made a day ahead, chilled overnight, and brought to room temperature before eating. Enjoy!

Five Things I’ve Been Enjoying Recently

I still have a backlog of photo-editing and post-writing to deal with since I’ve been busy and stressed, so here’s another quick, unplanned post. Spring has definitely sprung in the city! Trees are fluffy and pink and white and yellow and purple. There are hyacinths and daffodils out on my walk from the train station to my office. And it’s even getting a bit warmer. So I thought I’d share some of the things that I’ve been particularly enjoying the last couple of weeks as we move into spring.

  1. Magnolia Oolong tea from Simple Loose Leaf: I’ve talked about this before, but this really is a lovely tea. It’s the same Jade Oolong I reviewed a while ago, but with a very light magnolia floral scent and flavor added. I love it as a daily cup when the weather is warm, but not hot, and the sights and scents of spring are everywhere. It’s very seasonally-appropriate and helps remind me that the rich, warming black teas of winter are no longer needed.
  2. Hada Labo UV Perfect Gel: Sunscreen, guys! Since it is now fully light for both my morning and evening walks to and from work, it’s the perfect time to mention my new favorite sunscreen. It’s Japanese and unfragranced and sinks in beautifully. It does leave a bit of shine initially, but I give it 20-30 minutes before applying makeup and it settles right down. It’s a lovely gel texture and I think the hydrating ingredients offset the alcohol that gives it its lovely texture and ability to absorb weightlessly into skin.
  3. Pink and coral lip products: I love a red lip. But lately, I’ve been reach for spring-y lip colors, which means pinks and corals. Coral has been tricky for me, as I’m not generally a fan of orange, but I’ve found some products to help ease me into the look. I’ve also been loving sheerer lip colors for the spring, as it’s a much fresher look. Plus, my lip color matches the azalea bush that’s already started sprouting buds: Coral Bells.
  4. Pink clothing: I own a lot of black and dark-colored clothing. It’s rather a go-to color for me. But the warm weather has me feeling light and youthful, and to me, this means pink and pastels. I wore a pink chiffon dress from Mod Cloth the other day to work and got so many compliments, I wore it again a couple weeks later!
  5. Veggie noodles: One of our most unexpected holiday gifts was a Veggetti from Boyfriend’s parents. I’d looked at spiralizers before, but never decided to actually buy one. So when we got this, it seemed like a neat way to try spiralized veggies without shelling out for an expensive machine. But who wants to eat a lot of raw veggies in the dead of winter? Plus, a lot of the good veggies for spiralizing aren’t available until spring. Well, the zucchini and cucumbers are here and I’ve started spiralizing. We had a spiralized cucumber salad with sushi on Saturday and spiralized zucchini and carrots as a base for grilled chicken yesterday after a heavy Easter lunch called for a light dinner. It’s a lovely way to eat raw veggies, especially now that the warmer weather has me craving fresher food.

What is everyone else loving for spring?

Treats Without Sweets: Cheese Scones

Lately, I’ve tried to take the advice of Lady Hirons and trim sweet things from my diet. Because I found myself reaching for sweet treats more often than not, I’ve decided that a three week fast from sweets was necessary to somewhat reset my cravings and remind me that I can, indeed, live without sugar.

Sadly, this coincided with the beginning of a new rehearsal cycle with a director who likes to schedule Saturday morning rehearsals and loves to have breakfast treats to keep us motivated. I generally like to bake for my acting colleagues, so I was somewhat disappointed that I couldn’t bring a batch of soft, sweet cream scones with cream and jam. But then I thought, well treats don’t have to be sweet, and I could easily bake scones without sugar. But they might be rather bland. So I thought back to my old Nigella Lawson recipe for onion pie with cheese scone dough and decided to make a batch of cheese scones.

These are really a simple batch of scones, without even any egg to give them more structure. I recommend you use a nice, sharp cheese, as the sharper the cheese, the stronger the cheese flavor will be. I eat them without any accompaniment, though I imagine a tart jam might be nice.

Cheese Scones

2 cups flour
1 Tbsp. baking powder
pinch of salt
1 stick of cold butter, cubed
4 oz. shredded cheese
2 cups cold milk

Preheat the oven to 425 F. Stir together the flour, salt, and baking powder, and then cut in the butter until it resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in the cheese. Add the milk, a little at a time, until a soft dough forms. Pat the dough out on a floured surface to about 1/2″ thick, and then fold three times, like a letter, and again in half. Pat this out again and cut out your scones. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until quite brown. Makes about 8 scones.

A Quick Old-Fashioned Treat

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Although the weather has been cooling, I have still had a taste for ice cream. Lately, I’ve been having ice cream sodas. I remember when I was a girl, my mother bought me my first ice cream soda, made with soda water, syrup, and ice cream, at a local old-fashioned ice cream parlour. It was coffee flavored and delicious.

Since then, floats and sodas have been one of my favorite things to do with ice cream. The soda brings a lightness to the drink that makes it easier to drink than a heavy milkshake, and doesn’t hold the problem of ice cream against one’s teeth that arises when one eats an ice cream cone or a bowl of ice cream. Plus the ice cream just lasts so much longer. I’m seriously considering buying a soda siphon to be able to make ice cream sodas whenever I want.

To make a soda, you can simply add a scoop of ice cream to a flavored soda, as in a root beer float, but I like to mix flavored syrup into plain soda water and add a scoop of ice cream at the end. The stainless steel straw has the double benefit of serving as a stirring rod. I add chocolate syrup to the bottom of the glass, as though I were making a chocolate milk, and then add a splash of soda water to get the syrup thinned out a bit. I mix in the soda little by little so it doesn’t froth out of the glass, leaving about two inches of headroom so I don’t make a mess when I drop in the scoop of ice cream. Topping with whipped cream is optional, but pretty.

A Simple and Delicious Autumnal Dinner

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Fall has officially fallen and the weather is starting to reflect it. While we’ve had our fair share of beautiful sunny days this week, the mornings have a chill to them and it cools off more quickly in the evenings. So it’s time for autumn dinners to come out. I perused the bounty of winter squash at the market recently and decided to choose two variegated, acorn-shaped darlings.

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Now, acorn squash, with its deep ridges, is a right pain to peel and dice like one might a butternut squash or a pumpkin. So I don’t generally bother. When I have an acorn-shaped squash in my life, I stuff it. Some chopped aromatics, something to bulk it up, maybe a bit of green veg and some mushrooms, and then a topping of lots of cheese. It’s totally versatile, using grains or no grains, meat or no meat. The cheese on top could be substituted with any nicely-melting vegan cheeze. If you use a grain to bulk it, you can use a bit of cooked quinoa to keep it gluten-free. Or eliminate the grain altogether and add some ground meat or chopped sausage, as I did here. You don’t need much. I found a lonely Andouille sausage in the fridge that needed to be used up, so I included it in my topping instead of using oats or quinoa.

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Anyway, I hope you enjoy this recipe and consider adding it to your autumn cooking rotation!

Sausage, Kale, and Mushroom Stuffed Winter Squash

Ingredients:

1 large or two small acorn squash or acorn-shaped squash

1/2 a medium onion, diced

1 Andouille sausage (about 3 oz.) diced

8-10 crimini mushrooms, chopped

2-3 leaves of kale, chopped

salt, pepper, and garlic powder, to taste

oil, butter, or bacon grease, for cooking

about 1/2 cup of shredded cheddar or jack cheese

Directions:

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment. Prepare your squash by either chopping in half along the equator and trimming the bottom of each half to sit flat, or by chopping the top 1/2-1″ off two smaller squashes and trimming their bottoms to sit flat. Scoop out the seeds. Turn them cavity-side-down and roast for about a half an hour, or until tender when poked with a fork.

Chop the squash scraps and saute them with the onion over medium heat in a bit of oil or fat until they are tender and the onions start to go translucent. Add the diced sausage and allow to brown. Add the mushrooms and cook everything together until the mushrooms are cooked. Then, add the kale and turn off the heat, allowing the kale to wilt in the hot pan. Stir everything together.

Remove the squash from the oven and turn cavity-side-up. Fill each squash cavity with the sausage mixture, patting it into the cavity and mounding it up a bit. Top with shredded cheese. Return to the oven for 10-15 minutes, or until the cheese is bubbling and slightly browned. You can turn on the broiler for a few minutes to brown them, if you like. Makes two servings.

A Busy Weekend and a Busy Monday

Sunday morning, we woke up and realized that our front garden bed was woefully neglected. We hadn’t weeded in weeks and the weeds were almost as tall as the azaleas. So that we didn’t get too much sun, I suggested we go out and weed in the early morning. The front of the house is shaded until about 9:30 a.m., so we had plenty of time to pull most of the worst offenders in the weed department. We’ll have to get out a couple of weeks in a row before fall to keep things under control and then put down more mulch as the weather cools. We also gave them a bit of water since it was drier than usual last week and they were looking crispy.

After that, we decided it would be nice to walk to the store to get supplies to make waffles. I had most of the ingredients already, but we were out of maple syrup and butter. I was really excited to find Kerrygold Irish butter at the supermarket, and at a surprisingly good price. So I got fancy butter and went home to make waffles. I stirred up the batter and Boyfriend took care of cooking them. Waffles with butter and syrup was the perfect post-weeding treat! We did get a little down time for a couple hours while we ate breakfast, and I used the time to start watching Series 3 of Downton Abbey on Amazon, and do a deep conditioning treatment for my hair.

I’ve decided to officially try to grow my hair out again, and to that end, I’ve re-joined the hair forum of which I was a member many years ago. There’s a few treatments that have attained near-cult status and I knew one of them worked for me, so I put together a treatment with conditioner, honey, and aloe. I managed to use the last of my Griffin Remedy conditioner, but since I don’t want to order online when we’re going away soon-ish, I’m trying a brand from the natural food store where do our normal shopping. I’ve used it in the past and always thought of it as expensive, but it’s not actually that much more expensive than Griffin. Anyway, I let my treatment sit for an hour under plastic wrap and a bandanna, and then rinsed it out. It left my hair very soft and shiny. I let it dry hanging over one arm of the sofa while Boyfriend showered, and then put it up while we went to the store to shop.

After shopping for the week, I set to work, baking muffins and putting together lunch things for the week. I found the absolute best whole-grain blueberry muffin recipe last week, which I made again this week and froze for breakfasts. They’re fabulous with a cup of tea at my desk after I’ve made my smoothie at home. I also made a chopped salad, and hard-cooked some eggs for protein. I’m finishing out my healthy July re-boot strong!

Sunday evening was nice because we took my mother out for a birthday dinner. I was able to have a cocktail and a nice meal with her at one of her favorite restaurants. We even all got dessert and coffee (except I had tea!). It was nice because the slightly larger dinner served me well the next morning because I got up to go running early. I’m experimenting with only washing my hair three days a week and adjusting my running schedule so I run on days I already plan to wash my hair. This allows me to skip showering on some days, saving water and my skin, which has started to get more dry lately. We’ll see how it goes.

After running and a full day at work, I spent my Monday evening at an audition to which I’ve been looking forward for a long time. It was very busy and lasted longer than I would have liked, but I got to read for both characters in which I’m interested, AND the director remembered me by name without prompting, even though he asked almost everyone else to remind him of their names throughout the evening. So maybe that’s a good sign. Either way, it was fun to get to read something from the script. It would be a fun show to be in because it would further indulge my vintage loves!

I managed to make it home very late and fall into bed, but not before eating some pizza Boyfriend saved for me. He really is so sweet!

A New Month and a New Start

It’s the first of July, and the beginning of the second half of the year! The end of a month always feels a bit like a mini-New-Years-Day for me because it’s the perfect time to take stock of life and see what might need changing. June found me facing some uncomfortable truths about the state of my health, and so I’ve made a commitment to move more, even buying a fancy fitness tracker to do so. I’ve also resolved to spend the month of July re-vamping my eating habits by adding lots more fruits and veggies. With our housemate gone, I have the freedom to use noisy appliances in the mornings, and so I can make my favorite green smoothie with breakfast. That, along with a big salad with lunch will go a long way towards filling my belly with healthy, vitamin-rich veggies, so that I will hopefully be less tempted by the quick and easy snack foods that led to weight creep and other health bugaboos.

This is Boyfriend’s and my first month of having our house all to ourselves! I’ve already told you about some of the garden improvement we’ve undertaken in the past month or so, but now we get to redecorate most of the downstairs of our house! I already have a plan for each room, and hopefully we won’t have to buy too much, but it will involve some heavy lifting. Right now, it’s kind of amusing how we’re watching a television on the floor in the living room rather than bother bringing down our stand, but it works for now.

I’ve also started making an effort to exercise more. In addition to aerial class, which I’m trying to do twice a week to build my strength up for a while, I’ve also been running a couple times a week, and hopefully will be fit enough soon to run with Boyfriend on the weekends. He would slow down for me, but I feel bad when I have to stop and walk and complain. And I’m also trying to just walk more. When I’m not running around to meetings at work, I try to park as far away as I can, and take walks during the day. It’s also nice to get some fresh air and sunshine, really, although I’ve taken to wearing one of my large sunhats when I walk in the midday so I don’t get too much sun!

Hopefully, July will prompt a bit of a new beginning for me, with better health leading to a better mood. Is anyone else taking advantage of a mid-year tune-up?