Chicken and Vegetable Soup

I mentioned in my last post that I'd made a pot of soup to be eaten when I wasn't in the mood to put something together. This soup is delicious, easy, and made with whole food ingredients, and it can be made on the stove, in a Crock Pot, or in an Instant Pot, if you've jumped on that bandwagon (I own two!). If you want to simplify the recipe even more, use a rotisserie chicken.

(makes 8 servings)

1 lb chicken, grilled and shredded
2 tbsp. lard (or other whole, clean cooking fat)
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 bell pepper, diced
1 medium onion, chopped
1 small zucchini, sliced
3 medium carrots, sliced
2 celery ribs, sliced
1 can diced tomatoes
4 fresh thyme sprigs
2 bay leaves
1 handful fresh parsley, finely chopped
8 cups chicken stock
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

In a large stockpot, melt the cooking fat over a medium heat, and gently cook the onion, garlic, and chicken for about 5 minutes, or until the onion is nice and tender.

Add the rest of the vegetables, bay leaves, thyme sprigs, and parsley, and cover it all with the chicken stock.

Bring the soup to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 20 minutes.

Season to taste with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Adapted from paleoleap.com.

Everything Doesn't Have to Be Perfect

In a recent post, we talked about some of the changes we've been through in the past few years. Hopefully we've all learned some good lessons in that time. For me, there's one that stands out the most...

Everything doesn't have to be perfect.

Say it with me now: Everything doesn't have to be perfect.

Ahhh...doesn't that feel good? The previous version of myself tried. Yep, I tried...really hard. I tried so hard to make everything PERFECT...the food, the house, the child, the marriage...the perception...all of it. It was exhausting.

And last fall, it broke me. I had to be rescued from my car in the parking lot behind my office where I had become paralyzed by a panic attack unlike any other I'd ever known to that point. This was the beginning of a lot of things:
  • I got serious about being more intentional with my thoughts, my feelings, my words, my actions, and even the things and people I chose to have in my life
  • I learned how to let go of an unrealistic idea of perfection
  • I learned how to let myself be and do "good enough"
  • I stopped competing to be the busiest person I knew
I recently shared this revelation (and this blog post) with my psychologist. As I read it, I cried. And so did she. (Just so you know, she's kind of amazing.) Having this realization and saying it out loud, let alone sharing it with the world as a blog post, is huge for me. YUGE! So, we had our little emotional moment in the tiny therapy room, and afterward I began to think of a few of the many changes I've implemented to allow my life to be a lot less perfect and a lot more simple. Here are a few I'd like to share with you:
  1. Self-care: I do a LOT of this these days. It feels so indulgent...to the point that I often refer to it as "radical self care". 
    • I've actually learned to physically relax. I can sit on the couch now without berating myself for not being more productive with my time. I've learned that allowing my body to relax *is* productive...and healing...and necessary for me. 
    • I started meditating...training my brain to relax a bit, learning to let the (millions of) thoughts roll by without giving them my attention. It's glorious, and it's something I hope to eventually make an integral part of my daily routine. 
    • And finally, because my skin hates winter to the point that it tries to fall off of my body, I've begun implementing an ayurvedic practice called abhyanga. It is a head-to-toe warm oil self-massage. If that doesn't sound indulgent and **radical**, I don't know what does!! :)
  2. Fitness: I'm going to the gym a lot these days since The Boyfriend started working out of state last week, but I'm still trying to keep it pretty simple. 
    • I like to lift heavy things. I considered creating my own lifting schedule, but in the interest of keeping it simple, I decided to sign up for some classes and let the coaches figure out the programming.  Now, I can just show up three days a week, lift some stuff, get really sweaty, and go home. (Think CrossFit.) I love it. And The Munchkin loves the child care that's included in my membership, so I have ZERO "mom guilt" about going to the gym. How many wins is that in one sentence?!
    • I miss running. I used to run 6-7 miles a few times a week. So, I'm using the Couch to 5k app on my phone and trying to get back to that point. Progress is slow, but it's progress nonetheless. And I'm not aiming for perfection. 
    • Yoga...my trusty stand-by. I'm in the process of creating a yoga studio for The Munchkin and myself (complete with a dedicated meditation spot...I'm actually kinda pumped about it).
  3. Food: I'm a habitual menu planner, and while I will likely share that here at some point, with The Boyfriend out of town, I'm really just trying to eat simple whole foods (still no dairy) and pare down the stockpile of food in the freezer and cabinets. I did make a big pot of soup this week to have on hand for those times that I just don't feel like putting something together. I'll share that soon.
  4. The house: I've purged so much "stuff" from my life that I rarely spend time anymore tending to the remaining "stuff", I bought myself a new dishwasher, which I so desperately needed, and I bought a robot vacuum. The vacuum is scheduled to run daily at a scheduled time, and I no longer have to think past emptying its bin every day. Incredible. Now I just need to give The Munchkin a lesson on cleaning the bathroom and maybe I can pay her to do my laundry once she's done with hers...this might just work ;-)
So, there you have it. I'm not perfect, by any means, and neither is my life. I don't meditate every day and sometimes I'm holding down the couch while eating takeout with The Munchkin, watching the robot vacuum clean up the crumbs, and listening to the dishwasher tend to the dishes. Screw it! I enjoy it, and I'm done with perfect.


January Intention: Refocus

I don't know about you guys, but December has completely drained me. I've struggled multiple times with being sick, I haven't been sleeping well, my diet has been terrible (thanks holidays), and my anxiety level has been through the roof (can I blame the holidays for this too?!). The long and short of it: I simply haven't been taking care of myself.

This happens to me nearly every year, and I find that taking some time to refocus usually helps. I'm not one for New Year's Resolutions, so let's just skip that discussion altogether. I am, however, a huge proponent of stopping for a moment to gather my thoughts and re-center myself. The new year just happens to coincide with the time when I most need this type of attention.

Time for some radical self-care! Let's take a moment to go through the steps I plan to take to set my intention:

Sickness: It's always my sinuses. Always. In December alone, they flared up pretty badly at least twice. As some of you may know from previous posts here, I have a sensitivity to dairy that creates a lot of inflammation in my sinuses and feels like a constant sinus infection. Well, I've been eating my fair share of dairy lately, and I think it's caught up to me! (Cheesecake, anyone?) I think it might be time to take a break from it to see if I can start feeling better. The downside: no more dirty chai lattes. I checked, and the mix they use contains dairy *sad trombones*

Sleep: I'm guessing that this is being affected by everything else that's been out of whack, but I still have some simple ideas to help address the issue. First, my bedtime routine is nearly non-existent these days. I think it's time to return to the days of a nice cup of tea and maybe a few pages of reading or journaling (or blogging). Second, I haven't been going to the gym as much lately. Regular exercise *always* helps me sleep better. So...back to the gym I go.

Diet: Now that the holidays are over, this should be so much easier to accomplish! As I stated above, I'm going to remove dairy from my diet. I think this is enough of a step for now. I don't want to overwhelm myself with the time and energy investment of playing with a completely new way of eating like paleo, ketogenic, or Whole30 (all of which I have considered for various reasons). I'd rather use this time to refocus on what I know will work...not experimenting with new things. Keep it simple, stupid.

Anxiety: While I'm sure all of the steps listed above will have a huge impact on this area of my life, I also realize that I've gradually lost touch with my daily yoga and meditation practices. I don't feel like I need any extravagant rituals. I intend to spend at least 20 minutes each morning on my yoga mat...10 minutes meditating, and 10 minutes moving and stretching my body...with lots of focus on my breathing. I know this works wonders for my anxiety levels, so it's time to return to it.

What intentions do you have for January? And what steps can you take to get you there?


Guess Who's Back?!

Hey all! It's been a while, and during my time away, life has changed quite a bit. There's been a divorce, a move, a job change, a new haircut, a few new tattoos and piercings, lots of lifestyle changes, a ton of self-discovery, an even more ornery child than before, and a new boyfriend and bonus daughter. Whew! It's a lot to think about, isn't it? And while the ride has definitely been bumpy, there have been some amazing high points, and it's all been for the best. Now that I've had some time to refocus, let's get reacquainted.

If you've been here before, you're likely accustomed to reading about my adventures with food. While I still love sharing and discussing food and recipes and will continue to do so, my life these days has refocused on being more intentional. I'd like to invite you to join me as I continue on this journey.

Since moving all of my worldly possessions to a different house two years ago, I've slowly and methodically evaluated each item to determine it's value in my life. I've rid my life of so much physical "stuff", and with it, so much emotional and mental "stuff" as well. I call this my pursuit of minimalism, simplicity, and intentional living...and it's definitely a pursuit. Some may enter my home and see barren walls and sparse furnishings...I see it as a work in progress. I see myself the same way.

You see, in the last two years, I've been struggling with anxiety. It ranges from what most of us know as "nerves" to full-blown fear of leaving my house. The best part: this varies from day to day, so it's...um...exciting, to say the least. I've got a great support team, though, and with their help, I'm learning to cope, manage, and heal.

*exhale* So that's that. Would you care to share what's new with you?


Breakfast Sausage

For some reason we don't eat much pork in this house, but when we do, it's usually in the form of sausage or bacon...well, mostly bacon. But we do enjoy sausage with pancakes and on pizza. The problem: store-bought sausage is loaded with ingredients with which I'm not to thrilled, so I make our sausage myself.

I know, I know...it's another crazy thing I make myself, but to me it's worth it to avoid MSG and other nasties. And it's really quite easy!

When I can get my hands on good, pastured pork, I'll buy a pork butt and run it through the meat grinder (long version), or I'll buy ground pork (short version) and mix in this seasoning. I usually make several pounds at a time and freeze it in portions.

The beauty of this seasoning: you can tailor it to your taste! I urge you to give it a try!

(makes 4 pounds)
4 teaspoons sea salt
3 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
3 teaspoons rubbed sage
3 teaspoons dried thyme leaves
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

Combine all ingredients and mix with 4 pounds of ground pork and freeze or cook as desired.



Amazingly Easy Pizza Crust

This is our favorite pizza crust recipe, found on allrecipes.com. We like it baked in the oven or even on the grill. I've modified the recipe to use all purpose flour instead of bread flour, simply because I don't keep bread flour on hand anymore, but the crust still comes out wonderful!

We like our pizza fairly thin, and we only use half the dough for one dinner, so you may need to adjust cooking times if you like your pizza with a thicker crust or if you use all the dough for a larger pizza. I freeze the remaining dough in a bag and thaw it in the fridge when I'm ready to use it.

1 (.25 ounce) package active dry yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
1 cup warm water
2 1/2 cups flour
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

In a medium bowl, dissolve yeast and sugar in warm water. Let stand until creamy, about 10 minutes.

Stir in flour, salt and oil until smooth. Let rest for 5 minutes.

Turn 1/2 the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and pat or roll into a round about 1/4" thick (this makes a very thin 10" pizza). Transfer crust to a lightly greased pizza pan or baker's peel dusted with cornmeal.

Top as you prefer and bake in preheated oven for 8 to 10 minutes, or until golden brown. Let cool for 5 minutes before serving.


The 21-Day Sugar Detox (Week 2)

It's a little late, but here's my recap of Week 2 of The 21-Day Sugar Detox.

Just two weeks ago, I thought I was dying from this sugar detox. I had some serious withdrawal symptoms: shaking, dizziness, nausea, headache, exhaustion...you name it! Thankfully, it was only one day. I survived it. Cut to...today: Day 19. I. Feel. Great!

As I write this, I'm munching on carrots - they've been a pretty standard snack for me throughout this detox, mostly because they're easy to prep, and I can eat them no matter where I am. Also, you'll notice in my food journal below that pecans and raw milk cheddar are staples. But the rest of my diet has been pretty varied. As I mentioned in my 21DSD Week 1 post, I have viewed this detox as a culinary challenge...a chance to try some new dishes and get the dinner menu out of the boring rut in which we'd been stuck. And I think I've done a pretty good job. I've even got The Man eating some of my creations, though I don't think Mr. Cherry Pepsi will ever tackle a sugar detox! LOL

If you had told me a year ago that I would attempt a technically low-carb/Paleo diet, I would have laughed in your face. I've never been a fan of the Atkins-type low-carb diet, simply because there's so much emphasis on "0 carb" processed foods and less emphasis on whole foods and healthy carbs.

And the Paleo diet bugged me because it eliminated entire food groups (dairy & grains). Granted, these food groups are very irritating to some, myself included, but that doesn't make it a "one size fits all" solution. I typically do fine with grains (though I think the shrinking size of my belly might prove otherwise), and as long as the dairy I consume is *not* pasteurized, it doesn't bother me at all. So, at least for myself, I don't think it's necessary to follow the Paleo plan in its entirety.

But, the 21-Day Detox is a bit of a combination of both low-carb and Paleo, and I've loved (mostly) every minute of it. Day 3 was the big exception! But do I think I could do it long-term? Probably not. I'm tiring of eggs for breakfast...I miss my Quinoa Breakfast Porridge. And I miss fruit...mostly because of it's convenience and ease...the original fast food! And quite honestly, I kind of want a PB&J...and Hawaiian BBQ...and probably a bunch of other things I can't think of right now! But most importantly, I've learned that I can have these things in moderation, and I don't *need* sugar in order to survive. Nor do I need to swear it off completely. It's all about balance, kids...yep! I believe that's the key!

So, here's what I ate last week...interesting, I know. :)

Day 8: 
Breakfast - Scrambled eggs, bacon, black coffee
Lunch - spaghetti squash with meatballs and marinara
Dinner - Almond-crusted cajun chicken, cauliflower rice, grilled asparagus
Snacks - carrot sticks, raw milk cheddar, pecans

Day 9: 
Breakfast - Scrambled eggs, bacon, black coffee
Lunch - leftover almond-crusted cajun chicken, cauliflower rice, green beans
Dinner - grass-fed hamburger with raw milk cheddar on a bed of lettuce with homemade pickles, homemade mayo, tomato, and onion
Snacks - carrot sticks with almond butter

Day 10: 
Breakfast - Scrambled eggs, bacon, black coffee
Lunch - Chicken salad in lettuce cups, avocado, snap peas
Dinner - Steak with balsamic reduction, roasted Brussels sprouts with bacon and browned butter
Snacks - carrot sticks, raw milk cheddar, pecans, sugar snap peas

Day 11: 
Breakfast - Scrambled eggs, bacon, black coffee
Lunch - Taco Salad
Dinner - meatballs and marinara
Snacks - carrot sticks

Day 12: 
Breakfast - scrambled eggs, black coffee
Lunch - Chipotle salad
Dinner - second half of Chipotle salad
Snacks - raw milk cheddar, cauliflower, carrots, sugar snap peas, cucumber slices, a few salami cubes

Day 13:
Breakfast - scrambled eggs, black coffee
Lunch - Turkey Cranberry Waldrof salad from Cafe Moxo (minus the cranberries and with balsamic dressing)
Dinner - Krabby Patties from NomNomPaleo, grilled asparagus in lemon butter
Snacks - raw milk cheddar, raw veggies

Day 14: 
Breakfast - scrambled eggs, black coffee
Lunch - Chipotle salad
Dinner - eggs, bacon
Snacks - raw milk cheddar, pecans

So, there ya have it. I feel like I did really well last week, I began feeling fantastic, and the food was delicious!

Stay tuned for week 3, my end results, and my maintenance plan (if I have one)! :)