The Sweetest Thing.

" I feel there is nothing more truly artistic than to love people" ~Van Gogh

Currently. May 13, 2015

Filed under: random — Jessica @ 7:00 am
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I want to start doing “get to know me” or just life in general posts from time to time and this fit the bill perfectly.

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Currently

Eating~ Nothing at the moment but I just finished the gorgeous Caprese salad above.

Drinking~ Sparkling Water with Lime

Reading~ The Lost Art of Mixing. and One Moment, One Morning. I just started both over the weekend.

Remembering~ My Dad. Today would have been his 54th Birthday but he hasn’t been here to celebrate the last 12. I am remembering all of the laughter and silliness we shared. He was a very goofy and loving man and I am so grateful for all the times I had with him, all the celebrations I was able to share with him and all the love he gave me.

Wearing~ Leggings and a T-shirt. I took a personal day and have enjoyed it snuggled on the couch in my comfiest clothes.

Cooking~ I will be making pork chops, kale pancakes and jasmine rice for dinner in about 2 hrs.

Working On~ I am working on growing this blog. I want to continue the things I have started and expand the content while keeping the quality. I am also working on exercising daily and snacking less. The struggle is real.

Wanting~ A DSLR camera. I just ordered a new computer and it is going to be awhile before a new camera is in the budget.

Feeling~ Grateful for my family, my home, my health and my relationship.

Learning~ Blog Stuff. I had no idea how much more to blogging there was besides just writing posts and hitting publish. I am also learning more about gardening.

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Food Talk. April 2, 2015

Filed under: Lunch,random — Jessica @ 8:00 am
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It would seem that pretty much everything on this blog is food talk, and it is, in the practical sense. That is all important stuff to cover, but it isn’t what food is really about to me. If food was just about practicality, I would spend a lot less time reading, thinking about, researching, shopping for and preparing it. For me, food is about passion. It is about love, It is about nourishment far beyond the physical body. It is about community, tradition, family, memories. Food is the absolute center of my world.

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With Spring Break going on this week (exciting for me since I teach but do not have children, so I really get a break), I have had time to fully indulge my “food brain” as Joy the Baker likes to call it. I have spent countless hours on the internet researching some ideas I have and a few recipes I want to try, I have been reading “My Berlin Kitchen” and I watched The Hundred-Foot Journey . It is always good to know that I am not the only food obsessed one out there. While my family appreciates my culinary adventures, they don’t really “care” about food like I do.

I literally gasped in awe at the markets in The Hundred-Foot Journey and I could taste the salty olives, creamy cheese and the warm yeasty dough as I read about many of the recipes the Author’s family prepared in “My Berlin Kitchen”. I find these kind of stories so deeply, entirely satisfying and I just can’t get enough. Burnout happens with even the most passionate cooks, something that used to make me doubt my passions, but it doesn’t take much to get me excited again.

After seeing the markets in the movie, I had to take a trip to Wegmans (it is the closest I am getting to a market this time of year in Western New York). First, I picked up a cup of coffee while taking in the rich smooth aromas. Then, I took a few minutes to just stand at the front of the produce section and admire all of the colors and textures. I slowly walked around and took the time to really appreciate what was offered. I picked things up to touch them, smell them and imagine them on my table, A few things made it into my shopping basket and I moved on. I went to the olive bar and cheese area. I packed a variety of briny olives into a small container and picked up a couple of chunks of cheese. Next, I walked over to the bakery and admired the crisp golden crusts of their freshly baked loaves. I debated between their rosemary olive oil or the garlic tuscan bread for a few minutes- taking the time to gently squeeze and smell each- before adding one to my basket. On my way to the register, I picked up a bouquet of flowers.  I never even made it past that side of the store. I had what I had come for-a sense of connection, of contentment, of joy. I also had the makings of a really delicious lunch.

Once I arrived home, I trimmed my flowers and put them in a vase on the table. I made a salad with dark leafy spring mix, salty feta cheese, toasted walnuts, olives and my favorite sweet balsamic homemade dressing. I sliced a thick piece of the impossibly chewy bread with the perfect crunchy crust and soft center and poured a bit of olive oil to dip it in. I poured a small glass of wine,lit a candle and sat down at the table for a late lunch. It was one of those meals that was so simple yet so utterly satisfying. It never even crossed my mind to photograph it. When I was done eating, I just sat there, thankful for the time to enjoy such a simple thing so very much.

It was great to remember how important it is to slow down sometimes.  To take the time to truly enjoy the things that bring me real pleasure. It is not practical to think that meals can be such an occasion everyday, but I am going to try to add little touches to remind me that they can and should be sometimes. Tucking a cloth napkin into my lunch bag and taking the time to lay it on my lap, opening up all of my containers to appreciate the colors and giving thanks can make a hurried lunch at my desk a little more special. When I am home, lighting a candle and sitting down at the table without any distractions can make leftover soup seem like a feast. Remembering that food is more than calories, more than a necessity, makes is so much more satisfying.

 

January CookBooks. January 28, 2015

Filed under: Cookbooks,random,Review — Jessica @ 6:00 am
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I have a bit of a cookbook problem. “A bit” is an understatement. I have well over 100 cookbooks and the collection keeps growing. I do weed them out from time to time, but it is still out of control. I read cookbooks like novels… I bring a pile into bed to look at while I drink my coffee on a lazy Sunday morning. I find so much inspiration in cookbooks~ in both the recipe sense and in the best of cookbooks, the life sense. I love the stories people tell about the recipes, the beautiful photographs, the kitchens etc.

Needless to say, going through all of them for my monthly menu planning session would be too much. In order to make sure I use as many of them as possible, I choose 3 or 4 each month and pick out some recipes for our meal plan. I never use the same book two months in a row. I leave a lot of room in the meal plan for improvisation, my own recipes and recipes from online sources and magazines, but I like to choose a few from each cookbook I pick out that month. Sometimes I will make the same favorites over and over again, but I try to choose at least one new recipe from each one. I thought I would start sharing the cookbooks I use each month. I love hearing about others favorite cookbooks and the reasons why they like them. I just decided to start sharing, so this post is coming a little late in the month but I will be putting these up the first week of each month in the future.

I was lucky enough to get two cookbooks from my two of my favorite bloggers this Christmas so I just had to use them immediately.

1.Seriously Delish: 150 Recipes for People Who Totally Love Food

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I have loved her blog for years and I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE her cookbook! There is a nice variety of snacks, meals and beverages. Her recipes range from easy and healthy to a little more involved and indulgent. Everything I have tried has been phenomenal. Our favorites so far have been the Lemon Almond Tilapia with Coconut Rice, the Turkey and White Bean Enchiladas and the Crispy Salt & Pepper Brussels Sprouts. There are so many more things I want to try in here.

2. Homemade Decadence

DSC02074Joy is just the best blogger. I love everything about her. I bought her first cookbook and could not wait for this one to come out. (She is working on a Brunch cookbook now and I could not be more excited). There are a lot of baked good recipes in here since she is Joy The Baker, but I still managed to fit a few things into the meal plan (and a treat or two). My favorite recipe so far has been the Dirty Chai Lattes and I am pretty much just obsessed with drinking them everyday. The Roasted Potato Breakfast Nachos are pretty much heaven and the Dark Chocolate, Pistachio and Smoked Sea Salt Cookies I made for Christmas were a HUGE hit!

3. Now Eat This!DSC02073This is a cookbook I randomly came across in the Library Book Sale (I work at the library, so you will see this statement often). I had never heard of these cookbooks, but apparently there is a series. I thought a healthier twist on classic American comfort food was worth checking out and I have not been disappointed yet. I have made Mac and Cheese, Chicken Piccata, Portabella and Ground Beef Meatloaf, and Chicken with Mango Salsa. All have been delicious and fit my partners need for some classic comfort food while staying pretty healthy.

So, those were my choices for January. Please let me know what your favorite cookbook is in the comments!

 

 

Weekend Adventures: Wine Trail. October 11, 2014

Filed under: Adventures,Local Events,random — Jessica @ 5:00 am
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If you are looking for something to do this weekend, I recommend you check out the local wine trail. You would never think that Western New York was wine country,but we are blessed with many wineries in the area that offer a wide variety of wines. My family decided to enjoy a kid free Sunday Funday (very rare) and have some grown up fun last weekend. My mama, aunt, sister (not the 18yr old one), brother and a friend of the family loaded into my step dad’s mini van and he drove us along the wine trail. You should definitely consider having a designated driver, it is easy to drink a bit too much with so many small tastes. We only made it to 7  of the wineries this time, but I have been to most of them at one time or another.

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Before leaving, I packed some snacks. Snacks are essential when drinking all afternoon. I brought healthy stuff- veggies, an herby greek yogurt dip, hummus, gluten free pretzels and some fresh fruit (not pictured). My aunt brought cheese, pepperoni and crackers.

 

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Our first stop Mazza Chautauqua Cellars . This is a really clean, simple place. There is a small tasting bar, a small cafe area (which has always been closed when I have been there) and a small shop area. The employees are always super friendly and helpful. I enjoy their Bare Bones White and Bare Bones Red- depending on the season. They are great table wines and a safe bet to bring to share at a book club or dinner party.

 

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Next up was Johnson Estate Winery. When I used to drink sweet wine, I drank A LOT of their Concord. It’s like grape juice. While I am happy not to drink such sweet wine anymore, I like some of their other ones and I love the space. It is kind of dark and cellar like in here, in a really beautiful way. My family members are not actually big wine drinkers so they really enjoyed some of the sweet wines offered here. I bought a bottle of their Proprietor’s Red. Another semi dry table wine that goes with just about anything.

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Noble Winery was our third stop. This may be my favorite winery. They offer a wide range of wines, but more than their wine, I really enjoy the atmosphere. It is a large space and very open. There is seating indoors and out. They offer cheese plates and some other small dishes, but they strongly encourage you to pack a picnic and enjoy it on the property overlooking the vineyards. The staff is very friendly too. My favorite part of this place has absolutely nothing to do with wine. They have dogs there. They just roam the property and visit with people. They are super nice and love to get their bellies rubbed. I only saw one this time but there have been two the other times I visited. I bought a bottle of their Marechal Foch described as “Dry earthy wine with a splash of dark cherry & bramble,pairs well w/greek food”. This was my first time tasting it and I really liked it. (I haven’t been into reds in a couple of years and I am happy to be back to them this Fall)

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After some snacks in the car, our next step was Quincy Cellars. I absolutely love this space and put it on the short list for possible future wedding venues long before I had a partner I even considered marrying. My family was not a huge fan of the wines offered here because there wasn’t much sweet stuff on the tasting menu, but I always enjoy their wines. I don’t remember exactly what I bought here, but I am pretty sure it was a white wine. I like to keep a few around for lighter dinners that would be overpowered by a red wine.

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Next up was a family favorite, Heritage Wine Cellars. While I think the space is pretty interesting and I sometimes like the informal vibe, I am not that into their wines. They all just seem a bit too sweet for me. They just leave an open bottle of each of their wines on the counter with little tasting cups and it is kind of a free for all. I think I might get a better read off from some of their wines if they were chilled. Luckily, my family really enjoys their sweet wines and bought more here than anywhere else.

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Next we visited a winery I had never been to and will most likely never return to, Arrowhead Wine Cellars. The space definitely felt more like a store than a winery with tons of merchandise like cheesy tshirts and wine novelty items everywhere and the staff was pretty rude. They did have a good Chardonnay and I am not usually a fan. My family enjoyed some of their sparkling wines.

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Our last stop was mostly for me, Sensory Winery & Art Gallery. This is just such a cool space and I love seeing the ever changing art exhibits. They always have different wines here because they generally only make a big enough batch to last about a year, so there is always something new to try. Most of the wines here are on the drier side, which is perfect for me.

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My failed attempt at a sibling photo. I cut off part of my sister’s face and you wouldn’t even know my brother was supposed to be in here. This honestly had more to do with being very out of practice taking group selfie shots with and actual camera than it did with the wine I had been drinking 😉

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It was an awesome way to spend a Sunday afternoon. Fall is my favorite time to go on a mini wine tour because you get the added bonus of enjoying the beautiful fall colors in our area. There is a small fee for tasting at some wineries, but none are more than $5 and many are free. I always spend quite a bit of money stocking up on wine, but you don’t have to do that and you would have a really fun experience without spending much money.

Have you ever been on a wine tour? What is your favorite winery you have visited?

 

Eating Healthy on a Budget. October 1, 2014

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Eating healthy is important to me. Like, really important. It is pretty much my #1 priority after paying all the fixed expenses. I will gladly go without a new dress or a night out in order to spend more money on good, healthy food for us to eat at home. That being said, we still have a budget and I can not just go to the store and pick up whatever strikes my fancy at the moment (although this happens on occasion at Wegmans -especially if I stop after an afternoon at the brewery). We spend about $300  a month on groceries for 2 adults. This includes all breakfasts, lunches and 95% of our dinners.

 

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I guess a good place to start would be to let you know what I consider healthy eating. Healthy eating to me involves eating mostly real food. Meat, produce, dairy, beans, grains and some minimally processed convenience foods such as pasta, bread and crackers. I really like Kath’s (paraphrased) idea of considering something real food if it is made with recognizable ingredients and could be made at home if one had the time and basic kitchen tools.

Some other healthy eating guidelines I follow-

– no “low fat, reduced fat or fat free” anything, unless it comes that way naturally. I used to be all about low fat dairy etc, but the more I learned, the more I understood that it is not natural or healthy by my definition. I like food that is as close to its natural state as possible before I start cooking it. I switched over to full fat dairy products a couple of years ago and you know what happened? Nothing. I did not gain a single pound from it. It is so much more satisfying and filling and had absolutely no ill effects.

-pick and choose when it comes to organics. I am sure you have all heard about the “dirty dozen” and “clean 15”. I buy everything on the first list organic and I never buy anything on the second organic unless, it is on sale and the same price as conventional produce. Items on neither list are organic if the price is comparable to the nonorganic price.

-no fake sugars. None. Ever.

-organic meat is a priority for us. It is most definitely more expensive and I rarely find any super great deals on it, but I compensate by eating less meat. I pretty much never have meat for breakfast or lunch during the week, unless it is dinner leftovers. I eat a lot of beans, nuts, greek yogurt, eggs and cheese for protein with those meals. I would actually eat much less meat for dinner, but my partner is much more the “meat and potatoes” type than I am (although she has come a long way since we have been together)

– local is more important than organic to me in many cases. There are so many benefits to buying local (which I may get into in another post), but it comes down to supporting things that I believe in wholeheartedly.

-convenience foods are few and far between in our house.  Boxes of pasta and crackers are about as convenient as it gets. I do spend a lot of time making my own convenience foods- granola bars, frozen burritos, meals to take out of the freezer and pop in the oven, but you have to give some where- time or money.

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So, given those guidelines of healthy eating, here are some tips on how I save money doing it-

-I do a lot of planning, as detailed in this post.

-I keep a well stocked pantry

– As I mentioned in both of the posts linked above, we don’t go to the grocery store a lot. We do one big shop a month and then just pick up produce and dairy products at small stores close to the house as necessary.

– I shop at Aldi. Not exclusively, but it is always my first stop. Their product line has definitely expanded and improved over the years and I am quite impressed with many of the things they offer. Their new gluten free line in a bonus! They do offer organic produce and even some organic meat! Most of what I buy there are pantry items and dairy products.  After I pick up what I can from my list there, I head across the street to Wegmans and finish up.

– Prep cooking. There is no point in buying a bunch of healthy food if you are just going to let it rot in your crisper drawers. This takes some work. I spend Sunday afternoons preparing food for  the week ahead. I cut up veggies, whip up a batch of hummus, make granola bars, get some homemade burritos in the freezer etc. Once the meal plan is done, I do whatever I can in advance so meals are quick and easy during the week. I often work 12-13 hr days during the school year and I know that  I am going to be hungry and tired when I get home. Ordering in is easy, but not healthy or cheap! Having food prepared makes it easier to eat healthy.

– Don’t waste food. Seems like a no brainer, but people waste so much food. I do my best not to waste anything. I certainly do still waste food, but much less than I would if I didn’t try. Most food can be frozen with minimal prep. Our deep freezer comes in handy here. Keep track of what you have in the freezer and plan to use it in a meal soon.

-Use what you have. Always start with what you already have on hand and build from that instead of having to buy everything for a recipe.

– I make a lot of “leftover salads” and “use it up soup”. I like to pile whatever leftovers I have on top of spring mix and call it lunch. Part of Sunday food prep is making soup out of whatever produce needs to be used up. I will also add any grains and usually some leftover chicken as well. Just put it all in a stock pot with some stock and you are good to go. Obviously some things do not make a good combinations but you’d really be surprised by how good this usually turns out.

– Grow a  garden. We don’t grow a lot of our own food, but we do what we can and are sure to freeze/can anything we can’t use up before it is bad.

– We don’t buy many drinks. Coffee, tea, alcohol (not included in the grocery budget), and some orange juice for Sunday brunches. Besides that we just drink water. We buy milk but we use it more for cooking than we do drinking.

*I pretty much never use coupons. They don’t have a lot of coupons for the food that we eat regularly and the time and effort involved in couponing is something I just don’t have to give.

 

So, that’s about it. Everyone has different rules for healthy eating, ideas of eating on “a budget” etc. This is what works for us. I hope I have inspired some good ideas in you. Please share your ideas for eating healthy on a budget.

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Giving Up Gluten. September 27, 2014

Filed under: planning,random,Uncategorized — Jessica @ 5:00 am
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Giving up gluten has become quite the trend these days. There have been many studies done and articles written claiming that unless you have Celiac disease, gluten intolerance isn’t real, but I assure you, I would not give it up unless I had to. About 2 years ago, I started feeling just generally sick. I had almost constant headaches, I was tired all the time, I had a lot of issues with gas and indigestion, repeated yeast infections and just general discomfort. I also had a really hard time focusing on things and staying on task, which is totally unlike me. I went to the Dr. 5 times in a year and a half and she kept giving me prescriptions to treat the symptoms instead of trying to figure out what the problem was. I finally decided I needed a new Dr. After describing my symptoms to my new Dr., the first thing she asked was if I had tried to give up gluten. Having done some reading on my own, I both expected and feared she might ask that. Once the Dr. suggested it, I knew I was going to have to give it a try.

 

Going gluten-free was pretty easy at first. Most of the foods I eat on a regular basis are naturally gluten free- vegetables, meat, fruit, nuts, dairy, many ancient grains.We don’t eat a lot of processed food in our household, so that was not an issue.  I felt so much better after just a couple of days that it was easy to keep the momentum going. I made it about a month without feeling deprived or bored with my  naturally gluten free food choices. It was actually after going grocery shopping and seeing the plethora of gluten free specialty foods and buying a few gluten free substitutes that the cravings came.  Gluten free substitutes are expensive and  the money in the grocery budget for them is limited. I tend to buy a loaf of bread, crackers, pasta and maybe a brownie or cornbread mix when we go shopping twice a month, but beyond that, I just have to do without. (I did spend a ton of money on gluten free flours at first too, but have not used them all that much yet). Gluten free alternatives are nice and I am really happy I can still enjoy things like avacadoe toast with eggs or a plate of pasta, but I definitely think it makes it harder to say no to regular bread and pasta when gluten free options are not available- but maybe that is just me.

 

I have found that I can have limited amounts of gluten without any major side effects but I also find it hard to know where that line is and very easy to just keep pushing it until I am sick again. It is best for me to just avoid it in my everyday home life and not stress too much about it if I am going to a friend’s house for dinner or eating at a restaurant. I still try to stick with generally gluten free options in those situations, but I don’t have to worry about every ingredient.

 

The hardest things to give up have been fresh from the bakery bread and beer. I really love both of those things. Luckily wine is gluten free and I have developed a real love for hard cider since giving up gluten. Now that the weather has cooled down a bit, I am looking forward to experimenting with some gluten free baking so I can still enjoy one of my favorite hobbies. Overall, giving up gluten is definitely worth it for me and I even enjoy having to branch out a little bit (more) in my cooking to find delicious alternatives that leave both my non gluten-free partner and I satisfied.

 

What is your favorite gluten-free meal?