20 Things I Learned From My 20s

With 3 decades of life and experience under my belt now, it’s a time to look back and reflect, and to look ahead and hope.

I’ve gone through several large life changes, including moving across the country from Ohio to Colorado for a PhD program, leaving said PhD program after 2 years of soul searching and deciding it wasn’t for me, making a leap to a new and exciting career field, hiking 6 “fourteeners“,  moving across the country again to Connecticut for the hubs job, moving up from $14/hour to 50K+ per year in salary, getting engaged, getting married, buying a house from 1000 miles away, and moving YET AGAIN to my dream state of North Carolina.

Gosh, that’s a long list.

It’s weird to see it all put together like that. But honestly, that is sort of how I always imagined my life would play out. As a kid, I was known as “the gypsy” because I loved going new places. I loved visiting my grandparents, my aunt, and traveling. I loved sleep overs and flea markets and vacations. When I sat still, I sat the hell still and read books for 8 hours. But when I wanted to move, I was gone.

There are many things in my life that I definitely do not regret.

I’m glad I moved around so much, lived in over 30 different houses and apartments, met many many people, tried different courses and careers, and had tons of great experiences. I’m thankful my parents taught me a lot about money, to pay yourself first, and to be on guard against predatory credit card lending (I did get a few free t-shirts, for sure, but I never carried a balance).

At the same time, there are many things I regret too. Like not opening a Roth IRA the second I was legally allowed to, going on several expensive vacations that could have been put towards paying off loans faster, and not negotiating any of my salaries.

People love to give advice, but like Baz Luhrman said:“Be careful whose advice you buy, but be patient with those who supply it. Advice is a form of nostalgia, dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it’s worth”.

So without further ado, here is some of my past, wiped off and ugly parts painted over, hopefully for your education and amusement:

  1. Life is all about progress, not perfection
  2. This too shall pass
  3. Change can be scary but it is so worth it
  4. You’ll regret the risks you don’t take more than the ones you do
  5. “Marry your best friend” isn’t trite, it’s true
  6. Relationships are everything
  7. You can catch more flies with honey than vinegar. (Unless we’re talking about fruit flies. They LOVE apple cider vinegar)
  8. Any # of dollars is more than zero dollars in investments
  9. Flattery will get you everywhere
  10. Balance in all things, including balance
  11. GET MOVING, start a regular exercise plan ASAP
  12. Your mom knows what’s up: eat your damn veggies
  13. That which isn’t tracked and measured cannot be improved
  14. Don’t fear failure, or feel the fear and do it anyway
  15. Make the world around you a better place than you found it
  16. Someone always has it better, someone always has it worse
  17. NEGOTIATE YOUR SALARY, BROS, and don’t be afraid to job hop
  18. Sometimes it’s okay to be selfish
  19. If at first you don’t succeed… try, try again
  20. Life is a marathon, not a sprint

These may seem superficial, or useless to you. You will hear tons of advice, most of it well-meaning. Your job is to accept and put into practice those things which make sense and improve your life, while weeding out and filing away those things which do not serve you.

I do know that I wish someone had told me in my 20s that I was doing a lot of things right by cooking at home almost all the time, having a budget and meal planning, not giving a damn what others thought and not spending tons of money on beauty products, and avoiding going out partying to the bars (it is way cheaper to have a potluck or drink a bottle of wine at home with friends!).

I wish someone had shown me how easy it is to set up a retirement account and start putting money into it, even tiny amounts. I totally did force my younger sister to open a brokerage account, even though she can only put away $25/month right now. It’s more than zero! And she will have more than me saved by the time she is 30. And I wish I had actually bought a house sooner, so I could have rental properties in 3 different states! And perhaps have been a bit smarter about my daily commute…

I cannot tell you how to live your life, nor would I want to. I never listen to anyone who tries to tell me how to live mine. Adulting is hella hard, but the rewards are worth it. Every stage of life has its own challenges and its own beauty. All I can tell you is that this life we live is one crazy ride, hang on tight and regardless of how bad or how good it gets, each day is indeed a gift.

 

What have you learned so far in life? Anything you definitely do, or do not, regret from your younger years?

The Pearl Earrings Saga

So as you may or may not know, if you’ve been reading lately, I recently passed my 3rd decade marker. For my 30th birthday, we wanted to celebrate in a big way, and so were in the beautiful Caribbean on a cruise, looking and feeling great.

Before going, I thought long and hard about whether or not I wanted to bring back souvenirs/a gift to myself or hubs. Lots of people asked if we would be exchanging gifts for Christmas or our mutual 30th birthdays. My immediate reaction was, no silly, we just spent a crap ton on a cruise!

But then I also thought how cool it would be to have some physical object that would bring me joy and remind me of the trip and this particular point in life forever after.

flowers and gift box

I went back and forth between consumables (y’all know I love good food, and exotic food) versus physical keepsakes.

I hate cluttering up the house with “things”. Even if decorative, they take up space, and must be organized, cleaned, and maintained. Even if useful, they will eventually get pushed to the corner and forgotten, and also take up space and must be maintained.

But with consumables, you enjoy them, and then they are gone. You have eaten all the chocolate, drank all the coffee, used the whole jar of spices, and all that’s left are the memories. Which I am terrible at holding onto and recalling.

There are few gifts I’ve gotten over the years or things I’ve bought for myself that, if analyzed honestly, I feel were worth the money paid and space taken up. Most of those things have made the three cross-country moves with me over the past decade. Many, many more less worthwhile gifts lay discarded in various Goodwills and dumpsters across Ohio, Colorado, and Connecticut.

How could I choose something that would be worth keeping for another decade or more? Something that would fit in my suitcase to come home? And also fit in my budget? Why do I feel the need to purchase anything at all?

Where is the line between indulgences and unnecessary purchases?

Where is the line between being frugal and being cheap?

Finally, I decided that a nice pair of real pearl earrings would be an appropriate choice. They would be very small and portable, hopefully not too expensive, and something I could wear and use over and over again for years to come.

Flash forward to the day of my actual birthday, and we are in town, fresh off the boat at our port of the day. I’ve already been wished a happy birthday many times and had an awesome breakfast of my absolute favorite: bagel with cream cheese and lox. It’s sunny, and 70s, and in a word, perfect.

We are strolling through the shopping centers, where jewelry seems to be the main focus. How convenient.

fancy ring surrounded by diamonds

At the first shop, I find a nice pair, though slightly bigger than I prefer. I ask how much, and am told $88. Though I didn’t react outwardly, the number shocked me a bit. I’m not sure what I expected price-wise, to be honest. I don’t make window-shopping at jewelry stores a habit, so I’ve no idea if that is a good price range, or highway robbery, or a screaming deal.

As a naturally very frugal person who needs little to be happy, I rarely spend more than a few dollars at a time (on anything but food… all bets are off there. But even then, this was more than I usually spend on food per week).

At least now I have a baseline.

I go to a few more shops and ask around. One has a nice set, but only set in gold, which I dislike. 99% of my (admittedly small) jewelry collection is silver. Several more have drop pearls, or pearls set in larger settings, or pearls and diamonds together. The lowest price I can find is a small stud set for $50. At each place, I say no thank you, I’ll keep looking.

Have you ever had something jump out and grab you by the soul? You know as soon as you see it, it is the thing you were seeking? And years later, you still smile every time you see it?

I didn’t have that moment.

None of them clicked. None of them ‘felt right’. Each set I saw, there was something about it I didn’t want. Too big, too small, too plain, too fancy. At least that is what I kept telling myself.

Where is the line of being frugal and being cheap?

Where is the line between indulgences and unnecessary purchases?

We shop some more, and then drift off to find lunch, and a beach. Eventually, the day almost done, we headed back to the boat, and I was still empty handed. They offered to go back to any store, to get any set that I wanted. And still I refused, and said I didn’t really want them after all. I felt happier and more content about my $5 beach margarita and the $40 we spent on a few bottles of island rum to bring home, honestly.

Now, weeks later, I must admit, I am still torn.

Part of me feels some regret that I backed down and didn’t buy the earrings. There are very few occasions which call for a fancy enough outfit to justify nice jewelry, but I do have two family weddings coming up this year. I may feel further regret at those times.

But a larger part of me also doesn’t care. On a day to day basis, in which we live the vast majority of our lives, I do not need pearl earrings. In fact, I already have two sets of earrings which I nearly never take out. I have real diamond studs that hubs bought me for our wedding anniversary, and a set of small silver hoops which were a Christmas gift from my mother years ago. Having different ones to change out would be a minor pain actually.

I also already have a real pearl necklace, which is a double edged sword. Had they matched, it would have been utterly perfect. Had the earrings not matched, I probably would wear them together anyways, but it would have bothered me. Not having brought it with me on the trip to match, I will never know.

Close up of woman hands holding red gift box

In the end, the best gift was the time, and the experiences. It was sitting on a beach, listening to the waves crash, and reading a good book. It was a frosty cup rimmed in salt. It was exploring a new place. The best gift was relaxation, being away from everything, including cell phone service so there was no checking Facebook, Twitter, and emails constantly. It was slowing down, doing nothing, and eating 3 dinners every day. At least, that’s what I’ll keep telling myself.

 

Have you ever made a purchase and regretted it later? Or regretted NOT buying something? How do you handle splurges?

Weekly Eating – 1/22/18

Hey y’all! Welcome to the series Weekly Eating.

Here is where I’ll talk about the week’s meal plan versus reality, what we ate for the week, and how we did budget-wise. I hope it gives readers a behind-the-scenes look into our life through the lens of food, and it’s also a way to keep us on track with meal planning and grocery budgeting.

Feel free to share your wins and lessons in the comments below!

 

This weekend I was on my A-game with meal prepping.

Sunday meal prepping

Bell peppers were on sale for 0.99/each, which usually only happens in the height of summer. So naturally I planned on making a batch of stuffed peppers. I’d also been hankering for hummus, so I whipped up a half batch in the blender, and at the last minute decided “why not throw in some turmeric too?” It came out a lovely vibrant yellow! I even used real tahini rather than my usual cheap-o peanut butter.

stocked refrigerator after meal prepping

With the other half can of chickpeas I made a Greek tabbouli type salad with cucumber, tomato, couscous, and red onion. (CRAP! I should’ve added kalamata olives too… ah, next time.) Bags of pre-cut cauliflower were cheaper per pound than buying a whole head, so I roasted a bag of that and added buffalo sauce for funzies. And a big ol pan of enchiladas, mostly pork for the boy with two black bean and mushroom vegetarian ones for myself.

black bean mushroom enchilada

Blueberries were also on sale this week, so I portioned out a few small containers. Whew! Now, on to the week!

Monday:

Breakfast – a piece of fruitcake from the holiday Food Swap! I had never had fruitcake, since it has such a sterling reputation, but y’all. This lady’s recipe was amaaaaaazing! It was dense and moist cake, and was just bursting with huge chunks of mango, apricot, papaya, and whole nuts. It was seriously addictive. I’m so bummed it is a super secret family recipe, she legit won’t share it!

holiday fruitcake and tea

Lunch – Lentil & couscous stuffed pepper. This is so simple, just cook 1 cup couscous, rice, or quinoa. Mix with 1 cup cooked lentils, black beans, or pinto beans. Add 1 can diced tomatoes, and stuff into 3-4 bell peppers. Bake for 350 about 25-30 minutes until soft.

lentil and couscous stuffed bell pepper

Dinner – Stir Fry! I used some veggies from the fridge and some from the freezer, plus the tofu from the sale a few weeks ago, to whip up tonight’s batch of stir fry.

stir fry veggies in pan

Note to self: when oven-baking tofu, don’t use the pre-chunked kind! The pieces are just too small and stick to the pan something awful. It was still super tasty though.

tofu stir fry

Snack – blueberries

blueberries

Tuesday:

Breakfast – I made some oatmeal with dates, but forgot to take a photo, oops! It was tasty and warm, and very filling.

Lunch – Tabbouli. I like this type of meal because it’s totally fine at room temperature and very portable. I didn’t even need a lunch bag I just threw it in my work bag and went.

tabbouli with chickpeas, cucumber, and red onion

Snack – I had got some protein bars on super sale (like 90 cents) and tried one today. It was horrid. It was hard but chewy, and tasted like basically a caramel with protein powder. And also had chunks of raw coconut. Gag. I swallowed the one small bite and tossed the rest. I hate wasting money 🙁

Dinner – White Bean & Barley Soup – this was a crossover between my Ham & Barley Soup and my White Bean Soup. I didn’t have a lot of ham, just a tiny bag of a few frozen cubes left over from who knows when that we found in the freezer. So I figured, add a can of white beans to bulk it up, and dang, it was a great combo! This might be my new go-to.

ham, white bean, and barley soup

Wednesday:

Breakfast – loaded baked sweet potato. I zapped it in the microwave covered in a wet paper towel for 10 minutes, then piled on some black beans, salsa, purple sauerkraut & avocado. Mind blowingly good, and I nommed the whole thing!

loaded baked sweet potato

Lunch – Black bean & mushroom enchilada, buffalo cauliflower, and blueberries

black bean enchilada with buffalo cauliflower

Dinner – Black bean veggie burger with Green Goddess, sauerkaurt, freezer mac n cheese, and veggies on the side. Yes, I know I had black beans at every meal today, and yes I’m quite proud of that fact.

veggie burger with green goddess and mac n cheese

Making our way further into the freezer, I pulled out a box of Aldi black bean patties and an old pre-made mac n cheese, plus some frozen edamame and corn on the side for a colorful, healthy, and super filling dinner.

ALDI black bean veggie burgers

Snack – tea and a Stroopwafel. GUYS. Have you had a Stroopwafel?? It is as much fun to eat as it is to say! It’s a thin, crispy waffel, well, two of them, with a layer of sweet salty caramel in between. It is absolute heaven with a cup of hot green tea.

tea and stroopwafel

Thursday:

Breakfast – Homemade yogurt with blueberries and tropical granola

homemade yogurt parfait with blueberries and granola

Lunch – Stuffed Pepper & a banana

stuffed bell pepper and a banana

Dinner – The famous One-pan Buffalo Potato Bake, with previously cooked & frozen pulled pork. Have I mentioned my love of freezer meals enough yet?

buffalo pork potato bake

Snack – blueberries and a Sesame bite from Puerto Rico!

berries and sesame bite

Friday:

Breakfast – PBJ sandwich thin

peanut butter and jelly sandwich thin

Lunch – lentil & couscous stuffed pepper & blueberries

lentil and couscous stuffed pepper with blueberries

Dinner – Masoor Dal, or red lentils, over black ‘forbidden rice’

ingredients for masoor dal

I want to cook more ethnic dishes this year, so I’m easing into it with a super simple dish. Lentils are insanely good for you, and insanely cheap too. Plus all the spices in typical curry are also highly rated on the health-o-meter.

red lentils and black rice

Snack – Turmeric hummus and veggies. How could you not love the neon yellow color?!? I know I did.

bright yellow turmeric hummus

The Weekend

This is another chill weekend, as the boy is still not feeling 100%. I’m planning to head over to Spice Bazaar and pick up some more delish Indian foods and spices, and while I’m on that side of town I’ll hit the ALDI as well. We are running a little low on produce.

Food Total: $41.23
Meats $2.89 Dairy $4.40 Staples $7.49 Fruit/Veg $26.45
1lb turkey 2.89 Yogurts 11 4.4 Flatout Wraps 2 6pk 5 Bananas 12 3.07
seltzer 12 pack 2.49 Avocado 2 2.5
chopped cauliflower 4.99
bell peppers 4 3.96
1 cucumber 0.99
pint mushrooms 1.99
blueberry pints 2 3.76
Dry prunes 18oz 5.19

Eating healthfully does not have to be expensive!

I mean, look at the enchiladas. $1.99 for 10 tortillas, $1.25 for a can of sauce, $1.99 for pint of mushrooms (I used half), $0.25 for a can of black beans = $5.48 total and you can make 8 enchiladas, so 0.68 per serving! With 2 tortillas left over for a PB, banana, & honey snack or turkey pinwheels.

What about the stuffed peppers? $3.96 for 4 peppers, maybe 0.50 worth of lentils and another 0.50 of couscous (or rice), 1 can of diced tomatoes at 0.25 = $5.21 total so $1.30 per serving. And if you don’t have a big appetite one huge pepper can be 2 different meals. They also freeze pretty well for later.

Lessons Learned

Meal prepping is such a great time saver! I enjoy cooking too much to make enough for lunches and dinners, I would get bored quickly. But for lunches, it is really nice to already have meal options cooked and packed and ready to go, you just grab the container you want that day. Same thing for healthy snacks.

 

How about you guys, did you have a great week or a learning week?

Easy Spinach & Mushroom Pasta Sauce

Sometimes, when you just need a quick dinner and don’t feel adventurous, it is easy to discount pasta as “too easy”, or feel guilty about all those carbs. But the good news is, pasta is a great blank canvas on which you can paint all sorts of tasty, healthy flavors.

You can use generous amounts of pesto, which can be made in a blender and contains easily 2 servings of vegetables per plate. You could also whip up a white bean alfredo sauce, which is essentially watered down hummus, and is super healthy and filling.

Or you could make my favorite veggie-packed sneaky healthy red sauce of all time: spinach and mushroom sauce.

mushrooms and spinach

The beauty of this is its simplicity. You only need spinach, mushrooms, some spices, and a giant can of crushed tomatoes.

You can easily substitute in a jar of pre-made sauce, and add the veggies; or use diced or even whole tomatoes, just whir them in a blender before simmering. Canned or dried mushrooms would work just fine as well. You can also use frozen or canned spinach, but it will make the sauce much waterier and it would be best to simmer the sauce for an hour or more to thicken.

homemade pasta sauce ingredients

Ingredients:

  • 1 28 oz can of crushed tomatoes
  • 1 pint of any type of mushrooms
  • 2 heaping cups fresh spinach
  • 1 tbsp dried onion/onion powder
  • 2 tbsp Italian spice mix
  • Garlic salt, pepper, to taste

spinach and mushroom pasta sauce ingredients

Step 1: In a pan, add the mushrooms and a bit of water, wine, or stock. Cover with a lid and bring to a simmer. Cook 5-7 minutes, and then add the spinach. Cook another 3-5 minutes until wilted.

simmer tomato sauce for pasta

Step 2: Add in all the spices, and the tomato. Bring to a gentle simmer, and place the lid on, slightly askew so that the steam can escape and your stovetop isn’t covered in sauce bubbles. Simmer until thickened to your liking, usually about 15 minutes for me.

spinach mushroom pasta sauce

Serve with or without meatballs, sausage, or any other sauce additions you like. The flavors all work together beautifully, and most people won’t even notice there are extra veggies! If you want to really fool them, you can puree the sauce with a blender or immersion blender before serving.

 

What’s your favorite way(s) to sneak more vegetables into your diet?

Carolina Reaper Pepper Hot Sauce

In case you hadn’t heard, there’s a new top dog in the world of spiciness. You probably know all about jalapeños, maybe even serranos and habañeros. If you’re a true spice afficianado, you might even be aware of the previous holder of the record for the world’s hottest: the Scorpion Pepper.

Well, since August 7, 2013, the new top dog in town, crowned by the Guinness Book of World Records, is a gnarly looking pepper with a shape reminiscent of a flame: the Carolina Reaper.

Bred as a child of the previous record holders the Bhut jolokia (also known as the Ghost Pepper or ghost chilie) and a red habañero, the Reaper was developed by pepper expert Ed Currie in South Carolina. A man driven by the pursuit of health which led to the pursuit of heat, Ed has been breeding and processing peppers for several decades.

One day while strolling, I noticed a bush, with some strange looking orange fruits. Of course I was interested, as an incurable foodie and forager. I snapped some pictures and went home to research. In short order I found out the above information, and confirmed these were indeed Carolina Reaper peppers! They happened to be in a public garden space, so I quickly snatched a few with no recipe in mind, but a burning curiosity (see what I did there??).

Carolina Reaper pepper plant

Once I got home with my trio of terror, I started googling recipes. Turns out not many people want to tangle with the Reaper in their kitchen, and for good reason. Too much heat can produce burning sensations, raise your temperature and blood pressure. In extreme cases, you can lose feeling in your hands or face, start shaking or even have a seizure, and become unable to breathe.

The way pepper heat is measuring is using the Scoville Heat Unit scale. An average jalapeno hits about 8,000 SHU, whereas pepper spray (the kind meant to completely disable attackers) is around 2 million SHU. The Reaper averages about 1.5 million, with the hottest plant on record hitting 2.2 million Scoville units.

So basically, a Reaper is the equivalent of pepper spray.

This recipe is for a homemade hot sauce; if you are using Reapers or other similarly strong peppers, please use caution. Make sure you have food-grade gloves to protect your hands, and make it in a well ventilated area. Leaving the seeds in always makes it hotter, so if you truly want to bring the pain, leave in the seeds. I did not…

The recipe works with all types of hot peppers, so you can sub in your favorite kind, or mix and match. This makes about 14 ounces of hot sauce.

Carolina Reaper hot pepper hot sauce ingredients

Ingredients:

  • 2 Carolina Reapers
  • 1 jalapeno pepper
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 a red onion
  • 1 can diced tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup cider vinegar
  • garlic salt to taste

Carolina Reaper pepper hot sauce ingredients

Step 1: Cut the tops off the peppers and discard. In a food processor or blender, chop the garlic, onion, and peppers. Add the vinegar and spices. If you want it totally smooth, add the tomatoes and blend well until liquid. Otherwise, add the tomatoes just before canning.

Carolina Reaper pepper hot sauce

I could have cooked the sauce down to thicken it a bit more, but I didn’t want to take the chance. Even just boiling it on a stove might create fumes that I didn’t want to deal with.

I jarred it in two glass jelly jars. If you want to process them in a canning or pressure bath the sauce can be stored in the pantry for years. Otherwise, store in the refrigerator for up to one year.

Hubs insisted on labeling the sauce appropriately: “Death For Sure”.

He had a burger, and put about 4 drops on it, spread all over the patty. He said that was a good amount to create a “nice burn” for the next several hours. I stuck a fork in the sauce, let the actual sauce drip off, then licked the fork, and my mouth and tongue tingled for at least 2 hours after… suffice it to say, I won’t be using much of this! The sauce should last us a good long time.

 

Have you ever, or would you, try a Carolina Reaper? Do you make your own hot sauces?

Weekly Eating – 1/15/18

Hey y’all! Welcome to the series Weekly Eating.

Here is where I’ll talk about the week’s meal plan versus reality, what we ate for the week, and how we did budget-wise. I hope it gives readers a behind-the-scenes look into our life through the lens of food, and it’s also a way to keep us on track with meal planning and grocery budgeting.

Feel free to share your wins and lessons in the comments below!

 

Well, turns out we got iced in on our trip to Texas! With freezing rain that turned into snow, followed by days of below-freezing temps, flights were grounded and hills were un-navigable. Just walking out onto the porch was a bit of an ice skating adventure. The dogs did not want to leave the house. We saw several cars in ditches in the following days because they didn’t think it was “that bad”.

And then the following day, our destination city gets hit with a foot of snow! I thought we moved south to get away from this winter crap? Several people who have lived in NC a long time say it’s been the coldest winter in memory. And we usually get a few snow days, but a foot in one day is kind of ridiculous. It meant extra time with family though, so overall it was kind of nice. 🙂

Monday:

Breakfast – I had the honor of hanging out with Kara from BravelyGo this morning at Summer Moon! I happened to be in town and she agreed to stop by and chat about all things Austin, business, and food with me. I really enjoyed getting to know this spunky, driven woman, and hope we stay in touch in the future.

Also, Summer Moon moon milk is magical, and their breakfast tacos are really dang tasty.

Lunch – Leftover chicken and dumplings soup from the weekend

Dinner – Chicken tortilla soup – it was served with crushed up tortilla chips, and it was like a piece of the puzzle of the universe aligned inside my head. Ahhhh, that’s why it’s called tortilla soup!

Snack – I had brought along some Miracle berries, so we had a fun experiment night! Miracle berries come from West Africa, and they have a compound in them that binds to your taste receptors.

Anything bitter, and especially sour, starts to taste sweet. Limes and grapefruits become absolute candy. The effect takes a few minutes to kick in, and lasts about 30 minutes to an hour. It’s very fun to watch people’s reactions to drinking pure vinegar!

Tuesday:

Breakfast – I was inspired by yesterday to make breakfast tacos

Lunch – turkey sandwich, just because there was lunchmeat in the fridge and we had eaten all leftovers already

Snack – Pecan pie! We were snowed in today, with just about everything in the state cancelled. So we took stock of the pantry, to make sure we could survive. Mom in law found all the makings of pecan pie, so how could we not?

And if you’ve never had warm pecan pie just out of the oven and covered in caramel ice cream, don’t wait for the next blizzard, go make that happen!

Dinner – Pasta with meat sauce. Because no matter the weather or what else is happening, a big plate of carbs covered in sauce always sounds good. We did sneak quite a bit of veggies in though, there is bell pepper, onion, jalapeno, and tons of spinach in there!

Wednesday:

Breakfast – Greek yogurt with granola and blueberries

Lunch – BBQ brisket sandwich and mac-n-cheese. We took a friend out for an early birthday lunch at a local BBQ place. The brisket was fatty, but I know what I’m getting into when I order brisket. The mac n cheese was phenomenal though, so creamy.

Dinner – Tex Mex. We were in Texas, after all, how could we leave without some enchiladas?

Thursday:

Breakfast – blueberry smoothie

Lunch – Our flight was delayed an hour, which was fine because I was starving. So I got a (way overpriced) beer, burger & fries.

And then, just as I’d paid the bill, some guy runs in and yells “if you’re on the flight to Raleigh Durham, chug your beers and pay your bills, the flight is back on time!” And so we ran…

Dinner – We finally made it home, and basically collapsed into bed. Oh, and this is what we came home to…

car covered in snow

Friday:

Breakfast – I made toast with peanut butter on one piece and jelly on the other. So naturally I was like…now it’s a sandwich. Not a song.

Lunch –I was not feeling great, apparently traveling just inevitably makes me sick for a few days. I heated some minestrone soup from the freezer.

Then I passed out for a 2 1/2 hour nap. The good news is, I felt so much better afterwards.

Dinner –Ribs (also from the freezer), potato wedges and edamame. Again, a very nice one-pan dinner.

The Weekend

This weekend is for resting and recovering, I’m feeling better but now it’s hubs’ turn. No more travel for a while, which is good. We have to unpack, do laundry, and restock the refrigerator eventually. Someone needs to remove the foot of snow in the driveway, and if we feel up to it there’s a post-holiday party at a friends’ house. I also got the “How Not To Die Cookbook” from the library, so I plan to spend some quality time with it and get some new ideas!

how not to die book and cookbook

Food Total: $72.43

I did a grocery run one day while in Texas to help re-stock. They were very generous with buying all the food, but I felt bad about drinking all the green tea and eating all the flip yogurts. (Y’all know that choco coco loco is my weakness.) This also includes the Summer Moon run, and the lunch we bought for our friend. And the silly expensive airport lunch. (Seriously, $7.50 for 10 oz of Bud Light?)

Lessons Learned

You just gotta roll with it, because life will throw you all kinds of crazy curves. From sickness to weddings, traveling is bound to happen. And you can pack all the granola bars and trail mix you want, but you will probably want real food and have to pay for it at some point. Just accept that. And having meals in the freezer is such a life saver. You can get home, just pull out a few bags or jars, put it in the fridge, and know that tomorrow you can eat real food.

And you never know what mother nature has in store. It is far better to be safe, than sorry and in a ditch. Always pack layers, lots of layers, no matter how warm you think the place you’re going will be. And take the dang vitamin C like your mom said. Who cares if it’s real or placebo effect, if you think you’re gonna get sick it’s better to be over-ready. On the same note, bring Claritin! Because cedars, yo.

 

How about you guys, did you have a great week or a learning week?

One Pan Dinner: Steak, Broccoli & Potato Wedges

Quick, can anyone guess my least favorite thing to do after a long day, a delicious dinner I spent time cooking, and before bed?

Dishes!

For many people, that is one of the biggest barriers to entry for home cooking. Knowing that whatever dishes they dirty, they will have to clean up afterwards. And if you have more than one person to feed, it seems the dishes multiply exponentially. You’d think one more plate and fork is it, but no, somehow after 2 days there is Mount Dirty Dishes and a sink you can no longer see the bottom of.

Well, to solve this problem, we have started using several tricks, one of which I will share with you today: One Pan Meals!

It is exactly what it sounds like, you need only one pan in which to cook and serve your meal. It could be a sauce pan, a soup pot, a slow cooker, a rice cooker, an Instant Pot, a muffin tin, or a cookie tray. The point is, there is only one item to clean up afterwards! Brilliant.

A super-basic starter recipe that anyone can follow to create a meal such as this would be:

1 serving Protein + 2 servings Vegetable/Fruit + 1-2 servings Carb

This could be chicken stir fry over rice, or a veggie burger on a whole wheat bun with toppings and side salad, or a shrimp noodle soup. You should include a small amount of a healthy fat as well, like nuts, avocado, or olive oil, to help your body absorb those lovely vitamins and minerals.

The recipe here is for a simple steak and sides dinner, but looks quite impressive in its presentation. It can be as unassuming as a Tuesday night dinner, or as fancy as a Valentine’s Day dinner for your loved one. You can also easily change up the sides, if you don’t like broccoli try cubed sweet potato, cauliflower, diced carrots, or squash. If potatoes aren’t your thing, sweet potato fries are also awesome, or you could use another pan for rice or couscous. The choice is yours.

This meal was exceptionally affordable too, since I found a large 8.5 ounce steak on sale for about $5, and cut it in half for 2 servings. Broccoli was also on sale for 0.99/head, and potatoes 0.99 for a 5lb bag. That made this whole meal cost a grand total of about $7, or $3.50 per serving!

Ingredients:

  • 2 steaks, 3-4 ounces
  • 1 large head broccoli or 10oz frozen
  • 2-3 potatoes, slivered or cubed
  • Spices to taste
  • Olive oil to drizzle

Step 1: Cut your potatoes and broccoli into bite sized pieces. Lay everything out on a cookie tray, and sprinkle with spices of your choice.

I used McCormick “steak seasoning” because it’s a favorite around here, and I sprinkled it on the broccoli and potatoes too.

Step 2: Cover with foil, and roast at 350 degrees for about 25-30 minutes. This cooks the potato and steak.

Step 3: Uncover, and bake another 10 minutes. This browns the potatoes and crisps the steak. Watch to make sure you don’t burn the broccoli though.

 

That’s all there is to it! You have a delicious, filling, and nutritious meal, and only one pan to wash afterwards. More time for cuddling and Netflix. 🙂

Crispy Oven Baked Tofu

If you’ve ever had the perfect crispy tofu, where it is still soft and creamy on the inside but the outside has a shattery crisp crunch, then you know what I’m after. If you have not, then boy are you missing out, and you need to try this recipe!

Tofu is a beautiful blank canvas, able to suck up and take on the flavor of whatever sauce or dish you pair it with. It is great in all types of Asian dishes because salt in particular brings out its best qualities, but it is also a great stand-in for scrambled eggs, and it blends right into a smoothie without a trace.

But we all know that tofu’s true calling in life is to be the star of a good stir-fry.

Ingredients:

  • 1 block firm or extra firm tofu
  • 2-4 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • 1/4 cup olive oil

Step 1: Drain the tofu, and place on a paper towel or dish towel on a plate. Put something heavy on top, to help press out the water, and let it drain for 20-30 minutes. This dries out the block a bit and lets it soak up your marinade instead.

Step 2: Cut the block into 5-6 strips, and then cut each strip into cubes, about 1 inch square. Mix all marinade ingredients in a bowl, and toss the cubes to coat well. Lay the squares out on a baking pan (I lined mine with foil to make it easier to clean up afterwards).

Step 3: Bake at 400 degrees F for about 30 minutes. If you can, flip each piece once or twice halfway through, to crisp up all the edges.

You can douse them in buffalo sauce once baked for a can’t-resist party appetizer, dunk them into dips (or even some Green Goddess dressing), or toss onto a salad like bread crumbs. Or of course, toss into a good stir fry, and let the tofu feel that it’s life mission is complete.

 

Weekly Eating – Jan 8

Hey y’all! Welcome to the series Weekly Eating.

Here is where I’ll talk about the week’s meal plan versus reality, what we ate for the week, and how we did budget-wise. I hope it gives readers a behind-the-scenes look into our life through the lens of food, and it’s also a way to keep us on track with meal planning and grocery budgeting.

Feel free to share your wins and lessons in the comments below!

 

So remember the part where we are eating 80% vegetarian this year? I’d say we have totally nailed it so far! We had some great successes this week, and a few fails too. The week did include an impromptu cross country trip, for a family emergency situation, so that sort of threw the meal plan off the rails a bit. However, it was for good reason, and didn’t damage the budget too badly.

Monday:

Breakfast – Banana berry smoothie

Lunch – Beet & Sweet Potato veggie burger wrap with sprouts, red sauerkraut, tomatoes, spinach, & Green Goddess.

Beet, Sweet Potato, Black Bean Burger Patties

I just adore the bright pink colors going on here! Imagine all those lovely flavonoids running around my bloodstream detoxing and getting rid of free radicals… no, just me? #sciencenerd

Beet, Sweet Potato, Black Bean Burger Wrap

Dinner –Homemade pizzas. I whipped up overnight refrigerator pizza dough on Sunday so these were easy breezy. The boy had pineapple, ham and mozzarella on his, while I added handfuls of veggies to mine.

Homemade Veggie Pizza With Pork

Tuesday:

Breakfast – Banana & Cardamom Pancakes

Banana and Cardamom Blender Pancakes

Dudes, I had never had cardamom before (I think) but it’s one of the highest antioxidant spices so I’m trying to incorporate it into my cooking more. This pancake recipe was so simple, I whipped up the batter in a blender and poured it right onto the griddle. Easy peasy, and they came out fluffy and perfect. #winning

Banana and Cardamom Blender Pancakes

Lunch – Big salad with sprouts, walnuts, cranberries, quinoa, and my amazing Green Goddess dressing.

quinoa and greens sprout salad

Dinner –Tempeh Teriyaki Stir Fry.

Teriyaki Tempeh Stir Fry

Guys. Guys, I made a vegan meal that the boy said he loved and would eat again! That’s a huge win! TBH it was super tasty, I would eat it again, and also I nailed the plating. (Pats self on the back)

Wednesday:

Breakfast – mixed berry smoothie

Lunch – leftover mushroom risotto from last week. There was a lot left and we were leaving town, so I wanted to eat it up. However, after sitting for a few days, it became thicker and… blah. I forced down a few forkfulls, but couldn’t come close to eating it all. That led to a starving afternoon of snacking…

Mushroom Risotto

Snacks – first up was a handful of dark chocolate with almond kisses that someone at work brought in. I figured, dark chocolate has good flavonoid & antioxidants, and you can’t go wrong with almonds right?

dark chocolate with almond kisses

Well apparently 3 almonds isn’t enough protein to satisfy, so I was rooting through my desk drawers about a half hour later. I did bring this vegan banana bread that I swapped at last month’s Bull City Food Swap… sad to say, it also was “meh”. But when I found a tiny peanut butter packet, and was also getting hangry, it was like sweet mana from heaven, and I ate half the loaf.

vegan banana bread

Dinner – Lemon Garlic Parmesan Pasta with a salad. I needed to use up several lemons, so I whipped up a super simple pasta dish.

Lemon Garlic Pasta with Kale and Sausage

Thursday:

Breakfast – stressful morning getting to the airport and literally making our flight by ONE minute… so, breakfast was coffee and airplane snacks.

Lunch – stopped by a BBQ place, and they had a Thursday Special: $2 pulled pork sandwich! We were totally in, and they were delicious. The pork was so moist, and the BBQ sauce flavorful.

Stubb's BBQ Pulled Pork Sandwich

Dinner – a local pizza joint is a favorite here, so we had to indulge when in town. I got the Brussels sprouts one, which had sweet hot pepper jelly on it and was super tasty, while the boy got a meaty spicy one and compromised with a bacon jam covered in arugula as well. They were all amazing, and we ate nearly the whole thing!

Three whole Pieous pizzas

Friday:

Breakfast – Pineapple jalapeno smoothie and toast.

green smoothie and toast

Mom in law is obsessed with this smoothie which includes pineapple, spinach, coconut water, and jalapeno. It is fruity with a hint of spice, which is strange but definitely tasty.

Pineapple Jalapeno Smoothie

Lunch – Leftover pizza, which I threw a handful of salad greens on top of to make myself feel better about eating pizza for at least 4 meals this week…

leftover pizza with greens on top

Dinner – Korean tacos. It is super simple, a crock-pot beef roast with sweet sauce, a fresh crunchy slaw, and a peanutty dressing. They were really tasty, and I need to get the recipe.

Korean beef tacos

Snack – Chips & salsa. I cut up half an avocado, and mixed it with a half cup of salsa for a satisfying snack.

blue chips and avocado salsa

The Weekend

This weekend will be spent relaxing and spending time with family. We may get to go out and explore a little, and perhaps see some of hubby’s friends. The in-laws are great and are covering most of the groceries, so for food we will only spend on anything we go out for.

Food Total: $72.86

This week was just stocking up on frozen berries because we were out, and some other staples like soymilk, produce, and boxed wine. Don’t judge me, tons of people love boxed wine, even frugal folks and hard core wine lovers!

Thanks to last week’s big stock up, and tons of food still hanging out in the freezer and pantry, we should be set for at least another week (with the exception of a produce run). Maybe I need to do another of my own January Pantry Clean-Out challenges.

 

How was your week? Are you flexible with meal plans, or how do you deal with surprise travel?

Butternut Squash Ravioli with Sage Brown Butter

Ravioli is a nearly universally loved food, and yet I’ve only met one person who has made it from scratch. Because sadly, the time and knowledge and desire to spend hours making and rolling and cutting your own dough has been essentially lost to today’s fast-paced and convenience-based lifestyle.

Well I have good news!

You can have your ravioli and eat it too. With one easy trick, you can make fresh, ‘homemade’ ravioli in minutes. Honest.

The trick? Wonton wrappers.

The wrappers are basically very thin dough, and they are perfect for stuffing with a delicious autumn spiced filling. Whereas making your own noodles requires hours of work, tedious rolling, or having a fancy pasta machine, these ravioli take only about 10 minutes total once you have your filling ready!

This recipe makes about 25 ravioli, or half the number of won ton wrappers in your package (’cause you need 2 per ravioli).

Ingredients:

  • 1 package wonton wrappers
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 butternut squash*, roasted
  • Optional: pinch of cinnamon, nutmeg, sage, sea salt, brown sugar, maple syrup, parmesan cheese, ground nuts

Sage Brown Butter**:

  • 1/2 stick of butter
  • Handful of sage leaves
  • Optional: sea salt, cracked black pepper

Step 1: Roast a butternut squash by slicing it in half, removing the seeds, and placing it cut-side-down on a baking sheet or pan. Bake at 350 F on the bottom rack of the oven for 45 minutes, flip, and bake another 25 minutes. The flesh should be tender and you can scoop it right out into a bowl.

If you want your filling to have more flavor, you can choose to add any of the following: dried or fresh sage or rosemary leaves, a pinch of cinnamon, nutmeg, or cardamom, salt and or pepper, shredded parmesan cheese, crushed pine nuts or walnuts. I just left my filling as butternut squash because I love the flavor.

Step 2: Mash your squash up with a fork; lay out a single layer of wonton wrappers on a flat surface. Place a scant tablespoon of your filling in the center, and then use your fingers or a pastry brush to spread the egg all around the edges. Place another wrapper on top, and press down to seal.

I recommend doing these just 3-4 at a time, you don’t want your egg sealant to dry up before you press the top layer on.

Step 3: Bring a pot of water to a boil, and drop your ravioli in 2-3 at a time. Boil for 5-7 minutes, until they are floating, and then remove to a strainer or pan.

Step 4: While the ravioli are boiling, you can make the sage brown butter sauce. Melt a half a stick of butter in a pan, and bring it to a gentle simmer.

“Browned” butter and “burnt” butter are only a few seconds apart.

Step 5: Add a handful of fresh sage leaves. They will begin to shrink up and get crispy. They only need to cook in the bubbling butter for about 1-2 minutes, don’t let them get black. Take the pan off the heat, add some sea salt and cracked pepper, and you’re ready to roll!

Put 2-3 ravioli on a plate, and drizzle with the sage butter. It makes for a very impressive presentation, and a delicious, complex flavor with minimal ingredients and time.

This is a perfect, satisfying fall or winter recipe to use up seasonal, affordable squash, get some needed vitamins and fiber into your diet, and impress your dining companions. Once boiled, you can store in the refrigerator for 3-5 days, or freeze in a single layer for up to 3 months.

 

 

*Butternut is not the only squash that works in this recipe. You can also use acorn squash, delicata squash, pumpkin, sweet potato, or really any firm-fleshed autumn or winter gourd here.

**Sage brown butter is not the only sauce, either. It complements the flavor of squash well and is seasonal at the same time. However, the ravioli would be equally delicious with an Alfredo or marinara.

Butternut Squash Ravioli with Sage Brown Butter

Yield: 25

Butternut Squash Ravioli with Sage Brown Butter

Ingredients

  • 1 package wonton wrappers
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 butternut squash*, roasted
  • Optional: pinch of cinnamon, nutmeg, sage, sea salt, brown sugar, maple syrup, parmesan cheese, ground nuts
  • 1/2 stick of butter
  • Handful of sage leaves
  • Sea salt, cracked black pepper

Instructions

  1. Roast a butternut squash by slicing it in half, removing the seeds, and placing it cut-side-down on a baking sheet or pan. Bake at 350 F on the bottom rack of the oven for 45 minutes, flip, and bake another 25 minutes. The flesh should be tender and you can scoop it right out into a bowl. If you want your filling to have more flavor, you can choose to add any of the following: dried or fresh sage or rosemary leaves, a pinch of cinnamon, nutmeg, or cardamom, salt and or pepper, shredded parmesan cheese, crushed pine nuts or walnuts.
  2. Mash your squash up with a fork; lay out a single layer of wonton wrappers on a flat surface. Place a scant tablespoon of your filling in the center, and then use your fingers or a pastry brush to spread the egg all around the edges. Place another wrapper on top, and press down to seal.
  3. Bring a pot of water to a boil, and drop your ravioli in 2-3 at a time. Boil for 5-7 minutes, until they are floating, and then remove to a strainer or pan.
  4. While the ravioli are boiling, you can make the sage brown butter sauce. Melt a half a stick of butter in a pan, and bring it to a gentle simmer.
  5. Add a handful of fresh sage leaves. They will begin to shrink up and get crispy. They only need to cook in the bubbling butter for about 1-2 minutes, don't let them get black. Take the pan off the heat, add some sea salt and cracked pepper, and you're ready to roll!
  6. Put 2-3 ravioli on a plate, and drizzle with the sage butter. It makes for a very impressive presentation, and a delicious, complex flavor with minimal ingredients and time.
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What are your favorite squash recipes?

The fusion of food, fun, frugality, and curiosity.