What I’m eating right now

Happy Thursday! I have been having overall success with my weight loss goals so today I thought I would share the things that have been working for me and one major challenge.

While I am definitely down on the scale, I was in a rut for the past month or so, gaining and losing the same 2-3 pounds over and over again. It was very disheartening. To get over this and start making progress again, I decided to try my best to stay within my calorie limits every day and not overcompensate on weekends, like I had been doing. I also started waking up early on weekday mornings and doing yoga which was a challenge but felt really good. I did it all five days last week. This Monday, I hit a snag in that I wanted to nap instead 🙂 but it’s all about getting back on that horse so I started again on Tuesday morning.

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Tofu, butternut squash and bok choy

So now to what I have been eating! It’s basically a whole lot of vegetables, whole grains and protein. A lot of protein, in fact. I made a goal on the Lose It app to get 25% of my calories from protein and I think it has made a difference. If I am hungry at night, I have noticed the best thing for me to eat is some sort of protein (like a leftover chicken cutlet or some deli roast beef). It always seems to do the trick. I don’t have much of a sweet tooth, so I haven’t had too much trouble avoiding things like cake and candy. If I eat sweets it’s usually chocolate of some kind. That’s not to say I don’t love a good dessert, I just don’t find myself craving it most of the time.

In terms of meal planning, I have had a lot of success choosing nearly identical meals to eat for breakfast and lunch in a given week. I just buy or make a bunch of the same ingredients on Sunday and bring them to work for the week. I often eat similar dinners too, but sometimes I go out, so dinner changes depending on my plans. You can see below what a typical weekday of eating looks like in my life.

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You will note that I have included wine and/or whiskey 🙂 I often stop for a drink at the local bar after work. Which brings me to my major challenge. I love to go out with my friends and have a few (or more) cocktails. It always starts out innocently enough, but can quickly snowball into a calorie bomb of old-fashioneds and rosé. Knowing this, I’m trying to be more aware of how much I am drinking and drink water in between cocktails as well. I am also trying to be realistic and work drinking into my eating plan, hence why it shows up in my “snacks” section.

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Scrambled eggs with jasmine rice and cucumber salad

On the weekends, I am more flexible. I recently recreated one of my favorite restaurant breakfasts which included jasmine rice, scrambled eggs and cucumber salad (with sesame oil, vinegar, chili paste). It was delicious! The restaurant includes steak but I didn’t have any and the dish was fine without it. I try not to eat eggs except on the weekends, because I suspect they may upset my stomach, but they are a favorite of mine. I have also been avoiding dairy during the week for the same reason.

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Chickpea pasta with beans and broccoli

I also recently tried chickpea pasta, which I really liked. I combined it with black beans and broccoli and a little basil oil and it was delish! I like trying new products and different fruits and vegetables. It breaks up the monotony of watching what you eat and makes it feel like a fun experiment. I am obviously obsessed with toast and the combo of beet hummus (store bought) and cucumbers shown in the featured photo for this post is one of my new favorites. I have also made my own zucchini hummus which is great on toast as well. I think vegetable hummus is a sneaky way to incorporate more veggies into your diet and it is delicious. In general, I don’t like to follow recipes except for special occasions. I typically just wing it, which I find much less exhausting and much more fun than staring at a recipe on my phone. Still, taking a little extra time to make things look pretty has made a world of difference in how I think about the food that I eat. I highly recommend it!

How about you? What does your typical week look like food-wise? Have you tried any fun new foods recently?

Happy eating, xoxo

Anna

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Homemade zucchini hummus on sprouted toast

3 days in San Jose

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Trip to the Sarapaqui River

Hello! I’m back and happy to share the highlights of my recent trip to Costa Rica. I’m going to break the trip up into two posts. Today, I’m sharing what I did during my three days in and around San Jose.

San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica, is a busy, noisy, interesting city. It’s a little overwhelming at first, but I found a lot of beauty and hidden gems during my explorations.

Day 1-Arrival, concert at El Cuartel

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A busy street scene in Central San Jose

After arriving in San Jose and settling into my Airbnb, I walked around the center of the city for a while. I stopped at a couple of shops and bought some brightly-colored fabric and lace. I ended up at the Mercado Central, which is an enclosed market with all sorts of different food and craft stalls. It was fun to wander around and see everything being sold. I bought a variety of food to go including empanadas, fruit and chicken.

At night, I decided to go to The Public House, which was described as an Irish Pub. Uber now works in San Jose, so I gave it a try and was able to get a car right away. Unfortunately, since there are no real addresses in San Jose, we couldn’t find the pub. I ended up going to El Cuartel de la Boca del Monte, which is a bar, restaurant and music venue in Barrio la California. I stumbled into a band rehearsal for Easy Rider, a classic-rock cover band. I was welcomed warmly and even got a shout out from the band during their concert, which was extra special. I also tried a traditional Costa Rican dish called Chifrijo. It is a mixture of rice, tomatoes, beans and fried pork pieces and it is insanely delicious. I loved this bar so much that I returned on Monday evening for their famous music night.

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A booth at Mercado Central
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Spices at Mercado Central
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Chifrijo at El Cuartel

 

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Tropical flowers

Day 2-River cruise and horseback ride, movie

For Day 2, I booked a river cruise and horseback ride in the jungle. It was an easy, relaxing day. We were transported by boat along the Sarapaqui River, where we saw monkeys, iguanas and crocodiles. We ended up at a lovely house in the jungle where we ate lunch and could choose between horseback riding or zip lining. I chose horseback riding, which was pretty comical as my horse, Paloma, clearly did not want to be doing the tour and keep trying to run me into low-hanging branches. It was still enjoyable, though. After that, we took the boat back to our original location and headed back to San Jose.

There are so many tours you can book out of San Jose including zip lining, hikes through the cloud forest, hot springs, volcano tours and so much more. I had originally booked two tours, the river cruise and a combo tour of the Arenal Hanging Bridges, Volcano and Hot Springs. When the second got cancelled, I decided not to book another tour, which I think made for a more relaxing trip, but I was a little sad not to see the bridges and hot springs. And, while I enjoyed bumming around San Jose on Day 3, I feel like I missed some of the more exciting adventures that Costa Rica has to offer. I guess I will just have to go back 🙂

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Paloma going off trail
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Our boat on the Sarapaqui River
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Cine Magaly in Barrio la California

At night, I went back to Barrio La California and saw Lady Bird at Cine Magaly. It was a beautiful theater and a great movie (conveniently in English with Spanish subtitles). I ended up liking the feel of this neighborhood quite a bit and would recommend a visit to anyone spending time to San Jose.

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Museo del Jade

Day 3-Museo del Jade, walking around and craft shopping

On the third day, I went to the Museo del Jade. It had some interesting exhibits featuring pre-columbian life in Costa Rica. I especially liked the top floor which had shelves and shelves of fantastic pottery. I enjoyed the museum but I’m not sure it is worth the entry fee of $20.

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Pottery at Museo del Jade

After the museum I walked to the Museo National de Costa Rica. It was closed, but it has a beautiful park (Plaza de la Democracia y de la Abolición del Ejército) on one side and on the other side is Calle 17, a pedestrian street with fantastic murals (see the featured photo for this post). From there, I made my way to Chieton Moren, which is a fair-trade craft store I had read about. Each piece in the store is labeled with the name of town and craftsperson who created it. They had a great selection of interesting hand crafts in a range of prices. After shopping, I had a late lunch/early dinner at a small restaurant across the street. Casados are offered by most restaurants and are a typical Costa Rican dish. A casado is a large plate with meat, rice, beans, salad and a vegetable stew (not really sure what this was but it was delicious). At around 3500 colones ($6.00), they are a good and filling budget option.

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Chieton Moren: A great fair-trade craft store
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A delicious casado de pollo
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A fountain near the Teatro National
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Afternoon sunlight over San Jose

After eating, I walked past the Teatro National and through Plaza de la Cultura and made my way back to my apartment. In the evening, I went to Stiefel Pub, which was cute and has a large selection of craft beers. On my way to the pub, I walked past groups of political demonstrators who were voicing their opinions on the hotly contested and polarizing Costa Rican presidential election, which was to be held on April 1. It was fun and interesting to get a glimpse into local politics.

In the evening, I went back to El Caurtel de la Boca del Monte and enjoyed the music and had a shot of chiliguaro, which is a local liquor called guaro mixed with tomato juice, hot sauce and lime.

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Political demonstrators

San Jose may not be the most picturesque city, but I enjoyed it immensely. Everyone was friendly and welcoming and very patient with my very basic Spanish language skills. The food was fresh and delicious and the nightlife was interesting. It is not recommended to walk around alone at night, but I had a very positive experience using Uber to get around. It was cheap and reliable and made me feel safe going out at night alone.

How about you? Have you been to Costa Rica or San Jose? What was your experience?

And stay tuned for my next post on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica.

xoxo Anna

A salad to brighten winter days

February and early March are always a little difficult to get through in New York, with the lingering storms and grey days. You can feel spring right around the corner but it hasn’t materialized yet. But, this salad is so fresh and light that it made me immediately think of warmer, sunnier times to come.

It is also super simple and delicious. You can use any lettuce you like. I chose butter lettuce because it is my absolute favorite. Lately I have been eating a salad almost every day for dinner with the basil oil vinaigrette below, a handful of pumpkin seeds and sometimes an avocado. If you haven’t tried basil oil, I highly recommend it. For today’s salad, I decided to add a blood orange and a little crumbled queso fresco. I really liked the results. It also fits nicely into my current healthy eating plan. I am not usually a fan of fruit in salads, but the blood orange paired nicely with the other components and it certainly is photogenic 🙂 Try it out and let me know what you think.

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Butter lettuce salad with blood orange, avocado and basil dressing

(makes one to two servings)

Ingredients

Butter lettuce

1 blood orange

Queso fresco (crumbled, about a 1/3 cup)

1/2 an avocado (sliced)

Handful of sprouted pumpkin seeds (I use these)

Vinaigrette

1 part white wine vinegar

2 parts olive oil

2 parts basil oil (I use this)

salt and pepper to taste

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Preparation

Wash and dry your lettuce and set aside or use a packaged variety to save time (which is what I did). Peel the blood orange and cut horizontally into 1/2 inch slices. Set aside. Crumble the queso fresco. Slice avocado. Layer salad starting with lettuce base then adding blood oranges, avocado, cheese and pumpkin seeds. Dress with desired amount of vinaigrette. Add a sprinkle of sea salt and fresh ground pepper if you like.

Enjoy!

xoxo Anna

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Fitness update

Hi everyone. It’s been about a month since my first fitness post and I thought it was a good time for an update.

My fitness plan has changed in a few ways since this post in January. I noticed that I was working out and eating healthfully but I wasn’t losing weight so I switched things up a bit.

Eating

To begin with, I stopped getting Hungry Root deliveries. I enjoyed the food for a few weeks but found that it was starting to get repetitive and I didn’t feel like it was helping me lose weight, especially since I felt compelled to finish all the food before the next week. I also didn’t like the amount of waste generated by food delivery packaging especially in terms of the freezer bags, which are difficult to recycle. That is not specific to Hungry Root. I felt the same way with Blue Apron. In the end, I decided that I could do a better job selecting and preparing my own food and I have been happy with that decision. I have been loosely following the weekday/weekend plan outlined here with a few exceptions. The most notable is that I allow myself to drink alcohol during the week. Even though I haven’t been very precise about following the plan, I have noticed is that just having the guidelines in mind has had an impact. I don’t have much of a craving for sugar anymore. I also don’t consume nearly as much dairy, especially cheese, as I used to. I used to reach for cheese all the time as a snack or quick dinner. Now it is a sometimes food and I don’t even feel deprived. The same goes for white bread and rice.

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Lose It app interface

The one thing that has made the most difference is tracking everything I eat on the Lose It app. After I started to do this about two weeks ago, I noticed weight loss immediately. I’m not going to lie; I find it incredibly hard to track everything I eat. It’s not so much that I hate the tracking because the app is fun and easy to use. I just hate doing anything consistently, it makes me twitchy lol. It also requires that you be uncomfortably honest about your choices. Despite this, I am making the commitment to track for the next 3 months, starting today, no matter what I am eating or doing and see what happens. That takes me right up to my birthday, so it feels convenient. I also recently discovered the social aspect of Lose It and started posting on a group message board. I have never done this before and it felt great to get support and helpful tips from other users.

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Cod and Mediterranean salad with a Turkish spice blend

In general, my eating has been pretty simple lately. A lot of fresh and cooked veggies, some sort of egg dish for breakfast (either hardboiled or a vegetable omelette), and lean protein like chicken, fish or occasionally steak. I make it interesting by adding fun spices and sauces. It sounds boring, but I really enjoy it. My only complaint is that I sometimes get very hungry after dinner. I am going to try drinking more water and tea and having an afternoon snack with protein. I relax a little on the weekends. My favorite splurges are take out Chinese food and egg sandwiches. I plan on doing a post soon to share everything I eat in a week, so stay tuned.

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A galaxy of possibilities

Exercise

I have been running consistently 3 to 4 times a week for a few weeks now for about 30-40 minutes a workout. On weekdays, I go to the gym and on weekends, I run in my neighborhood. I would like to increase it to 5 times but I have been feeling fatigued so I am going to keep it to 4 for now and see if I can maintain that. I would also like to start doing yoga in the mornings using the Gaia app. I am obsessed with the idea of working out in the morning… that is until the alarm rings. I have a terrible time getting up even 30 minutes early to make it happen. So that is a work in progress 🙂

How about you? How are you doing with your 2018 fitness goals?

xoxo Anna

Six snaps

This is the career edition of six snaps 🙂 I took all of these photos in the neighborhood that I work in, between Madison Square Park and Union Square. I love working in this area. Not only do you have the two parks, but there are great shops and decent places to eat. And of course the Union Square Farmers Market is fantastic. I rarely buy anything there because it makes more sense to go to the farmers market around the corner from my house, but I enjoy seeing all the beautiful produce, flowers and baked goods being sold when I walk to and from the subway. I always do a lot of shopping at the holiday craft market though, and it has been convenient to have it so close to work.

I’ve been so focused on Union Square that I literally forgot that Madison Square Park is only a few blocks away. I headed there recently to see what it looks like in winter. Fewer leaves for sure, but still a line at Shake Shack (which you can see in the photo above). I can’t wait to eat lunch in both parks this coming spring and summer. I also plan to explore what is happening to the east. Irving seem like it might have some hidden gems.

So far this week has been pretty calm. I am keeping up with my fitness routine, though I can’t say I have seen much in the way of visible results yet. I tend to like things to happen immediately and when they don’t I get frustrated. This means that the beginning of any plan, the time before you see results, is often very hard for me. But I am focusing on setting my weekly goals and following through with them so I can get used to keeping my promises to myself and establish habits. I am also focusing on the less obvious benefits of exercise such as decreased anxiety, improved mood and increased strength. I even decided to take a surf lesson when I go to Costa Rica which is definitely motivating me to stick with my fitness plan. I also just started using the Lose It app. I thought I should at least be tracking what I’m eating if I am going to put so much effort into exercising. So far I really like the interface.

In other news, I will be returning with a new outfit post next week. Stay tuned 🙂

Till then,

xoxo Anna

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Some suspicious Valentine’s Day teddy bears
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The original NYC food truck
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Pretty pastries at Maison Kaiser
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This mirrored cat catches my eye every time I walk past it. Tacky, yes! But I still want it.
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A rainbow of candles and party supplies at Flying Tiger.

 

Hello again! and 2018 fitness routine

Hi everyone! After a couple months, I will be blogging regularly again. I think I was getting away from the things that I enjoyed about blogging (connecting with others, creating unique content) and focusing on things like metrics, likes and traffic. It began to feel like a chore. Moving forward, I will be taking a more relaxed approach. I will be posting once a week, on Thursdays. You can expect the same type of content including ethical fashion, travel, food, fitness and more, just slightly less frequently. I hope I will be able to spend more time on each post and boost the enjoyment factor for everyone.

To kick off this new blogging plan, I decided to share my current fitness plan, which is something I am currently focusing on.

As I suspect is the case with many of you, my relationship with fitness is complicated and spotty at best. When I was a child my parents made a point to encourage exercise in the form of hiking, biking and swimming. Every week my mother would take us to a local pool and we would swim laps. We earned stars for every week that we went and when we had enough stars we bought a VCR 🙂 I spent hours riding my bike and walking around with friends. I went to nature camp and we hiked almost every day. In high school, I played tennis and joined the winter track team. In college, I continued working out with my roommates, which helped me to maintain my weight. It seemed so much easier then to find the time and energy to exercise. Somehow it was a natural part of my everyday life. Unfortunately, during my senior year of college, I experienced pretty severe depression and anxiety. I stopped working out and began to eat things like pizza with blue cheese dressing on the regular. This, combined with the fact that I was now taking anti-depressants, many of which are known to promote weight gain, resulted in a significant increase in weight beginning in college and continuing after graduation. I have battled my weight ever since, losing and gaining significant amounts over the past 20 years. It all seemed to go in cycles. I would exercise and diet for a period of time and often have success, only to lose confidence because of a difficult life event and turn back to eating for comfort. I have to say, just writing this makes me feel tired thinking about the emotional and physical ups and downs.

But looking back is also helping me to move forward. I have learned a great deal about what works for me in the long-term and what doesn’t. For example, I have learned that setting oversized goals at the outset of a fitness program leads to burn out or disappointment, which, not surprisingly, leads to quitting entirely. For example, I have run two half-marathons but immediately after 3 months of tough training I would give up running entirely for months. I have learned that exercising consistently is very hard for me, but that it is important for my emotional and physical well-being. I have learned that eating to manage my emotions benefits no one, least of all me. Much better to be honest about my feelings and eat to sustain my energy.

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So this is my plan moving forward:

Set realistic weekly fitness goals and slowly build up intensity and frequency of workouts

I have found I prefer a simple workout routine. It cannot include a lot of equipment or complicated moves or be annoying in any way. I recently found this great mini workout on one of my favorite blogs, Cupcakes & Cashmere. It is simple to follow and all you need is one dumbbell. I can do it at home or at the gym without too much thought. I still like running, so I am using a mix of running and walking as my cardio. As I gain confidence, I may try some fitness classes (thinking kickboxing or trampoline!), but for now I am keeping it super simple and focusing on just making it to each workout.

I think, for me, the hardest thing about exercising consistently is the negative self-talk I engage in surrounding working out. It ranges from “What you think you’re so great now because you work out!? Who do you think you are!?” (super nice and productive, I know) to “You are never going to keep doing this!” (also very reassuring). It helps just to share these thoughts because they seem so mean and counterproductive when you say them out loud. I think there is power in voicing these things and then letting them go. Also, I feel like some of you might relate.

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Follow a modified interpretation of the Weekday/Weekend plan created by Emma and Elsie at A Beautiful Mess

The basic idea behind this program is that you don’t consume dairy, white rice or flour, alcohol or added sugar during the week, but you’re free to indulge on weekends. You also must eat a variety of wholesome foods. I have done it for a little over a week now and I like the way I feel. I bought the cookbook and am looking forward trying some of the recipes. This eating plan is primarily plant-based, but I enjoy meat, so I am including some lean protein, like chicken, as well. Still, I am excited to try a lot of new plant-based dishes as well. I’m not militant about the weekday guidelines in that I will occasionally have a drink with a friend after work or eat something with a small amount of sugar in it, which I think is reasonable if I am eating on plan 90% of the time.

To jump start the healthy eating portion of my fitness plan, I signed up for Hungry Root food deliveries once a week. They deliver vegan, gluten-free, dairy-free ingredients and side dishes which can be combined into healthy dishes. My first week was last week and I enjoyed the food. There is minimal prep time and everything was tasty and satisfying. I ordered the 3-meal plan and I found I was able to make and finish everything within a week.

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So that’s my plan. As you can see, I’ve taken a lot of inspiration from the blogosphere! I think that’s one way to add a social element to working out and eating well that feels positive. I will be keeping myself honest by posting updates here regularly.

In general, I am also thinking about ways to deal with stress and emotions differently. I’m already taking a ceramics class at this studio in Williamsburg and I am enjoying it a lot. I didn’t know I would like wheel throwing so much! I’m thinking some form of journaling might be nice, as well as working on being present and focused for all of my daily activities.

How about you? How are you approaching fitness/health in 2018? If you have any tips for maintaining a consistent exercise/eating routine I would love to hear them.

xoxo Anna

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Elimination diet here I come

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Gluten-free, soy-free, dairy-free dinner

Confession time… my stomach has never been great 😦 But recently things got to a point where it was actually interfering with my life and work. I felt a major shift was in order in the way I approached food and stress, as stomach problems can definitely be caused by the later. So for the next 3 weeks I will be following a basic elimination diet; no dairy, no gluten, no alcohol, no added sugar, no soy. Those are the big ones but there are a few more random things as well. Wish me luck! I have to say, once I made the decision I felt relieved and had fun shopping for new and interesting alternatives to my usual go-to foods.

I’m also cutting out caffeine because, why not! I stopped drinking coffee about a week ago and found that it really helped my stomach as well as my ability to relax. I have  been a die-hard coffee fanatic since college, drinking somewhere between 2 and 4 large cups a day. I was always the one at meetings with a coffee cup in hand. I didn’t hate tea, I just didn’t think of myself as a tea drinker. Truthfully, I think I was a little suspicious (insert side-eye) of anybody who would choose tea over coffee. But now that I am a week in to my new tea-drinking life, I have to say I’m feeling happy and liberated. Tea comes in so many varieties and it is fun to shop for. I have been sticking with herbal teas rather than decaf teas and coffee because I think there is still some caffeine in decaf. I haven’t been missing the caffeine that much and it seems like I might have more energy and focus, which is counterintuitive but I have heard sometimes that happens when you give up caffeine. I also made my own herbal iced tea (pictured at top) with 3 packets of peach tea, one packet of raspberry tea, some lemon juice and agave nectar. My next purchase will be a nice tea pot. Any recommendations?

In terms of stress, I have started meditating in the morning and doing yoga. I have been using the Headspace and Gaia apps. I have meditated/done yoga before but never regularly but I hope to change that. Plus the Headspace app has a great British man leading the meditations who is somehow so soothing to listen to 🙂

How about you? What are your thoughts on elimination diets, tea vs coffee, and stress-reduction strategies?

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New products I will be trying
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Avocado for healthy fats
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Tea for morning, noon and night!

xoxo Anna

Easy sweet and sour pickled veggies

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The older I get the more I like, (am obsessed with?) pickled vegetables. This recipe is simple and inspired by the daikon radish pickles served at Korean restaurants.

Ingredients/Equipment

Organic cane sugar

Vinegar (I used a combination of brown rice vinegar and champagne vinegar because that is what I had 🙂 In the past I have also used rice wine vinegar.)

Vegetables (I used carrots, daikon radishes, and red cabbage)

Turmeric (optional)

Glass jars for pickling

Process

This is a fairly loose recipe. The first thing to do is prepare your vegetables. I grated my carrots, thinly sliced my daikon using that thing on the side of the cheese grater, and finely sliced my cabbage. I used the size of the pickling jars as a guideline for how much of each vegetable to cut. Once vegetables are cut, I packed them somewhat loosely in my jars.

The next step is to determine how much pickling liquid you will need. I do this by adding up the volume of the containers that I will be pickling in. This gives you a rough idea of how much liquid you will need. You will probably have some left over because the vegetables take up some of the room in the jars. For the pickling liquid, you will make up half that amount with vinegar and half with sugar. So if you need 16 oz (2 cups) of liquid use 1 cup vinegar and 1 cup sugar. Place your vinegar and sugar is a stock pot. If you are using turmeric add in a small amount at this point. A teaspoon should be enough unless you are making a really large amount of pickling liquid. Turmeric will give your radishes a bright yellow color, so I use it for them but not the other vegetables. Bring the mixture to a boil stirring to dissolve sugar and turmeric if you are using. Remove the mixture from the heat. Let it cool down a little. Pour slowly over your vegetables in their jars. Close jars and refrigerate overnight.

After they have spent the night absorbing the pickling liquid, your pickles are ready to eat! Here are some ideas for how to use them:

  1. Make a grain bowl with pickled vegetables, tofu, sesame oil, sautéed kale and peanut sauce.
  2. Serve pickles over an arugula salad with tahini dressing, burger patties and feta cheese.
  3. Add them to lettuce wraps with lentils, coconut rice and cilantro dressing.

How about you? Have you made your own quick pickles? If so, how did you use them?

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xoxo Anna

Six snaps

 

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Pretty but dangerous

If you follow my blog, you know that I have been spending the month of July in Phoenix visiting family. I thought I would share some snapshots that I have taken during my visit. This will be a recurring series where I share interesting snapshots and moments that don’t really fit into a set category. As you can see, I’ve been doing a lot of baking and cooking, observing local animals (chipmunks, lizards, quails) and plants (so many kinds of cacti!), and shopping at the local Goodwill. Every time I come out here I try to spot a rattlesnake, but no luck so far. I look under every bush when I go on my daily walks because I feel like that is where I am going to see one. On past trips I have seen coyotes and javelinas, but never a snake! Wish me luck 🙂

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Homemade dinner rolls
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Love the pastel shades on this prickly pear cactus
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Denim and red nail polish
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I made two strawberry rhubarb pies!

Pretty polenta

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I feel like polenta is often forgotten when meal planning and I don’t know why. It is so good and relatively easy to make. I started developing this recipe years ago for my first food blog venture. Since then, I have made it many times and it has proven to be a crowd favorite. It is light, even with all the bacon and butter, yet tremendously satisfying. I’m also not sure if ragu is the right word for the vegetable mixture in this recipe but it seemed to convey the rich flavor and saucy texture of the vegetables when they are cooked. If there is another word for this type of vegetable mixture, definitely let me know. The whole dish comes together pretty easily, yet looks (and tastes) fancy (hello date night!). I hope you try it and let me know what you think ☺

Polenta with bacon and caramelized onion vegetable ragu (Serves 4-5)

Ingredients

Polenta

3 C water

½ t salt plus more to taste if needed

1 cup polenta (I used this)

3/8 cup grated parmesan cheese

2 T unsalted butter

4-5 slices of bacon cut into small bits

Vegetable ragu

1 large onion

4-5 T unsalted butter

2 medium zucchinis

1 can diced tomatoes

Salt and pepper to taste

 

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polenta-cooking

Make the polenta

Sauté bacon bits in a pan until crisp. Set aside on a plate lined with a paper towel.

Grease a loaf pan with olive oil. I happen to have a small casserole/loaf pan that just fits the amount of polenta made in this recipe but I think you could use almost any shape container as long as it isn’t too wide or tall. The idea is to create a solid block of polenta that can be cut into separate serving portions.

Bring water and salt to a boil in a medium stock pot. Slowly add the polenta to the boiling water, stirring all the time. Lower the heat to a simmer and cook polenta for approximately 30 minutes, stirring continuously to prevent polenta from sticking to the bottom of the pan. (Note: this is what the package said. My stove runs very hot at the lowest temp so I ended up only cooking the polenta for about 15 minutes). The mixture will be thick and sticky. Stir in the butter, parmesan and bacon. Add additional salt to taste. Scoop polenta mixture into the greased loaf pan and pat it down/smooth it out to fill the edges so you have an even “loaf” of polenta. Cover with towel or plastic wrap and set aside to cool.

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Make the vegetable ragu

Slice the zucchini into thin rounds. I used the little slicer on the side of my cheese grater, but you can use a mandolin or other slicer. Set aside.

Cut onion in half lengthwise then slice into half circles.

I once read that it is important to use unsalted butter when you are caramelizing onions because the salt interferes with the caramelization process, so that’s what I do and it seems to work well. Melt 2 T unsalted butter in a medium stock pot over low heat. Add the onion and toss to coat. Add the remaining butter. Keep cooking the onion over low heat, stirring occasionally, until it turns golden brown (and smells caramelly). This can take a little while, but be sure to keep the heat low. You don’t want to burn the onion before it caramelizes. You can add more unsalted butter if it seems like the onion is sticking to the pan.

Once the onion is caramelized, add the zucchini to the pot and stir to coat with onions. Saute for a minute or two then add the can of tomatoes and mix to combine mixture. Simmer over low heat until the zucchini is just cooked through. Remove from heat. Add salt and pepper to taste.

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Plating

Turn out the polenta loaf onto a cutting board. Divided into four-five even servings. The shape will be dependent on the shape of your container. I used two slices per serving. Arrange your slices of polenta on a plate and top with the warm vegetable mixture. Garnish with some flakes of parmesan and a sprig of basil if you like. Enjoy!

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I had mine with a glass of rosé and I wasn’t upset ☺ This dish reheats very well, and I’m saying this as a person who doesn’t love leftovers. It is also versatile. If vegetables aren’t your thing, or you don’t have time to make the ragu, you can serve the polenta it with a simple red sauce. I was cooking with vegetable-averse person in mind when I made this, so I just reserved some of the caramelized onions for her (before adding the zucchini and tomato) and she ate them on top of the polenta with some parmesan cheese. One final note: If you want to take this dish a step further you can bake the polenta after you take it out of the loaf pan. Just cut it in to desired portions, place on a lightly greased baking sheet, sprinkle with parmesan cheese and bake at 350 degrees until slightly crispy and lightly browned.

xoxo Anna