Wednesday, February 25, 2015

These Are My Confessions...

I have Usher crooning in my head as I type this (early 2000's musical reference), I just felt like I needed to get some stuff off my conscience to quite possibly get me kicked out of my funk.

#1- I am unabashedly uninspired right now
     I was iced into my house for 2 days with plenty of time to write up a blog post but I instead spent all of my free time compulsively checking social media, cooking, and wasting time on Pinterest. I just didn't feel like I had anything to share worth reading (I might still not, that is yet to be seen.) I'm not sure if this is a late winter funk or what but I just don't feel quality ideas flowing out of me right now.

#2- My funk may be based on a lack of weightlifting
     I haven't been able to go to the gym since Saturday and I feel it in my body and my mood. For someone who loathed working out a few years ago it is surprising how a few days off sends me spiralling. Between the weather and the husband's work I haven't had time to fit it in, and I am not a workout at home person. I miss my weight bench, my ab ball, and fighting all the other gym chicks for the 15 pound dumbbells. #gymgirlproblems

#3- Ignorance is bliss, especially when it comes to food ingredients
    I finished the book An Eater's Manifesto by Michael Pollan this weekend (would have been totally read Tuesday if I had actually felt like writing) and my mind was blown. I just can't get passed the amount of crap that is put into processed food products. Unnecessary chemicals, food dyes, fillers, it makes you angry that all that junk has been allowed to be put into the food we all eat. I can't look at a food product now without reading labels and it's insane the ingredient list on supposedly simple foods. I made a loaf of bread this weekend that had 6 ingredients if you count water as one (flour, sugar, olive oil, yeast, salt, water), now go look at the bread in your house and start counting ingredients, pretty sure there are more than 15 in most store bread. Knowledge is power, but when you feed 3 other people it makes it a struggle to choose between easy and healthy. I now have that struggle with every food I buy because I don't have full family buy in.

#4- I've eaten a lot of graham cracker crumbs
    I made a batch of homemade graham crackers this weekend during the beginning of IceMageddon 2015. The results were ugly but tasty. I want to make them again but the recipe needs adjusted to make the batter less crumbly. I took the bits and crumbs and baked them with the intention of using them for a graham cracker crust at some point, however I have eaten half of the container one handful at a time for the last 2 days. They are delicious, like the best part of granola without all the healthy oats. I proudly haven't gone back to the pantry since I started typing so I guess that is progress.

#5 I spent two days food prepping and then made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for dinner
   I made a wide array of food stuffs the past three days (bread, carrot applesauce muffins, applesauce, garlic butter, muffin tin omelette's, plus lots of veggie chopping). I have done what feels like dozens of loads of dishes, and when dinner time came around last night I was just done. I didn't want to cook anything remotely dinner like, for the first time in days I didn't want to be in the kitchen at all. I cut some slices of the bread I made, and made all of us some PB&J with a side of sliced apple and called it a night.

So my confessions are trivial and first world at their best, but I feel slightly better now that I've written them down. Thanks for reading, here's a photo dump of the last 2 weeks just to catch you up on what has been going down while my funk has been not so uptown (2015 musical reference).
Mommy/Daughter comparison shot

Valentine's Day goodies for the kids and their teachers

Little man at the downtown library, be still my librarian heart
Made this on Canva for my friends (you're welcome for the eye candy)

Maroon 5 concert at the AAC (My 8th concert and just as amazing as ever)

My Fat Tuesday spread at Terra in Fort Worth

Nerdy librarian in full effect

Thinking of starting a GoFundMe to buy E this bed

1 year apart, same cheese

The aforementioned graham crackers

Ice day art project with oil based Sharpie

The guilty face of a dog who abandoned me after all the popcorn was gone

The first Texas snow of 2015

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Austin, TX I Love You, Let Me Count the Ways

I have lived for almost 9 years in the great state of Texas, and those 9 years have all been spent in and around Fort Worth. I have never regretted moving down here and would be lost if I had to move back to Ohio. I have been lucky enough to travel to a good chunk of the rest of the state and the only area I would ever have any desire to live in is Austin, TX. Last week I spent Monday-Friday in Austin for the Texas Computer Educator's Association annual conference and that week only reaffirmed my total love for the city that strives to stay weird.

I stayed at the Embassy Suites, which is on across the river from the main part of downtown and the convention center. The hotel was nice, and clean but in very bad need of an updating. That hotel was likely the epitome of high class in the mid 1980's but now the high gloss brass could use a bit of modernizing. One of the things I do love about Embassy Suites is the continental breakfast. There are probably more options at this hotel chain for breakfast than any other I've stayed at and the oatmeal bar was nice when I was trying to be on my best behavior food wise (at least at breakfast). Our trip involved lots of walking since the conference provided shuttles were usually full, especially in the morning. We had an amazing view of the city on the walk in so the 1 mile trek wasn't bad at all.

So to save time I've decided to name my Top 10 Favorite Parts of My Trip to Austin (disclaimer, many of these are food related)

10. The shower in my hotel- Huge, raindrop shower head, no small children or dogs trying to peak in while I'm bathing. Huge win all the way around.

9. Amy's Ice Cream- We walked on a whim from the hotel to the South Congress location. I was promised amazing ice cream and I wasn't disappointed. Choosing was impossible but I finally settled on a smore mashup and my tongue was in love at first spoonful. If you live in Austin, Houston, or San Antonio you are lucky people. If you visit these places, find Amy's you won't be disappointed.

8. My Photoshop session
I have been wanting to learn Photoshop forever and made the decision that I would purchase a license for the library next school year. This way I could really enhance the digital products I was making for library promotion. I left Fort Worth at 5:30am so that I could get to Austin, check into the hotel, and get to my session at 11:30. The presenters were great and I really got to play with some of the basic Photoshop features. I did not learn how to make myself thinner in pictures, but I do know how to give myself a tan. I absolutely can not wait to play with it some more and here is my final product I made before the end of class.
Yep, I wore flannel to the beach.
7. App Smackdown session with Leslie Fisher
For the non EdTechy person an App smackdown is when a group of people share a particular website or app that they use in their classrooms with other educators. One person gets up, shares their app/website, gives a few examples of why it's cool, and then sits down and the next person goes. Leslie Fisher is a EdTech guru out of California, who I honestly had never heard of until the conference. She was very funny and shared her own favorite apps/sites along with the people in the room. I have a long list of sites on my iPad I am still weeding through, figuring out which teachers need to know about which apps/sites. Educators usually learn more from other educators who are in the trenches with them, and this type of session is great for finding out what other teachers are using successfully in their classrooms.

I told you that food would come up more than once. This restaurant was on the same side of the river as our hotel (a bit of a trek, but worth it) and had great reviews on Yelp. It was a Monday night so it wasn't busy and we were seated and waited on very quickly. There were two types of house salsa and the smokey chipotle one was fantastic. I got empanadas as my appetizer and I had a moment of pause as I was eating them they were so ridiculously good. I have an unabashed love of duck and when I saw duck enmoladas enchiladas, I was a bit giddy. The mole sauce was spicy but full of flavor and the duck was rich but not greasy. I didn't imbibe in anything to drink except ice tea but they did have a fully stocked bar and lots of people on Yelp commented on how good the margaritas were. I am definitely recommending this place to anyone whose going to Austin, and am going to strong arm (only if necessary) my friends to come with me when I go back in April for the Texas Library Association conference.

5. Pecha Kucha session
I had no clue what pecha kucha was until I went into the session. The conference description intrigued me, and I was wanting the learn about brand new things as opposed to learning more about tools I already knew about. A pecha kucha is a style of presentation where you present your information in 20 slides set to play for 20 seconds a piece. Your slides consist of images and/or phrases not bullet points. This is not a PowerPoint presentation, this is a fast paced way to get information across. You have to know what you are talking about and be able to get through it fast. I am already in the beginning stages of helping implement this with one of our speech teachers and am building one to present to my principal and leadership team about what I learned while I was at the conference. There is usually one session at a conference that just lights you up on the inside and you can't wait to tell people about it. That was this session for me.

I left a less than interesting session a bit early and decided to get a jump on lunch. I wandered the streets near the convention center looking for something non-chainy. I saw a fried chicken place and was heading for the door when I looked over and saw Le Cafe Crepe out of the corner of my eye and changed direction. It's a tiny little place tucked in the side of the downtown Hampton Inn, it's actually so small the bathroom patrons have access to is the bathroom of the hotel lobby. I had to wait about 5 minutes for a table on my first visit (there was another the next day) but the staff quickly seated me, got my menu, and took my order. My first visit I ordered 
The Bruni
Goat cheese, spinach, caramelized onion, tomatoes, sundried tomato pesto, fresh basil, mixed bell peppers

It did not disappoint. I was sad when it was gone but followed my good judgement and didn't order another. My second visit I went with a classic

Chloe's Crêpe
Nutella, strawberries or bananas, whipped cream

I choose bananas and was in heaven. Unknown to me until after I finished lunch, Thursday was National Nutella Day so I was celebrating without even knowing. I also ordered a Mocha and it was so much better than Starbucks (sacrilege I know). In April I am staying closer to the convention center and I see multiple trips to La Cafe Crepe in my future.

#3 Twitter and #TCEA15
I know there are a whole bunch of Twitter haters out there, and I totally understand. Twitter can be annoying, people on twitter can be mean, and following it constantly can be a huge time suck. At a conference however, it is an irreplaceable tool. No one can be at every session and invariably choices have to be made about which sessions to attend and which sessions to skip. Luckily other people are making that same choices and end up in sessions that you chose to skip. If those people use Twitter and tweet about what is going on in the session and share session materials, it's like attending two (and usually more) sessions at once. If the speaker you are missing is good, then you are missing some of the experience, but you are still gaining great links and resources without being in the same room as the presenter. I got SO much great material from sessions I wasn't in that I have already shared with teachers. Hate on Twitter all you want, but as a resource for sharing and communicating with peers it is hands down the best.

# 2 Bill Nye the Science Guy
I love Bill Nye, I have loved Bill Nye since I was a student in elementary school. He made science fun and I actually understood it. When I watch the videos as an adult I realized how incredible cheesy they are (they are from the early/mid 90's) but kids today love them just as much I did back then. He isn't the most eloquent speaker, kind of bouncing around from one idea to the next then pulling himself back to his point. His main mission today is to teach children and adults alike about the problems of global warming and how we as world citizens can help. He is at the very root a scientist and doesn't beat around the bush about his feelings on global warming, evolution, vaccinations, etc. There were some people that were probably offended by his very blunt statement of scientific fact. I did see multiple people leave mid presentation and I only assume a few of them were off put by his feelings on evolution versus intelligent design and left (I could be wrong, that's just how it looked). He is an incredibly smart man, and dedicated to the cause of educating the next generation about science and how important it is to innovation and future discovery. I am happy I got to see him speak and happy that there is someone out there so dedicated to further science education for all students.

# 1. Getting to co-present at a huge state conference
I've done some professional development training in my district and was lucky enough to co-present with a group of my friends last year at TLA in San Antonio. When my friend Marcia, who is an amazing presenter, asked me if I wanted to co-present with her at TCEA I was thrilled and a bit nervous. She sent in the presenter application and our presentation was accepted, and the nerves kicked in. We worked on our presentation in earnest after Christmas and got to do a dry run with some help from our friend Micheal, at our districts annual technology conference. That presentation went well, we tweaked, re-organized, and got ready to present on Tuesday. We had a full session and the general consensus was very positive. We had lots of thank you's and kind words when we were done. I give all the credit to Marcia and her magnetic personality and presentation style, but it was so nice to be included and get the experience of presenting at a conference this size. I hope to present in the future at this conference and at TLA. I enjoy teaching teachers as much as I enjoy teaching kids.

So there's my countdown, and a great breakdown of my week in Austin. I learned so much, enjoyed an amazing city, get more presentation experience, and reinvigorate my love of my job. Fun times had by all. (Except for the 5 pounds I gained, but I earned those 5 and they were delicious, I'm already down 3 so I'm not stressing over it.)

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Totally Read Tuesday- Dorothy Must Die by Danielle Paige

I took a week off from blogging, and my real life in general, and attended an amazing conference for educators in Austin, Texas. The Texas Computer Educators Association conference was a great experience and I am very lucky that my principal allowed me to attend and I'll be sharing some of what I learned and my general review of Austin in a day or two, but I didn't want to miss a whole other week of Totally Read Tuesday.

I had multiple students ask (possibly beg) me to read this book. I looked up the general description on Goodreads and although its rating is on the lower side of what I usually read, I couldn't let my students down. When it came back in the drop box I grabbed it  and took it with me on my trip to Austin.

Lately a lot of books have come out that are retellings (reimaginings, prequel, sequel...) to fairy tales. One of the things I like most about this book is its a reimagined sequel to a classic American fairy tale. In the grand timeline of literature, Dorothy and Oz are not all that old and I love the idea of turning a classic American tale on its head. Amy Gumm is nothing like the iconic Dorothy Gale we know from The Wizard of Oz but as we will soon find out Dorothy isn't who we thought she was either. Amy Gumm has a pretty awful teenage existence and when the tornado picks her and her trailer up and she awakens in Oz she thinks she has been given a gift. She quickly learns that the real Oz is nothing like the Oz she's seen in the movies and discovers that Dorothy is to blame. All of the classic characters return but have been altered (for the worse) by events that occurred since Dorothy returned to Oz. It's up to Aimee, with some help from some unlikely allies, to take Dorothy down and return Oz and all its magic back the way it was pre-Dorothy.

I would consider this book on the cusp between middle school and high school. There are a few curse words scattered throughout but I wouldn't consider them excessive, there are sexual references but no sex scenes, and one of Amy's bullies is a pregnant girl who goes to her high school. There are some violent scenes described while battling some of the Oz's baddies but in the realm of YA fiction it's on the tame side. I will warn you all that this is the beginning of a trilogy so it has lots of loose ends. Book 2 comes out in March and I am very much looking forward to see where this story goes. There are also some novella's available on Kindle, Nook, and Overdrive that are also supposed to be very good (they are on my to read list). It's a quick read even though its a fairly thick book and worth your time as long as your not easily offended by Ms. Paige taking an American classic and totally making it her own. Nothing in Oz is the way we remember and Ms. Paige has me looking forward to what's in store for everyone in Emerald City and beyond.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Totally Read Tuesday- Escape for Mr. Lemoncello's Library

Last April while I was at the Texas Library Association's annual conference in San Antonio, I was lucky enough to briefly meet the author of this book at an event call the YART Texas Tea. It's kind of like speed dating for authors where you stay at a table and the authors rotate around and talk to each of the different tables. Mr. Grabenstein was very sweet and after he described his book, Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library, to those of us at the table, I was hooked. I downloaded it from my public libraries Overdrive a few days after we got back from the conference, and was not disappointed.
The common and probably overused comparison of this book is Charlie and the Chocolate Factory but in a library. That is a good comparison, but this book is great in its own right and doesn't need to be compared to Dahl's classic to draw people in. Mr. Lemoncello is a very wealthy game creator and he is reopening his hometown's library 10 years after it had been closed by the city. This library is state of the art and a total mystery to the whole town who are waiting for it to reopen. Mr. Lemoncello has an essay contest to choose a group of  students who will be the libraries first patron's and get to spend the whole night in the library. The students are soon caught up in all of the twists, turns, and surprises that Mr. Lemoncello has in store for them. The final surprise being the ultimate game, Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library. The students must find clues and use their problem solving skills to figure out a way to leave the library, and have the chance to win some amazing prizes.

It's true that as a librarian I might be a bit biased, and I haven't met another librarian yet who read this book and didn't love it. Libraries have an image problem, with many incorrectly believing they are stuffy and quite spaces where only silent reading happens. This book shows the potential for libraries (even if they can't be as cool as Mr. Lemoncello's). It brings in all the best aspects of what libraries should represent to kids and shows readers how much fun libraries can be. I wanted to move in to Mr. Lemoncello's library, I wanted to be one of the characters going through clues and trying to figure out how to win the game. I think kids who read this will want to go to their local libraries and see all of the things they have to offer (unfortunately probably not animatronic animals, and a full service arcade). This book is appropriate for all ages and I think it could be a great read aloud book for kids 2nd grade and up. I actually bought this book for my 2nd grade niece and can't wait until she's old enough to read it herself because I know she'll love it. If you have kids in your life, or bibliophiles in general this is a great read.  Even if you are in your 40's with full grown kids, it will bring you back to the first time you read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. The audiobook is also well read and was one of the few fiction audiobooks that I listened to last year. Use the rafflecopter below to enter to win your own paperback copy of this book. If you've read it then post below with your review. Happy Tuesday and Happy Reading!

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Monday, January 26, 2015

A Little Prep + An Awesome Friend =A Whole Lot of Food

I spend the majority of my Sundays in the kitchen prepping food for the week. I may make a batch of brown rice or oatmeal, cut up veggies, or cook up meats to use in lunches and dinners. I have found this has made coming up with healthy meals much easier since everything is ready throw together at dinner time. I read articles recently about spending a day making tons of crockpot meals and sharing the expense and the meals with friends. This seemed like a great idea, because we often have lots of leftovers and they don't always get eaten. It's also cost effective because you can split the expense of the groceries, which when you eat non processed and organic foods can be pretty pricey,

I have a friend who is also eating very cleanly who I thought would be game to giving this a try. I sent some recipes to her on Pinterest and we yeahed and neyed them until we found a few we could agree on. We looked at the ingredients and inventoried what we already had on hand and what we needed to buy. We ended up not choosing any crockpot meals but instead some stuff that didn't have long cooking times. She went to Whole Foods the night before to pick up the handful of ingredients we needed and also brought over some produce that she may not have been able to use before it went bad. We ended up making two complete meals, roasted butternut squash and homemade mashed potatoes. Here is the review of each dish and what we would change or add to each.

The mess, mid process
The first recipe we made was cauliflower chowder from Damn Delicious. The only part of the recipe we changed was not adding carrots because I didn't realize I was out until we started cooking. Recipe wise it was easy to follow, but there was a decent amount of prep work chopping the veggies (especially the cauliflower, thanks for that Z). Once it was finished we decided that it was too chunky the way the recipe called for so we used the emulsion mixer and turned it into more of a potato soup consistency. Flavor wise purely following the recipe it was bland, not bad just nothing special. However some smoked salt and a bit more pepper and it was much tastier. I would make it again, especially when cauliflower comes in season, and portion wise this recipe makes A LOT of soup.

Second we made Zucchini Noodles with Cilantro Lime Chicken from This was a very simple recipe as well as long as you had a veggie spiralizer (I love mine, they have a ton on Amazon but this is the one I have.). You can cut the strips yourself, but that would add a great deal of time to the process and these are a relatively inexpensive kitchen gadget so I think they are worth the purchase. Recipe wise we did not add in any hot peppers and we cooked the chicken at medium low instead of high. This is a great tasting recipe, very flavorful and light. I plan on taking my portions for lunch the next two days and I bet they'll be awesome.

She had some potatoes on the verge of going bad that we boiled down and used the emulsion mixer, milk, and butter to turn into mashed potatoes. She plans on using these in a shepard's pie recipe later this week (I'll probably have mine as a side dish with chicken). I recommended this recipe from Ditch the Wheat replacing the sweet potatoes with mashed potatoes. I just made this the other day and it was a huge hit with everyone. We also roasted some butternut squash with olive oil, salt and pepper and I'll be eating my portion with one of my lunches this week.
Soup finished, chicken cooking, potatoes boiling
This was a great experience for us. The cooking went by very quickly and it was awesome to have someone to prep with. We got plenty of food and only had to buy a few ingredients to bring everything together. It helps that we eat similar diets, though it did take a bit of back and forth to find recipes that we both thought looked good. We will definitely try this again in the future, possibly making meat bagels (but maybe not). I would so recommend trying this with a friend, it makes the cooking and prep time go by so much faster and it was a great experience all the way around.
Mashed potatoes and chowder ready to portion out
Everything all divided out ready to go

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Disappointment with a Dash of Perspective

Yesterday was the last day of my cleanse, I was thrilled to be done and couldn't wait for my morning cup of coffee. I'll be honest, I was about 95% compliant with the rules of the cleanse, my portions were small, my food was clean, and I drank A LOT of water. I took the supplements, drank the fiber drink, and only cheated with a few tastes of some of the food I cooked for the kids. I stayed off of the scale the whole time, even though every morning I felt like it was staring at me waiting for me to step on. Waiting for me to pass judgement on myself because of the numbers on the screen. I truly was expecting a few pounds, would have been thrilled with 4-5 pounds but happy with 3-4 pounds. When I stepped on the scale this morning this was the number staring back at me.

10 days of eating healthy, following the rules, taking the supplements and I only dropped 1.2 pounds. I was so disappointed. I was frustrated and angry. Those emotions exacerbated by a hectic morning and a less than compliant 21 months old. I almost cried. I struggled with the reality that the point of the cleanse wasn't to lose weight, it was to reset from bad eating and build healthy eating habits. I had done that. I felt better, I was less tired, less sluggish, and my pants fit better. The cleanse was a success in all aspects except the number on the scale. Just another instance where I let that number change how I felt and let it take away all of the good I had done.

Here is what I know in my head. Weight fluctuates, especially for women all month. Muscle is more dense than fat, so weight lifting will invariably make moving the number down the scale harder. Once you are only a few pounds from goal weight, those pounds are incredibly hard to shed. I know all of this in my rational brain, but it's not my rational brain that is tearing me down for only losing a pound and a half. It's the emotional, self conscious and critical part of my brain that is making me feel like all of that work wasn't worth it. That part of my brain is loud and unrelenting, that part of my brain wants me to fail because eating poorly and not exercising is so much easier (and tastier). It's easier not to go to the gym, not to meal prep, not to care what foods you eat, but I've done that. I've spent my 20's that way and I wasn't happy with how I felt, looked, lived. I have an amazing life and I am blessed in uncountable ways but seeing that is hard when you don't like what's looking back at you in the mirror.

I've spent a lot of today trying to give myself perspective, trying to be realistic about my goals and intentions. I've spent much of my life so far disliking what I looked like, most of which I tied to my weight. If I was thinner I'd be happy was a constant mantra for me, but experience has taught me that that's not true. My body issues aren't going to disappear when I fit into my goal jeans, and honestly I'm not sure yet what steps I'm going to take to work on them. What I do know is that I'm a goal oriented person and I have made improved body image my 2015 goal. It's not just about losing weight, it's about finally accepting the reflection in the mirror flaws and all and being OK with it. I've spent 31 years beating myself down, I want to spend a year trying to build myself up into a healthier and more confident me. I'm not sure of all the steps yet but I'm ready to take the first one by sharing this all with you.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Totally Read Tuesday-Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell

What I read can vary greatly content and I typically have multiple books going at once, mixed between audiobook, e-book, and physical book. I had Eleanor and Park recommended to me by a fellow librarian and I had heard a few students talking about how much they liked it, so I moved it to my To Read list. A few days later I saw that it was available in audio book through my public libraries Overdrive account. I tend to shy away from fiction books on audio because the narrator can sometimes ruin a story for me (A Wrinkle in Time, I'm looking at you) but I decided to try it anyway. I figured if I didn't like the narrator, I would just get on the hold list for the book copy at my library. I enjoyed the narrators and was glad they had a male and a female read the book instead of using one reader for all of the parts. This is one of my favorite fiction audio books so if you are an audio book fan I would recommend the format.

This book is set in the 1986 in Omaha, Nebraska (Rowell's hometown). The story is told in dual perspective going between Park, a half Vietnamese half Caucasian boy who has lived in the neighborhood all his life, Eleanor is a quite red head who shows up on Park's bus one morning, out of place from the moment her foot hit the bus step. Park reluctantly allows her to sit with him on the bus and that decision sets the rest of the story in motion. Eleanor is transitioning to living with her mother and stepfather again after being kick out of the house for over a year due to an incident with her stepfather. Eleanor's family life is terrible and school isn't much better but slowly she begins to form a relationship with Park as they bond over comic books and mixed tapes. Eleanor has major issues with her stepfather, mother, school bullies, and even her siblings but Park seems to be the one thing holding her together.

This book is for the 14+ crowd, it has cursing, sexual references, and incidents of child and domestic abuse. This book can be raw and gritty but it is an amazingly wonderful portrayal of a character stuck in her circumstances without a whole lot of hope. You feel for Eleanor, you want to save her, you want to have her come live with you, you want to punch her stepfather in the face. I haven't felt this emotionally attached to a book character in a long time. Rowell is a wordsmith, her writing seems simple but it holds so much weight, it moves you in unexpected ways and makes you want more. She also wrote another YA book called Fangirl and adult fiction books Landline and Attachments, I loved Fangirl and Landline and am on a waitlist for Attachments from the library. I would recommend this book to adults and teens alike without hesitation, as long as they understood that there would be the aforementioned cursing, sexual reference, and uncomfortable topics discussed. It's realistic and sometime reality, even reality set in the 1980's, isn't always pretty.

Because I love this book so much I am having a contest to give away a paperback copy of Eleanor and Park from Use the Rafflecopter app below and enter to win a free copy, which I will have shipped directly to you when the contest is over.

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Monday, January 19, 2015

Marvelous Macaroni Casserole and the Idiot Who Made It

One of the blogs I give huge credit to starting me on the road to better eating is called 100 Days of Real Food. She is a mom from South Carolina who started changing her family's eating habits, cutting out processed foods, cooking at home more, eating out less, and blogging about the process. She came out with a fantastic cookbook this fall and I have made many of her recipes and haven't been disappointed with one yet. I was perusing the book on Friday and saw a macaroni casserole recipe that sounded amazing, and slightly different from any homemade macaroni I had ever made before. I have failed a few attempts at homemade macaroni and cheese, mostly in the process of melting the cheese and instead burning it, so I am always hesitant of recipes where whisking milk and melting cheese is required. I decided to give it a chance, only then remembering after I had promised to make it that I in fact couldn't eat it due to my cleanse (On day 8 today, still can't wait for coffee and dark chocolate). I am an idiot because I made it anyway torturing myself in the process, but at least I had something to write about.

This particular recipe is directly from the cookbook and not on her website (which has tons of great recipes too). I take no credit for the recipe or the instructions but I will tell you the slight changes I made to it.

2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup diced onion (I used yellow onion)
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 tablespoons whole-wheat flour
2 cups of milk (I used 2%)
1 teaspoon salt
Ground pepper to taste
1/2 cup sour cream
2 1/2 cups grated cheddar cheese (I used Colby because it's what I had already shredded)
1 1/2 cups of dry pasta cooked according to package directions (I used elbow macaroni, but any tube type pasta should work)
1 cup add-in veggies (I used leftover ham spiral ham cut in small pieces, but you can use broccoli, peas, carrots, chicken, whatever sounds good to you)
1/3 cup whole wheat bread crumbs (I used Panko)

1. Preheat the oven to 450F

2. In large saucepan over medium low heat, melt the butter. Add the onion and cook for 3-4 minutes, or until it begins to soften. Add the garlic and saute for 1 more minute.

3. Sprinkle the flour over the onion and garlic and whisk continuously until the flour mixture begins to brown. Whisk in the milk and cook, stirring, until the mixture begins to boil (This seemed to take awhile for me but I didn't want to turn up the heat for fear of burning it). Lower the heat to light simmer and cook until milk thickens, whisking occasionally,

4. Turn off the heat and whisk in salt, pepper, sour cream, and cheese. Add the noodles (make sure they are cooked, I didn't mess this up but I can see how someone could) and any add ins you've planned to add and stir until well coated. Don't worry if it seems like to much sauce, the noodles will absorb this while it's baking.

5. Transfer the mixture to a 8 or 9 inch baking dish, sprinkle the breadcrumbs, and bake for 14-15 minutes or until bread crumbs are brown on top. Serve warm.
After adding milk and flour

In goes the pasta and the ham

Breadcrumbs added and oven ready

Done and dinner ready
This was delicious! I allowed myself a very small portion so I could try it and it took an amazing amount of self control to stop. It was cheesy, creamy, with just a touch of sour cream flavor. The breadcrumbs gave it a bit of crunch and the ham just tasted fantastic mixed in with all of the cheese flavors. You definitely could add your own flare to this one, adding veggies or hot dogs (I recommend the Applegate Farms ones, no fillers and very few ingredients) or even just changing the type of cheese you use. Everyone in the family loved it, though the 5 year old complained about the onions (but she always does, and you could probably leaves them out). Between everyone, we had about half of this left, which I divided into two lunch portions for the husband and a small lunch portion for my daughter. I will make this again, especially when I can enjoy a slightly larger portion. This dish will make it into my dinner rotation list, though not super often, even though it's all real food ingredients it's still very high in calories (a definite sometimes food).

This cookbook is worth buying, I use it on at least a weekly basis and it has a permanent home in my kitchen. The price varies on but its around $22 ($20.37 right now for a hardback and 14.44 on Kindle). It's an Amazon bestseller and has fantastic Amazon and Goodreads ratings. Real Food can be still be comfort food and this dish definitely qualifies as both. I think you will love this dish and 100 Days of Real Food as well.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Hack for Oatmeal Lovers, Sorry Trader Joe's

One of the habits I have tried to get into is food prepping when I have some free time in the evenings or on weekends. It has made life so much easier having food ready to go in the fridge and freezer. Any time I can I cook up extra chicken breasts, soup, or oatmeal I do and this totally speeds up my lunch packing and dinner prep. A while ago I got into steel cut oats, which I'll admit took some getting used to. I was raised on Quaker Oats quick oats and rarely ate oatmeal that didn't come in a paper pouch, so the consistency and (lack of) flavor was an adjustment. On a trip to Trader Joe's I saw they had steel cut oats in the frozen section in pre-portioned pucks.  Just throw them in the microwave, add in some honey and cinnamon and you've got breakfast. The problem was for 4 pucks (I think it was 4) it was over 4 dollars. I can get steel cut oats at Sprouts for .99 a pound regular price so there was no reason to pay that much for frozen oatmeal. I had a light bulb go off that I could make those myself. A few days later I make a big pot of oatmeal, put the oatmeal in my silicon muffin tins and put them in the freezer. This worked perfectly and I haven't bought oatmeal from Trader Joe's since.
Out of the pot and into the tins
Start by cooking up one cup of oats to 4 cups of water, bring it to a boil, and stir occasionally. It takes between 15-25 minutes depending on the burner setting, let it cool and spoon it in to the muffin tins. This amount fills up 9 muffin spaces. I put the muffin tins into the freezer and freeze until solid. Then I pop them out and put them in a gallon freezer bag. These pucks have around 66 calories a piece and I usually eat two for a big portion of oatmeal. I add in honey and cinnamon most of the time, but sometimes I like to use jam or mixed berries. I add in about a quarter cup of water or almond milk when I'm reheating. Normally it takes around 2.5 to 3 minutes to warm up when I'm doing a double portion but it depends a lot on the microwave you use. I also normally stop the microwave and stir halfway through. Throw these in your lunchbox for breakfast or lunch and you're set. I'm pretty sure this will work with regular muffin tins, but I'll be honest I have only ever made them in my silicon muffin tins so I can't guarantee how easy popping them out will be. These are easy, cheap, and healthy and there are very few foods that fit that bill. If you try this let me know how it goes? How do you eat your steel cut oats?

Frozen pucks, ready to eat

Double portion, ready for the microwave
Breakfast is served

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Ham, Apple & Sweet Potato Scramble- Not as Sweet as it Sounds

Between trying to eat unprocessed foods, eat within my 10 day cleanse restrictions (God, I miss coffee) and trying to please the whole family I have been struggling. I have felt like a short order cook this week, feeding the rest of the family one thing and eating something else myself. I pinned the Ham, Apple & Sweet Potato Scramble a few weeks ago when I was hunting Paleo friendly dinners and it sounded really simple and tasty. A few ingredients and you have a healthy low-carb brunchy type dinner. The original recipe is from Paleo Newbie.
Spices all set
  • Ingredients:
  • 1/2 lb ham steak, chopped into cubes
  • 1 apple, peeled, cored, and diced
  • 1 medium sweet potato, peeled and diced into 1/4" to 1/2" thick cubes
  • 1/2 medium onion, diced
  • 4 eggs, scrambled
  • coconut oil, for sautéeing
  • Spices
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp onion powder
  • 1/4 tsp allspice
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper

I altered the recipe a bit, I used leftover spiral ham I had from Christmas instead of ham steak, I also was lacking allspice in the spice mix but I crossed me fingers wouldn't matter much (in the end I don't think it did). Of course I didn't notice that cayenne pepper was an included spice until I was already starting. I assumed 1/4 teaspoon wouldn't be that big of a deal, but you know what happens when you assume (more on that in a bit).
Sweet Potatoes and Onions Sauteing 
The onions cooked up much faster than the sweet potatoes did, so I wasn't sure why the recipe had the onions going in first. I would switch the order to give the potatoes more time to cook. They said to leave the two together for about 5 minutes but I probably did almost ten because the potatoes still seemed kind of raw.
Ham, Apples, and Spices Added
The instructions on the website don't pin point how long these should cook, just until the apples and potatoes are tender. As this was cooking I added around 4 tablespoons of water, I just thought it needed a little moisture added in and I think it was a good call. Once I tasted all of this together, I was unhappily surprised by how hot the cayenne pepper had made the dish One taste and I knew my daughter wasn't going to eat this. She thinks pepperoni on pizza is too spicy, so I knew this wouldn't fly. I don't think the pepper really added much to the overall flavor, it just seemed to make it hot.
All mixed up and ready to serve
The eggs are cooked separately and then added in to the rest of the mix (I used 4 regular eggs and about 1/4 cup liquid eggs whites), so I ended up saving some of the eggs and feeding the kids plain eggs and toast. I did make my daughter try some and her reaction was downing the rest of her grape juice and fanning her tongue for a few minutes (she may have been being a bit over dramatic). The husband was a trooper (he doesn't really care for sweet potatoes) and said he thought it was OK and agreed that the pepper didn't really help the flavor. 
Plated and Looking Pretty
I did like this, and plan on eating the leftovers for breakfast the next few days (since I obviously won't be fighting anyone over it). That being said I would definitely change it up if I made it again. I would take the pepper out entirely and I would have pre-steamed the sweet potatoes a bit before I put them in the pan. In this recipe the end up have the consistency of cooked carrots and I like my sweet potatoes to be a bit softer. I liked the sweetness from the apples, but most of that was drown out by the heat of the cayenne. This would be a great healthy brunch dish, and if you like heat keeping the original recipe would work, but I think it would be better without it. I think the flavors of the cinnamon and the apples would really stand out if they weren't being drown out by all of the heat. I would put this in the moderate win category but personally I think it needs some tweaks. If you make this let me know what you think? Was it too hot for you?

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Sometimes You Just Need a Reset Button

One of the hardest ideas to get out of your head when you've lost a good bit of weight, especially when you are weight lifting, is that the number on the scale isn't a be all end all. That number has made me crazy my entire adolescent and adult life. That number has owned me, defined me (at least in my own head), and crushed me. I whittled away at it, and it got smaller only to grow again after I got married, had baby #1 and then later baby #2. I saw that number as a part of me, like a scarlet letter, I felt like everyone could see. Then I decided to show that number to the world (or at least to anyone who read this blog) over a year ago. It was scary and I hated it. I felt naked and exposed, but I knew that if I was going to change my mindset, I had to do something that made me uncomfortable.

I slowly over time worked on not letting that number have power over me, and in the last 22 months the number is smaller than it was in middle school, and guess what? That number still has power over me, just not everyday. I'm not going to tell you I don't check the scale, because I do. I check it and I get unhappy when it doesn't move down, but I'm working on it. Everyday I am working on it. Working to walk past the scale without stepping on. Working on letting how I feel in my skin and in my jeans tell me how I'm doing. There are days I fail and days I succeed and I'm OK with that. I am a constant work in progress and I'm OK with that too.

After Christmas and my birthday this year I felt sluggish and stuck. I hadn't been a total glutton over the holidays, but I hadn't been great either. I have worked hard to cut out most processed foods, so consuming them again during the holiday even in smaller amounts really drug me down. A blogger I follow Mama Laughlin (she's fantastic, you should check her out) has done this Advocare 10 day cleanse before and she said it had been a great reset button for her, and sometimes you just need a reset button. What I liked most about this was I can eat actual food the whole time. No processed sugars, no processed foods, no coffee (not in love with this part) but I can have REAL food. Lean protein, vegetables, fruits, healthy fats are all allowed. Add in a fiber drink on a few days and some supplements and you're good to go. I felt like this was a plan I could handle, especially for 10 days. It's not cheap to get the whole kit, but I've paid more for things I didn't need so I decided to invest some money in myself and my health this month. I'll give an official update a few days in, but so far (day 2.5) it hasn't been bad. The biggest struggle is mental. Knowing you can't have sweets, makes you crave them. Knowing you shouldn't eat off the kids dinner plates makes you want to. I'm fighting the mental roadblocks for sure, but they are just roadblocks (at least that's what I keep telling myself).

So to begin my cleanse, both physically and emotionally I have vowed to not step on the scale for the next ten days. That will be a pretty big accomplishment for me, but I think I can do it. Here is what my scale said when I stepped on it yesterday morning, and I haven't looked again since (at least up until the time I'm posting this.) Don't let your number define you, don't let it beat you, you are more than the total weight of your parts. I'll keep reminding you if you keep reminding me.