Monthly Archives: August 2015

Favorite Healthy Recipes

As I mentioned earlier, I’ve been on a Weight Watchers kick recently, in an effort to lose the 5 pounds I’ve gained since marrying the love of my life (who also happens to have the metabolism of a body builder and can eat whatever he wants without gaining an ounce) along with an additional 5 just because. I had a rocky July, with 2 weddings, a vacation, a few beer festivals, sporting events, and moving into our new house, but somehow (seriously, how?) I still lost weight and am now only 1.5 pounds away from my goal.

I’ve always loved to cook, but have never been a big recipe follower. My style of cooking is much more haphazard than that, and I prefer to simply throw stuff in a pan and see what happens. With Weight Watchers, though, I’ve been forced to measure and weigh everything in order to track what I’m actually consuming. These recipes are not only healthy, they’re easy to follow and made out of (mostly) pantry staples and items I usually have around, which makes meal prep so much easier.

Happy eating!

Coconut Lime Cauliflower Rice (with Sweet Chili Coconut Lime Grilled Chicken) from Iowa Girl Eats.

Coconut Lime Cauliflower Rice from Iowa Girl Eats (she serves it with Sweet Chili Coconut Lime Grilled Chicken, which I have made for hubby and is also delicious). I omit the coconut oil and mist the pan with olive oil instead (I have this mister and love it) in order to cut down on the calories/points. No, it’s not actually rice, and if you don’t like cauliflower, this probably isn’t the recipe for you. I love cauliflower, though, and cauli-rice is a diet-saver, giving me a “base” for sauce and toppings without using tons of points. With 3 Tbsp of light coconut milk, 1 serving is worth 1 point (the recipe makes 4 servings total).

Egg Drop Soup from Paleo Takeout by Russ Crandall (recipe via Veggie Staples). Adam and I don’t follow the Paleo diet, but I’ve been reading Russ’s blog for a while now, and I was lucky enough to be selected to taste-test and provide feedback on a few recipes earlier this year when he was developing the cookbook. Every recipe of his that I’ve tried has been delicious, and his egg-drop soup was no exception. One serving of egg drop soup is 2 points; I bulk it up with 3 oz of tofu (2 points) to make a full meal.

Mango with Turmeric Smoothie from the Food Network.

Mango with Turmeric Smoothie from the Food Network. I have a small container of turmeric in my spice pantry from an Indian recipe I cooked last month, and I’ve been trying to figure out additional ways to use it up, since I hate having spices waste away, unused and unloved. I’m not sure I quite buy into all the hype over turmeric’s miraculous healing powers, but adding a pinch to my morning smoothie gives it a delightfully sunny color and doesn’t impart any sort of savory taste. I tweak the FN recipe based on what I have on hand at the time – usually omitting the OJ and using almond milk rather than coconut water.

Vegan Pesto (also known as food crack) from Minimalist Baker.

Vegan Pesto (as part of the recipe for Vegan Pesto Parmesan Breadsticks) from Minimalist Baker. Holy bejezus this stuff is good. Good, as in – I hesitate to include it on this healthy recipes roundup because I tend to eat it by the spoonful and before you know it, I’ve consumed an entire meal’s worth of points in pesto. I’m going to admit, I love regular pesto so much that I didn’t have high hopes for the vegan variety, but now that I’ve made this recipe, I don’t think I’ll ever go back. Vegan pesto is cheaper, better for you, and every bit as good (if not better) than the original. To reduce the calorie/point count, I halve the olive oil and walnuts (because I’m too cheap for pine nuts). With those adjustments, 1 Tbsp comes out to about 1 point and goes a long way.

Black Bean Patties from Annie’s Eats. Whenever I turn to Annie’s blog for inspiration, I am never disappointed. I only made 1/2 the recipe, because I only had 1 red pepper and 1.5 cups of beans, and they were delicious! 1/2 the recipe made 8 patties and 1 patty equals 1 point. 2 patties was the perfect serving size for a healthy, but filling lunch. I found they cooked better from frozen, which is perfect because I can never have too many quick and easy things to pull out of the freezer when I don’t feel like cooking.

Photograph by Love and Lemons.

Healthy Loaded Sweet Potatoes from Love and Lemons. Traditional baked potatoes are one of my comfort foods and were on my short list of go-to cheap, filling meals in college. These days, I swap out the white potato for a sweet potato, and omit the butter, cheese, and sour cream in favor of filling proteins and deliciously spiced veggies. I love baked potatoes because they are a “clean out the fridge” meal that can be stuffed with almost anything, and this combination of black beans, spices, and lime juice is hard to beat.

How to plan a trip to Europe – Part II

I interrupted this series to share our big news (we bought a house!), but now I’m back with Part II of How to Plan a Trip to Europe.

The first part of this series was all about getting together a vague outline, and we determined, generally, the who, where, when of the trip. This part is all about drilling down to specifics to end up with a moderately detailed daily itinerary.

Luxembourg garden, Paris.

Luxembourg garden, Paris.

Although first, I suppose I should convince you of why you need to go through all this effort in the first place? Couldn’t you just buy plane tickets, make some hotel reservations, show up, and figure it out once you get there? Well, sure. It’s your vacation, so you do you.

But consider this. In Florence, there are five sites that are widely considered “must-see” (the Duomo, its bell tower, and Baptistery; the Accademia, home of Michelangelo’s David; the Uffizi Gallery, which displays countless Italian masterpieces, including works by Simone Martini, Fra Angelico, Sandro Botticelli, and the like; the Palazzo Vecchio; and the Ponte Vecchio bridge). Then you have the other blockbusters (the churches of Santa Croce, Santa Maria Novella, and San Marco, the Bargello museum, and Piazzale Michelangelo and nearby San Miniato church), and even more amazing museums, churches, markets, bridges, and shopping districts. Then consider that lines for the blockbuster sites can be hours long, even during the off-season, and that certain sites are open early, some stay open late, and they all close on various days of the week. How in the world would you keep that all straight? And wouldn’t it be a shame to spend all that money on a trip to Florence and not be able to enjoy as many of its amazing sites as reasonably possible?

Lines at major European sites can be hours long. Don’t waste precious time during your vacation standing in line behind a bunch of sweaty, smelly tourists. You’re better than that! (Image source here.)

Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your- trust me. A little planning before your trip will make your vacation so. much. better.

Trip Planning – Part II

(Remember, steps 1 – 5 were covered in the Trip Planning – Part I post.)

6. Finalize travel dates, make a list of cities, and buy flights. Now that you’ve decided on a general destination, confirm travel dates with everyone in the group (plus or minus a few days to allow for savings on airfare). Make a list of cities that sound interesting, then do some more research, considering where you could fly into or out of. Go through and prioritize the cities you’ve written down – which deserve more time, which can be done as day trips, which can be cut? Keep in mind airfare costs, distance between cities, balancing busy cities with relaxed towns, and practicality of transportation. Booking airfare is my least favorite part, but it’s worthwhile to investigate several different options on multiple carriers and websites. Remember that it’s usually better to fly “open-jaw”, into and out of different cities; not only do you get to see more without having to return to a city you’ve already visited, it’s usually cheaper. I prefer to visit fewer cities for longer periods of time to cut down on moving between hotels; for a two week trip, I would do no more than 7 overnight cities, and even less than that if we were a larger group.  For our two week trip to Germany and Belgium this fall, here’s our plan:

Munich – 3 nights

Staufen – 2 nights

Baden-Baden – 1 night

Bacharach – 2 nights

Bruges – 3 nights

Brussels – 3 nights

Italian Monastery, Assisi.

Italian Monastery.

7. Lock down hotel reservations (maybe). If you’re traveling during a large festival or during peak season, make sure to book rooms as early as possible. For travel during the off-season, you can leave this step until later or even book as you go, depending on how comfortable you are with spontaneity. When it was just Adam and I traveling through Italy in the winter, we emailed hotels a few days in advance or our arrival and never had an issue. We were also able to save quite a bit of money. However, for our trip to Germany in September, I’ve already booked all hotel rooms for the entire trip, since we’ll be traveling during shoulder season and will need two rooms (one for us, one for my parents) in each hotel.

8. Sketch a daily itinerary, but remember to be flexible. A daily itinerary is much more important for big cities with major sites (London, Paris, Rome, Florence, Amsterdam, Berlin) than it is for small towns. For each city on your list, determine which attractions you’d like to see, then go through and prioritize (sense a theme?). You likely won’t be able to see everything, so don’t even try. Tell yourself you will return. I’ve been to London, Paris, and Rome multiple times and haven’t even come close to crossing everything off on my list. Take advantage of sites that are open early or late, and buy advance tickets if possible, but don’t try to cram in too much! My general guideline is that we spend half the day doing planned sightseeing in museums, churches, etc. and the other half soaking up the local culture in parks, cafes, or wandering in back alleys. In Florence, for example, I wouldn’t plan to visit the Accademia, Uffizi, Bargello, and Duomo all in the same day. That leaves no time for enjoying la dolce vita! Rather, we’d visit the Accademia in the morning, have a relaxing picnic lunch, escape the afternoon heat by wandering through the Bargello museum, and finish the day by watching the sun set over the city at Piazzale Michelangelo. For major sites, definitely buy advance tickets unless you plan to buy a city pass that allows you to skip the lines. And don’t be afraid to switch things up once you arrive! Maybe the weather today isn’t ideal for wandering through the gardens of Versailles, or you just don’t feel like stepping foot in another museum. European vacations are about so much more than the sights – it’s about the experience, the food, the joy of the unknown and unfamiliar. I believe that the best travel recommendations come from people you know, so be open to changing your itinerary if a coworker, friend, or favorite blogger who has recently visited your destination tells you about a spot they particularly loved.

View over the Seine, Paris.

View over the Seine, Paris.

9. Read up on your destination and get excited! Your trip is mostly planned, so now you can move on to the fun part. I love reading books and watching movies about the cities or countries we’re visiting, whether they’re historical fiction or current documentaries. In my opinion, the more you know about a destination, the more interesting it is when you visit. Read the news and stay informed about national events. Most European citizens (especially in larger cities) speak at least some English and would love to discuss current events with you. There’s also a somewhat negative perception among Europeans that all Americans care about is their own country, so let’s all work to change that image. Most importantly, get excited for your vacation! Not only will you not be working (the best part about vacations, in my opinion), you’ll be broadening your world and expanding your horizons, and all that research will certainly pay off!

What do you think? Is my trip planning overkill? How do you go about picking a vacation spot? Have your favorite trips been planned or more spontaneous? Where should we travel next?

We’re officially broke – aka we bought a house

Well folks, we finally did it. After months of sorting through MLS listings and bemoaning the state of the Denver housing market, we found a house and put in an offer, which was accepted. Then we had a minor panic attack when the home inspection revealed a horizontal crack in the basement. Which led to us shelling out $500 to a structural engineer to examine the foundation for about an hour and tell us that it likely won’t be collapsing in the next 5 years. From there, we submitted every financial piece of paper and scrap of information to the loan officer, signed away our lives and those of our unborn children, and acknowledged no less than five times that our loan could be packaged up and sold (because 2008 never happened or anything). Then we were given the keys to our first home.

The front of our house.

The front of our house.

Although built in the 60’s, our home was purchased by a flipper, who majorly updated the kitchen (which is what sold me on this house), bathrooms, and basement. All the windows and the roof are brand new, and extensive work was done to make the basement water-tight and the back yard was properly graded to help keep it that way. Nevertheless, we are quickly learning that an updated home is by no means a cheap home. Upgrading from a 1 bed/1 bath 700 sq. ft.  apartment to a 5 bed/3 bath 2400 sq. ft. home is expensiiiiive. We’ve racked up $1000 in Home Depot in the first week alone.

Did you know that a watering hose is $50? Or that a gallon of paint is $45? Or that a ladder to get onto the roof and trim overhanging tree branches is $150? Or, or, or…I could go on and on and on.

My happy place! We also convinced the seller to swap out the electric stove for a gas model, and I am beyond thrilled to finally cool on a gas range!

My happy place! We also convinced the seller to swap out the electric stove for a gas model, and I am beyond thrilled to finally cool on a gas range!

In addition to the Home Depot supplies, we are paying a lot of people a lot of money to do incredibly un-sexy maintenance projects on our house. The sewer scope we had done as part of our home inspection (side note: have you ever seen one of those being done? They put a camera down your sewer pipes and then send you a video of it. Seriously. I’ll be happy to share if you’re curious. “Now these are deposits of fats and oils…” Blech. Anyway….) revealed some tree roots growing into our lines as well as some buildup of the aforementioned “fats and oils”, so we spent $250 for a man with a big machine to go into our sewer lines and scrape the walls of the pipes, ensuring that we should be clog-free for another year. As I type this, I’m sitting at our thrift-store dining table (more on that below), waiting for another guy to come clean out our air-ducts, because we’re pretty sure that’s never been done and with all the recent remodeling/construction work, we’d feel better knowing we’re not breathing in 8 pounds of dust every time we run the AC. His price? $100 + $20 for every vent. We counted last night and we have 15 vents total, so uhhhh….you do the math because my head is about to explode.

Our front room - living/dining area. The kitchen is on the other side of that wall/counter thing. In this photo alone, there are four visible AC vents. Let's count together! Cha-ching, cha-ching, cha-chinnnngggg...

Our front room – living/dining area. The kitchen is on the other side of that wall/counter thing. In this photo alone, there are four visible AC vents. Let’s count together! Cha-ching, cha-ching, cha-chinnnngggg…

On top of the services and general maintenance, there’s painting to be done. The paint in these photos looks far more gray-toned than it actually is. In reality, everything (including the ceilings) is a beige-khaki color. Nothing against a nice neutral palette, but when we first walked in, it felt like being trapped in a beige box. Not my idea of relaxing and, let’s face it, seeing beige everywhere you turn is flat out boring. Over the course of three days (and $200 in paint and supplies), I painted the walls and ceiling of our living room a gorgeous blue gray color and painted our master bedroom a darker blue gray from the same paint strip. At the time, painting the ceilings was the worst (I have never before has so much empathy for Michelangelo and all that time he spent on the Sistine Chapel), but now that it’s finished, I am in absolute love. Once we get the boxes unpacked and actually furnish the space, I’ll take some photos to show off my mad painting skillz.

The basement (another big selling point of this house) has so many garden-level windows that it doesn't feel like a basement at all. There's one bathroom (farthest door on the left) and two bedrooms (on the right - one door not pictured), in addition to a lot of open space and what will eventually be our laundry room.

The basement (another big selling point of this house) has so many garden-level windows that it doesn’t feel like a basement at all. There’s one bathroom (farthest door on the left) and two bedrooms (on the right – one door not pictured), in addition to a lot of open space and what will eventually be our laundry room.

[A note about these photos – they were part of the MLS listing and I did not take them, but I figure that since I purchased the house, I have also purchased the right to use them on my blog. Internet, please don’t sue me.]

There is so much we want to do to this house to make it our own, but it’ll come in stages as we save up enough money. Our first “big” project is having a contractor finish a utility closet in the basement to make into a laundry room. Right now, the washer/dryer hookups are in the basement, directly outside the second guest bedroom (not pictured in the photo above), and there’s not enough space to install a full size washer/dryer with the way the bedroom door is set up (the door opens out toward the washer/dryer hookups and the hallway isn’t wide enough to accommodate both a dryer and the open door). We have a contractor set up to complete that project later this month, which will align with the (hopefully major) Labor Day sales on appliances. (If you love your washer/dryer, I’d love any recommendations!)

Also high on the priority list are painting (2400 is way more square footage when it comes to painting), furnishing the main living areas, and installing an electrical outlet so we can have the TV against that middle wall in the basement. The back yard also needs some major TLC and we’d love to have chickens and bees back there (our neighborhood is zoned for chickens, goats, bees, and ducks), in addition to a banging vegetable garden.

DIY diva I am most certainly not, but with our budget (minimal), I guess I’m gonna figure it out. I found a small table (with a hideous laminate top – the one at which I’m currently blogging and drinking my morning coffee) and 4 wooden chairs at the thrift store yesterday ($16 for the table plus $13 for each chair) so my first DIY attempt will be to stain the chairs, then spray paint the table and give it a concrete top, similar to this gorgeous dresser. Depending on how disastrous the results are, photos to come!

Or maybe I’ll give up and wait 20 years until we can afford to buy new things that don’t require any artistic talent on my part. Only time will tell.