Sunday, January 26, 2014

Fuel for Life: My Meal Plan for the Week

Paleo Buffalo Chicken Soup from last week's meal plan. It was soooo good.

Monday:Asian Meatballs over sautéed greens
I haven't tried many of the Nom Nom Paleo recipes yet, but I've heard great things and am eager to try this umami-inspired recipe. I'll cook these up today so that they're ready to eat with minimal prep time Monday evening. I tend to buy a huge bag of mixed greens (kale, arugula, chard, spinach) each week to use in various ways. These meatballs will be perfect served over some quickly sautéed greens cooked with just a touch of coconut aminos and toasted sesame oil.

Tuesday: Stovetop Citrus Carnitas in Lettuce Wraps with Sunshine Sauce
These carnitas take 2-3 hours, so I'll probably cook them today then make the sunshine sauce fresh on Tuesday. I'm envisioning a big platter with avocado slices, lime wedges, scallions, and fresh cilantro.

Wednesday: Swiss Chard with Red Onion and Bacon
This will be a quick and hearty meal that I can easily throw together after work. I tend to enjoy pickled flavors alongside bacon-y flavors, so I will pick up some of this Ozuke dill & caraway kraut (locally made and so good) to have as garnish.

Thursday: Leftover Stovetop Citrus Carnitas with Creamy Cucumbers
I have a work event Thursday evening, so I'll rely on leftovers to make sure I have a home-cooked meal waiting for me. The Creamy Cucumbers look like a cinch to throw together, with the exception of the homemade mayo so I'll make a batch of that today. It'll be nice to have on hand; I'll mix it with fresh herbs and garlic as a veggie dip that I can snack on throughout the week.

Friday: Out to Eat
Date night! We may do one of our favorite Japanese restaurants, Amu, that serves super fresh and clean traditional dishes. I find it pretty easy to stay on the Paleo path here. My go-to order is the seasonal mixed greens salad (with a light, tangy dressing that is to-die-for), grilled garlic squid, and salmon carpaccio. 

Saturday: Garlic Roasted Shrimp with Zucchini Pasta
Since we'll be hitting up a Superbowl party on Sunday (go Broncos!), I'm keeping our Saturday meal light and simple in anticipation of enjoying the delicious party fare that I'm sure will be in plentiful supply the next day.

Sunday: Superbowl!

While traditional football snacks aren't typically the healthiest of foods, the good news is that most Superbowl parties feature plenty of protein (wings!) and a veggie tray or two. Our friends make an absolutely killer buffalo chicken dip that they serve with carrot and celery sticks. It's not Paleo, but I'm not going to lose any sleep over it. We'll bring a festive side dish of some kind - maybe bacon-wrapped dates? 

What are you cooking and eating this week?

Check out past meal plans here for more inspiration. 

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Lately: Meditations on "Instructions for Living a Life"

"Instructions for living a life. 
Pay attention. 
Be astonished. 
Tell about it."
-Mary Oliver 

Lately, I'm astonished by the bright white reflection of winter light on snow-streaked peaks. By the comfort to be found in the most mundane of chores. By warm, soapy dishwater, with its honeysuckle scent. By a harbinger hint of spring in the temperate breeze wafting through the open patio door. 

Lately, I'm astonished by my intense pleasure in solitude, by the absolute necessity of silence. By subtle messages from the universe telling me to read and write, read and write, with an intensity I've not felt in awhile. By the way a piece of literature can take my breath away, and not give it back for days. 

Lately, I'm astonished to discover the comfort with which I'm approaching my 30th year. By the strange way that, as I age, I seem to be circling ever closer to the truth, and by the relief I feel in my own skin, the ease I find in my own mind. I'm astonished by the way my capacity for joy seems to be inversely proportional to the degree to which I care what other people think of me, and the fact that the former seems to be winning these days. By my faint jolt of surprise when I see a woman across the room who looks like someone I'd like to know, realizing in the same millisecond it's my own reflection I see. Realizing too that I do, in fact, know her. And that I like her too.

I'm astonished by how the mountains feel like home to me. By the kinship I feel with specific beams of sun as they funnel and spread their mellow gold through the foliage of an old pine. By a sear of nostalgia that knocks me senseless, triggered by the most ordinary of things: the slant of a roof on a ramshackle cottage, a certain chord in a radio tune, a peony in a vase. By the nagging certainty that I've lived these moments before and perhaps will live them again. By the possibility that I won't.

Lately, I am paying attention.

Lately, I am astonished indeed.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Tuesday Musings: On My Mind

Happy Tuesday! I hope you had a wonderful weekend, and that your week is off to a great start.

I don't have a cohesive post today, but I thought I'd share a few random things on my mind...

1. Ever since I wrote this post, I've been trying to make it a priority to get outside this winter. Yes, it's more difficult when the days are short and chilly, but it's not impossible, and it makes such a difference in my sense of well-being. The weather cooperated awesomely this past weekend, with two glorious days of sun and 60-degree temperatures, so my husband and I headed up to a new-to-us trail in North Boulder for an hour-long trail run/hike that left me grinning like a maniac. It was such vital nourishment for my sun-loving soul, and got me so stoked for springtime running!

2. On a related note, I enjoyed this short read and this long read on the healing power of the outdoors.

3. Speaking of reading, I finished The Goldfinch last week, and...well, wow. This review sums of my feelings pretty well. If you are on the fence or not sure you can commit to an 800-page book, just do it. Trust me. Now I'm onto Donna Tartt's The Secret History, which I have a feeling I won't love quite as much. Still, if it's half as good as The Goldfinch, it'll be worth my while.

4. I felt like last week's full moon was unusually intense, and found myself waking up multiple times a night for several nights surrounding it. It's hard to tell if there was an actual connection, or if I was just restless for no real reason, but I did a little research and the link between lunar cycles and human sleep patterns has been documented. Does anyone else experience this? I find it really fascinating. The lack of shut-eye left me a bit worn out, but nothing a few extra sips of morning coffee couldn't remedy.

5. Following a Sunday of football playoffs-watching (yeah Broncos!) and accompanying football playoffs-snacking (ahem, nachos and wings), I was feeling drawn toward light and nourishing foods to balance things out. My husband picked up some salmon at Whole Foods, and I ended up throwing together a really simple and amazing marinade of toasted sesame oil, coconut aminos, and mirin (Japanese cooking wine) mixed with some chopped scallions and minced ginger. I marinated the salmon for just a few minutes, then baked it at 400 degrees for about 25 minutes. Paired with mixed greens avocado, and cucumber, it was the perfect thing to satisfy my craving for fresh, clean flavors.

What's on your mind today?

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Fuel for Life: My Meal Plan for the Week

A bowl full of fresh tomatoes and herbs at my parents' farm in Iowa. (Photo taken last August.)

I've been playing around with applying the 80/20 concept in my life: the idea that 20% of your input yields 80% of the results (in work and in life). As I began experimenting with with this idea, I've realized that meal planning is part of my 20%. It doesn't take a major time investment up front (maybe an hour at most), but the results are widespread and significant. It's the difference between eating nourishing home-cooked meals or a week (thus properly fueling all the other areas of my life) or a week of last-minute (usually less healthy) decisions.

Meal planning can be a wonderful ritual unto itself. I like to turn on some music and sip my cup of coffee while browsing through my favorite cookbooks and food blogs, then map out my plan and accompanying grocery list.

Since I always love hearing about other peoples' meal plans, I thought I'd share mine. Here's a little glimpse into what I'll be cooking and eating in the days ahead.

**I hope to make these meal planning posts a regular feature on this blog. Since this is the first meal planning post, I included some notes on my general approach.**

Sunday: Paleo Buffalo Chicken Soup.
There is something so cozy about making soup on a Sunday, then settling in to watch football with my husband. This zesty soup, with its nod to the flavors of hot wings, looks like just the ticket for tomorrow's Broncos / Chargers game. I may try this as a slow cooker recipe (because all soups are better in the slow cooker, right?). I'll make enough to have leftovers to enjoy later in the week.

Monday: Thai Coconut Curry with Zucchini "Noodles."
I picked up some coconut aminos on a whim the other day, and have been looking for a recipe to try it (or is it "them"?) out. This curry looks super flavorful and I love the use of zucchini as noodles.

Tuesday: Leftover Buffalo Chicken Soup
I have a work event that will last into early evening, so I probably won't want to cook from scratch. Leftover soup sounds like a perfect solution to me.

Wednesday: Seared Salmon Over Salad
No recipe needed for this one because it's so simple. I coat a big piece of salmon in a mix of tamari, toasted sesame oil, and rice wine vinegar, then sear it in a hot pan till it's cooked on the outside, but not all the way through. Serve over mixed greens with avocado slices and a sprinkle of fresh chives. It's a delicious and healthful meal that couldn't be easier to throw together on a week night.

Thursday: Leftover Thai Coconut Curry with Zucchini "Noodles"
I am big on leftovers because they're easy and economical. Typically at least 1-2 of my weeknight meals involve leftovers of a meal I cooked earlier in the week.

Friday: Out to Eat
My husband and I usually take the opportunity to go out to eat on Fridays. It doesn't have to be anything fancy (and usually isn't). Even if we're simply enjoying burrito bowls from Chipotle, it's a break from the ordinary and gives us a chance to connect, talk about our weeks, and make our plans for the weekend. Sometimes, if we're beat, we'll get take-out and eat it while watching a movie at home.

Saturday: Greek Gyro Burgers
Our Saturday meals tend to vary with our weekend plans. Sometimes we're in the mountains, out with friends, or we'll decide last-minute to have friends over for dinner. For that reason, I tend to plan Saturday meals a little bit loosely. If we're around, I'll make these Greek Gyro Burgers for dinner. If not, I'll re-purpose the ingredients for the following day's meal.

We don't really do any kind of formal desserts when we're at home. If I'm craving sweetness after a meal, I'll break into the chocolate stash for a few squares of dark chocolate with sea salt. A spoonful of chocolate hazelnut butter will also do the trick.

Breakfast is almost always some variation on eggs (scrambled, poached, sunny side up) with vegetables (mushrooms, onions, leeks, tomatoes, spinach, kale...really anything we have on hand). Maybe once or twice a week I'll cook up a little local bacon or chicken sausage to go with our eggs. Eggs have been my go-to breakfast for about the last year (prior to that, it was oatmeal or toast), and I find that for the first time ever I am consistently full until lunchtime.

Speaking of lunch, I try to brown bag it as often as possible. I make sure to have protein and fat (usually half an avocado) and I go easy on the carbs to avoid the dreaded mid-afternoon crash. Sometimes lunch is leftovers from the previous night's dinner. Occasionally, I'll run to the local grocery store (luckily only a couple blocks from my office) and grab some soup or salad from the fresh bar.

I don't actually snack that often, but when I do, I find myself reaching for a piece of fruit and/or some almonds or macadamia nuts. If I have time, I'll whip up a quick smoothie with almond or coconut milk, almond butter, and (raw, local) honey.

And with that, I'm off to Whole Foods to get groceries for all this goodness! What are you cooking and eating this week?

Thursday, January 9, 2014

The Warmth Within

Following the Winter Solstice, I find myself cheered by the prospect of ever-lengthening days and, soon enough, the welcome thaw of spring. While I value the yin energy of this season, I catch myself literally fantasizing about the glaringly sunny days that characterize summer in Colorado: days that last forever, with time for meandering hikes or sweat-soaked runs on dusty trails. My body craves the bright white heat of July that seems to radiate from the mountains themselves, while my soul yearns for the leisurely evenings spent relaxing on a patio, a cold drink in hand.

Instead, I awake groggy in the mornings, wiping sleep from my eyes and lacing up my Nike Free's for a jaunt on the treadmill. My morning run and the occasional yoga class keep me grounded and sane. I take a quick lunchtime walk when I can fit it in, and down Vitamin D supplements as if they're the nectar of life itself. Comfort comes in the form of good books and the accompanying cozy simple pleasures: hot tea, warm socks, the slow burn of a cedar-scented candle.

Make no mistake. The stark beauty of a January sky is not lost on me. I find the snow-covered peaks a soothing reminder of nature's tremendous capacity to endure and regenerate in the harshest of conditions, and I enjoy the festive glow of a fireplace as much as anyone. Still, it'd be disingenuous of me to claim mid-winter's chill doesn't have me just the littlest bit out of sorts, especially as the holidays' excitement fades to mere (albeit pleasant) memory.

In these months, I try to remind myself how truly natural these really cycles are. And perhaps more importantly? That the real source of energy lies within, transcending external conditions.

As one of my great inspirations, John Muir, wrote:
"The sun shines not on us, but in us."
I'll raise my mug of vanilla almond tea to that. What are your best tips for enduring winter and finding the warmth within?