Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Keep Calm and Keep it Simple

Newest addition (Alexander)
Life has changed so much in the last six months. I now have a 6-month old boy, Alexander, who is such a calm cutie. My daughter is a vibrant ray of sunshine and also a miss-independent who apparently has difficulty accepting any sort of help from people. I started working again part-time. We sold our condo and moved into my parents home (more on that in another post).  One of the most difficult parts of these changes is the adjustments to our rhythms. What Brian and I had created to be a well-routined, at times even easy environment with a little toddler turned into "ALL HANDS ON DECK!" chaos for the first two months.  I felt like Juliana; I had to accept that I needed help. So I did. I also needed to accept where I was in this stage of life and allow myself to learn how to be a parent of two. Did you know that we aren't born with that knowledge? In my experience, most of it flourishes from instinct, advice, lots of prayer, and good 'ole fashioned trial and error.
While it would be absolutely laughable to expect our life to be consistent, we still require some consistencies.  For me, those are friends, family, and date nights. We have date night every week that consists of us going out and staying in every other week. We're surrounded by my family because, well, I live with them. So there's no shortage of hugs, kisses, and love from my parents toward the grandchildren. Last but certainly not least, I need time with friends. It's absolutely essential. I have the ultimate blessing to be surrounded by friends and mentors who challenge, accept, and love me. It allows me to be a better wife, parent, daughter, and friend to have people who tell it to me straight whether I want to hear it or not. 
My sister is one of those people. It's wonderful because she's my family AND friend. If only I could tell 4th grade self that we'd love each other a mere ten years later. Get this–she lives just fifteen minutes from me and is the mother of my gorgeous nephew. Yes, our sons are basically twins from different mothers. It's fantastic. We see each other regularly and our sons play, er lay next to each other.  My time with her is always relaxed and rejuvenating. She invited us over for lunch yesterday and made a delicious salad. It was quite simple really (recipe below), but beauty, freshness, and nutrition burst out of it.  It's a bit like life. When we make it too complicated, we lose sight of the beauty and richness of it. What's more, we take simplicity for granted. I'm going to try to stop doing that, one simple joy at a time. 

A little hike before a day trip to Young's Dairy during
Brian's staycation last week
Brian and I decided that we want to embrace simplicity in our lives. We're still working on what that looks like, but the small changes tend to make the biggest impacts. 


Spinach Salmon Salad


What you'll need
4–6oz salmon fillets
Blackening seasoning
8 oz fresh spinach
1/2 pint fresh strawberries, trimmed, and sliced
1/2 English cucumber
1/2 pint cherry tomatoes
1 avocado, cut into 1/2" cubes
Lemon halved 
Extra virgin olive oil
Cracked black pepper
Cracked sea salt

What you'll do
Preheat oven to 400degF. Coat the salmon with blackening seasoning and bake for 15-20 minutes. Meanwhile, cut all vegetables and place in a large bowl or in individual bowls. Top with the cooked salmon fillets (skin removed). Drizzle olive oil and squeeze lemon across the salad. Finish with cracked pepper and sea salt. Enjoy!





Sunday, January 7, 2018

BIG Flavor, Little Cleanup

This weekend was a weekend of one-dish meals.  Friday night, I made Buffalo Chicken Spaghetti Squash Casserole (say that ten times fast), and I have Kusa (with ground turkey) in the oven as I type. I've realized that as time changes, my preferred cooking methods are also changing. Look back five years ago and you'd see my table strewn with three side dishes (usually two veggies and a carb) and a protein. I was the side dish queen, and still favor them in any meal. But now, I'm finding the beauty in less cleanup. Not long ago, I used to wash a minimum of two pots per meal and did so willingly because I knew it was worth the deliciousness I had just experienced. But is that necessary? It's not! Don't get me wrong, I have my evenings when nothing but the full spread will do. It's in my DNA to have plenty of food scattered on tables and enough for people to have seconds or thirds. The latter will never change, but I'm all about finding balance in compact meals. 

Being a personal chef for the last five years and counting, I've learned new ways to incorporate balance in meals while keeping it simple. You'd be surprised how many clients will tell me, "the food was great, but can we have more simple meals?" I remember how bewildered I would be, thinking-- you're hiring a PERSONAL CHEF and you want a casserole?! Yes. That's exactly what they wanted, and as a personal chef it's my job to give them what they want. 

Maybe it's the fact that I'm almost eight months pregnant, or the fact that I have a toddler, but my cooking style is definitely shifting in my day-to-day meal prep. Which is what leads me to the tongue-twister that is the buffalo chicken casserole. It's low-carb, healthy, and full of flavor. If you want to add a carb, you can always crunch some corn tortilla chips on top as well!

Buffalo Chicken Spaghetti Squash Casserole
Servings: 4      Prep-time: 10 minutes      Cook-time: 1 hour

Ingredients:
2 small to medium spaghetti squash
1 tbs. extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 lbs chicken breast, boneless and skinless
3/4c. chicken broth
1 c. buffalo sauce, I used Frank's
1/2 c. ranch dressing
1 bunch scallions, finely chopped
8oz mild cheddar or colby jack, finely shredded
2 oz cream cheese
1 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper

Steps:
Preheat oven to 400 deg F.
Place chicken breasts in aluminum foil on a baking pan and fold it into a pocket to allow steam to generate. Slice off the stem end of the spaghetti squash's and slice them in half lengthwise. Use a small spoon to scoop out the seeds (be sure to do this PRIOR to baking, as it's a lot easier to do so now then when it's cooked). Drizzle olive oil on each half of the inside spaghetti squash and sprinkle salt and pepper as well. Use your hands to rub each half to ensure seasoning is evenly distributed. 

Place spaghetti squash halves on a second large baking sheet lined with parchment paper or aluminum foil. Bake both the chicken and the spaghetti squash for 30 minutes on different shelves in the oven. While that's baking, reserve half the cheese and scallions, then combine the rest of the ingredients into a medium-size mixing bowl. Don't worry about the cream cheese and shredded cheese not being warm, the chicken will warm it up. 

Take the chicken and squash out and lay the chicken aside to rest while you use a fork to empty out the spaghetti squash halves into a large casserole dish. Note: Resting allows the juices to retain back into the meat. Use two forks to shred the chicken and place in the mixing bowl with the sauce. Don't discard the juice that occurred during roasting, pour it in the bowl as well! Combine the ingredients from the bowl with the spaghetti squash in the casserole dish. Top with remaining cheese and scallions, reduce heat to 375 deg F, and bake for an additional 30 minutes. Serve warm with crunched corn tortilla chips and enjoy.