Simple Snack: Crackers, Cheese, & Fruit

I’ve been working with a nutritionist for the last few months to balance my diet, get fresh and new meal ideas, and to look at trends in my diet. One trend is that I need an afternoon snack between lunch and dinner. Every day, right around 2-3pm, my tummy growls something fierce. We’ve been working on options that are healthy and filling so that one go-to snack is enough between meals. My nutritionist’s recommendation is to have a little bit of everything – carbs, fat, and produce – to create a truly filling and nutritious combination, rather than just having carbs or just having fruit, being hungry 30 minutes later, eating more, racking up the calories, etc. We’ve come up with my new favorite combo – a classic – crackers, cheese, and fruit.

I’ve included a collage below of the combinations I’ve been making lately of crackers, cheese, and fruit because there are so many options!

First, let’s talk crackers. You’ll notice that they are the one thing that stays the same in my combo. My go-to are the 365 brand Woven Wheats from Whole Foods. Basically they are Triscuits, which could totally work here too. The reason these are my favorite cracker option is because they have two ingredients. Yep, only two ingredients: whole wheat and salt. No enriched flours, no HFCS, no fillers, no chemicals, no xatham gum, no words I can’t pronounce. You can’t get any less complicated and more healthy than that!

Moving along – cheese! The choices are obviously endless here but I’m mainly going for portion control and taste with my cheese selections. My favorites are 365 brand whipped cream cheese, 365 brand colby jack cheese sticks, and mozzarella Babybels.

Last but not least, the fruit component. My picks here are mostly just what I prefer and what looks good at the supermarket. I’m definitely loving clementines for their portability, grapes for their sweetness, and pomegranate seeds for a new and exciting option. Strawberries, apples, and bananas are great too. Whatever you like!

Simple Snack Cheese Crackers Fruit 2-14-2015

Bonus Round: You’ll notice some M&Ms up there too. As I mentioned, my nutritionist and I are working on composing one healthy, filling snack between lunch and dinner. I found I was having my afternoon snack and a sweet snack on top of that every day (I can’t be the only one who craves chocolate right after a meal!). So, instead of mindlessly munching on a whole bag of M&Ms or handfuls of Hershey’s kisses in addition to my mid-afternoon snack, I’m working on integrating the two – still having the sweets/chocolate but reducing the amount and combining it with my mid-afternoon snack. So far, so good!

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Feel The Fear…And Do It Anyway…Even If You’re Fat…

I’ve always liked that Susan Jeffers quote “feel the fear…and do it anyway.” Mind over matter, and all that. Despite having a crippling fear of public speaking, I have been volunteering to do more of it at work. Public speaking is not something that has ever come naturally to me – my stomach tangles in knots, I sweat, I stumble over my words, I can’t catch my breath. I have always been envious of people who can give a speech or get up in front of a big group without a second thought. John is totally like this, which is why he’s such a good improviser (read: no fear). But I have always had the fear.

Knowing that though, I understand that not giving presentations, leading workshops, speaking on a panel, etc will limit me professionally. So, like I said, I’ve been trying to push myself out of my comfort zone and volunteer to do the very thing that has crippled me most of my life.

This week I did a huge presentation in front of about 50 people at work and didn’t puke. In fact, I actually think that I did pretty well! It may seem like small beans to someone who is comfortable with public speaking, but for me it was a huge deal. I prepared and planned for it very academically, as my Type A self is want to do. I started from scratch, made an outline, spent weeks meticulously filling in the outline, spent a weekend building a slide deck, rehearsing my slides over and over, memorizing my entire presentation, making sure the whole thing would come off naturally. Before my presentation I was nervous, but not oh-my-god-I’m-going-to-die nervous like usual. The second I got up in front of the room I felt ok. I began my presentation and was surprised at how good I felt. This non-nervousness gave me confidence: I knew what I was talking about and the flow was good. Afterward I did an internal fist pump. I was super prepared and I crushed it! Yes!

But then I got to thinking. Yes, I was prepared. More prepared than I have ever been for a presentation probably. But something else was there too, something bigger, something less obvious. And I slowly realized what it was. 2014 was a self-care journey for me. I have actively started to practice more self compassion. Telling myself that I am enough just as I am, knowing deeply that I am exactly who I am meant to be – and that anyone or anything telling me otherwise is wrong. I have taken all the bad things that people have said about me or negative thoughts I have told myself, challenged them, contradicted them, and let them fall away.

I realized that part of my fears, in public speaking but also in life, are of actually being seen. That someone will take one look at me and see my size and then choose not to see anything else. That I would be just a blobby person, jiggling along, horrifying and offending with my weight or the way I look. I know, it’s crazy talk. But it’s basically a crime to be an overweight American these days, specifically for women. Fat shaming is a form of discrimination and bullying that is still, somehow, very socially acceptable.

Sidenote: I am so obsessed and thrilled with people like Whitney Thore, Tess Munster, Jes Baker. They are taking the body-positive, #effyourbeautystandards movement to a new level. They make me feel ok to be who I am. Proud even. They inspire me. I look at them and I see women, and bodies, I can actually relate to. I wish these types of role models existed when I was a kid. Anyway…

I never once considered that if I spoke in front of a room of people that they would see anything other than my body. And judge it. Not thinking for a second that if I actually was ever giving a presentation to a packed house, that it might mean I’m a subject matter expert in something. That I have knowledge and expertise that other people want to learn more about. That I have value and worth exclusive to my career and my intellect, rather than my body or my looks. I honestly have never given this pause before. Until now.

I gave a great presentation because I was prepared. For sure. But I also did well because I believe more, now than ever, in the worth of the person giving the presentation. That despite being afraid, I will not be confined by a body or a number on a scale. That I have the power to chose what I’m afraid of. And this is not one of those things anymore. And that, as I let deeply ingrained fears fall away, the future seems impossibly open and all mine.

So, here’s me, sometimes being terrified…but doing it anyway…in my imperfect body…and feeling really proud.

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Recipe: Butterscotch Pudding

For whatever reason, Snack Pack pudding cups were always a real treat to me as a kid. We never had them in our house but I loved having them at my grandparents’ or friends’ houses. Peeling back that soft foil lid, seeing the neon brown butterscotch pudding inside (how did they even invent neon brown? because that is so what it was!). A big bite with a plastic spoon; thick, globby, super sweet. Heaven to a kid. And adult, c’mon now. File Snack Packs under: I know this is chemicals but I love it anyway.

But, now that I am 30+ and endeavor to scratch make everything at least once, I made homemade pudding take#2 with butterscotch pudding (take #1 was this chocolate pudding recipe and boy was it delicious). When I say that making homemade pudding is stupidly easy, I mean that. Truly.

Butterscotch Pudding (original recipe by Smitten Kitchen)
2 tbsp. unsalted butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
A pinch of salt (kosher, sea salt, or whatever)
1/4 cup cornstarch
3 cups milk (I used 2%), warmed
2 tsp. vanilla

Over medium heat, begin by melting the butter. Add the brown sugar and reduce the heat to medium-low. Here is the only tricky part of this recipe: baaaasically you’re making caramel. I know, it seems complicated and it’s easy to burn and really high maintenance. But a lot of caramel making is just practice and experience. If that’s already your jam, my advice is to use your nose first and eyes second. Your nose will immediately detect when the sugars are right on the cusp of going from amazing to burned. Your eyes will help too: amber-brown is good, chocolate brown is bad. If you’re a caramel newb, just know that underdone is better than overdone (because it’s still sugar and butter, and not in the trash). Cook the butter and sugar together, letting it bubble but stirring it a bunch, no more than 2-3 minutes. And just practice, practice, practice.

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When the butter and sugar have come together, add in the salt and cornstarch. Stir into a paste quickly, like 10-15 seconds. You don’t want the butter and sugar to burn in this tiny window. Sidenote: this is so my new favorite way to incorporate in cornstarch. It guarantees no lumps!

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When the paste is lump-free, quickly, but carefully, whisk in the milk. A note about the milk here: If you pour in cold milk directly from the fridge, the caramel is immediately going to seize up into hard candy. This is totally fine, it will melt into the milk as the milk warms up, but if you want to avoid scratching your head like I did, gently warm the milk up in the microwave first (30-45 seconds should be fine).

Stir the entire mixture over medium-low heat for 7-10 minutes until the cornstarch has thickened the whole thing and it’s nice and tight. Like pudding, you know.

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Pour the pudding into a bowl or tupperware and cool to room temperature. Don’t put it in the fridge screaming hot, it’ll get all weird. When the pudding is room temp, cover with plastic wrap or a lid, and put in the fridge for 2-3 hours. Serve immediately once it’s chilled or use within 3-4 days.

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This pudding is definitely sweet and creamy, with a slight warm caramel taste to it. It’s not overpowering, and it’s subtler than a Snack Pack, but it’s definitely good. Even better with chocolate sprinkles on top.

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Recipe: Chocolate Almond Butter Cups

Hey, guess what – almond butter doesn’t really freeze! I intellectually knew that (healthy fats don’t solidify) but for some reason, I overlooked this when I made a disastrous (though delicious) first batch of almond butter cups. I know they look perfect on Pinterest, but beware! I realized in order for the cups to firm up the way I wanted them to, I would have to cut the almond butter with something that would freeze. I came up with the recipe below and it’s the winner I hoped it would be!

Domestocrat’s Chocolate Almond Butter Cups (make 14 mini cups)
1 tbsp. unsalted butter
1 cup chocolate chips (I use semisweet)
3/4 cup old fashioned oats
2 tbsp. honey
1/2 cup almond butter

Oh Trader Joe’s Almond Butter, how I love thee – let me count the ways! It only has three ingredients (almonds, cashews, salt), it’s full of healthy fats, it doesn’t separate, isn’t oily at all, and is perfectly earthy and savory. What better ingredient to use as the centerpiece for these homemade nut butter cups!

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Over a double boiler, melt the butter first then add in the chocolate chips. Stir to combine until smooth. Turn off the heat but leave the chocolate over the water to stay warm.

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In a food processor, pulse the oats until they are ground into oat flour. Add in the almond butter and honey, and pulse together to combine.

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In a mini muffin pan, divide the almond butter dough into 14 equal balls. Press each ball into a cup on the pan. Spoon a teaspoon or so of the melted chocolate over the top of each almond butter cup. Gently shake the pan to smooth the chocolate out or simply use a spoon/your finger. Place the pan in the freezer for 20 minutes so the cups can firm up.

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When the almond butter cups are frozen, use a butter knife to ease them out of the pan. Store in an airtight container in the freezer for up to four weeks.

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This is my new favorite dessert! The chocolate/almond butter combo is perfect. I also love having a sweet treat that can stay in the freezer, perfectly portioned and waiting for when the mood strikes. Bonus points for having only five ingredients and being a cinch to make. I bet you already have all the ingredients in your pantry!

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Happy January Things

January is usually kind of a bummer, right? The holidays are over, the weather starts to get really nasty here in New England, it’s dark when I leave the house and dark when I come home, and in general I just kind of feel blah. It’s this time of year when I need to be surrounded with happy things to keep my energy and morale up.

Mid-month John and I saw Neil deGrasse Tyson here in Boston at the Wilbur Theater. He delivered an exquisite, hilarious, illuminating, sobering, perfect two hour lecture on our minuscule, yet enormous, place in the universe. He was excellent. I can’t stop thinking about so much of what he said. Why religion halts scientific progress. How the first photographs of the moon from space changed mankind’s perspective on the atmosphere, climate, and environment. How different countries/cultures around the world honor their scientific pioneers and innovators. How Cosmos, a primetime show about science/space, was so successful and changed the demand for this kind of programming on TV. We bought this print made just for the Boston shows and I’m so thrilled every time I look at it.

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Homemade chai lattes are heaven. When I can finally figure out the milk frother I’ve had for 4 months, that is.

A group of girlfriends recently taught me how to knit. It is just silly that I didn’t know how before. Anyway, I’ve really enjoyed picking up such a zen hobby and actively look forward to knitting at night. Big soft squishy yarn helps too.

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I know I should mostly patronize local pizza joints (and we definitely do!) but there is something about a Bertucci’s Silano pizza that is just the best thing in the whole world. I wish I knew how to quit you.

It snowed this weekend. The first real big snow of the winter. I caught it right at dawn. This pink/purple light is everything. So isn’t my 50mm lens. Taking pictures again makes me really happy.

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Recipe: Roasted Spaghetti Squash Seeds

Just about a year ago I discovered spaghetti squash. I don’t know why it took me so long! Trust me though, I’ve made up for lost time and have been using it almost every week since (my healthy carbonara recipe is totally my favorite use yet!). Up until very recently whenever I prepped the squash, I would scoop out and compost the seeds. It dawned on me that I could probably roast them like pumpkin seeds – a total facepalm moment. I searched around a bit online for recipes and came up with the following one. I’m in love!

Domestocrat’s Roasted Spaghetti Squash Seeds
The seeds of one large spaghetti squash (roughly 1 cup)
1 tsp. EVOO
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/8 tsp. black pepper

Start by cutting a large spaghetti squash in half. Using a spoon, scoop out the seeds and fibrous guts of the squash.

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Pick through the fibers and place the seeds in a bowl. This seems tedious but it really isn’t bad. The seeds are loose enough and slippery, so they kind of just fall out if you thumb through the fibers. It’s totally ok if you end up with fibers on some of the seeds since the next step is to rinse the seeds.

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In a large colander, rinse the seeds – this will remove any excess fibers. Also, it’s fine if some remain, they are yummy roasted along with the seeds! Once the seeds are rinsed, transfer them to a paper towel and pat dry.

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On a foil lined baking sheet, toss the dried seeds with the EVOO, salt, and pepper. Using your hands is the best way to evenly coat the seeds.

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Roast at 400 degrees for 6 minutes, toss again, rotate the pan, and roast for another 5 minutes until browned. When they are done they will smell like freshly popped popcorn (so random but so delicious!).

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Eat immediately or store in an airtight container for a few days. These seeds are the perfect wintertime snack – they are warm, salty, crunchy, and earthy. So worth making at home! Plus, spaghetti squash seeds are packed with fiber, iron, magnesium, zinc, and good fats.

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This recipe is a basic one but I plan to experiment further by making this with fresh herbs, a spicy version with red pepper flake, and maybe a sweet version with cinnamon sugar. Stay tuned!

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Looking Toward 2015

Wow, see ya 2014!

I’m writing this post with some hesitation – I sort of feel like I didn’t do anything in 2014. I know I did, and I accomplished some huge goals, but because I scaled back on blogging and social media I almost feel like I don’t have a lot to show for the year – isn’t that terrible? I’m hoping that by reflecting in this post I will revisit all of the great things 2014 brought and all of the exciting things that will come with 2015.

My 2014 highlights include (in chronological order): celebrating one year of my morning workout routine, having some medical issues but ultimately being ok, getting a waffle maker and going nuts on waffles for the rest of the year, discovering massaged kale and spaghetti squash, celebrating Valentine’s Day at L’Espalier, going to a BC hockey game in a luxury box, discovering my new favorite restaurant: Sarmapassing my huge work/credentialing exam, discovering the best music video of the year: Turn Down For Whatroad tripping from San Francisco to Denver, obsessing over my favorite record of the year: Say Anything’s Hebrews, seeing Paramore and Fall Out Boy on the Monumentour with my friend Melissa, seeing my favorite movie of the year: Obvious Child, getting a Cat Tipi and sprucing up our living room, touring the USS Constitution twice before it was dry docked through 2018, going to the Arnold Arboretum, camping, getting real about blog burnout, celebrating Reggie’s 13th birthday, marking 3 years as homeowners, celebrating 7 years together with John, completing our bedroom makeover projectbooking our June 2015 Alaska cruise, going to a BC football game, seeing Lena Dunham speak at The Wilbur with my friend Nicole, being surprised by John with a beautiful birthday dinner at Clio, ringing in my actual birthday with prosecco at Lake George, taking a birthday road trip to The Adirondacks, reading my favorite book of the year: Yes Please by Amy Poehlergoing to Foxwoods for a friends weekend, seeing Louis CK in a secret show right in our town, seeing Say Anything, Saves The Day, and Reggie and the Full Effect, and in general, watching great TV shows (Orphan Black, Fringe, Broad City, Sherlock, The Fall, True Detective, Orange Is The New Black), doing a bunch of hot yoga, having a freelance job for 7 months, and finding new and engaging professional endeavors all year.

On to 2015! As you know, I am not a resolution person. I usually like to pick a theme and have that idea or concept guide me throughout the year. In 2011 it was Holistic Well-Being, in 2012 it was Balance, in 2013 it was Take Care of Me, and in 2014 it was Clutter-Free.

All of my goals for 2015 are interconnected. I didn’t realize it until I sat down to write this post but they all sort of fit like a puzzle. When I looked at all of my goals cumulatively the common thread is that simply doing the best I can is enough and every day should be a celebration of that (rather than a pity party or a should-have fest). I have a tendency to be a black and white person; all or nothing has been the name of my game. But in 2014 I learned that this prevents me from doing things, stops me from trying, boxes me in, restricts me from being open minded. This is, flat out, dumb. I want to try even if I fail. I want to start even if I can’t finish. I want to have goals even if I can’t do them perfectly. I want to have expectations but to change what meeting them looks like.

For my 2015 theme, I want to Do My Best which includes simply being enough and living in the gray areas of life a little more. Also:

1) Stay healthy and fit. No diets, no pant size goals or lbs. to drop goals. Just eat a nutritious range of foods, move my body, speak nicely to myself; making healthy choices every day.

2) Diversify every day food. Food ruts are real. So aren’t the way in which we eat food. I’ve been doing the same thing in regards to meal planning for 15 years (making all of my food for the week on Sundays, eating the same meals every day all week), and I’m so ready for a change.

3) Stop letting perfect be the enemy of the good. It’s ok to ask for help or to take shortcuts. It doesn’t mean I’m “cheating” or cutting corners, it means I’m being realistic about what I can and cannot do and that I’m placing value on my time, giving certain things energy and other things a pass.

4) Celebrate what’s right in the world. I feel like 2014 was full of things wrong with the world – war, suicide, racism, strife, hunger, drought, disasters, sadness, desperation, unfairness – but there is so much good too, it just doesn’t stick as much. The brain holds on to negative thoughts and sad stories more easily, but in 2015 I want to give more attention and acknowledgement to what’s positive and joyful in the world by celebrating small wins and finding ways to hold on to positivity and praise. Also, more random acts of kindness on my part as well.

5) Rediscover my passions, and do them for me rather than for credit. This includes so many things like finding new meaning and place in my life for blogging, forgotten hobbies, trying things I’ve never done before or that I have actively dismissed in the past. Ultimately my biggest goal is to follow the quote below and have that be a big factor in the 2015 theme.

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Some really specific things I’m looking forward to in 2015 are our Alaska cruise in June, setting and meeting professional goals, John graduating from grad school, my mother-in-laws’ retirement, and our trip to Las Vegas in October to celebrate those two things.

Onward, and Happy New Year!

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