Wednesday, November 30, 2011

A December to Remember

With December right around the corner and a snowy weekend behind me, I am definitely getting into the holiday spirit. This weekend, Jeff and I are entering decoration mode (or at least I am, and he will assume the role of brawny man who helps carry the tree), and I'm planning to get quite crafty around the house. I've made my list and checked it twice, and can't wait to start shopping for gifts for my family, work Secret Santa, and more. I love this time of year, of gift giving and being with loved ones, and I'm excited to shop, bake, and create.

December always reminds me of the many holiday seasons past - when I've been out of school, with the fire roaring, something baking in the oven, and favorite tunes blasting from the stereo. While it never gets too cold in Marin, December is a wonderful occasion to be wrapped in a chunky sweater, lounging by the hearth with a good book, a delicious beverage, and a great family cat to snuggle with. I will be home for only a few days, the shortest "winter break" I've ever had, but I'm planning to make the very most of it. I have a new niece to fall in love with, lots of friends in town for the holidays, and great spreads of home cooking to look forward to.

December is even more special to me because four years ago today, Jeff and I got together, and a week later, went our separate ways for a month of winter break. It was during that time that I got to know this wonderful guy, through texting, phone calls, and Gmail chat conversations, and I believe that the month apart solidified the relationship that we would go on to have - one of great communication, mutual appreciation, and understanding of where we came from and who we are, both independently and together. While we won't be spending Christmas together this year, we'll be with our own families and missing each other, which we got way too good at last year, but which will make for a very happy New Year.



Monday, November 28, 2011

Thanksgiving, Sun Valley Style

Over Thanksgiving, Jeff and I escaped to Sun Valley, ID for a long, luxurious weekend. We had an absolute blast, and I can promise that the full report will be coming to you in multiple posts. First up? Food, of course! We ate and drank like royalty, taking the word "indulgence" to a new level.  Sometimes, it feels so good to just let yourself enjoy exactly what you want, especially when it's the holiday season and you've got fine dining on the menu.

A delicious bottle of red • Crunchy red grapes • My beautiful Thanksgiving plate • 
Gotta have my pumpkin pie •  Baked oatmeal • Butternut squash soup with creme fraiche and pancetta

Baked Oatmeal Recipe, adapted from Tasty Kitchen:
(Makes 6 servings)

2 cups peaches, peeled and thinly sliced
1/4 cup butter, melted
1/2 cup non fat milk
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups oats
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
Cinnamon to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees
Arrange peaches in a 9-inch baking dish, sprinkle with cinnamon
In a medium bowl, mix butter, milk, eggs, vanilla, and brown sugar
In a large bowl, mix oats, baking powder, and baking soda
Stir wet ingredients into dry ingredients
Pour over peaches and spread evenly
Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, until top is brown and crunchy


Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!


I am thankful for my health and the health of my loved ones. I am thankful for the special time I had with those who are no longer with us, especially my darling Aunt Susan and one of my favorite mothers, Serena.

I am thankful for this little life that Jeff and I have, and to be celebrating four years of love and togetherness. I am thankful to have had my partner by my side for some of the craziest times so far, to make me laugh, to be infectiously enthusiastic, and to remind me just how sweet life is.

I am thankful for the gifts my parents have given me – an education in school and in life. I am thankful to be so blessed, to have been able to follow my heart and achieve my goals, and to have the tools to continue to work for what I believe in.

I am thankful for my friends and family, near and far, who know me for me, who remind me constantly how wonderful it is to love people, and who bring out the very best in me. I am thankful to be in such incredible company.

I am thankful for Broadway tunes at the top of my lungs, for Bear, for a perfectly baked goodie, for belly laughter, for cuddling on a great night of television, for dancing, for a glass of wine after a long day, for down comforters, for fall leaves, for happy people, for love.


Monday, November 21, 2011

Sunday Supper

Sometimes, the best meals are the ones thrown together with what you've got in the kitchen. This was proven last night when Jeff and I were sent straight to the clean plate club thanks to a dinner of part fresh and part frozen foods that were all delicious.

Pork Chops with Béarnaise, Spinach Souffle, and Roasted Sweet Potatoes

(Makes 4 servings)

4 medium sweet potatoes
4 boneless pork chops
1 packet Knorr Bearnaise Sauce
1 cup non-fat milk
1/4 cup butter, plus a few tablespoons to taste
2 packages Stouffer's Spinach Souffle
Brown sugar to taste
Pepper and garlic powder to taste
Olive oil

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a cookie sheet with tinfoil, prick sweet potatoes with a fork and place on foil
Bake for 45-60 minutes, until tender
Heat olive oil in large skillet
Place pork chops, two at a time, in skillet and season on both sides with pepper and garlic powder
Cook on each side for 3 minutes or until no longer pink
Remove to plate and cover with tinfoil until ready to eat
Remove spinach souffle from box and remove foil, cook for 6 minutes, stir, cook for 6 more minutes
In a small saucepan, mix 1 cup milk, Bearnaise Sauce packet, and 1/4 cup butter
Bring to a boil, stirring frequently, reduce heat to simmer and allow to thicken for approximately 1 minute, stirring frequently
When potatoes are cooked, slice into rounds and add a little butter and brown sugar

And that's all folks! I would be a little embarrassed that two of my four dinner components came from a package, but it was so delicious that I don't even care. The bearnaise tasted pretty authentic to someone who's never made the real thing and the spinach souffle is a staple in my freezer (and a great choice for anyone who's on the fence about spinach). I'll be recreating this meal again in the future. Bon appetit!


Saturday, November 19, 2011

A Night in the Life

For all intents and purposes, I am an event planner. For the past two and a half years, I have organized events that raise money for kids, first at a girl's school in New York and now at a children's hospital in Idaho. I love what I do - not only does planning events feed my type A personality and desire for order, but there is no feeling quite like looking around a room full of happy people who are contributing to a wonderful cause and raising funds that truly make a difference. Last night was my first big event since starting my new job here in Boise, and it was a great success. Everyone was dressed to the nines, the decor was beautiful, the band was in full swing, and best of all, we were all there to celebrate the philanthropic efforts of members of our own community. Here are a few snapshots from what a night in my professional life looks like...

Setting up with fellow blogger and fundraising pro Annelise from Bye Bye Beehive • Rocking my ring corsage courtesy of Craig + Co. • The ballroom all dressed up • In our formal wear!


Wednesday, November 16, 2011

From Start to Finish

In the name of celebration and rewards for a job well done and completed, Jeff and I had ourselves a little pizza party last night. Pizza was our last meal before our gluten-free adventure began so it's only fitting that it would be our first meal back. As I mentioned, we're going to keep up the gluten-free life for the most part (I actually felt guilty when I considered ordering a normal sandwich yesterday, very odd how we become accustomed to things so easily), but we needed to commemorate the journey properly. Our whole wheat Boboli was smothered with sauce, fresh mozzarella, caramelized onion, turkey Italian sausage, and sauteed mushrooms. Happy groans and tummy rubbing ensued.


Monday, November 14, 2011

The Final Countdown

Today is the last day of our gluten-free challenge. Phew, we made it! It has been a great month and I'm really proud of what we've accomplished. Going forward, we're going to continue to eat gluten-free for the most part, but enjoy at least one dinner a week that doesn't follow the rules. For our final week, we tried gluten-free pasta, and I gluten-free sandwich bread, for the first time, escaped to Thailand for take-out, and enjoyed delicious home cooked meals. Here are the recipes that I created in the kitchen:
Pumpkin Sage Pasta with Turkey Sausage and Butternut Squash

Recipe, adapted from Nat the Fat Rat:
(Makes 4 servings)

1 box gluten-free pasta (I used rotini rice pasta)
4 turkey Italian sausages, cooked and sliced
1 large butternut squash
3 cups cooked spinach (one bag of fresh spinach)
5 tablespoons olive oil
2 gloves garlic, finely chopped
1 teaspoon dried sage
1 cup canned pumpkin
1 cup water
1/2 cup brown sugar
Salt and pepper to taste
Olive oil to taste
Parmesan cheese for garnish

Preheat oven to 400 degrees
Peel and cut butternut squash into 1-inch pieces, toss with olive oil, salt and pepper
Pour onto baking sheet and put in oven for 30 minutes or until soft
Bring water to boil in large pot
Add pasta to boiling water and stir freqently for two minutes
Cover pasta pot and turn stove down to simmer for 15 minutes or until pasta in cooked
Drain pasta and transfer into large bowl
Saute garlic and sage in olive oil in a pan over medium-high heat

Add pumpkin and water
Whisk together until combined
Stir in brown sugar
Season with salt and pepper to taste

Add squash to pasta, pour sauce over and stir to combine
Top with sliced sausage, spinach, and Parmesan cheese

Disclaimer: It is rare that I don't love, on some level, a meal that I make. I had read Natalie's post about her famous pumpkin sage pasta and couldn't wait to make it. Maybe because I didn't follow the recipe to the letter, or because I used fairly flavorless gluten-free pasta, it didn't turn out tasting too impressive. It had very little flavor, so I was happy for the additions of squash, sausage, and spinach. I will definitely be trying this again, and next time following her recipe - I want to love this pasta!

Turkey and White Bean Chili

Recipe, adapted from Martha Stewart and originally blogged about here:
(Makes 4 large servings)

1 large onion, diced
1 pound lean ground turkey
2 cans reduced sodium white beans
1 cup canned diced jalapenos or green chiles
1 can reduced sodium chicken broth
1 cup frozen corn
1 lime
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1 avocado, sliced
Chili powder or cumin to taste
Olive oil

In a large pot, add white beans, jalapenos or chiles, chicken broth, frozen corn
Bring contents of pot to a boil for a few minutes, reduce heat to simmer and cover
Heat olive oil in large skillet
Add diced onion and cook until soft, then move to pot
Heat olive oil in large skillet
Add ground turkey and cook, breaking up with a wooden spoon, then move to pot
Season with chili powder or cumin
Continue to simmer for 25-30 minutes or until thickened to your liking
Top with sliced avocado, lime juice, and cheddar cheese

Pork Chops and Saffron-Veggie Rice

(Makes 4 servings)

1 package VIGO yellow saffron rice (found in ethnic food section at local supermarket)
2 cups water
2 green zucchini, chopped
1 red pepper, chopped
1 yellow pepper, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
4 thin cut pork chops
Olive oil
Salt, pepper, and garlic powder to taste
Hot sauce to taste

In a large pot, bring 2 cups of water and 2 tablespoons of olive oil to boil
Add package of rice and stir
Reduce heat to simmer, cover, and cook for 20 minutes
Heat olive oil in large skillet
Add vegetables and cook until soft (I added first onion, then peppers, then zucchini)
When rice is cooked, stir vegetables into rice and continue to simmer, season with salt, pepper, and garlic powder
Heat olive oil in large skillet
Add pork chops, two at a time, and cook for 3 minutes on each side or until white inside
Move to a plate and cover with tinfoil until ready to serve
Scoop rice onto plate, add hot sauce, add pork chop


Thursday, November 10, 2011

Bringing City Back

Weekend mornings in New York were usually defined by sleeping in, throwing on something comfy, and walking to the nearest establishment to get in line for coffee and breakfast with the rest of the drowsy 20-somethings in the city. If this sort of culture exists in Boise, I have yet to see it. So in the city spirit last weekend, Jeff and I bundled up, got the pup on his leash, and strolled through the North End in pursuit of hot espresso. The walk was about a mile and a half each way, along tree lined streets, passing just a few neighborhood folks grabbing their newspapers or raking leaves. It couldn't have felt more different than walking the same distance in New York, from 54th and 8th to the American Museum of Natural History, with taxis whizzing by and sidewalks filled with strollers and noise. Yet, with lattes in hand and the sun shining, I was transported to a better version of the Big Apple, especially because despite the change in location, we were still in our Saturday morning routine.

(photos by Jeff)


Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Birthday Blog

It's been a little over three years since I started this blog, and it's almost unbelievable to me how much life has changed since then. In October 2008, I was still technically in college, living in Portland, dreaming of moving to New York to find a job in PR, and missing someone like crazy. In November 2011, I chose a career in development after covering the map with internships, I live in Boise, I had an incredible and surreal three years in New York, and I get to see that special someone every day. It has been hilarious, maddening, emotional, fantastic, and if given the opportunity, I doubt I'd change a thing. With life changes come blog changes, but I still love visiting it every day and hope that with time, it will continue to grow and evolve just like I have. And three years after starting this blog, I'm finally ready to make a web-based commitment. I recently purchased the URL so that my blog can become a real, live site. Who knows where it, or I, will be in another three years, but I hope to still be blogging about what I love with all of you. Happy birthday, From A to Zoë!

When the going gets tough, to always laugh, and always play, and remember how fantastic life can be.
(From the first blog post: October 5, 2008)


Sunday, November 6, 2011

Three Weeks Down...

It's hard to believe that tomorrow will mark the beginning of our last week of the gluten-free challenge. Time has certainly flown by! After temptations in Portland, Jeff has been having more cravings for pizza, bagels, and sandwiches. I guess that's all part of the deal - this is a test to see if we like eating gluten-free and if we can actually pull it off - so daydreaming about all the foods we can't eat is par for the course. I'm continuing to love it and feel good. Like I mentioned before, it's the consciousness of what I'm eating that I'm enjoying the most, coupled with the new and unique foods I'm attempting to cook. Last week, Jeff and I ordered in Mexican one night (mole enchiladas all around) and ate out (carne asada for him, steak salad for me, and lots of french fries). It's frustrating to look at a menu and see lots of things that you can't eat, but we've been lucky to frequent spots with gluten-free options.

I also made two dishes for dinner, both instant favorites. I learned that polenta is my new best friend, and Jeff compared it to macaroni and cheese! My pork chops came out perfectly cooked (shocking, I know), so I will definitely be making more of them. The second meal is a regular of mine, a creation I started making in New York when I needed something easy and quick of which I could have lots of leftovers. This was my first time putting it over rice, which was a nice, but not necessary, addition.

Pork Chops and Roasted Vegetables over Cheesy Polenta

Recipe, adapted from EatingWell:
(Makes 3 servings)

1 butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1" pieces
1 onion, sliced
8 ounces mushrooms, sliced
1 cup cornmeal
1 cup water
2 cups chicken broth (reduced sodium if possible)
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
1/2 cup crumbled goat cheese
3 pork chops
Garlic powder and pepper to taste
Olive oil
Preheat oven to 500 degrees
Cover a large cookie sheet with tinfoil
In a large bowl, toss the vegetables in olive oil and pepper
Pour onto cookie sheet and bake for 30 minutes or until soft
Combine chicken broth and water in a saucepan and bring to a boil
Whisk cornmeal into liquid
Reduce heat to low and cover
Cook, stirring occasionally, until thick and creamy (10 to 15 minutes)
Stir in cheese
Remove the polenta from the heat, serve promptly
While polenta is cooking, heat olive oil in a skillet
Season pork chops on both sides with garlic powder and pepper
Cook in skillet, approximately 4 minutes on each side or until chops are no longer pink inside
Spoon polenta onto plate, top with pork chop and generous spoonfuls of veggies and enjoy!

Zoë's "Gumbo"

(Makes 4 servings)

1 can low/no sodium beans (I always use white beans, but realized right before starting to cook that I only had black! I recommend white beans)
1 can low/no sodium diced tomatoes
1 onion, sliced
8 ounces mushrooms, sliced
4 chicken or turkey Italian sausages, sliced (I use fully cooked usually)
2 cups brown rice
1 3/4 cup water
Garlic powder, chili powder, pepper to taste
Olive oil
On medium, heat olive oil in a large skillet
Add sliced onion and cook, stirring frequently until softened
Add mushrooms and continue cooking until both vegetables are soft
While vegetables are cooking, drain beans and tomatoes, pour into medium sized pot, and heat
When cooked, add mushrooms and onions to pot
Using the skillet from the vegetables, heat sausages until browned
Add sausages to pot and cook all ingredients together until thickened and hot, approximately 10 minutes
Season ingredients with garlic powder, chili powder, and pepper


Saturday, November 5, 2011

Go Red

On Thursday, I was lucky enough to be invited by a co-worker to Boise's Go Red for Women Luncheon. Every year, American Heart Association branches in cities across the country throw these events to bring women together and educate them about heart disease. I will be the first to admit that I had no idea that heart disease is the number one killer of women, and even when learning that fact, I didn't believe that it could affect me or women around me. It still shocks me to think - heart disease will take the lives of more women than all types of cancer combined, 1 in 3 to be exact. I'm fortunate to be from a place full of healthy people who choose a life of exercise, eating right, and not smoking, but that doesn't mean that this won't have an impact on me and the people I love. We heard from brave women who had faced stroke or heart attack at a young, seemingly healthy age and were strong enough to fight through it and lucky enough to have great healthcare. We were quizzed on our health and heart knowledge by keynote speaker, Beth Malasky, a cardiologist at Boise's St. Alphonsus's Hospital. We learned a Zumba routine and heard about the trials of Moses Kinikini, an Idaho resident who appeared on The Biggest Loser with his daughter and struggled to go from a future of obesity to a healthier weight and longer life. I felt very empowered sitting in that room filled with women who had taken the first step to living healthy - choosing to learn something about how to take care of themselves. I hope that everyone reading this post, male or female, can turn to the women in his or her life and tell them a little something about heart disease and how imperative it is for us to be educated and live heart healthy. And to all the close friends and family reading this, it should be known that I wore a fire engine red top to this event and I think it's my new favorite color. See? Going Red really is for everyone.

Do These Four Things Today:
  • Stop smoking! I know it's not easy, but enough said. Stop smoking today and your body will start to rebuild itself and show signs of a healthier heart in two weeks.
  • Go to the doctor! Everyone should know their vital signs, know what's healthy and what could use some work. 
  • Nourish your body! Eating heart-healthy foods - lots of fruits, veggies, fiber-rich whole grains, lean protein and low fat dairy - in the right proportions is easy, delicious, and can change your life.
  • Shake that booty! Getting between 10 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity and 20 minutes of moderate-intensity activity every day is all it takes. Another way to look at it? Three 50-minute Zumba classes a week. You'll sweat and learn how to move and groove.


Thursday, November 3, 2011

Adoring Autumn

As promised, I lovingly folded my summer tops, dresses, skirts, shorts, and sandals into plastic bins and sent them off to the garage abyss. The glass is always half full, however, because while I had to say farewell to my warm weather wardrobe, I got to see my beloved sweaters, coats, hats, and scarves after a long absence. The changing season is always exciting for me, and I love being greeted in the morning by the bite of cold air and the fresh fragrance of fall. Our street and yard are covered with yellow leaves and everyone has retreated indoors, front porch Adirondack chairs left lonely til next year. In fashion terms, fall and winter are my favorite seasons because I'm cozy, comfortable, and layered to the extreme. Here are a few looks I'm loving, and wearing: