Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Week Ahead... 12/31/12

I'm so excited because it almost New Year's Eve!!

That means that many of my good friends will be coming over. I hope everyone has a great night and an even better new year.

Menu for the Week of December 31, 2012

Monday: Herb-Roasted Leg of Lamb, mashed potatoes, layered salad, cherry pie

Tuesday: quinoa with stuff
  • prep baked beans and squash
Wednesday: first meal from Nourishing Meals (sample meal day 2) apple cider baked beans, roasted delicata squash, kohlrabi apple slaw
  • prep meatballs, potatoes, and vinaigrette
Thursday: Kale Meatballs, potato salad

Friday: Curried Spinach and Chickpeas with rice (or quinoa)

Saturday: Slow-Cooked Chicken Curry

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Friends, Pasta, and Veggies

I don't have many friends, but I'm very close to the ones I do have. What's funny is that we'll go months without talking with each other, except for the occasional comments on Facebook, but when we do see each other it feels like we haven't missed any time. Most importantly is that we're always there for each other. There isn't a thing one of us wouldn't do for the other. I love that! I feel so blessed to have them.

For the past nine years we've gotten together for the new year celebration. We gather at someone's house and spend a few nights there. In the early years we would just hang out. Now there are lots of kids so we spend time entertaining them. But, it's an experience I wouldn't trade. I wouldn't want to spend New Year's Eve with anyone else.

The celebration will likely be at my house this year (extenuating circumstances have made it so that we don't know for certain yet.) I'll probably do a fancy dinner and an easy dinner. This recipe for pasta with veggies may be the easy one! This is a standard recipe for our house because it's easy, delicious, and healthy!

Somebody likes to steal raw zucchini off the cutting board!
Pasta with Veggies
Served 4

  • olive oil
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 1 zucchini, sliced (2 if small)
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes (multi-color ones are prettiest!), sliced in half
  • spinach, chopped (about 2 big handfuls)
  • basil
  • oregano
  • salt
  • pepper
  • goat cheese (optional)
  • pasta

  1. Start water for pasta. Cook pasta per the package directions. The veggies will typically be done around the same time as my pasta (which takes 10 minutes.)
  2. Cook onions and zucchini in oil over medium heat. (I put the onions in the pan and get them going while I cut the zucchini.)
  3. Once the onions and zucchini have started to soften, add garlic and stir for about 30 seconds, then add tomatoes and cook until soft and some liquid has released. I usually add a few tablespoons of pasta water to the veggies, as the starch in the water gives the veggies a creamier feel.
  4. Add the spinach and let it wilt.
  5. Add basil, oregano, salt, and pepper to the veggies.
  6. Serve the veggies over the pasta and sprinkle goat cheese on top.
  7. This can also be served over spaghetti squash instead of pasta; that's what I've been doing lately since I am temporarily grain free.

This recipe was shared on Diet, Dessert and Dogs Wellness Weekend, Vegetarian Mamma's Gluten Free Friday, and Allergy Free Alaska's Whole Food Fridays.

Monday, December 17, 2012

The Week Ahead... 12/17/12

I'm super-excited because my blog is almost to 1,000 hits since my first post in October! If you're enjoying this blog, please consider subscribing using the "follow me by email" field on the right side. Also, consider following me on Pinterest using the button on the right.

I'm way behind on planned blog posts and have not posted a new recipe in way too long. I hope to remedy that later this week but for now I'll leave you with this week's menu.

Menu for the Week of December 17, 2012

Monday: Beet Salad

Tuesday: cuban-style rice and beans (from my nutritionist's cookbook)

Wednesday: leftovers

Thursday: Salad Spring Rolls and Lightly Curried Parsnip Soup

Friday: hot dogs and baked beans

Saturday: Slow Cooker Honey Sesame Chicken

Sunday, December 9, 2012

The C Word You Never Want to Hear and The Week Ahead... 12/10/12


The surgeon didn't have the guts to say the word to me when he told me over the phone that the lymph node was positive. It was a day later when my dermatologist called to see how everything was going. I told her the sentinel lymph node was positive. She said it... the C word we all fear. Mine was skin cancer; melanoma, to be precise. I was 28 years old.

When I was 26 or 27, I had gone to my general practitioner about a mole on my arm. She said it didn't look bad. When I was 28 a dear friend was really concerned about the same mole and asked if I had seen a doctor. I told her I had and she urged me to go back, so I did. This time the doctor decided I should see the dermatologist.

My dermatologist was concerned and removed the mole as soon as possible and sent it to the local dermatopathology lab. The pathologist was concerned and sent it to an expert at Cornell who said it was suspicious enough that I should have a sentinel lymph node biopsy and that an expert at Harvard should also take a look at the mole.

The sentinel lymph node was positive, so I had another surgery where they removed 32 lymph nodes from my left armpit. They were all negative.

At the time the standard therapy for Stage 3 melanoma was a drug called Interferon. It was a month of heavy doses that made you feel like you had the flu, followed by a year of self injections where you didn't feel much better. There was also a clinical trial for which I was eligible and was somewhat geographically close. My oncologist felt that I should undergo treatment due to my young age but admitted that he didn't know what to recommend and sent me to a melanoma specialist at Johns Hopkins University, which is about an hour away. The specialist at Johns Hopkins concurred that treatment would be worthwhile. He explained the clinical trial and recommended that over Interferon.

The clinical trial was at the University of Virginia (UVA), which was about 2.5 hours from us. I would have an oncologist from UVA follow my case through the trial therapy. The therapy was free, the oncologist was not. My husband did tons of research and was able to convince my insurance company to pay for the UVA oncologist who was out of my network.

After a barrage of preliminary tests, including a brain MRI and a CT scan, I was enrolled in the trial. The trial was to see if vaccine therapy was the cure for melanoma. After preliminary testing and bloodwork, I went to UVA every Wednesday for six weeks and received a vaccine injection in my arm and upper thigh. They also took blood samples - 21 tubes one week! By week five the skin at the injection site on my thigh was showing significant immune response. By week six it had ulcerated, and I had to be removed from the study. I missed the last weekly vaccine and two boosters. The ulcer was about 2"x2.5" and took three months to heal. We went through boxes of gauze pads and cotton swabs, as well as many rolls of tape.

That vaccine trial has now closed and the final report has been written. It was not the cure but they learned a lot from it and still believe they're on the right path with a vaccine. I have a common side effect from the trial in that I have itchy red welts regularly form at the injection site. I take Zyrtec every day to prevent this.

In the years since I have had regular check-ups with my oncologist (not the UVA one anymore) and have had regular scans, alternating CTs and PETs. I visit the dermatologist every six months for a check-up.

This past week, at the age of 34, my oncologist released me from his care with a magic trick and a hug! Yes, I said magic trick. At the end of nearly every appointment he would perform a magic trick of some sort; in more recent years it's been a card trick. He's really good with slight of hand. His dad was a pediatrician who always showed kids tricks, so I guess he figured that if you're an oncologist it can't hurt to end an appointment with a little levity. Anyway, as much as I like him, I hope to never see him again.

So, this past week featured the C word everyone likes to hear... CELEBRATION! It feels like this chapter is now over.

What have I learned through this journey?
  • My husband is my rock. He was my advocate the entire time and never missed a doctor's appointment. He researched melanoma and understood all the options. He would give me the condensed versions so I never had to look at the scary statistics.
  • My friends and family are amazing. First and foremost is my friend who sent me back to the doctor; I believe she saved my life. I had visitors, flowers, and meals after surgeries. My mother-in-law was my nurse after the second surgery. My uncle, sister, and a family friend each drove me to UVA for routine visits so my husband didn't miss so much work.
  • The power of prayer. Wow! I had so many people praying for me, and many who I didn't know, but knew someone who knew me. It worked! Praise God!
  • To be thankful for modern medicine.
  • Wear sunscreen and encourage others to do the same. My girl scouts hear this from me so often!
  • Life is good!

Menu for the week of December 10, 2012

Monday: Sloppy Joe's, green veggie
  • prep black beans
Tuesday: Spanish Quinoa (from my nutritionist's cookbook)

Wednesday: leftover pork loin, leftover quinoa salad, and roasted potatoes, parsnips, and brussels sprouts

Thursday: leftover ham bean soup (from the freezer!)

Friday: holiday party #2

Saturday: Slow Cooker Vegetarian Chili

Monday, December 3, 2012

Allergies and The Week Ahead... 12/3/12

My husband had allergies as a child - most of the top eight and some others. He outgrew all of them except fish (not shellfish). So, it was no surprise when my son started spitting up every time we gave him carrots. His allergist determined that he had a sensitivity because the skin test was negative and the reactions were delayed. We had a few run-ins with carrots that were hidden in things like chicken stock, and some random reactions at daycare that we attributed to carrot contamination. Our pediatrician did prescribe an EpiPen, just in case.

His first series of skin tests were positive for peanut allergy, but his next one showed negative. We decided to wait until he was two to introduce peanuts. Around his second birthday I had my son lick a spoon of peanut butter. After five minutes his lip started to swell so I gave him some Benadryl and we considered him sensitive to both peanuts and carrots.

We had gone about ten months without any reactions, so we were hopeful that he had started to outgrow the sensitivities. But, Friday evening he landed in the ER with an anaphylactic reaction. Luckily, when we realized what was going on we were about two minutes from the hospital. When we were about one minute away we realized we should use the EpiPen, but opted to drive the extra minute instead of stopping to administer it. The pediatrician in the ER informed us (politely) that we should have used it as soon as we noticed his lip swelling. If there is a "next time" (which hopefully they're won't be) we'll know. He was discharged three hours later and was back to his normal self (despite the fact that it was 11 PM and way past his bedtime.)

I've witnessed one of my sister's anaphylactic reactions, but they looked different from my son's reaction; perhaps because he didn't really know how to tell us what was going on. Here's how my son's played out:

  • We finished dinner and after about 20 or 30 minutes he had a dry cough.
  • A few minutes later his lip started to swell so we figured we'd give him Benadryl when we got home.
  • About a minute later we were putting him in the car and my husband asked if anything itched. He said his tongue and started to get upset. At this point we decided to head for the hospital.
  • A minute later he started wheezing and we arrived at the hospital shortly after.
  • Within three minutes we were in an exam room and the nurse was administering epinephrine. He received a few other medications, including a breathing treatment, while were there.
  • He was on Benadryl and an oral steroid for the next two days.

So that was our <insert sarcasm> fun and relaxing Friday night.

Menu for the Week of December 3, 2012

Monday: Curried Spinach and Chickpeas (yes, we do eat this a lot)

Tuesday: quinoa with stuff (pan-fried halloumi, butternut squash, peas)

Wednesday: spaghetti squash with veggies

  • prep meatloaf and cut potatoes

Thursday: meatloaf, mashed potatoes, wilted chard with onions and dates

Friday: holiday party #1

Saturday: We are celebrating my mother-in-law's birthday and I'm thinking about making a pork tenderloin with sauce (she loves sauces!), quinoa salad of some sort, and a veggie. Dessert will either be a pie or a cake made with almond flour (I just bought Elana Amsterdam's cookbook.)

Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Week Ahead... 11/25/12

I hope everyone had a good Thanksgiving. I know I did! It even snowed in Pittsburgh! And, now we move onto the next holiday...

Christmas! Lights and decorations are already up in the neighborhood. We purchased a new artificial tree today as our old one is too short for our "new" house (we moved almost 2 years ago.) We'll be decorating throughout the week as we are hosting a party next week.

One of my favorite events of the Christmas season is cookie baking day. My mom and my two sisters and I spend a day making cookies. We typically make about eight different varieties, even a gluten and dairy free one.

What are you looking forward to this Christmas season?

Menu for the Week of November 25, 2012

  • prep meatballs and portions of sauce
  • remove beets from freezer
Tuesday: Beet Salad

Wednesday: quinoa with stuff (likely spinach, adzuki beans, and apple)
  • prep shepherd's pie
  • prep sweet potato foil packet tacos

Saturday: ???

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Thanksgiving Reflections and Cranberry Coffee Cake

Sometime in my teens Thanksgiving became my favorite holiday. There's a certain emotional warmth that comes with Thanksgiving. The warmth of being together with people who love and care about you. The warmth that comes with a day where you come together just to be thankful. It's quite restorative, for me at least.

Thanksgiving is also special because it was my father's favorite holiday. He, too, loved that it was a low-key holiday where you were surrounded by loved ones. He passed away eight years ago, but he's always present in my mind on Thanksgiving Day.

My mom started a new "tradition" a few years ago where everyone at the dinner table shares one thing for which they're thankful; it's one of the highlights of the day for me. This year I'm thankful for my middle sister. She's had a rough year, but the way she's dealt with it all has been inspirational, especially the last few months.

The recipe below is another family tradition as my mom always made it for Thanksgiving breakfast. It was originally a Bisquick recipe, but a few years ago I didn't have any Bisquick but wanted coffee cake, so I engineered it into this version. Last year I substituted Living Without's Self-Rising Flour Blend for the all-purpose flour and it tasted exactly like it was supposed to!

Happy Thanksgiving and safe travels!

Cranberry Coffee Cake

  • 1-1/2 cups flour (I use Living Without's Self-Rising Flour Blend)
  • 3 tsp baking powder
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup shortening
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1/2 cup milk (I used almond)
  • 1/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 2/3 cup whole berry cranberry sauce
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Grease and flour 8”x8” pan.
  2. Whisk flour, baking powder, and sugar.
  3. Cut in shortening.
  4. Blend in egg and milk. 
  5. Spread batter in pan.
  6. Mix brown sugar, walnuts and cinnamon; sprinkle over batter. Spoon cranberry sauce over top.
  7. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes. Drizzle glaze over cake and serve warm. 
This recipe was shared on Diet, Dessert, and Dog's Wellness Weekend and Gluten Free Fridays.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Traveling and The Week Ahead... 11/19/12

We'll be traveling this week for Thanksgiving. Between a gluten- and cow-free person and a 2.5 year old, we bring a lot of our own food. We have a 4.5 hour drive to Pittsburgh, so we typically stop some place for lunch and it's easier to pack lunches. We also bring supplemental food for the rest of trip, just in case. Below is a list of the items we typically bring with us:

  • hummus
  • veggie straws
  • deli meat
  • individual fruit cups (mandarin oranges, peaches)
  • mozzarella cheese sticks
  • leftovers (probably 2-3 servings)
  • dried mango
  • individual cups of strawberry yogurt
  • cereal
  • Lara Bars & granola bars
I'll be bringing two pies for Thanksgiving Day, pumpkin and pecan. Both will be GF, per the method in my previous post. If you have difficulty finding the crust recipe, I've pinned it to my "Food - Dessert" Pinterest board. Unfortunately, my nutritionist recommended this past week that I try grain free (except quinoa) for a few months, so I won't be eating much of the traditional fare, including pie.

Menu for the Week of November 19, 2012

Monday: veggies over quinoa pasta

Tuesday: beet salad
  • prep slow cooker
Wednesday: slow cooker sausage, spinach, and beans over quinoa

Thursday: Thanksgiving yumminess

Friday: ??

Saturday: pizza

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Making Salads Fun, or How I Got My Spring (Rolls) On

There are very few women where I work as the construction industry is still a male-dominated field. We currently have two female engineers, and three women in the "front office" (admin, marketing, etc.) out of 22 employees. I was the lone female engineer for many years until recently.

Because there were so few women, we used to have "ladies' luncheons". For a while we did it once a month, and then it tapered off to just a few times a year. The person who spearheaded them, we'll call her AD, has left for new endeavors so I don't know if we'll have any more. We would always pick a theme and everyone would bring in a portion of the meal. When I went gluten and cow free every item conformed to my new eating plan (not a diet) and that was pretty awesome. We had a woman who was vegan for a while, so we did vegan luncheons a few times.

AD's mom is Vietnamese and so she grew up eating, and making, Vietnamese food. I had bought a package of spring roll wrappers, which I knew AD knew how to use, so we decided on spring rolls for the last ladies' luncheon we had. AD showed us the ropes for re-hydrating the wraps and filling and rolling them.

I enjoyed the spring rolls so much that I make them at home quite often. I do not make authentic spring rolls, but rather, something I call a "salad spring roll" which is basically whatever I have around, wrapped up. It's far more fun than plain salads!

Salad Spring Rolls
  • spring roll wrappers
  • rice vermicelli (authentic, according to AD) or bean threads (what I use because that's what my grocery store had)
  • greens of some sort, typically spinach
  • something sweet (mango, pear, apple), sliced in thin strips
  • something crunchy (cucumber, apple, red pepper), sliced in thin strips
  • shallow plate filled with water (I use a pie plate)
  • dipping sauce (optional) - I use this one, although salad dressing would also work!
  1. Cook the noodles according to the package directions and set aside.
  2. Dip the wrapper in the water so that it is wet. You don't want to put it in the water and saturate it. Let the excess water drip off and move it to your work surface. I like to use a wood cutting board. The wrapper will still be stiff, but will soften over the next minute.
  3. Once the wrapper starts to become pliable, pile the filling near one edge. By the time you've put your filling in, the wrapper should be completely pliable.
  4. Roll the edge over the filling. Then fold in the sides and continue to roll.
The filling for the spring rolls in these photos is spinach, pear, apple, red pepper, and bean threads.

This recipe was shared on Diet, Dessert, and Dog's Wellness WeekendGluten Free Fridays, Allergy Free Alaska's Whole Food Fridays, and The Daily Dietribe's 5-Ingredient Mondays.

Products I use
Re-hydrating the wrapper
Don't saturate!
Let the excess drip off
Filling and rolling
Pile filling near edge
Roll edge over filling, fold in sides
Continue rolling!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Week Ahead... 11/12/12

I'm watching Iron Chef and the challenge is leftover Thanksgiving. I just realized that this holiday is only two weeks away. Last year was my first time cooking Thanksgiving and I did a pretty good job. It was also my first gluten and dairy free Thanksgiving. In my family, the only gluten containing items are the gravy, stuffing, and pies. I used a GF all purpose flour in the gravy.

I made a small portion of stuffing for myself and it was delicious! My mom has always made her stuffing from leftover pieces of bread that she saves throughout the year, so that's what I did as well, it just happens to be all GF bread.

For the pecan pie (my favorite), I used my standard pie crust recipe with the high-protein flour mix from Living Without and Earth Balance. Since then I've realized that the pie crust method from Cook's Illustrated makes an awesome GF crust with that same high-protein flour mix. I used Healthy Top but will likely try the coconut cream this time around.

This year we will be with my in-law's. I haven't coordinated yet, but I'm thinking everything will work approximately the same as last year.

Menu for the Week of November 12, 2012
I have a late appointment on Wednesday, so leftovers will be easiest. My husband will be spending the weekend at Penn State for his annual boys weekend with his college roommates. I haven't decided what to do for the weekend, so I'll leave Saturday unplanned for now.

Monday: Kale Meatballs with potato salad

Tuesday: chard with dates, roasted brussels sprouts, rolls

Wednesday: leftover ham bean soup with corn bread

  • prep butternut squash

Thursday: Butternut Squash Pasta

Friday: hot dogs and baked beans

Saturday: ???????

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Man, am I beet, errrr, beat...

(I've added two gadgets to my blog. One is a "Follow by email", and another is a "Follow me on Pinterest". Both are located in the sidebar to the right.)

What a week it's been! Not many things have gone according to plan, including my bed time. I cannot wait for the weekend.

In my last post I promised that I would soon have a post NOT about squash. This is it! This recipe for beet salad is amazing and easy. It has become even easier now for me...

My husband did the grocery shopping a few weeks ago. The list said to buy 3-4 beets, and he did. But one of the beets was the largest beet I have ever seen! It was the size of 3-4 beets. (Unfortunately, I forgot to take a picture.) Knowing that we would not eat that many beets before they went soft, I went ahead and cooked them all and tried freezing them. Much to my surprise, they defrost beautifully, which speeds up making this salad!

This recipe calls for pre-cooked beets. I've accomplished this a few ways over the years. Until recently, I usually steamed them in the microwave, per the method described in Joy of Cooking. Sometimes I'd just buy the steamed beets from the refrigerator section of Trader Joe's. Now I use my pressure cooker, which will likely be the subject of one of my kitchen gadget posts :-)

As an aside, my 2.5 year old son LOVES beet salad. He does not want a salad unless it has beets in it.

Beet Salad
Serves 4

  • olive oil
  • 1 small onion, sliced
  • 2-3 cooked beets, sliced
  • 1-2 tomatoes, depending on size
  • 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • spinach, fresh
  • fresh herbs (optional), my favorite are mint, chives, and basil
  • goat cheese (optional)
  • pumpkin seeds (optional)

  1. Saute onion in olive oil over medium heat. I use a little more oil than I normally would as this becomes the dressing.
  2. Once the onions are sauteed, add in the beets, tomato, balsamic vinegar, and salt and pepper. Cook on low until everything is warm, usually about 5 minutes.
  3. Serve beet mixture over spinach. Top with fresh herbs, goat cheese, and pumpkin seeds.
This recipe was shared on Diet, Dessert, and Dog's Wellness Weekend, Gluten Free Fridays, and Allergy Free Alaska's Whole Food Fridays.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Week Ahead... 11/5/12

As I've mentioned before, I'm a Girl Scout leader. I have a troop of eight high school girls (seven 11th graders and one 10th grader.) I have two co-leaders, and none of us have girls in the troop. In fact, we're all in our early 30s, and two of us have young boys.

I had a wonderful weekend with my Girl Scout troop. My co-leader's mom has a house at Lake Anna, VA and she graciously let us stay there for a fun overnight! Mainly the girls got a chance to be girls. They talked, fished, drove the golf cart, made fires, ate s'mores, and talked some more.

We did work on our Sow What Journey, which explores food and the environment. We discussed making a hotbox to sow seeds in and then growing them in window gardens. We also had a "Chopped Challenge" which was basically like a team version of the show Chopped. I was blown away by their creativity and cooking skills. I have lots of notes and pictures, so I'll be blogging on that in the future, even though it wasn't gluten and diary free.

Menu for the Week of November 5, 2012
What's up this week, folks? ELECTION DAY (at least in the US)! That's right, I'm excited to exercise my responsibility to vote. I don't care who you vote for, I just hope you vote. Some people consider it a right, but I think it's my responsibility as a citizen. I will be voting after work, so we'll be eating leftovers that night.

Monday: Curried Spinach and Chickpeas with rice (it didn't get made last week)

Tuesday: leftovers
  • prep Wednesday meal

Wednesday: Kale Meatballs with potato salad

Thursday: scrambled eggs or leftovers

Friday: salad spring rolls with Trader Joe's frozen biryani

Saturday: Ham Bean Soup

Friday, November 2, 2012

Gadgets... "Degunking" Squash

Hurricane Sandy has come and gone. We were spared most of it in Northern Virginia, just a lot of rain and wind. We were fortunate enough to not lose our power, nor did we have any water in our basement. Our thoughts are with those who have not fared as well.

We spent two days inside the house, which was challenging at times with a 2.5 year old who loves to play outside. We made these bars, practiced trick-or-treating, built lots of Mega Blok tunnels, read books, ran trucks around the house, and watched Fireman Sam.

It was rather odd to wait out a hurricane at the end of October. I associate Fall with a lot of things, but hurricanes are not one of them. Fall is for leaves, raking, Halloween, apple cider, and, of course, squash.

I promise to someday post about something other squash... but not today. Today I'm sharing my favorite tool for cleaning the seeds out of squash, or degunking, as I like to call it.

HIC Serrated Grapefruit Spoon - Single Spoon
The Lowly Grapefruit Spoon

That's right folks, the lowly grapefruit spoon is a squash-lovers best friend. Otherwise relegated to one task during the winter months, the shape is perfect and the serrated edge helps to cut away the strands. It also works well for cleaning seeds out of melons, such as cantaloupe. Best of all, the price is right!

Happy degunking!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Frankenstorm and the Week Ahead... 10/29/12

I live in Northern Virginia and we are preparing for the Frankenstorm (yes, that's really what they're calling the mesh of hurricane Sandy, a nor'easter, and a full moon a few days before Halloween.) We've moved things off the deck, brought the grill closer to the house, fixed downspouts and splash blocks, cut branches that used to scrape on the house, and removed the screens from our new windows. We have pitchers of water, a bath tub full of water, plenty of propane for the camp stove, flashlights, and cans of food. I think we're all a bit on edge in this area after this summer's derecho knocked power out for days. Schools are closed for the next two days, federal and local governments are closed, even public transit is shut down. The rain started a few hours ago... we'll see what really happens!

Menu for the Week of October 29, 2012
I've planned this week's menu to be pretty simple. I didn't want to buy a lot of perishables in case the power is out for a few days. I also wanted flexibility to make things on the grill or camp stove, if needed. Depending on the power situation, meals may switch around to different days.

Monday: hot dogs and baked beans
Tuesday: cuban-style rice and beans (from my nutritionist's cookbook)
Wednesday: Quinoa Stuffed Acorn Squash with Swiss Chard and Dates
Thursday: pasta with veggies

Friday: Curried Spinach and Chickpeas with rice
Saturday: leftovers (or must-goes, as one of my aunts calls them)

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Stuffed Acorn Squash (for Camping and Home)

Me, Karen, Duffy, and Allison at the falls.
This past weekend I went camping with three great friends. We left our husbands and children at home and communed with nature and caught up with each other. We went to Cunningham Falls State Park near Thurmont, MD. I was responsible for bringing dinners, and decided to make a variation on my mom's stuffed acorn squash for dinner on Saturday. She created the recipe for camping well before I was born. It was so good, though, that it's not just for camping. This recipe is just as easily made in the oven as on the campfire. My favorite thing about this meal is that it stays hot while you eat it - always good for a cold camping night!

I prefer to do all the prep work at home, so on Thursday evening I cut and cleaned the acorn squash, coated each half in oil, and wrapped each individually in heavy duty aluminum foil. Using the heavy duty kind of aluminum foil is important when cooking on a fire.

Next, I prepared the filling, let it cool, and packed it in a plastic bag. Both the squash and filling were refrigerated overnight and packed into a cooler on Friday morning, ready for camping!
Cleaned and oiled.
Wrapped up and ready to go!
Filling ready to go.
We did two hikes on Saturday, the first one was an easy jaunt to Cunningham Falls. The second one, Cat Rock Trail, was harder, but well worth it. Cat Rock is a rock scramble at the top of a large hill / small mountain. When you climb to the top of it you are rewarded with some beautiful views. Below are some pictures from our hikes.

After a lunch of Karen's homemade hummus with a variety of GF chips and carrot sticks, we went to the lake. Here are some pictures from that area.

It was an excellent trip with excellent friends. We are planning to do it again next year!

Stuffed Acorn Squash
Serves 4
  • 2 acorn squash
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 1 lb ground meat, I used pork this time
  • 1 can diced tomatoes
  • 1 cup cooked brown rice
  • oregano to taste
  • basil to taste
  • salt to taste
  • pepper to taste
  • 4 slices cheese, sharp cheddar is best
  1. Preheat oven to 375°F.
  2. Cut squash in half lengthwise. Remove seeds. Run inside of squash with oil. Place cut-side down on cookie sheet and put in oven.
  3. While squash is baking, saute onion. When the onion is translucent, brown the ground meat.
  4. Add the tomatoes, rice, and spices to the meat mixture.
  5. After baking for about 25 minutes, remove squash from oven, turn over, and fill with meat mixture. Cook for 20 minutes more.
  6. Place one slice of cheese on each squash half.  Return to oven until cheese is melted (about 5 minutes.)

Camping Method Notes

Before you leave:
  • Prepare meat mixture as described above, cool, and package for trip.
  • Cut and clean squash. Coat with oil and wrap individually in heavy duty aluminum foil. Package for trip.

About an hour before you want to eat:

Get a good bed of coals to cook on. Place the acorn squash (still wrapped in foil) cut-side down on the coals. You may want to rotate them or switch positioning, depending on the uniformity of your coals. When they start to soften, pull them off. I usually let the meat mixture sit out while the squash is cooking, just to take the chill off.
Unwrap squash and fill with meat mixture. Wrap in heavy duty aluminum foil (I typically use a new piece). Place in the coals cut-side up. Again, you may want to rotate them or switch positioning. When the squash has finished cooking and the meat mixture is hot, remove from the fire; I pulled ours off after 20 minutes and they were nice and hot. Unwrap each squash and place in a bowl (or plate) and top with a slice of cheese. Enjoy!

This recipe was shared on Allergy Free Alaska's Whole Food FridaysAllergy Free Wednesday, Gluten Free Fridays, and The Daily Dietribe's 5-Ingredient Mondays.

Monday, October 22, 2012

The Week Ahead... 10/22/12

I had a lovely and relaxing weekend camping with my friends, two from college and a newer friend. We called it Mom's Camping Weekend 2012. We spent two days in Cunningham Falls State Park in Maryland away from husbands and children. I'll have some stories, pictures, and, of course, a recipe from the trip coming up soon. But, before we get too far into the week, I'll share the menu!

Menu for the Week of October 22, 2012
My husband did not cook while I was away. This means I can use the easy meals I had planned for last week on Thursday and Friday of this week when I will be busy with Girl Scout events.
Monday: beet and spinach salad
  • prep adzuki beans for Tuesday and Wednesday
  • prep quinoa for Wednesday
  • prep dressing for Wednesday
Tuesday: Apple Pilaf with adzuki beans 
  • prep sweet potatoes for Wednesday
Wednesday: Adzuki Bean & Quinoa Kale Salad with Roasted Sweet Potatoes

Thursday: bison hot dogs, baked beans, salad

Friday: chicken nuggets, tater tots, green beans

Saturday: out to dinner after my mom's concert

Monday, October 15, 2012

More Intro and The Week Ahead

You know that ice breaker where everyone has to say two lies and one truth about themselves and then everyone has to guess which one is the truth? I actually really like that game - I think because it's fun to come up with a truth that sounds outlandish enough to be a lie, or vice versa.

Here are some of my favorite "truths" for the game:
  • My favorite vegetable is asparagus.
  • I have bungee jumped.
  • I have visited 17 national parks.
  • I love math and science.
  • I earned the Girl Scout Gold Award, the highest honor in Girl Scouts. 
  • I am a Girl Scout leader.

Outside of my not-so-outlandish "truths", my day-to-day life includes my wonderful husband of 11 years, James. We have a 2-year-old son that I'll refer to as EJ, for Engineer Junior. I hope it doesn't seem as though I'm pushing him toward engineering with that nickname. While he can build a mean tunnel with Mega Blocks, he also loves music, hockey (2-year-old version), and playing in the dirt.

I am an architectural engineer with a focus on mechanical systems. An architectural engineer is not the same as an architect. We focus on the engineering related to architecture, so structure, mechanical systems, electrical systems, and construction management. I design heating, ventilating, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems for commercial and institutional buildings, mostly renovations.

When I get home from work I have to take care of (play with!) EJ and get dinner on the table. Because I like to maximize my time with EJ every day, a lot of the dinners we eat have parts of the meal that can be prepared the night before or are rather quick to completely make.

I spend time every weekend planning our dinners for the entire week, keeping in mind any evening events, such as my Girl Scout troop meetings. I take the weather forecast into consideration by planning a casserole that I can pop in the oven for days that are nice so EJ and I can play outside.

Menu for the Week of October 15, 2012
I have an appointment Thursday evening, so an easy dinner is best. Friday and Saturday I'll be camping with my best buds, so James is chef those nights. I've planned easy, super-kid-friendly meals for him to prepare.

Monday: Spaghetti Squash Bake
Tuesday: Curried Spinach and Chickpeas with Rice
Wednesday: Pasta with Veggies
Thursday: Leftovers
Friday: Chicken Nuggets and Tater Tots
Saturday: Hot Dogs and Baked Beans

You'll rarely see a Sunday menu because my entire family goes to my mom's house for dinner almost every week!

I have some questions for you: (1) How do you save time planning and cooking? (2) What are your favorite "truths" for the game?

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Inaugural Post Pasta

I'm an engineer so I like to solve problems. I've always liked to cook. Combine those two together and you get my approach to cooking... find something interesting and tweak it until it's something better! Much of what I'll be posting here will be recipes that are inspired by other recipes. I generally make the recipe as written the first time and then tweak it after that.

A byproduct of engineering and a passion for cooking means I like kitchen gadgets. More on that in future posts...

About 18 months ago I visited a nutritionist who recommended I change my diet as a way to manage both rheumatoid arthritis and Crohn's disease. So, I've dropped gluten and all cow products (beef and dairy) as well as a handful of other things like soy, green peppers, and raisins. I've never really liked green peppers and raisins so that hasn't been a problem. I've also dropped acidic foods like tomato sauce. My health has increased dramatically; my arthritis rarely flares, and neither does the Crohn's. I've managed to learn most of what triggers my GI problems and what to do when I have a problem.

I'll introduce myself more over the next few posts, but I'll end this inaugural post with my first recipe: a creamy butternut squash pasta, reminiscent of macaroni and cheese. It's a cinch to pull together and you can do some prep the night before, if you choose. It's also unbelievable reheated the next day for lunch!

Butternut Squash Pasta
total time: 35 minutes once squash has been cut
  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, sliced thin
  • 1 can coconut milk, full fat
  • 1 butternut squash, approximately 2 lbs., "degunked", peeled, and cut into ~3/4" cubes (can do this the night before)
  • 16 oz bag brown rice penne pasta
  • 1-1/2 c fresh spinach, packed, cut
  • 2-3 tbsp goat cheese (chevre)
  • 1/8-1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp dried sage
  • salt
  • pepper
  1. Heat oil in a large pan over medium heat. (Use a pan that has a lid. I use a 13" brazier because my largest saute pan does not have a lid.)
  2. Add onions to pan and cook until translucent.
  3. Add coconut milk and butternut squash. Bring to a boil. Cover and reduce to a simmer for about 20 minutes.
  4. While the squash cooks, cook the pasta according to the directions. (I use Trader Joe's brand and it takes about 10 minutes to cook. Don't forget salt and olive oil in the cooking water! Stir often. And, I find that it's critical to rinse brown rice pasta in cold water after cooking.)
  5. Once squash is soft, use the broad side of a spatula or spoon to mash it. I like to mash all of the pieces, but you could leave it chunkier, if you choose.
  6. Stir in spinach and goat cheese. Keep stirring until the goat cheese melts.
  7. Add spices.
  8. Stir in rinsed and drained pasta. Cook for a few minutes to reheat the pasta.
 Inspired by

This recipe was shared on Allergy Free Alaska's Whole Food Fridays and Gluten Free Fridays!