April Foodie Penpals

Score!

If you haven’t figured it out yet — Foodie Penpals is one of my favorite things to participate in each month. This month I was treated to a box from a fellow East Coaster and blog reader, Michelle. Michelle — who unfortunately doesn’t have a blog, yet… — put my box together with a theme in mind. Her theme was “Jump, Jive, and Wail” — and she nailed it.

It's here, it's here!

The first item on her list was a package of locally roasted coffee that she assured me would make me “jump” with all of “its caffeinated goodness”. It didn’t take long for me to pull out my grinder and a pitcher to make up a batch of cold-brew coffee. Michelle wasn’t lying. It was delicious!

COFFEE!!!

Next up were 2 snack bars that she promised would make me “jive” thanks to their super healthy, yummy, organic ingredients. As much as I am trying to stay away from processed foods, one look at the ingredients list and I felt okay about throwing one of these in my purse to avoid a poor snack decision when I’m on the run.

Mmmm, chocolate!

Ooooh! Spicy!

The last two items she packed for me were a can of wasabi-coated peanuts and a package of roasted seaweed snacks — that were sure to make me “wail” thanks to a kick of “spicy deliciousness”. I’ve never had either of these snacks before, so I was really excited to try something new. And just as Michelle promised, they were both delicious.

Yum!

Thank you, Michelle for all the treats and the really thoughtful note. Everything was so yummy! Can’t wait until you get your own blog started (hint, hint)!

And as much fun as I always have opening up and trying everything in my box of treats, I had just as much fun putting together the box that I sent out to Hannah. I really hope she enjoyed her package as much as I enjoyed my treats from Michelle!

Want to see the other goodies I’ve gotten?

Want to join in the fun next month?
Lindsay of The Lean Green Bean organizes Foodie Penpals, so in her word’s here’s what it’s all about!

  • On the 5th of every month, you will receive your penpal pairing via email. It will be your responsibility to contact your penpal and get their mailing address and any other information you might need like allergies or dietary restrictions.
  • You will have until the 15th of the month to put your box of goodies in the mail. On the last day of the month, you will post about the goodies you received from your penpal!
  • The boxes are to be filled with fun foodie things, local food items or even homemade treats! The spending limit is $15. The box must also include something written. This can be anything from a note explaining what’s in the box, to a fun recipe … use your imagination!
  • You are responsible for figuring out the best way to ship your items depending on their size and how fragile they are. (Don’t forget about flat rate boxes!)
  • Foodie Penpals is open to blog readers as well as bloggers. If you’re a reader and you get paired with a blogger, you are to write a short guest post for your penpal to post on their blog about what you received. If two readers are paired together, neither needs to worry about writing a post for that month.
  • Foodie Penpals is open to US, Canadian residents & UK residents. Please note, Canadian Residents will be paired with other Canadians only. We’ve determined things might get too slow and backed up if we’re trying to send foods through customs across the border from US to Canada and vice versa. So, I’m going to keep two separate lists and match US w/ US and Canada w/ Canada!

    ***If you’re in the UK, please contact Carol Anne from This Is Rock Salt at rocksalt@thisisrocksalt.com to get involved!

If you’re interested in participating for May, please send an email to Lindsay at theleangreenbean@gmail.com and include the following information:

Your full name
Your email address
Your blog name/address
Your twitter handle (if applicable)
WHETHER YOU ARE A US RESIDENT OR CANADIAN RESIDENT. – this is SUPER important so she can get you on the right list!

** Lindsay will need to hear from you by May 4th as pairings will be emailed on May 5th! **

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Just a Little “Spring Cleaning”

As soon as I open up my front windows and blinds to let the fresh spring air in my apartment, I become overwhelmed with an urge to clean up.

And by “clean up”, I mean CLEAN UP. Everything. From dusting the light fixtures on the ceiling to changing over my comforters to cleaning out the fridge — no inch of my apartment is spared.

Well — that’s not necessarily true. Over the past few years, one part of my apartment has just become more messy. I am a hoarder of pantry staples. I can’t help it. Canned tomatoes, broth, pastas, rice — when my brands go on sale, I stock up. And then before I use them all, they go on sale again and I stock up all over again. And my cupboards — and my waistline — have suffered as a result.

So when I opened up my windows the other day, I took a good long look at what I had been avoiding and decided it was time to make a change.

Before: What's all that crap?

I cleared off my counter, grabbed my step stool, opened up the garbage can, and got to work.

Shelf by shelf, I pulled every single item out of the cupboard and made three piles: whole, unprocessed/bulk foods; whole, packaged foods; and processed crap. I allowed myself to keep three items from the “processed crap” pile — a pack of tootsie roll suckers, my can of milo, and a jar of chocolate-hazelnut spread. Oh — and a jar of hot giardiniera. I dare you to even try to pry that from this former Chicago girl’s hands. These items were then put high on the top shelf, which forces me to grab the stool in order to reach them — that takes some serious commitment right there.

The whole, packaged foods include my “larabars”, canned tomatoes, coconut milk, tuna (in water), whole grain cereal, steep cut oats, whole grain pasta, wasa crackers, raw honey, vegetable broth, and dried cherries and other fruit. I purged a few items that I either won’t use within the next 2 – 4 months, but simply reorganizing and taking stock of what I have on hand was a huge step. I tried to centralize these on the second shelf — easy to see and grab when cooking.

The last part was my favorite part. Pulling out my pretty OXO containers and organizing all of my bulk, unprocessed, whole food items — quinoa, rice, cornmeal, nuts, seeds, lentils, popcorn, nutritional yeast, and unsweetened coconut flakes. These containers went front and center.

After: All clean!

Much better. Not perfect — but better.

Knowing what I have on hand and keeping my cupboard and pantry well-organized definitely helps to get my one step closer to eating in a fresh and “clean” manner. And that’s exactly what I need right now.

Do you have any “spring cleaning” rituals? What are some of your favorite “clean” pantry staples?

Homemade Almond Milk

Making the decision to start eating “clean” wasn’t one I made lightly — I gave consideration to the foods I already have in my pantry and knew I didn’t want to throw anything away without cause, and I also started thinking about the cost going forward. Being on a fairly limited budget, creativity will be key. Luckily, I’ve become quite fond of the bulk foods aisles at my favorite grocery stores.

Another thing I was trying to be conscious of was my tendency to try to take on too many new recipes and goals at one time — often leading to frustration and a full garbage can of things that didn’t come out as I had hoped or expected. So this time around, I wanted to start with one new staple recipe. Once I’ve fully incorporated that into my routine, I will try something else.

Since dairy is one of the things that I’ve noticed that I’ve become more sensitive to lately, this homemade almond milk seemed a fitting place to start. While it may seem like an overwhelming and inconvenient thing to make on my own — I’ve actually found this version to be creamier and tastier than anything I’ve tried out of a “tetrapak”. While I haven’t given up cheese entirely, or a splash of milk in my coffee some mornings, I have started to reach for this more than anything else. It’s a keeper.

Learning whole foods at Whole Foods

Almond Milk
From: Whole Foods Market Healthy Cooking Class with Chad Sarno
Makes: 4 – 6 cups
Prep time: 5 – 10 minutes, plus soaking time for the almonds

Ingredients:
1 cup raw, whole almonds, soaked (please see note)
4 -6 cups cold water, filtered
1 tsp vanilla extract, optional
1 tsp date paste, optional

Directions:
Place the soaked almonds in your blender. Cover with the cold, filtered water. Add the vanilla and / or date paste –for sweetness — if desired.

Blend on high until almonds are fully pulverized.

Line a strainer or sieve with cheesecloth and pour the milk through, into a pitcher. Once all the liquid has passed through, carefully gather up the edges of the cheesecloth and squeeze remaining liquid through the strainer into the pitcher.

Just a little bit messy!

Promptly store in your fridge. The milk should be used within 2 – 3 days — just make sure to give it a quick stir before using.

Any amount you won’t use right away can be frozen. I highly recommend the medium Ziploc “twist & lock” containers for this, they are easy to stack and stay pretty well sealed. Just be sure to leave some room at the top to allow for expansion — and make sure to use within 1 – 2 months after freezing.

Additional notes:
The biggest key to making this work is the soaked almonds. To best soak the almonds, place them in a bowl or large measuring cup — my 2-cup Pyrex measuring cup works great. Cover with cold, filtered water and place in your fridge for at least 12 hours. 

I prefer to soak them for 2 days, rinsing them every 12 hours or so and replacing the water. Just remember, the softer the nuts — the easier the blending.

I’m not a big fan of waste, so I’ve been “dehydrating” the leftover almond pulp to use as almond meal in other recipes — like Elizabeth’s Paleo Crunch.

Straining the almond pulp

To do this, I simply spread the pulp out on a cookie sheet and let dry out in my oven — on the lowest temperature — for 1 – 2 hours.

What is your favorite whole food staple? Any favorite recipe?

Coming “Clean” — But Why?

The spring cleaning bug has me rolling on all cylinders. It started with organizing my desk, then my bookshelves, and then the pantry, and then dusting off my workout gear. My weights, yoga mat, Bosu ball, boxing gloves. I’m truly ashamed to admit how dusty they have all become over time. It’s more than enough to make it clear that something needs to change — my habits and my mindset. And if I want these changes to stick over the long-term, I need to really define the “Why?” behind making the changes.

When it comes to my health and fitness — defining a “Why?” should be easy. Right?

Wrong.

Is it about looks or all of the clothes that are now too small? Maybe. But I’ve been down that road before, and a smaller jean size doesn’t buy happiness outright. There is more to it than that.

Is it because I’m staring down the barrel of my 30th birthday? Maybe. But what will happen after the big birthday comes and goes? I don’t want to be facing 4-0 in the same place.

Is it because I feel like I’m stuck on pause while my friends and family are busy with weddings, babies, buying homes, making their last school loan payment while I’m just adding to mine? Maybe. But none of that is really about me. I’m really am happy for their successes and joys and I wouldn’t want it any other way.

The one thing I keep coming back to is that I miss my old life — the running, the surfing (ok — maybe that was more paddling and wiping out than surfing but still…), the yoga, the spinning, the hiking, the Wednesday nights playing beach volleyball by sunset. Part of me wants to resent my move to Boston because it forced me to give up my access to most of those things. But the truth is — if I really want to, there’s a way to do all of it here. It’s just going to take a little more work than it used to.

I may never get over the peace of being able to walk 20 steps out my front door and being able to run along the ocean for as many miles as my legs would carry me. And I’ll never forget those few months I could roll over in bed and watch the waves break, while I tried to drag my butt downstairs and into a wetsuit.

But there is nothing stopping me from making the short 10-minute walk down to the beachfront running path here. And there is nothing stopping me from teaming up with friends here that already surf to make the trek to the shore. And there is nothing stopping me from getting up 30 minutes earlier each morning to make some time for yoga. And there is certainly nothing stopping me from treating my stomach like a glorified garbage dump.

I know it’s completely unreasonable to expect perfection right out of the gate, but each new day is an opportunity to practice living as clean and healthy as possible. And you know that saying, “practice makes perfect”? One day at a time, I will work to make the changes that I need in order to get the results I want to see. And while I may never be 100% “perfect”, I’ll be damned if I’m not giving it one helluva try.

What is the first step you take when you need to “clean” things up a bit?

And They Called It “Puppy Love”…

Where are my manners?

If you keep up with me on Twitter you may have noticed some references to some new dude in my life, named “Payton”, starting back in December.

Everybody, I’d like to introduce you to the newest member of my household — Payton!

Let's all take a moment and say "Awwww!"

Our story actually goes back to last summer when my aunt kept going on and on about this dog, “Will”, at Animal House Shelter that she was desperately trying to get adopted. And of all the dogs she had mentioned to me, there was just something different about this one. One look at his pictures online and I was hooked.

I went back to Illinois to visit my family for a couple of weeks around my birthday and decided I wanted to go put in some volunteer time at the shelter — and finally get to meet this mutt that had already won me over.

We met. And I was hooked.

Smitten!

The only problem was that I live 1100 miles away and, thanks to some construction on my apartment, I was temporarily homeless and would be crashing with some friends for a while. Oh, and I wasn’t even sure if my landlord would give me the “okay” to ever have a dog. Minor detail.

So as much as I was already smitten, I had also accepted the reality that, by the time I got my stuff together, he would be long adopted. I was sure of it.

Three months passed, and suprisingly, “Will” had not yet found his “forever home”. My aunt had kept me posted, with regular updates and stories of him from each of her visits (she spent time with him every time she was there as a volunteer), and she was getting increasingly concerned that he hadn’t yet found his home. So, as I was getting ready to make another trip back to Illinois for the holidays, I started to give some more thought to the idea of bringing him home with me. The construction was at least finished in my apartment (the rest of the house was another story) and my landlord was usually pretty accommodating to my very rare requests, so I went ahead and asked. And he was all for it!

My flight to Chicago landed at 8:30 am and I was at the shelter with “Will” by 2 pm the same day. It quickly became clear what my priorities would be this trip. By the end of that first visit — 4 hours later — he was happily curled up on my feet and as calm as could be — so calm, in fact, that one of the staff members was slightly worried that he may be sick.

I didn’t take him home immediately. I had another 13 days in my trip and I was trying to organize the logistics of this decision in my head:

  • How am I getting him home to Boston?
  • Where will I be able to stay with him in tow the rest of my trip?
  • What can I adjust in my budget to cover his expenses?
  • Will he be able to adjust to Boston?
  • And lastly — What if they don’t approve my application? (That was possibly the dumbest fear I had — not only did I have my aunt as a reference and my landlord’s okay, I actually graduated from high school with one of the adoption counselors and I had his stamp of approval.)

So I quickly went to work — finding a rental car, canceling my return flight, mapping out the best route back east and tracking down a pet-friendly hotel along the way, shopping for all of the pet necessities (I couldn’t possibly bring him to Boston without a new Bruins rope toy…), and thinking about a new name.

That last one was actually the easiest. He’s a total sweetheart, ridiculously smart, and a great runner — very strong and kind of stealth. It seemed so obvious. Payton.

"I'll just lay here and cuddle for a while..."

Now please note — that’s PAyton. Not PEyton.

Just to prevent any confusion during football season...

"Seriously. How hard is that to remember?"

He’s named after one of the finest running backs Chicago — and football, in general — has ever known. Walter “Sweetness” Payton.

"That's right. This is MY house."

So on December 23, 2011 — the adoption became official. I went back to the shelter on Christmas day to pick him up — figuring it was best that I not expose him to the gaggle of nieces and nephews when he’s fresh out of the shelter.

"Go ahead cats, make my day..."

So we spent some time at my dad’s, made a quick visit to see my aunt, went to the vet and the groomer — and before I knew it, it was time to pack up the rental car and head back to the east coast!

Blue Steel, baby.

So stay tuned — you never know when Payton will make an appearance here!

"Puh-, puh-, puh-please put more pictures up, Mama..."

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