Tuesday, January 29, 2019

new year goals ~ healthy eating

I don't make New Year resolutions or pick a word for the year...I'm not into that sort of thing as I feel I'm a work in progress every day, no matter the time of year. Thus said, I do set small goals for myself at the beginning of the year, and throughout. 

(Disclaimer: As a member of the Wayfair Homemaker program, I have been compensated for this post. All ideas and opinions are completely my own.)

If you're a regular follower of my blog, you'll know I'm into healthy eating. I'm not perfect with this (who is?) but it's something that's important to me and that I strive for. I make a lot of homemade dishes because that way I can control the ingredients that go into our meals. It's much healthier to eat at home using fresh, unprocessed ingredients than it is to eat out or to rely on overly-processed food or packaged products that are full of chemicals and preservatives.

Having a slow cooker is a game changer for me. And on cold days (by the way, I'm in Illinois where we're in the middle of record-breaking low temps...we could go down to -55F with the wind chill factor tonight and tomorrow!), it's wonderful to have an appliance bubbling the food away all day and making your house smell delicious and cozy. It's so easy to throw ingredients into a pot in the morning, press a button, be on your merry way, and then come home to a cooked meal. My old Crockpot worked fine, but the handle had broken off the glass lid, leaving two small holes in the top. I was using tape to cover the holes every time I used it! It was definitely time for a new one. Wayfair has many different slow cookers to choose from. I ultimately chose the Cuisinart 4 quart multi-cooker. I make many dishes where I saute the vegetables first before adding them to the slower cooker, or where I brown the meat on the stove first before adding to the slower cooker. With this multi-function cooker, you can saute your ingredients right in the pot simply by pushing the brown/saute button and then immediately switch over to cooking by pushing the slow cook button. How cool is that? No extra dishes to wash! It also steams food, but I haven't tried that function yet.

The first recipe I tried was one straight from the book that came with the slow cooker. It was for a brown rice and vegetable risotto. Sounded delicious and healthy, plus it'd give me the chance to try out the saute feature. I started out by sauteeing onions and tri-colored peppers, then adding the rice and other ingredients.

This is what the dish looked like when it was done. Looks delicious, right? Unfortunately, it wasn't. We weren't thrilled with the taste, and the texture of the rice wasn't quite right. It was still too chewy. Definitely not like a true risotto.

The second dish I made in my new cooker was a tried and true standby: Salsa Chicken. I started out by sauteeing - yes, right in the slow cooker! - sliced onions. You could easily add peppers to this, too.

With the saute feature still on, I added organic, boneless chicken thighs and browned them on both sides for just a couple of minutes. Then I switched the cooker over to slow cook.

Next comes the salsa. You can use either green or red ~ or a combination ~ which I did.

Pour the salsa on top of the chicken, put the cooker on low for six hours, and go about your day. When the chicken is cooked, shred with two forks. This is what it looks like when it's done. You can then serve over rice or quinoa or in tortillas ~ all with your choice of toppings: cilantro, green onions, sliced radishes, avocado, shredded lettuce, or shredded cheese. Maybe even a dollop of sour cream or Greek yogurt to top it all off. (Side note: if you're going to serve this chicken in tortillas, use a slotted spoon to remove some of the juice, otherwise you will end up with a super soggy tortilla!)

The third dish I tried in this new slow cooker was beans. As usual, since I'm loving this saute feature, I started with chopped onions, celery and carrots.

I had soaked a pound of heirloom beans from Rancho Gordo for a few hours, then I drained and dumped them into the slow cooker on top of the sauteed veggies. I covered with a couple of inches of water, added a bay leaf and let the beans cook eight hours on low. Sorry I don't have a photo of the finished product ~ I forgot to take one! Even though I can't eat beans anymore as I can't digest them, I did taste them and oh my goodness, they were delicious! I'd had dried beans before (much better than canned) but these heirloom beans were incomparable. Truly the best I've ever tasted. Cooking them all day in the slow cooker was so easy, too. 

Do you use a slower cooker? If you have any favorite healthy slow cooker recipes, please share!

Thursday, January 24, 2019

winter, writing, food

In my last post, I talked about winter hibernating because we were due for a big snowstorm. We did indeed get that storm, but not quite as much as they predicted. However, that storm must've triggered winter vibes to the Powers That Be because now we're getting slammed. It's been nothing but snow, ice and cold since then. Here's the front of my house yesterday morning before I shoveled. The snow was wet and heavy with a layer of ice underneath from the ice storm two days ago. Not fun! Not that it ever is.

The backyard looks pristine and peaceful with the snow, but don't let that postcard look fool you.

Temps are dropping down to -9F tonight with high winds, which means blowing and drifting snow. Then comes another big snowstorm Sunday night into Monday. On top of it, record-breaking cold will follow the snowstorm all next week where wind chills could be -40 to -50F.

This past Sunday night was the Blood Wolf Moon. Did any of you get to see it? Of course, it was bitter cold here but I was excited to see this event, so I bundled up like Nanook of the North and went outside at 10:40 PM to watch. I was wearing leggings underneath Brian's flannel-lined LL Bean jeans, a scarf over my face, thick socks on my feet stuck in very warm fur-lined boots, and a parka that came down to my knees. I stayed nice and toasty and the black winter sky was beautiful with the blood moon and the visible stars. My cousin in Tacoma, WA saw this photo of me and she was like, "Stoppp! How do you guys stand it there?!" I told her us Chicagoans are hardy people. And I guess we shrug it off as just another winter. But yeah, that air really does hurt our face. (And we complain about the weather a lot.)

While I've still been in hibernation mode, one of the things I've been working on is my writing. I'm taking a writing workshop in Chicago hosted by my First Best Friend, Cin who is a rather famous Chicago writer, poet and author and I'm also taking an online class from Jennifer Louden. I normally don't carve out a lot of time to just write. I'm learning the importance of giving myself permission to do so. The support of the other women writers in Cin's workshop are a great support. Of course, so are the women in Jennifer's online classes (there's a closed Facebook group and sometimes Jennifer does a live video chat), but it's so much better meeting with other writers in person.

I had a taste for quiche for breakfast lately but I didn't want the calories and carbs that traditional quiche offers, so I made a crustless one. It's just eggs and cheese whipped up with sauteed veggies and baked. I would've loved to use baby spinach or broccoli in this - it needs something green! - but I was out of both at the time. This dish isn't as rich as quiche since it doesn't have any milk or cream in it, so maybe this is more like a frittata. Whatever you want to call it, it's healthy and good. You could even make this for a light lunch or dinner with a lovely tossed salad.

I haven't baked in a long time, but when I saw a photo of the most delicious-looking chocolate chip cookies I'd ever seen on Instagram, I had to look into the recipe to see what it was about. You can find the recipe here on the Cookies and Cups blog. It's unique in that instead of using traditional white flour, it uses both bread and cake flours. They also highly suggest chopping your own chocolate instead of using chocolate chips. That way the hand-chopped chocolate chunks and shavings get dispersed into gooey globs of chocolate all throughout the cookie. From reading the comments on this blog post, I found out this is an original recipe of David Leite, which he had published in the New York Times. However, Leite said he developed the recipe based heavily on one from Jacques Torres.

This recipe was a bit labor intensive, especially with hand chopping a pound of dark chocolate - and then you have to wait at least 24 hours to make the cookies as the dough has to sit in the fridge - but I have to tell you, these were the best chocolate chip cookies I've ever had. They're obviously not a quick go-to cookie, but when you want something really special, this is the recipe you want to pull out. They're thin and crisp on the edges, chewy in the middle.

Have a great weekend, everyone. I wish I could say I was going back to hibernating, but I actually have a busy weekend. 

Counting the days 'til spring...

Friday, January 18, 2019

a hibernating weekend

We're under a winter storm warning. I can feel it. I can feel the pressure in the air because my head is heavy and stuffy. The snow is supposed to hit us anytime now and go all through the night and into Saturday morning. Depending on how this storm tracks, our area could get up to 10-12" of snow. Or half that amount. Only time will tell. Then will come the high winds, which mean blowing and drifting snow.  On top of it, the temperatures will plummet after the snowstorm, leaving us with wind chills below zero. Welcome to January, I suppose.

Not that I embrace winter; I prefer warm weather and lots of sunshine. But I have to say that there's something about cold, dark days that have me actually liking the solitude, the peacefulness, the snuggly hibernation of being inside, all warm and comfy.

Nancy over at Clearing the Space wrote on January 10 about hometending and creativity. I love that word, hometending. Technically, I don't think it's a real word, but I envision slowing down and taking the time to nurture your home and make it into a place where you want to spend time. A home where you feel safe, warm, and nurtured. Where you are surrounded by things you love and that bring you comfort. I think winter tends to bring on more of that nesting and hometending feeling.

That might mean puttering with different arrangements (that's where the creativity part comes in), taking the time to dust your furniture, putting fresh sheets on your bed, watering and misting your houseplants...freshening up the bathroom with a small vase of flowers on the vanity and clean towels hung on the towel rack. Try a delightful combination of essential oils in your diffuser...add a few drops of orange, lemon or grapefruit oil to a spicy blend of cinnamon and clove. Orange and patchouli is another lovely combination for winter. 

Turn on music of your choice and some little fairy lights. Heck, sing at the top of your lungs or even dance around the house while you're hometending, if that's your groove.

 When you're finished tending your home and the snow is falling, or it's just too damn cold to go anywhere, wrap yourself up in one of your favorite warm throws and listen to a Podcast, delve into a good book or magazine, knit or crochet, write in your journal, look through a cookbook and plan to make a delicious dish, binge watch something worthy (or not) on Netflix. 


"A little house ~ a house of my own ~ out of the winds and the rain's (I interrupt this quote to insert snow's) way." (Padraic Colum)

I know two things for certain tomorrow: between rounds of helping Brian shovel, I'm going to build a fire in the fireplace and try a new chocolate chip cookie recipe. It's a Jacques Torres (pastry chef and chocolatier) recipe and uses both bread flour and cake flour. Different and interesting, right?

If you're in the winter storm's path, stay safe, warm and snuggly! 
Practice some hometending..and tend to yourself, too. 💓

Monday, January 14, 2019

all in due time

Hello there! Happy New Year!  My first post of 2019...I'm behind. I'm having problems getting the photos from my phone to automatically upload to my laptop (through OneDrive) again. Some upload and others don't. So aggravating.

There's been a few small decorating changes at Comfy House. You might remember this fall canvas art that I hung in my bedroom last September. While the colors went well in this room, once winter came I didn't feel it was appropriate anymore. Too fall-ish looking. So what to put above the headboard instead? I like those sunburst mirrors, but I didn't want anything too heavy on this wall. I get paranoid at the thought of something that heavy possibly falling on us while we're sleeping. 

While shopping at HomeGoods recently for rugs (which we didn't buy), I saw this artwork and thought it might work above our bed. I'm trying to keep the bedroom serene-looking. These prints aren't too heavy either - and are hanging on double hooks. So I'm not worried about them falling on our heads while we're sleeping. Ignore the price stickers still on the glass. I wasn't sure at the time if we'd be keeping them. And thank goodness for Brian who knows how to measure and hang things evenly. I can eyeball where I want to hang things and I'm usually spot on, but when it comes to hanging two things together like this and getting it just right, I'm hopeless.

I think this artwork will look great year-round. Now to find matching lamps for our side tables. Why are lamps so freaking expensive?!

Since Tim moved out a couple of months ago, we haven't done much with his room. We want to make this room into a guest room, but yet with space for Brian to have his own desk and some space for his personal stuff. We found this gorgeous art deco desk on Facebook Marketplace. Brian was smitten when he saw it. The lady we bought it from was so nice. When we were at her house checking out the desk in person, we mentioned that we had to go to Home Depot to rent a truck to haul the desk home. She said that was ridiculous and that she had a big truck and would be happy to help us load it up and deliver it to our house. So here it is in all its glory in what-was-Tim's-room. That framed photo is a vintage map of the Chicago Rapid Transit Line. Brian grew up in Chicago and is a huge fan of anything Chicago, especially if its vintage (like him). We just need to find a frame for it so we can hang it on the wall. And we also need to find a desk chair. Brian wants that would be fitting with this desk. So I'm keeping my eyes open on FB Marketplace and OfferUp and of course we'll look in vintage shops when we make our treks. Eventually the right one will come along.

In regard to making Tim's room a guest room, we're really limited on space. This is a tiny room - around 10x12. We're looking for some kind of twin bed...maybe a daybed or even a futon if it's comfortable. And since Tim took the curtains that were in this room, we need those, too.

The one thing I wouldn't let Tim take were the black and white framed photos on his wall. He actually only wanted two of them, but I told him that'd ruin the entire display. All of these photos are his except for the one of the bottom right - that's mine.

Lastly, this room will need a rug. That's why we were looking at HomeGoods. Even though we didn't find what we were looking for, at least we found the framed photos for our bedroom.

It'll eventually all come together.

Now to work on the computer and photo problems...