19.10.14

Apple "Nachos" with Granola and Chocolate Peanut Butter Drizzle


I was in a funk for a good two weeks in late September.

It was a regular grumpy-annoyed-wake-up-in-a-bad-mood kind of funk. Maybe you've been in one before?

There were a couple legitimate reasons for my funk---more law school disappointments, Adam traveling, living under the grad school mantle of unending reading and study-guilt---but in addition I also had a bad attitude.

Eventually I got plain tired of myself and my bad mood, so I decided to make some changes.

Now, I'm happy to say that I am out of that funk.  The law school disappointments are still there. Adam still travels, and the unending reading and study-guilt aren't going anywhere, but my attitude is better, and that has made a HUGE difference.


There's probably something to be said for just riding out a funk---experiencing it and trusting that it will end and that you'll emerge at the other side just fine.

However, I also think it's important to develop healthy habits---ones that make us better and happier people in general and maybe even help avoid future funks.

I initiated several changes that helped me get out of my funk, and in the hope that they might be helpful to some of you, I've decided to share them here.

I must also note that these are based on my experience only. I am in no way qualified to give any kind of advice, and these tips are not meant to help anyone with severe depression or anxiety.

So, along with some apple "nachos" today I bring you….


Tips for Getting Out of a Funk:


1. Get more sleep.
This one was really important for me.  Going too long with inadequate sleep made me grumpy and emotional, so I knew that I needed to improve my sleep habits. I got more sleep by (1) setting a firm bedtime (2) limiting screen time before bed, and (3) doing relaxing routines.  It's so hard to turn those screens away, I know, but I began a no-screens-30-minutes-before-bed rule and it made a big difference. I also started using essential oils to help me relax and fall asleep. Call me crazy, but I think they helped. I used this one but I've heard good things about this expensive kind too. I rubbed it on my wrists and sometimes the bottoms of my feet. It made me smell like a spa (Adam said a rainforest??) and I loved it.

2. Limit social media.
I set a goal of only checking Instagram and Facebook once a day. This change has been by far the hardest, and it's still something that I struggle with on most days.  However, the simple act of being more cognizant and purposeful about the time I spend on social media has made a big improvement on my attitude. The truth is, scrolling through social media has a tendency to make me feel jealous and inadequate on good days.  Those feelings were compounded when I was in a funk.

3. Reach out to friends. 
Sometimes when I'm feeling a little down or just plain overwhelmed with work, I tend to isolate myself. This is no way to get out of a funk.  I realized that I needed to reach out to my friends.  I called or emailed the ones that live far away. I set up study dates or lunch dates with friends close by, and had a good laugh (and cry) with some of my best friends over dinner. Though sometimes I had to push myself out to reach out to my friends, it always, always brightened my mood.


4. Make mornings better. 
When you're in a funk, the littlest things can set you off. I set a goal of making mornings happier. For me, that meant having a healthy breakfast ready to go, packing my lunch the night before, and listening to music while I got ready. Starting my day off in a good mood made it more likely to last the whole day.

5. Add inspiration to the mundane. 
What little tasks make up the mundane parts of the day are different for different people, but for me, driving is mundane. It's routine, unexciting, and if I hit traffic or get stuck behind a slow car, it will further my funk.  To change this, I downloaded an inspirational audio book on my phone and listened to it as I drove. I loved the book so much that I even started looking forward to time in the car. Listening audio books regularly would be expensive, so now I've been mixing it up with podcasts as well.

6. Set realistic goals. 
Since part of my funk came from being overwhelmed with school work, I wanted to change my daily outlook on my to-do lists. My to-do lists were forever long, and I was never checking everything off. It made me feel like a failure. My new planner helped immensely with this. Every day has a "Top Three Section"  along with another area for a daily to-do list. Everyday I would write down three important but doable tasks that needed to get done. Prioritizing and completing those three tasks made me feel accomplished, and if I didn't finish the other items on my to-do list, I just moved them over to the next day. My planner also has a gratitude box for each day, which helped me focus on the positive even when I felt like I didn't get enough done.


7. Be spiritual. 
Experiencing something bigger than ourselves connects us to the world we live in and our place in it.  Spirituality means different things to different people.  For me, it meant making time to attend daily mass at least once a week. It made me feel grounded and helped me keep my problems in perspective.

8. Smile more. 
Yes, research shows that smiling more can actually make you happier. Some days I would get bummed out at law school because it seemed like most people didn't smile at me as they walked by. I think we women also often wrongly interpret others' glances or stares as judgment or criticism when they're not. So, anytime I walked by someone in the hallway and made eye contact, I smiled, and anytime I caught someone staring at me from across the room, I smiled. People maaaaaay think I'm crazy, but that's ok. It made me happier, and at least half of the people that I smiled at smiled back.

9. Feel someone else's heartbeat. 
One of my biggest hurdles in achieving #1 was that I had a hard time falling asleep. I would lay down at night and feel my heart beating loud and fast.  When I talked to my doctor about it, she said that it was common for women and suggested a couple natural sleep aids.  She also said something that especially resonated with me: "While you're in bed, reach over to your partner and feel his heartbeat. It will calm you down and help you fall asleep."

Although this information was only mildly helpful for me, as most of my sleeping issues happened when Adam was away, I loved the idea.When you're stuck in a funk, or just feeling anxious, or bummed out, or overwhelmed, feel someone else's heartbeat.  Think about the pulse of a life other than your own. Being in a funk is really just feeling weighed down with the particular stresses and burdens that you're carrying and allowing your brain to warp them to be larger or more important than they actually are. Thinking of someone else can take your mind out of that trap.


Finally, apple nachos! Apple nachos have been all over food blogs and Pinterest, but all the ones I've seen have been loaded down with caramel candies, snickers or chocolate chips. While all those things are good, they don't necessarily equal a healthy apple snack, which is what I think apple nachos should be. 

These apple nachos are made with melted peanut butter (and just a little Nutella) and chocolate granola. It's a wholesome treat that you could serve as a fun dessert or snack. Kids would love it!  

You can use store bought granola, as I did here, or be really awesome and make your own

Now, tell me, how do you feel about apple nachos? Also, do you have any other suggestions for getting out of a funk? Should I add chocolate to the list? :)



Apple "Nachos" with Granola and Chocolate Peanut Butter Drizzle


Ingredients:
1 large honey crisp apple (or two smaller apples)
2 tablespoons peanut butter
1 tablespoon Nutella (you could also use a tablespoon of chocolate chips)
handful of your favorite granola  (I used chocolate coconut granola)

Directions: 
Slice the apple thinly and arrange in a layer on a plate or prepared surface.

In a small microwave safe bowl, combine the peanut butter and Nutella. Microwave for 15 seconds and stir vigorously. Microwave for another 10-15 seconds and stir until smooth.

Drizzle chocolate peanut butter mixture over apples. Sprinkle with granola.


Notes:
  • Other fun toppings--sliced almonds, dried cranberries, or chocolate chips



12.10.14

Gluten Free Chocolate Chip Coconut Bread


I love baking in the fall. (See healthy pumpkin bread, acorn squash cupcakes, pumpkin cinnamon rolls,  sweet potato blondies.)


Quick breads are probably one of the easiest and most satisfying things to make in the fall.

There's not much effort required. Mix together the dry ingredients and wet ingredients and then combine.  Pour into a loaf pan and less than an hour later you've got a loaf of sweet, dense, satisfying bread that's perfect for breakfast with tea and coffee, nibbling as an afternoon snack, or savoring as dessert.  


The inspiration for this particular bread came from these chocolate coconut cookies.

I hate to admit it but I'm still obsessed with those cookies  Obsessed as in I can't stop thinking about the yumminess of the coconut + chocolate + almond meal combination.

Naturally, to justify my continual chocolate-coconut-amond meal obsession, I developed this gorgeous gluten-free chocolate chip coconut bread. No more feeling guilty about eating those cookies for breakfast. (ha)


Just like those cookies, there's no butter or oil in this bread, and it's sweetened with mashed banana and honey instead of sugar.

It's also made with coconut milk, eggs, shredded sweetened coconut, and chocolate chips.

And that's pretty much the recipe.

In busy seasons of life when so much seems beyond my reach and control--research papers, reading, laundry, summer jobs--it's comforting to know that I can throw a few ingredients together to make something good and greater than the sum of its parts.


Gluten Free Chocolate Chip Coconut Bread



Ingredients:
2 cups sweetened, shredded coconut, lightly toasted*
1 cup almond meal
1 cup gluten free all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup honey
1/2 cup mashed banana (or one ripe banana, mashed)
3/4 cup full fat coconut milk
4 eggs, lightly beaten
1 tsp vanilla extract
heaping 1/2 cup chocolate chips.

*To toast coconut, place coconut in a large saucepan and place over medium high-heat. Stir the coconut around the hot pan for 1-2 minutes until about 1/4 of the coconut shreds are browned and the whole pan is fragrant with the yummy toasty-coconutty smell.


Directions:

Preheat oven to 350. Line a 9 inch loaf pan with parchment paper or spray with non-stick cooking spray.

In a large bowl, combine the coconut, almond meal, all-purpose flour, and salt.

In a medium bowl, combine honey, mashed banana, coconut milk, eggs, and vanilla extract.

Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients. Stir to combine. Fold in chocolate chips.

Pour batter into prepared loaf pan. Bake at 350 for 45-55 minutes.


Adapted from Cook Republic


Notes: 

  • This bread is almost entirely naturally sweetened. To use even less sugar, use unsweetened coconut. (I've heard you can buy it at Whole Foods?) and cacao nibs or fruit instead of the chocolate chips. 
  • Other variations--instead of the chocolate chips, you could make a tropical version with orange zest or chopped dried mango



5.10.14

Smoked Gruyere Grits with Chicken Sausage, Apples & Brussel Sprouts


There's something satisfying about eating warm food from a bowl.

We've had our first bit of cool fall weather this weekend and all I want to do is hole up on the couch with a blanket, a movie, and a bowl of something warm and goooooood. [read->something cheesy with some vegetables for good measure]


Cheesy grits/polenta embody the warm, comforting one-bowl kind of food that I love. I'm sure some people have strong opinions about the differences between grits and polenta, but for my purposes they're the same thing. You call it polenta if you're Italian and grits if you're Southern. 

Also, smoked gruyere is ridiculous. If you've never tried it, please go buy some now.  

Between mouthfuls of these cheesy grits, I said to Adam, "this cheese tastes like bacon!"

"Uh, you haven't eaten enough bacon then," he said. 


Well, I have had enough cheese to tell you that this is one of my favorites. 

True story--> When I was in fifth grade I made an autobiography in which I wrote "My favorite food is cheese. I love cheesy rice, cheesy potatoes, cheesy eggs, and macaroni and cheese." 

Not much has changed, friends, other than my 11-year-old dream of driving a silver Mustang...


Don't skip the apples here! They compliment the savory chicken sausage, the slight bitterness in the brussel sprouts and the smokiness in the cheese.

Make these cheesy grits for dinner one night this week.  Then snuggle up on the couch with a book, or a movie, or--if you're like me, your laptop and research paper--and say a word of thanks for warm food and comfort.


Smoked Gruyere Grits with Chicken Sausage, Apples & Brussel Sprouts 


Ingredients:
1 cup grits/polenta
1 tsp salt
2 1/2 cups milk
1 3/4 cups water
1/2 tablespoon butter
shredded smoked gruyere cheese  (anywhere from 1/2 cup to a cup, depending on how cheesy you want them. We used 1 cup!)
4 pack chicken apple sausages, sliced
1 honey crisp apple, cut into chunks
1 lb brussel sprouts, ends removed and cut in half 
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
1-2 tablespoons butter (optional)

Directions: 
Bring milk, water and salt to a boil. Whisk in grits. Continue whisking for about a minute, then turn heat down to low and cover. Let cook for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally. When grits have reached desired consistency, turn off the heat and add the 1/2 tablespoon butter and cheese. 

Meanwhile, heat a large saucepan to medium-high. Add 1 tablespoon butter and 1 tablespoon olive oil. Working quickly, add the brussel sprouts to the pan by hand, ensuring that the cut side is face down. Cook for 2-3 minutes, or until the bottom is nicely browned. Add the sliced apples and stir. Cover and reduce heat to low. Cook for 8-10 minutes, or until the apples are slightly soft. (You can add a little more butter or olive oil throughout this process if the pan looks dry.)

Remove the brussel sprouts and apples from the pan. Add a touch more olive oil to the pan if necessary, followed by the chicken sausages. Cook for 5-6 minutes until browned. Add the brussel sprouts and apples back to the pan. Stir and cook for a minute or so to heat through. 

To serve, fill bowls with the cheesy grits and top with the chicken sausage/brussel sprout/apple mixture. 


Notes:



28.9.14

Pumpkin Baked Oatmeal with Crunchy Almond Topping



After squeezing in one last summer recipe last week, I'm ready for fall.  That means I'm ready for PUMPKIN!

Pumpkin makes its fall debut this year in a recipe I've made more times than any other recipe on this blog, and given that I've made it almost every week for the past year and a half, I've made it approximately seventy times.



I've also made about seventy variations of this baked oatmeal recipe.  For the milk, I've used almond milk, coconut milk, skim milk, and 2% milk.

For the sweetener, I've used brown sugar, honey, maple syrup and agave. (Honey is my favorite.)

For the fruit, I've used bananas, blueberries, blackberries, cherries, plums, pears, strawberries, raspberries, and peaches.

Within the past year, I've experimented with other fun add-ins like flax seeds, chia seeds, and sliced almonds.

Sometimes I used butter, sometimes I used greek yogurt. Eventually, I started adding another 1/2 cup of oats and milk so that one pan would last me a full 5 days worth of breakfasts.

One thing never changes. It's always, always good.


Making baked oatmeal is now part of my Sunday night ritual. No matter how much studying I have to do, I always make time for it.

I've have the core recipe memorized. I don't measure anything except the oats, milk and honey, and I make it using only 1 bowl.

This baked oatmeal smells heavenly when it's baking. We live in a small townhouse, and the smell of whatever you're baking downstairs in the kitchen always wafts upstairs. I can't tell you the number of times Adam has come downstairs wanting to know what I'm baking. "Cake?" "Cookies?"

"Nope, just my baked oatmeal."

He always looks slightly disappointed, but I am NEVER disappointed with my baked oatmeal.


I've converted several friends to my baked-oatmeal-ways, and now my mom and sister make it every week too. 

At my physical last year, my cholesterol was a little high. I have a family history of high cholesterol, but I think I live a fairly healthy, active lifestyle, so I was upset.  My mom told me not to make any dramatic changes to my diet, so I decided to just add in more cholesterol-fighting foods, like oatmeal. At my physical this year, my cholesterol was 30 points lower. 

Miracle baked oatmeal? I make no promises, other than to tell you that it's a satisfying and healthy breakfast, and this pumpkin baked oatmeal with crunchy almond topping might just be the best version yet. 

It's basically pumpkin pie for breakfast, but totally healthy. The crunchy sweet almonds are an optional, but highly encouraged topping. 

This recipe would be perfect for a fall brunch, or a hangover recovery meal after a wild Halloween party. 

Or, for cozy Sunday evening baking to make your house smell like fall and your mornings just a little bit happier. 


Pumpkin Baked Oatmeal with Crunchy Almond Topping


Ingredients:
2 1/2 cups rolled oats
2 tablespoons chia seeds or flax seeds (optional)
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon*
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp clove
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp allspice
1/3 cup honey
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups milk
1 can pumpkin puree
1/2 cup vanilla Greek yogurt (or 1 5.3oz container)
1/3 cup sliced almonds
1 tbsp brown sugar
1 tbsp butter

Directions:
Preheat oven to 350. Prepare a 9-inch pie pan or 9 by 9 inch square baking pan by spraying with non-stick cooking spray.

In a large bowl, combine the oats, chia seeds, baking powder, salt and all the spices. Stir to combine.

In a separate, medium bowl, whisk together honey, vanilla, eggs, milk, pumpkin puree and Greek yogurt.

Pour wet ingredients into dry ingredients and stir to incorporate. Pour into prepared pan.  Bake at 350 for 40 minutes.

While oatmeal is baking, add butter to a small bowl and microwave for 30-45 seconds until melted. Add brown sugar and stir to dissolve. Add almonds, stirring to coat in brown sugar mixture.

Remove oatmeal from oven and sprinkle almond/brown sugar mixture over top. bake for an additional 5-6 minutes or until almonds are toasted.

* You could also use 1 1/2 tsp of pumpkin pie spice instead of this mixture of spices.


Notes:
  • Want less sugar? Use plain Greek yogurt instead of vanilla. You can always add a drizzle of honey when you reheat individual servings. 
  • Mix it up--people like their oatmeal different ways, and this baked oatmeal is perfectly suited for that. When reheating individual servings, you can add more milk, butter, or sugar. 
  • To make it vegan--use vegan yogurt or substitute with 1/2 cup non-diary milk. Substitute flax or chia "eggs" for the eggs. 
  • Love pumpkin? Try my pumpkin biscuit cinnamon rolls or healthy pumpkin bread

Adapted from my blueberry baked oatmeal

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