Kale-Sausage-Butternut Squash Soup

Yesterday was one of those days where all I could think about making was soup.  The crisp, fall air always has me craving pumpkin (duh, I’m a white girl) and butternut squash.  Earlier in the week, I had stumbled upon this recipe from the sisters over at Spinach 4 Breakfast and I knew I had to try it.  Typically, my favorite go-to fall soup has always been a kale-white bean-sausage combo, but lately I’ve been making an effort to avoid foods that are difficult to digest (ahem, white beans).  So I had already been planning on a kale-sausage combo sans beans or lentils.  Butternut squash seemed like the perfect substitute.

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On a side note, it seems massively unfair that as we’re cruising into fall, my favorite season of the year, I am STILL sitting here with major allergies, like the kind that are usually gone as we go from spring to summer.  I mean, hello, it’s two seasons past spring!  And my nose is still all stuffy and itchy.  Stupid California drought.

Anyway this is basically the fastest, easiest soup you could hope to whip up if you’re feeling lazy.  All you need to do is chop up some sausage (I used an organic, mild Italian chicken sausage here, but you could switch up the flavor), onion and lacinto (dinosaur) kale.  If you’re feeling extra lazy like I was here, you can even buy pre-cubed butternut squash like I did.  Although I did chop the cubes up a little smaller than they came from the store, so it’s basically like I prepared it myself.  Right?

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Throw the sausage in a medium saucepan and sautee for a few minutes.

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Then add the onion and continue to sautee until translucent.  Add the butternut squash, kale, broth, and water, and bring to a boil.  Then lower the heat and simmer for 20 minutes or so, until the squash is tender.  Add salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes to taste.  And viola, you’re done.  Told you it was easy!  And my husband gave it his stamp of approval.

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If you have trouble digesting beans like I do, this soup not only because it’s super clean, but it also includes all foods that are easily digested.  No troublesome things like gluten, beans or legumes.  The sisters at Spinach 4 Breakfast gave this soup the Clean Gut Cleanse stamp of approval for its lack of dairy, processed foods, sugar, gluten, etc.  So you can enjoy this soup knowing you’re also being good to your gut!  (Check out the cleanse for more info on how to support your gut by giving it a break from foods that feed yeast and unhealthy bacteria while providing healthy probiotics and nourishing your gut flora.)  Not to mention it’s super light and healthy with no oil, cream, etc.  Clearly by the photo, I was not personally worried about the gluten, as I enjoyed my bowl with a slice of warm, crusty bread.  Mmmmm.

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I’m off to pack… the husband and I are heading to Vail, Colorado today for a long weekend!  I can’t wait to explore the town, hike, eat, and get some much needed down time with him.  We have plans to rest, connect, and discuss our goals for our businesses and our future.  So important to get away from the daily grind and get a fresh perspective on how life is going, right?  Anyway make sure to include this soup as part of an easy, healthy meal plan for next week.  Perfect for a busy weeknight!  And have a great weekend.

Kale-Sausage-Butternut Squash Soup

Ingredients

4 cups vegetable broth

2 cups water

12 oz. mild Italian chicken sausage, chopped

1 1/2 cups diced butternut squash

1 bunch chopped lacinto (dinosaur) kale

1/2 onion, diced

sea salt, black pepper, and red pepper flakes to taste

Instructions

Sautee the sausage in a medium saucepan for 4-5 minutes, until slightly browned.  Add the onion and continue to sautee until it softens and starts to become translucent.  Then add the butternut squash, kale, broth, and water.  (Amount of water may be adjusted to personal preference of soup’s thickness.)  Bring to a boil, then turn heat to low and simmer for 20-25 minutes, until squash is tender.  Season with salt and pepper to taste, and top with red pepper flakes if desired.

Quick and easy protein banana pancakes

This morning I woke up to the gorgeous sound and smell of… RAIN!  We are in a drought here in California, and we’ve had hardly any rain at all this year.  Everything is so dry and to have some rainfall as we were sleeping last night was so perfectly wonderful.  I love sleeping with the window open and listening to the rain, feeling it’s damp air while I’m all snuggled up with my husband and our great dane.  Pure bliss, I tell you!

And you know what rain makes me think of?  Banana pancakes.  I make some mean banana pancakes, and this morning seemed like the perfect time to make them.  Except that, I’m not going to just indulge in some unhealthy stack of pancakes all alone, on a weekday, you know?  So I decided to make a quick, healthier version and guess what?  I like them even BETTER than the “real thing!”  They have a nice, light and spongy texture that doesn’t leave you feeling stuffed like a regular pancake would, plus they are low in calories and high in protein.  Win-win!

While I was making these, the usual doggie chaos was ensuing all around me.  Puppies are a lot of work, people.  If you’re thinking of getting one, I would just warn you that your life will change drastically for a while.  This morning, for example, was Daphne’s first time to see rain!  How exciting, right?  Yeah, until you need her to go potty outside… and then… not so much.  She has absolutely refused to go for the last 15 hours, and I know she needs to.  Which causes me to have to take her outside and stand around in the wet, cold rain for minutes at a time trying to coax her into going.  And then giving up, bringing her back in, and trying to watch her every move while trying not to burn the pancakes… you get the picture.  The bottom line is, this puppy is a little princess who doesn’t want to expose her booty to the wet cold.  I suppose I can’t blame her.

Anyway back to the pancakes!  And please forgive me for the segue into puppy potty training… probably not the best mix of topics.  Hopefully you’re a dog lover and you understand.  🙂

These are super easy, guilt free, and will satisfy your craving for a warm, sweet breakfast treat!  IMG_1615

Best of all, they use ingredients you probably have on hand.  Take some oats (I used quick cooking, but regular oats would work just the same).

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Throw a cup of oats in the blender with egg whites, an overripe banana, a dash of cinnamon, stevia, baking powder, and a dash of salt.

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Please excuse the crooked blender picture… I’m including it because of the humor of taking this photo with two great danes underfoot, causing me to have to lean over at weird angles while photographing… real life!  Blend for 30 seconds on medium-high.  Heat a non-stick skillet and coat with cooking spray, then just cook these like regular pancakes, on medium-high heat.  Wait for the bubbles to show in the top of the pancakes, then flip!

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Top with a dollop of plain, organic yogurt,

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and one teaspoon of real maple syrup.  Mmmmm…..

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I love the light, springy texture of these pancakes, so light that you can eat a whole stack and feel no guilt!

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Meanwhile, Sunday waited patiently for her bite.  She got the first one, which was a dud, but of course she doesn’t care what it looks like.

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This is Sunday, and I approve of these pancakes.  🙂

Quick and Easy Protein Banana Pancakes

Ingredients

1 cup oats (quick cooking or regular)

1 overripe banana

6 egg whites

1 1/2 tsp. stevia

1 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp baking powder

dash of salt

plain, organic yogurt for topping

1 tsp real maple syrup

Instructions

Combine oats, banana, egg whites, stevia, cinnamon, baking powder, and salt in a blender and blend on medium-high for 30 seconds.  Heat a nonstick skillet coated with cooking spray, and cook pancakes two or three at a time, allowing bubbles to form and pop before flipping.  Top with a dollop of yogurt and 1 tsp of maple syrup.  Enjoy your guilt-free indulgence!

Finding balance with your “bounce back” muscle

I’ve had several conversations with clients recently about how difficult it can be to feel like you’re always starting over.  You know what I’m talking about — you get super psyched to start a new, healthy routine, you make a ton of positive changes all at once, and for a week, two weeks, or even a month, you’re killing it!  You have all this momentum, you’re seeing progress in your health and physique, you have so much energy, and then, WHAM!  Something comes up.  Maybe it’s a social event.  Maybe it’s work.  Maybe it’s hormones.

Whatever it is, something throws you off course, and you have an “off” day.  You miss your workout.  You eat a bunch of crap.  You feel lethargic all day.  You think, “I’ll make up for it tomorrow.”  Only, when “tomorrow” comes, you still feel crappy and you are still busy, and you have a MILLION reasons why you deserve another day off.  “Two days off is no big deal,” you think.  But then the next day, you have to work early, and then you have that thing after work you had forgotten about.  By the fourth day, you completely forget about working out at all.  Day five rolls around, and you remember again, but it’s Saturday and you’re meeting up with some friends to go wine tasting.  “Oh well,” you think.  “I’ll start again on Monday.”  By Monday, you’ve been “off” for a whole week, and you’ve basically undone all the hard work you put in the previous “good” week.

This ever happen to you?  Well guess what — in all my recent conversations with peers and clients, I’m realizing that I’m not alone here.  In fact, this seems like one of the most common issues people come to me with:  How do you stay consistent?  Getting started is no problem, right?  At least, not when we are taking on something new, interesting, and we’re in the mood.  We start when we have a natural energy upswing, we feel ready, or we’ve reached a point of feeling so low that we are excited to turn it around.  But give it a little time, and most of us tend to fall off the wagon.  We miss a couple days, that somehow turns into a week, then two weeks, and sometimes it’s even much longer before we get the energy to get back on the horse.

Over the past few years of my life, this is something I’ve worked pretty hard on equalizing.  Anyone who knows me knows that I tend to be very driven in my professional life, or with any goals that I set.  I’ll work hard to get there, sacrificing my own health and balance to do so, and then when I get a break, I’ll play hard to kind of rebel against the rigid structure I had in place, or balance out.  But in the past few years, while dealing with a significant amount of stress, I really put effort into finding a balance while working hard.  To not live life with such extreme shifts.  To not take on so much at once that it was unsustainable.

This does not come naturally for me!  It shows up in my health and fitness goals too, which is where many of you have been talking to me about it.  Isn’t it true that when we think about making changes and “getting in shape,” we tend to want to take on the most ambitious workout schedule, cut out all sugar and refined carbs, count calories, and make meal plans, all at once?  I know I fall into that trap, because I’m an overachiever!  I would feel so motivated and want to see big changes fast!  But inevitably, I would burn out and then my mind would trick me into thinking I “deserved” a break from the rigidity.  Therefore I would find myself essentially “on vacation” from healthy living, eating whatever I wanted and not getting any exercise.  I remember really finding a sense of escape during these times, but also, as time went on, I would just end up feeling super disappointed in myself and my self-esteem would take a hit because I would think there was something wrong with me for not being able to maintain.

Two lessons can be learned here!  The first is, when you are looking to make positive changes in your health, BE PATIENT.  Take on what you actually CAN do.  For example, if you’re new to exercise, don’t tell yourself you’ll hit the gym for an hour every single day.  You might do it for a while, but life will inevitably get in the way, you’ll miss a day or two, and then going back to the every day routine will seem like too much and you’ll give up altogether.  Set an achievable goal.  Commit to 30 minutes, three or four times a week.  You might feel like that’s not enough, but it is PROGRESS.  And it’s sustainable.  That’s what counts!  Once you have that routine in place, then assess whether upping your time in the gym is realistic.  Adding a moderate amount at a time gives you the time to adjust to your new routine.

The second is a concept I like to call your “bounce back” muscle.  Just like any muscle in your body, you can actually exercise, or practice, your ability to get back on the horse after a slip.  We are all human.  We all miss days for one reason or another.  Every time you return to your healthy routine, you are using an inner strength. That strength is your bounce back muscle!  Starting over is hard.  Going back after a month off, a week off, even two days off is always hard.  It’s easiest to keep going when you have momentum, because you’re in the habit of healthy behavior and it starts to feel natural.  It takes extra strength to start again after a break, but when you do that, when you get yourself back to your workout, or back in the kitchen cooking healthy food, you strengthen that muscle.  You build a memory of what it feels like to return to healthy behaviors.  Over time, you will find that you are not as likely to let a day become a week.  That you have positive memories of getting right back into it, because the longer you let it go, the heavier the lifting you have to do to get back on track.

I encourage you to keep this in mind next time you slip in your healthy routine!  First, ask yourself if your routine is realistic for your schedule and your life.  If it is too rigid, you are unlikely to stick to it.  Adjust your expectations of yourself so that you challenge yourself, but you also set yourself up for success.  Next, remember that each time you slip you have the opportunity to keep your bounce back muscle in shape!  The sooner and more often you use it to right your course, the easier it will become to view a day off as just that — a day off.  Not a failure, not an excuse to make it a month — Just part of a healthy life balance.  Eventually, you’ll bounce back from a slip with ease and beat the cycle of mental anguish.

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Why I’m no longer a vegetarian (and a Comforting Stuffed Pepper recipe!)

My diet has changed pretty drastically lately, and I feel it’s worth mentioning.  Recently, I was eating mostly vegan.  Well, all vegan for a period of time.  I did this several times but could never sustain it longer than 30 days or so, at the most.  I would start feeling off and craving chicken, and so would eventually give in.  

This is a bit of a struggle emotionally for me, which needs a back story.  When I turned 14, I was introduced to PETA by a friend, and subsequently watched every horrifying video of the way animals are treated in factory farming operations.  Mortified, I didn’t touch meat again until I was 24, but I was just a vegetarian, not a vegan.  

When I did start eating meat again, just fish and chicken, I lost eight pounds within a month without trying.  I remember being really startled by that and noticing that I felt much better.  I knew, though, that I hadn’t been a healthy vegetarian at that time, mostly subsisting on bread, cheese, and pasta.  In my mid-twenties, I worked in fine dining, and fully embraced eating meat again, while always trying to be conscious that the meat I was eating came from a local farm where the animals were treated humanely and not a factory farm.  Luckily, where I live it’s easy to do that, as there is a big farm-to-table movement here.  

In the last three years or so, I revisited my connection with vegetarianism and veganism when I started doing yoga regularly.  I found that I still carried a deep desire to abstain from doing harm to animals in any way.  I embraced veganism a few different times, always saying I was going to do it for a while to see how I felt and go from there.  I read tons of vegan cookbooks and blogs.  I felt really excited, like I had found the way of eating that was going to work for me!  I became pretty good at vegan cooking and wanted to focus my health coaching on helping people transition to veganism.  For a while, I felt good too, although in retrospect I think it was my emotions that felt good about eating that way, not my physical body.  

See, every time I would be vegan for a while, I realized I was putting up with some pretty uncomfortable symptoms.  Fatigue and extreme bloating being the primary discomforts.  (And you know what comes with bloating — gas.  Ugh.  The ugly truth was that I was constantly plagued.)  I kept thinking it was just the transition to being vegan and that my body would adjust.  But it never did.  I realized that I simply cannot process beans, soy, and most grains efficiently, and I constantly had a stomach ache.  Constantly.  It seemed that no matter what I ate, I felt immediate pressure and I often got headaches.  Without soy and beans, it was pretty hard to get adequate protein.  And without grains, I was basically left with vegetables.  

At Integrative Nutrition, where I’m studying to be a certified Health Coach, we talk a lot about the concept of bioindividuality, which basically means that one person’s perfect food is another person’s poison.  Right around the time I was suffering a lot of discomfort, we studied the more Paleo style, traditional diet of eating animal protein in its cleanest form — organic, grass-fed, pasture raised animals only.  I also read a lot of studies indicating that healthy animal foods are beneficial for fertility, which is definitely important to me.  

So I decided to back off, listen to my body, and change the way I was eating.  Within the first two days of eating lean animal proteins and veggies, and eliminating all soy, beans, and grains, my stomach felt 100% normal again.  My digestive issues disappeared.  I had significantly more energy and no headaches.  I was shocked.  It’s still a little difficult for me to fully embrace this way of eating, because I care deeply about the way animals are treated.  But I can vote for the small, humane, organic farmer with my dollar, and still refuse to purchase factory farmed meat.  So that is a healthy balance for me.  Sometimes to find our own, individual, optimum health, we need to really listen to ourselves rather than a diet book, or the latest trend.  And sometimes, our bodies may not even agree with what our mind wants!  I learned it’s important to honor that, though, and to give myself the type of food that is most nourishing for me as an individual.  

On that note, on to the peppers!  It had probably been years since I had cooked beef prior to making this.  As I was wandering around in Whole Foods pondering what to do for dinner, though, I suddenly CRAVED stuffed peppers.  Which is weird, because I don’t think I’ve had them since childhood.  And they certainly don’t look pretty in pictures!

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Nevertheless, I picked up some grass-fed, pasture raised, lean ground beef (it felt so weird even getting it from the shelf!).  Got some peppers, and headed home.  

First I hollowed out the peppers.  

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Then I chopped up a red bell pepper, some cilantro, garlic, and spinach.  I mixed the beef up with the cilantro, spinach and red peppers, and added some salt, pepper, cumin, and chile powder.  Tossed the garlic into a pan and sautéed for a minute before adding the beef mixture.  

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Cooked that until the meat was done, then added ricotta cheese to the mix.  All while sipping on my latest favorite meal-prepping beverage, gingerade kombucha by GT’s.  

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While the meat was cooking, I heated up some marinara sauce on the side and preheated the oven to 350°.  When the meat mixture was cooked, I stuffed it into the peppers, topped off the peppers with marinara, and sprinkled a little parmesan on top. Then stuck in the oven for an hour, uncovered.  Stuffed pepper perfection!

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Sorry guys, like I said, they don’t look that pretty.  But they tasted AMAZING.  You could easily substitute ground turkey for the beef, if you prefer!  Eating beef was a feat for me and I expected to not like it.  But you know what?  It was absolutely delicious and I felt healthy afterward.  I highly recommend this recipe if you are a meat eater (but please, support your LOCAL and preferably organic, farmer, and remember that grass-fed is much healthier for you in that it has the right balance of Omega 3 healthy fats!).  Remember to tune into what your beautiful, individual body’s needs are in regards to all food choices you make.

To your health, 

Rachel

xo

Comforting Stuffed Peppers

Serves 2

Ingredients: 

2 large green bell peppers, tops removed, washed, and deseeded

1 lb. lean, ground beef (preferably organic, grass-fed)

1 red bell pepper (diced small)

1 bunch spinach (2 cups, chopped fine)

1/3 cup chopped cilantro

3/4 tsp cumin

1/2 tsp chile powder

2 cloves garlic

1 tsp. coconut oil

1/2 cup ricotta cheese

salt and pepper to taste

1 jar marinara (use as much or as little as desired to top peppers)

parmesan cheese for sprinkling on top

Instructions

Preheat oven to 350°.  In mixing bowl, combine beef with chopped cilantro, spinach, red bell pepper, chile powder, cumin, salt and pepper.  Saute garlic in a teaspoon of coconut oil for one minute on medium high heat, then add the beef mixture and cook, breaking meat apart as much as possible, until meat is cooked through (about 10-12 minutes).  While the meat is cooking, heat a jar of marinara sauce (your favorite) in a small pot.  

Once meat is cooked, at ricotta cheese and stir until evenly combined.  Turn off heat.  Spoon meat into peppers until fully stuffed and place in lightly greased (with coconut oil) baking dish.  Spoon marinara sauce over the top of the peppers and sprinkle with parmesan if desired.  

Bake, uncovered, for one hour.  Then pull those suckers out and serve, preferably on a chilly night with warm, cozy socks on.  🙂

Welcome home, Daphne

The past week I’ve been a bit busier than usual, and definitely distracted, by this new arrival in our home:

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We had always intended to get another Dane at some point, but the consensus was that we would do it later.  Like, in another year, or when we moved to a house with a fenced yard.  And then.  We heard that a mother and her whole litter of puppies had been abandoned at the vet after an emergency C-section and they had all been taken in by the Humane Society.

So of course, we had to go see for ourselves.  I mean, how could we at least not go LOOK at the puppies, right?  It is hard to find Great Danes to adopt.  My theory is that they are abandoned less frequently since they are such amazing, loving dogs.

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Their gentle nature, strong bond with their owners, and short life-spans probably gives them a better chance at having forever homes.  Once you fall in love with a Dane, it’s pretty hard to let go.  That’s why I was so shocked to hear what had happened to this poor mama Dane, bred WAY too early at only seven months and then left by her family.  😦  Some people are so irresponsible.

Anyway we all know what happens to your heart when you see a litter of puppies, right?

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We fell in love instantly, of course.  This little girl ran right to us and jumped into our arms.  We could practically hear her saying, “pick me!  you won’t be sorry!”  After all the happy little puppy jumps, kisses, and nuzzles, we were toast.  At the shelter, she was called Darlene, but we changed her name to Daphne and brought her home.

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We were a little worried about how our older dog, Sunday, would take this new situation.  But so far we’ve been pleasantly surprised.  Sunday was, let’s just say, a difficult puppy with some special needs, so we assumed all Dane pups would be the same.  Not this little girl.  She is already potty trained (from watching Sunday, we think!) and sleeps all the way through the night!!!

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It’s like a miracle.  Sunday has taken to showing her the ropes around the house, giving her mild little corrections, and wagging her tail when the puppy comes around, even when she’s nipping at Sunday and generally being a pain.

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Danes are a patient and loving breed.  It’s so cute to watch Daphne imitate her sister.

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New puppies are a lot of work, but it’s looking like this one will fit in nicely and not cause too much trouble.  Although she does have spunk.

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She loves to survey the neighborhood and cocks her head at every new sound.

 

 

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Now that she’s been home with us for ten days, I’m finally getting a little back into my rhythm and developing a routine.  Will be back here with another recipe by the end of the week!  In the meantime, enjoy this cuteness:

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I’m trying to soak up every minute.  Danes literally grow before your eyes and I know this pup is going to outgrow Sunday by the size of her leg bones.  We’re in for it.  Anyone have a suggestion for a dog-proof couch?  🙂

 

 

Life’s precious unpredictability

The past month has been full of some amazing twists and turns for my family.  As I sit here on the balcony of our hotel room in Ko Olina, Oahu, I can’t help but feel incredibly grateful.  It’s impossible to predict what life has in store for us.  Astoundingly beautiful moments often emerge out of seemingly bad situations, and we’ve seen our share of these lately.

Three and a half weeks ago, my husband and his Dad were gearing up to set sail in the Pac Cup race from California to Oahu, something they had been planning for over a year and dreaming about for countless years.  With the sailing date only nine days out, they were making last minute plans and purchases, having meetings with their fellow sailors, and looking forward to the trip of a lifetime as father and son.  Although I had a fairly typical amount of worry about them being in the middle of the Pacific Ocean on a tiny sailboat for ten days, I was also incredibly excited to see them bring this dream into reality.  How many people actually seize the opportunity to do something like that?

But sometimes, the universe has other plans for us, and this time the sailing trip was not to be.  My father-in-law gave us all a decent scare by suffering a brain hemorrhage just nine days before they were to set sail, landing him in intensive care.  After spending a decent amount of time in the hospital, he emerged as if nothing had ever happened and has healed up just fine.  It definitely had us all a little shaken, imagining that had it occurred a couple weeks later, he would have been on that boat with no emergency medical care available.

Once we knew that he would be okay, we decided to go to Hawaii anyway, the only difference for my husband being that he would join me on my flight rather than sailing.  We joined up in Oahu with my brother-in-law and his girlfriend, and have been making the most of our trip ever since.  While it’s not exactly what we thought it would be and we’re missing my husband’s parents, we still have the chance to spend family time in paradise, something I’m incredibly grateful for.

We had some hiccups in getting a hotel room that we were happy with (a long story for another time and another of our unexpected twists!), but in the meantime my brother-in-law graciously let us crash in his hotel room which didn’t have a bad view…

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We spent a couple nights on a pull-out couch, but with a view like that, who could complain?  We were still excited to finally land in our own room at the same hotel, right next door to them.  🙂

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With all the changed plans, worry for my father-in-law, launching my new business as a health coach, and keeping up with school, it’s been an eventful month to say the least.  This is our time to to relax, take a break, and spend some quality time with our family.  Even though we didn’t get here quite the way we had planned, we have had some beautiful moments so far.

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And, of course, some coconuts and cocktails…

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While I am definitely doing a little work from here, I’m also acutely aware of life’s preciousness, its unpredictability, its beauty, and the importance of stepping back, taking a break, and living fully in each moment.

Aloha!

 

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Bridal shower weekend :)

This weekend I had the honor of preparing food for the bridal shower of a close friend.  I love to cook, so naturally I volunteered to be in charge of the menu.  🙂  As the date approached, I wasn’t worried about pulling it off last minute.  I’m a last minute kind of gal.  (“Gal?”  I know.  It seems to have slipped into my vocabulary since I married a native Tennesseean.)

But of course, then it was the day before the shower and I had yet to make the grocery list.  When I finally got home and unloaded everything, it was about 7:30 p.m.  This unassembled array of food stared ominously back at me from the island in the kitchen…

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I knew I had a long night ahead of me but I didn’t care.  My husband was gone so it was just me and this girl:

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That’s pretty much how she stared at me the whole time I cooked.  🙂  Anyway I had five things planned for this shower:  Mediterranean seven-layer dip, Lentil & couscous salad, Bruschetta, Endive/blue cheese/walnut bites, and a simple mixed green salad with radicchio and whole-grain mustard vinaigrette.  As always, I underestimated how long it would take me to prepare all of this, but the truth is that I LOVE being alone in the kitchen with some good music and good food to work with.  It just nurtures my soul.

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As I chopped and mixed and sautéed, I had time to think about the wave of weddings my friends and I have had over the past two years.  I thought about how we have all seen each other through failed relationships and broken hearts.  How we’ve then witnessed as each of us found the one that felt right.  How every wedding brings several events with it, where we all get to spend time with each other’s close friends.  All this reflecting, combined with some girly music (think, Missy Higgins and Ingrid Michaelson), and I was one weepy cook.  🙂  But seriously, I feel very blessed to have women friends in my life who have been there for me through thick and thin.  Nothing compares to that, right?

Okay, back to the food.  My personal favorite was the Mediterranean Couscous and Lentil Salad.  I followed the recipe pretty faithfully for this event since it was the first time I had made it, and I would definitely make it again!  The mint made it perfectly light and refreshing.  This recipe could easily be made vegan by leaving the feta off, and/or be made gluten-free by using quinoa instead of couscous.  It was beautiful and healthy, perfect for a warm afternoon!

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The Bruschetta was also a winner, which I adapted from Joshua Ogrodowski’s Bruschetta with White Bean Paste, Tomato Chutney, and Reduced Balsamic Glaze.  This recipe seriously tastes like heaven and looks impressive but is fairly simple to pull together.  The white bean paste is a blend of cannellini beans, parmesan cheese, olive oil, garlic, and citrus (I used lemon juice and water, but you could also use orange juice.)  For the tomato chutney, I used poblano peppers instead of the fresno chiles the recipe calls for, and they worked out perfectly.  The balsamic reduction gives it the perfect kick at the end.

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By far the biggest hit, though, was this Mediterranean Layered Dip from Yumsugar.  I was skeptical when making this, because the pesto and the hummus both turned out pretty spicy.  It calls for cilantro pesto, and although I could live on the stuff, people tend to have strong feelings one way or the other when it comes to cilantro.  But I hoped when all the layers came together it would blend nicely, and it did.  This went quick and everyone loved it.  I would definitely make this again!  It’s a nice upgrade from the typical mexican seven-layer dip.  You know, it seems, like, fancier being Mediterranean and all.  🙂

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Okay, so that photo does not make it look fancy.  But trust me, it tasted better than it looks!

My fellow bridesmaids did a great job pulling together the beautiful little details of the day:

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But the best part was seeing our friend feel spoiled and happy.

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I love you Alyssa, and can’t wait for your wedding day!

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