Day in the Life: Thursday, Feb. 15, 2018

Hi, friends! Lots of you have asked for this post (or versions of it), and I needed an easy post to write in the post-vacation haze, so HERE WE ARE.

Like so many of you, my days are packed from the time my alarm goes off until around 7 PM. I picked a random day (yesterday!) to document, and it ended up being pretty representative of a normal weekday even though we had just returned from vacation the day before.

4:00 am: My alarm goes off and I get out of bed. No snoozing, ever. Joy the Baker taught me a long time ago that the secret to getting up early is just putting your feet on the floor. So I do.

4:00-4:30: Splash water on face, brush teeth, brew coffee, and pack lunches for G and I. Leftovers and pre-chopped veggies for snacking makes this go relatively quickly.

4:30-6: Catch up on emails and write an Amazon listing for a freelance job.

6-6:30: I’ll be busy this evening, so I prep dinner now. Pasta sauce with onion, garlic, fire-roasted tomatoes, and red lentils.

6:30-7: Pilates time! I am very, very sore from some Fitness Blender videos I did the other day and very, very tired from a day of travel yesterday, so I keep it simple (but still really sweaty) with three 10-minute pilates videos (1, 2, 3) from The Balanced Life.

7-8: Shower, dress, hair, makeup. I love this part of the morning. I finish what’s left of my coffee, relax, and listen to my podcasts. This morning it was Totally Married, Up First, and The Daily.

8-8:20: Breakfast! I really wanted a smoothie, but my blender was in the dishwasher, and I could NOT bring myself to hand-wash it. I ended up with two pieces of sprouted wheat toast with almond butter and no-sugar-added jelly.

8:20-8:30: Mad dash to find my laptop, sunglasses, wallet, and security badge (things I should have put in my bag last night).

8:30-9:20: Drive to work. Traffic and my above-mentioned mad dash made me a little late.

9:30-12: Meetings and computer work at the office. (Short break for a piece of leftover Valentine’s Day cookie cake.)

12-1: Eat lunch, look at Instagram stories, and write the beginning of this post. I ate carrot coconut soup from Shutterbean, spinach and arugula with pepitas and balsamic, and grapes.

1-5: Work, work, work. Not a lot to report here.

5:00-5:45: Drive home. Yes, I spend almost two hours in the car each day. It’s the worst, but I really try to make the most of it. Lots of days I bring a La Croix to drink, and I always listen to podcasts. Today,  I listened to Criminal and Reply All, both excellent.

5:45-6:00: Clean the kitchen, which I didn’t get around to in the morning after I prepped dinner.

6:00-6:15: Boil pasta and heat up frozen peas. Glamorous, I know. 

6:15-6:30: Eat dinner. Grant’s not home from work yet, and normally I’d wait until around 7, but I need to get ready to be interviewed for my friend’s new podcast.

6:30-6:45: Take my makeup off and apply all my skincare so I don’t have to after my phone call. I also change into jammies and make myself a nerve-calming cocktail. 

6:45-7:00: Quickly paint my nails while I listen to My Favorite Murder. They’ll dry while I’m on the phone.

7:00-8:00: Chat with Becca for her new podcast. (I’ll share more about this when I can!)

8:00-8:15: Put dinner away. Don’t do a single dish. Tomorrow, tomorrow, I love ya, tomorrow. 

8:15-8:45: Get in bed and read. Right now I’m reading The Restless Sleep, about the NYPD Cold Case Unit. SO GOOD.

8:45: SLEEP! I’m normally up until about 9:30, but yesterday’s travel day just killed me. I also normally write in my gratitude journal before I go to sleep, but I turned off the lights before the reminder went off on my phone. Oh well.

Like I said up top, this was a pretty typical day for me. It’s not every day that I’m interviewed for a podcast, but I usually have something or other keeping me from my book until around 8. Hopefully that answered the questions you had, but I’ll always answer more. Leave a comment here or message me on Insta!

How do you spend your days? I need to know everything!

Vegan Baked Spaghetti with Red Lentils, Mushrooms, and White Sauce

Pasta is my favorite food. There is nothing better than a long-simmered bolognese over thick spaghetti. Maybe with some ricotta dolloped on top? And you all know I love my mac and cheese.

I love pasta so much that my favorite snack is — no joke — plain, cold pasta straight from the fridge. I don’t eat that very often now, but I cannot tell you how many hours of reality T.V. I watched in college while eating leftover plain pasta (cold bowties are seriously the best).

When Grant stopped eating meat, I had to stop making my favorite meat sauce, and it took a little while to find a good substitute. While nothing really beats meat slow-cooked in wine and tomatoes, I think I’ve found the best substitute: red lentils and mushrooms. Red lentils mimic the texture of ground meat, and sautéed mushrooms bring the meaty flavor.

Since Grant has been allergic to dairy his entire life, he’s really missed out on a lot of joy that an American-style casserole brings. (Seriously, try and find a casserole without cheese or cream of something soup!) That’s where this baked spaghetti comes in. It’s a vegan spin on the Million Dollar Spaghetti that I’ve seen all over Pinterest, with a rich tomato sauce and a creamy white sauce.

If you want to indulge in the comfort of white carbohydrates, but keep the rest of the meal light and plant-based, this baked spaghetti is where it’s at. Red wine is a mandatory side dish.

Vegan Baked Spaghetti

½ large onion

16 oz baby bella mushrooms, chopped

1 tbsp Italian seasoning

5 cloves garlic, minced

1 tsp red pepper flakes

Salt and pepper to taste

1 c red lentils, cooked (simmer in water until for 10-15 minutes, then drain once tender)

24 oz favorite marinara sauce (I like this no-sugar-added one from Aldi)

8 oz water

1 lb spaghetti

2 tbsp flour

1 tbsp vegan butter

1 tbsp olive oil

2 c cashew milk

2 tbsp nutritional yeast

Salt and pepper to taste

  1. Sauté the onion over medium heat in olive oil. Once turning translucent, add mushrooms, and turn heat up to medium-high. Sauté until the mushrooms are browned and have released their liquid. Season with salt and pepper.
  2. Turn the heat to low. Add Italian seasoning, garlic, and red pepper flakes. Stir and let cook until very fragrant, 1-2 minutes.
  3. Add cooked red lentils, marinara sauce, and water. (Tip I learned from my mom: fill the pasta jar with the amount of water you need and shake it up. Pour that water and the pasta sauce remnants into the pan. Waste not, want not!) Combine with the vegetables, bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 45 minutes.
  4. Towards the end of the simmer time, put water on to boil for the spaghetti and preheat the oven to 375.
  5. Cook the spaghetti until very, very al dente. The pasta is going to bake in the oven, so it will cook further then.
  6. Make the white sauce by adding butter and olive oil to a nonstick pan over medium heat. Once warm, sprinkle in the flour, whisking as you go. The fat and flour should create a paste.
  7. Slowly stream in the milk, whisking the whole time. The sauce should be smooth and will thicken as it simmers over medium-low heat. (If you have floury chunks, no big deal. Transfer the sauce to a glass container and blend with an immersion blender. I wasn’t a good whisk-er and had to do this, and it worked perfectly.)
  8. Assembly time! Drizzle olive oil on the bottom of a 9×13 pan. Add the drained, al dente spaghetti. Smooth into an even layer. Top the pasta evenly with about half of the white sauce. Add all of the red sauce (yes, it looks like a lot of sauce. But it’s perfect, trust me). Drizzle the rest of the white sauce evenly over the top of the red sauce.
  9. Bake for 25 minutes, or until bubbling. Allow to cool for 10-15 minute before cutting and serving.
    Serve with green vegetables or a salad. This makes awesome leftovers, and the longer that the pasta cools, the easier it is to cut into squares like lasagna.

Adapted from this non-vegan recipe by Lauren’s Latest.

CURRENTLY // January 2018

And, just like that, the first 31 days of 2018 are over. I know everyone has been complaining about how long the month of January was, but I loved it. I got so much done and had time to be lazy. It was great.

Here’s a rundown of what I was up to last month:

INSPIRED BY//

I’m working my way through Brendon Burchard’s book “High Performance Habits.” It’s very dense, and I’m reading it in spurts as I have time. He recommended setting an alarm on your phone with three focus words, several times a day. This alarm will go off and remind you how you want to be, recentering you during a crazy day.

My words are focused, caring, and committed. “Caring” reminds me to check in with loved ones, something that can go out the window during busy weeks. “Focused” and “committed” may seem too similar to be worth using both in my alarm, but I think of them this way: I am focused on the tasks that matter to me, both in leisure and work, and I ignore the rest. “Focused” reminds me to stay on-task, stop procrastinating, and get shit done. “Committed” is more about the intentions that I’ve set for myself and my family. I am committed to making my life better, step by step, so vegetables are more important than Cheetos and a date night with my husband is more important than a casual happy hour (though I will do both when I can 😜.)

EXERCISING//

My 100-day exercise countdown is going well! I’ve gotten movement in every single day. Even on days where I’ve felt under the weather, I’ve still made the time for at least 20 minutes of brisk walking on the treadmill.

Committing to exercise every day during cold and flu season seems a little crazy, I guess, but reminding myself that exercise doesn’t have to be super-sweaty and all-out every single session has been helpful. There are some weeks that have more walks then runs, and that’s ok. What matters is that I’m still moving!

G and I ran a 5K with our friend Blair on Sunday. I run that far about once a week at the gym, but this was the first time I’d run a real, organized race. I got a little claustrophobic at the beginning with all of the people squeezed into the starting line area, but I loved it otherwise. The race was held in an underground office park, so we were running through tunnels and across train tracks. It was wild, but a good way to run a 5K when it’s freezing outside. It was plenty warm (a little too warm, at times) inside.

#nofilter

EATING AND DRINKING//

I’ve been very into wilted greens and scrambled eggs on sprouted wheat toast for breakfast lately. Delicious, so much protein, and I’m full until at least 11, which is an accomplishment for me. (I usually need a snack by like 9 a.m.) Eating a big breakfast helps me to avoid the junk food snacks, so I’ve been making it a priority.

I also had my quarterly Diet Coke the other day, and I didn’t love it. The first sip made me choke a little, and I had a headache afterwards. I think I may be done with soda for good now. (With the exception of an occasional Mexican Coke with Mexican food, obviously.)

Pantry cooking has been going so, so well. I’ve been well under budget every single week this year, and I’m excited to keep up the trend. I’m making these butter mushrooms (like vegan butter chicken!) for dinner tonight using tomatoes, rice, and spices from my pantry. I only bought mushrooms and green beans, so that’s a suuuuuuuper cheap dinner. 

LISTENING TO//

Kesha and Lorde have been on repeat and so has the broadway soundtrack for “The Color Purple.” I saw the musical on Broadway (with Jennifer Hudson and Cynthia Erivo 💜!) in 2015, and my mom and I saw it in KC earlier this month. It is so excellent and so moving — definitely worth your money if the tour comes to your city. One of the biggest highlights of seeing the show in KC was watching a woman who I’d seen in an ensemble role in NYC play a lead role on the tour! I felt very proud of her, like we were friends. Ha.

I’ve also been loving the podcast “By the Book.” The hosts read a self-help book and live by the principles of the book for two weeks. They’re super honest about their impressions, and it’s funny and genuinely informative. The first episode I listened to was about the “Miracle Morning,” which I didn’t even know was a book! If you follow me on Instagram stories, you know that I call my early-morning work hours my Miracle Morning. I didn’t think that I made that up, but also didn’t know that it was an established lifestyle 🤣. The real Miracle Morning is much more structured than mine, and includes exercise, meditation, and journaling. Mine is much more focused on meeting deadlines.

READING//

I signed up for the Goodreads Reading Challenge at the beginning of the year and committed to reading 50 books in 2018. I’m a little behind, with only three books so far, but I have plenty of time to catch up.

So far, I’ve read “The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo,” “Kitchen Confidential,” and my advanced readers copy of “Girl, Wash Your Face.” I am about 90% done with “East of Eden,” which is loooooooong but so worth it. (A reminder that I post reviews of every book I read to Goodreads, if you’re curious.)

I will have plenty of time to read this coming week, and I cannot wait. G and I are headed to Colorado for a ski trip with friends, and I can probably read a book every day since I don’t ski. Seriously. I’ve tried it on two separate vacations and I find it more scary and painful than anything else. I’d rather find a fireplace, read, and meet everyone for aprés. 

What were your favorite things in January? How are your intentions going? 

Intention Check-in: Kicking the junk with a food diary

I’m checking in on the progress of my 2018 intentions. Read all about my fruitful year here, and see my other intention check-in here

If you follow me on Instagram stories, you may already know: last week was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad week when it came to junk food. I ate things that weren’t worth it multiple times; I felt sluggish; I felt irritable; I felt angry at myself.

I have no problem eating a donut from my favorite shop or sharing nachos with friends or having a glass of wine on a date night. BUT, I shouldn’t be buying junk food from the convenience store at work. Ever. There’s no reason to buy peanut M&Ms or Doritos or any of the junk that’s available. Having a handful of free M&Ms is very different from buying a “sharing size” bag and eating them all myself.

To get myself back on track, I documented a week’s worth of meals. Not only did this keep me accountable, helping me to skip the junk a couple times, but it’s a good opportunity to answer the question I get most: What do you even eat as a kind-of vegan?

What follows was a pretty typical week of prepped food, a night out, and a couple splurges.

SUNDAY

Breakfast: What I call the Christmas leftovers smoothie, with frozen banana, leftover frozen beets, leftover frozen cranberries, frozen mixed berries, frozen green peas, collagen peptides, peanut butter, and water.

My mom roasted beets for a Christmas day salad, and we had leftovers. I froze them in a flat layer in a gallon bag, and I’ve been putting them in my smoothies ever since. You can taste them a little, but the main flavor is berries and nut butter.

Snack: pre-popped popcorn

Lunch: Salad! Spinach, arugula, bell peppers, shallots, and hummus tuna salad with celery (just make tuna salad with hummus instead of mayo). I drizzled the salad with this leftover peanut sauce.  

Snack: pink lady apple with extra sharp cheddar (BEST SNACK!)

Dinner: Spaghetti with a red lentil and mushroom tomato sauce, salad, and red wine

And, as hard as it was, I ate this one helping and let Grant finish the leftovers. Because white pasta is not a nutrient-dense food. But it’s probably my favorite food.

MONDAY

Breakfast: Oatmeal with peanut butter, blackberry jelly, and coconut milk

Snack: Veggies and hummus. I often slice up a bunch of carrots, bell peppers, and celery and bring them to work with a container of hummus. They last all week in the break room fridge. The ultimate junk food deterrent.

Lunch: Quinoa, black bean, and lentil chili, leftover from last week. Grapes.

Dinner: Buffalo chickpeas, sautéed broccoli, sweet potato wedges, salad, and vegan ranch. The vegan ranch is a total budget splurge, but it’s GOOD.

Dessert: G and I both were craving something sweet, so I defrosted homemade vegan banana muffins from the freezer.

Note: This is the only day that was totally vegan. Grant doesn’t eat any of the animal products, but I still do.

TUESDAY

Breakfast: oatmeal with almond butter, jelly, coconut milk, and flax seeds.

Snack: almonds (I keep them in my desk)

Lunch: a repeat of the hummus tuna and greens salad, plus grapes and pepitas, and sub a balsamic dressing.

Snack: hummus and veggies

Dinner: This is where the wheels fell off a tiny bit. I got caught in traffic on the way to the movies (go see I, Tonya, everyone!), and didn’t have time to swing by my sister’s to heat up my packed dinner. I ate an Rx bar in the car and then ordered cheese, salami, and crackers at the movie theater. I also had a glass of wine.

There was nothing spicy about the hot salami, but it was still tasty.

WEDNESDAY

I’m especially proud of this day because I didn’t sleep well the night before. Which means the junk food cravings were strong. I didn’t cave.

Breakfast: I woke up so hungry. Two pieces of sourdough, spread with garlic hummus and sprinkled with everything but the bagel seasoning. Grapes.

I made peppermint tea to drink on the way to work, and I added two scoops of collagen peptides. I think this is my new trick to stay full until lunch!

Lunch: Salad with arugula, spinach, shallot, bell peppers, buffalo chickpeas, and a banana (on the side, not in the salad).

Snack: Clementines and roasted edamame

Dinner: vegan lasagna from the freezer (yay freezer meals! Saving my butt one day at a time!)

THURSDAY

Breakfast: More oatmeal! Almond butter, jelly, coconut milk.

And more peppermint tea with collagen.

Snack: almonds

Lunch: Salad with hummus tuna salad, shallots, bell pepper, grapes, and balsamic. I forgot the pepitas, and I missed them. Clementines on the side.

Snack: bell peppers and hummus from my fridge stash around 2:30, and then an Rx bar around 4. We went to the gym after work, so I knew I needed a more sustainable snack for the evening. Rx bars are my favorite protein bars because they’re made of whole ingredients, like eggs, instead of weird chemicals and powders.

Dinner: My red lentil and sweet potato daal with brown rice and extra sriracha.

There’s naan in this photo from last year, but I didn’t eat naan this time, ok?!

Lessons (re)learned:

I’m totally capable of making it through a week without the vending machine. I will eat salads if they’re prepped ahead of time. Having protein ready at all times is crucial to staying on track (thanks tuna and hummus!).

Another thing — this was totally a pantry cooking week! I ate out of the freezer, worked on my red lentil stash, and most of my lunches were tuna from the back of the pantry.

Also, as a total pep talk to myself, I posted this design on Instagram.

It’s ok that last week was shit. For real. It doesn’t matter that I totally failed at my food intentions. I just got back on the horse this Sunday. My life (and my body) is molded by what I do consistently — not the junk food I repeatedly ate last week. So I haven’t had a perfect January. That doesn’t mean that I can write off the rest of the month (or the rest of the year). I just start over tomorrow.

What’s the best thing you ate this week? Would you all enjoy more posts like this? I am super nosy and love reading about what people ate, but that may just be me.

2018 Intention Check-in: PANTRY COOKING

I’m checking in on the progress of my 2018 intentions. Read all about my fruitful year here.

When I first started planning meals for my little family, Pinterest was making its debut. I was in college, I had a lot of free time (sigh. Remember that?), and I would watch endless hours of television while pinning recipes and cute sweaters and inspirational quotes. Grant and I both lived in small apartments, and neither of us really made the most of our limited pantry space. So, on the weekends, I would shop for basically all of the ingredients to make several recipes that sounded good from my Pinterest boards.

I was still learning, obviously, but it is so cringeworthy to think about how much money I wasted (and the FOOD WASTE! 😢). And, until recently, I was still planning meals in much the same way. Sure, I had more pantry space, and I keep a lot more staple ingredients on-hand. But my grocery cart was always overflowing with new things to try and full ingredient lists for new recipes.

When I saw this video and blog post about “shelf cooking,” a.k.a. cooking from the food you’ve already got on hand, I seriously felt like I’d been smacked. What was I doing? Why was I wasting so much money? 

Some of it was totally learning to deal with our new semi-vegan diet. I made a bunch of new purchases to try new recipes and techniques. But some of it is just overpurchasing. I love grocery shopping, and things that I don’t need often make it into my cart. Which just leads to an maxed-out pantry and a busted budget.

We don’t have a real pantry in our kitchen, just a very skinny closet w/ shallow shelves. I use a few kitchen cabinets for food storage, and they are overflowing with dry goods. It’s my mission to use up my stores, relying on tried-and-true recipes and a little inventiveness.

HOW TO CREATE A STOCK OF INGREDIENTS

If you’re anything like me, you’ve got plenty of random odds and ends to work with for this pantry challenge. But you may not! I follow two guidelines to ensure that a quick and cheap meal is never too far away.

    1. Buy double sometimes. This may seem counterintuitive to my goal of saving money while grocery shopping, but it’s really not. A couple of times a month, I’ll buy double amounts of the canned and frozen goods on my shopping list. Four cans of diced tomatoes, six cans of chickpeas, two bags of frozen peas. You can add those items to your cart for just a few dollars, and they will be there waiting for you when you’re building a pantry-based meal plan the next week.

      I do not double-up on grains purchases because I am currently working through a pasta and rice stash like you wouldn’t believe. Why did I keep buying grain blends? But once that stash is depleted, buying two boxes of macaroni or two bags of rice is hardly more expensive than buying one.
    2. Double freezable recipes. This has SAVED MY LIFE! You may think I’m exaggerating, but having some frozen chili to defrost when you’ve got to feed unexpected guests on a Friday evening?! LIFE SAVING!!!!

      Often, when I make a soup, chili, stew, curry, etc., I double it and freeze half. We have a deep freeze, so this is super-easy for me, but you could totally make it work with a regular freezer, too. I let the meal cool to room temperature, ladle it into freezer-safe gallon bags, and then lay the bag flat in the freezer. Once the bag is frozen, it can be stacked horizontally (like books on a shelf) or vertically, and that takes up barely any space at all. When it comes time to eat these frozen meals, I let them defrost in the fridge for ~12 hours (always wrapped in an absorbent dish towel in case the bag is invisibly ripped) and then reheat on the stove, OR, if I’m really in a hurry, the frozen contents of the bag can go in an enormous pot on the stove with a splash of water.

      Having these frozen meals (which I keep a list of on my phone) means that I can incorporate one of them into my meal plan each week. I usually defrost a soup or chili that becomes my lunches, but they are also perfect for nights when I need to write after work.

MAKING A PANTRY-BASED MEAL PLAN

This is where creativity comes in. The goal is to buy as few new groceries as possible, so planning meals starts with assessment. Towards the end of the week, usually Friday or Saturday morning, I check out the contents of my fridge. I start there because refrigerated stuff has a shorter shelf life than pantry and freezer items, so it needs to be used up first. I usually have veggies, hummus, various non-dairy milks, and leftovers.

For example, if I have bell peppers, I come up with a plan to use them. That can be sliced for hummus dipping, or added to soup, or making fajita peppers.

Let’s say I decide to go with fajitas. Next I move to the pantry, where I’m hoping I’ll find black or pinto beans. I don’t see either, but I do have brown lentils. Check! I also have a ton of brown rice and an unopened jar of salsa. I add lettuce and cilantro to my grocery list, and now I have the makings of burrito bowls with bell peppers, lentils, and brown rice!

While I’m looking for the black beans, I find a ton of red lentils, and I know I’ve got a box of spaghetti. If I buy marinara sauce and some mushrooms, I’ll have all the makings for my vegan Million Dollar spaghetti (recipe coming soon!).

This process flips the order of how I used to make a meal plan. I used to choose recipes first and check my pantry second. NOPE. Now I check for ingredients and choose meals around that. Last week, I noticed that I had two bags of frozen edamame, and that inspired the rice bowls I made the other night. I used this recipe, but I customized it to fit the veggies I had on hand. I bought a package of tofu to substitute for the eggs, but everything else was in my pantry, fridge, or freezer.

The more comfortable you are winging it in the kitchen, the easier pantry cooking is. It’s easy to make the most of your pantry if you can cook without a recipe. This is a skill that comes with time and practice, BUT anyone can do it. The easiest way to make a cheap AF meal with what you’ve got on hand: soup, pasta, or stir fry. All three will use up any veggie or protein, all have really flexible recipes that have easy ingredient swaps, and they’re pretty foolproof! Chop and saute veggies, add sauce or broth, simmer until tender, add cooked protein, and serve over a grain. You did it!

If you want an example of an easy, make-it-up-as-you-go-along type of “recipe,” see this Instagram post:

I love answering your recipe questions on Insta or in the comments here, so don’t hesitate to reach out ♥️

RESULTS

I’ve gone grocery shopping twice this year. I spent $30 the first week (making the most of leftover Christmas and New Year’s food) and $60 the second. That feeds Grant and I for 21 meals/week EACH, plus snacks. (We rarely eat out — just a few times each month, usually with friends.) That’s less than $1.50/person/meal.

It could be lower, but I buy a lot of fresh produce, like salad stuff. That adds up quickly. I think it’s worth it.

I know that this way of meal planning isn’t revolutionary. But it is a real way that I can be more intentional about spending, cut down on food waste, and flex my culinary muscles (which are bigger than my actual muscles).

What budgeting tricks do you use in the kitchen? I could always use the help!