Wednesday, April 11, 2018

The Veggie Tale

Hey y'all! It's officially spring and though the weather is still confused, the pollen is here and I'm feeling it. My allergies are wild as all get out right now, but I'm starting to just get used to it. Also, because it's mid-April, that means I have a little over 2 weeks left of school and then I'm done! The semester has been seriously dragging since spring break and because I picked up a class for someone on maternity leave, I've been driving nearly 3 hours Monday and Wednesday morning and I'm most definitely ready for that to be done.

Since I started with a series of complaints, I will go ahead and tell you that life, though stressful, is pretty dang awesome. First, as you can see above, the cover for My Life Without Ranch (THE BOOK)  was revealed. There is still some editing left, but I am getting one step closer to holding the book in my hands and sharing it will all of you. Second, even though I'm poor as dirt, I have a lot of fun trips planned this summer. I'd like to thank my parents, American Express and those schools that employ me for allowing me to have two beach trips, two concerts (one in Atlanta), a trip to Portland/Seattle (EEK!) and at least one short trip to Nashville and Chattanooga at some point. I love getting out of town so I'm super excited to go places with my family and friends. Third, as of last week, I finally worked off the weight I gained over the holidays! That was my first goal of the year. It took me until April but dang it, I did it and it feels nice. I'm losing weight SUPER slowly right now but I have momentum and I feel good and I'm working not to obsess so I am happy with the progress. I've made another small goal of around 9 pounds. I don't really care how long it takes so it could be awhile. As long as I'm striving to stay healthy most of the time and not beat myself up, I'm happy.

Happy Belated Birthday to my dog June! This little pup walked into our lives last year and now she's 1. In that time, she's been wild and destructive but we love her and she's part of the family. Maybe now that she's a year old she will calm tf down. Seems doubtful.

Happy Early Anniversary to my parents! I get to head out west with them this summer! I'm pretty lucky that they met in high school and married in 1982 because without them, I wouldn't have been able to see the world or you know, have the best food every Sunday night for dinner.

Happy Early Birthday to my bestie Jordan! You are THE most wonderful friend/person. Can't wait to celebrate with you and then see Shania in June.

So, now down to business. As I think I've mentioned, my current food plan is the new Weight Watchers Freestyle. So far, it's been super manageable. There are a lot of "free" foods including eggs, fish and super lean turkey and chicken. Obviously, you can't eat only meat all the time…so you have to try to get your veggies in when you can. To show you I've been trying to eat more veggies, I included the pretty salad I made above with lettuce, cucumbers, fruit, fat free feta and sesame dressing (from P.F. Chang's and it's delicious) I also showed a video (that I hope you can see) that shows my new fancy spiralizer attachment for the Kitchen-Aid (courtesy of my parents) to make zoodles. Now, I'm cool with vegetables but I don't usually get excited about them unless they are wrapped in bacon or covered in cheese. I try to incorporate a veggie every day…like green beans or broccoli with dinner. In the spirit of eating more vegetables, I decided to try vegetables I either tried when I was younger and though I hated or vegetables I'd never had. I thought now that I was an adult, I may find that I like these veggies and then I would have more options.

The first veggie I tried was beets. Y'all, my grandmother serves beets ALL THE TIME at her famous Sunday lunches. I've always sneered my nose at them but to be honest, I don't think I'd ever really given them a fair shot. Rather than add vinegar and sugar to them like my grandmother does, I prepared them in a way that actually gave me any chance of enjoying them. I cut them up into a fry shape, tossed them with olive oil, seasoned them with salt and pepper and them roasted them. When they came out, I added parmesan cheese. A couple things…1) when you cut up beets, it looks like you've bene involved in a crime scene. 2) It's hard to tell when they are done because they don't really change color or get "crisp." Ultimately, the beet itself didn't have a ton of flavor. It absorbed the flavors of the oil, seasoning and cheese. My problem with the beets had everything to do with texture. It was just limp and broke apart all gross in my mouth. I guess if I had to compare it to anything, it would be a roasted carrot that was in between complete mush and raw. I didn't really like it…at all.

The second veggie I tried (which I later found out wasn't "free" on Weight Watchers) was parsnips. I had never tried them before. I used my mandolin to make parsnip "chips" and much like the beets, I tossed with olive oil and seasoned with salt, pepper and garlic powder. These are simple. Once you season them, just throw them on a baking sheet and bake them til the edges curl up and they are crispy. These were alright. I'd always heard that a parsnip is a cross between a carrot and a potato. I can agree with that. I liked the salty/sweet combo but to be honest, if I'm going to make a chip from something, I'd pick a regular potato, sweet potato, or even a zucchini if I wanted something less starchy. Having said that, they were my favorite of the vegetable experiments…that doesn't say much though.

The third and final vegetable I tried was brussel sprouts. In my life I'd never eaten them. In fact, I don't have much experience with cabbage at all except for that I like my grandma's sour kraut and weenies and I like the kraut they use at football games. I bought the brussel sprouts, blanched them and them sautéed them in a skillet with olive oil, bacon, garlic, salt and pepper. I only cut them in half…which I think was a mistake. They might have been more acceptable if they had been chopped more finely. When I was done, I picked up a brussel sprout and put it in my mouth. I chewed as it broke apart. I could smell the pungent fart like scent that comes from them and at certain points I swear I could taste it too. The texture was gross. The taste was gross. The only reason I didn't vomit is because I added bacon. Once again, I find myself thanking God for bacon. Y'all. I cannot believe some of you just eat these STEAMED! WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?! I can now say, with complete confidence, that I do NOT like brussel sprouts. Also, I just googled it and apparently
you're supposed to say "brussels sprout." Even that is dumb. Don't try to get me to eat them again y'all. I won't. My family didn't like them either.

I guess it's back to broccoli, green beans and salads for me. Are there any other vegetables I should try? Anyway, the vegetable experiment didn't go that well but that's OK. I lived through it…though it was touch and go for a minute after the brussel sprouts.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018


Happy Spring Break, Y'all! If you're like me, you haven't gotten a genuine spring break in a long time. Luckily, I get more off time than most when I don't have regular classes in the summer but my spring break this year is interrupted by another class in Birmingham that I picked up. Having said that, I do get a slight break the next few days so I'm going to try and take advantage of that. I hope you all get a chance to relax as soon as possible.

Happy Belated Anniversary to Ian. We celebrated last week. We've been official on Facebook for four years now and we are still going strong. We complement each other well and I'm excited to see where the future leads us.
Happy Belated Birthday to my Aunt Brenda! I hope you had a wonderful day!

One of my favorite holidays is happening on Saturday. I can't wait to wear green and be silly with my friends!

Happy Early Easter! Can you believe we are only a little over two weeks away from a visit from the Easter Bunny?! The year is already flying by.

Speaking of time passing by super fast, I am steadily working on my book. It's going to be featured on a panel at Book Expo in NYC at the end of May and so I'm rigorously working on editing, etc. 50/50 Press is revealing the covers for their upcoming titles on March 22nd at 7PM. That's when you'll see what my book is going to look like! I'm over the moon to be involved in this process and I can't thank 50/50 enough for treating me so well. They are awesome! The book should be out in October so keep a look out for announcements.

Over the past several weeks, I've been trying the new Weight Watchers Freestyle program. I've tried pretty much every version of Weight Watchers so I thought I'd try that one out. So far, I've managed to dig up some of my old will power. That combined with the fact that I think this is the most manageable version of Weight Watchers they've ever come up with, has meant that I have had some weight loss success in the past few weeks. I've lost a little over four pounds. I'm happy with this but trying not to get trapped in the numbers and obsession like I have in the past. This particular program allows some wiggle room. It provides balance. If I know I'm going to have cocktails or a heavy meal, I can eat a super light lunch. I still have about 4 pounds left to finally get off the Christmas weight but I like the direction I'm headed.  Because WW allows certain foods like chicken, black beans and corn for "free" for the first time, I'm eating a lot of chicken. I'm big on variety and chicken can get boring so I've made several variations of chicken recipes the past few weeks. I've gone back to some oldies making Chicken Tortilla Soup and then also my Chicken Cauliflower "Fried" Rice. These are healthy, filling and easy dishes to whip up. They also have a lot of flavor.

I also made Stuffed Chicken. The chicken was seasoned, butterflied, stuffed with spinach and mozzarella and then rolled up. Once it was rolled, it was coated in panko bread crumbs and baked. I didn't add any fat other than cheese. I sprayed the bottom of the dish with non-stick cooking spray. It was tasty and even just adding a cheese element made it a bit more interesting.

The French Onion Chicken concoction I grabbed from Pinterest was a fan favorite. We caramelized the onions with balsamic vinegar and chicken broth for a long time. Once it was done, we sautéed the chicken the same way and then combined it all together. We added ultra thin sliced provolone at the end and baked it in the skillet until it was bubbly. I served mine with an Everything Bagel Thin but it could go with anything. The million onions (and garlic and balsamic and salt and pepper) made it SUPER flavorful and the chicken ended up tender. It was a good time. If you have any unique chicken recipes, let me know! Otherwise, have a wonderful March and I will get back to you in April! Roll Tide!

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

When the work you put in is realized...

Happy Valentine's Day y'all! I hope whether you're single or not, that your day is filled with love! I was entertained to see my different moods about Valentine's Day each year in my time hop. I still think it's a holiday with issues but at this point, I enjoy a holiday that celebrates love. I have so much love for Ian, my friends and my family. Having a support system is something I don't take for granted. So, here's a hug for y'all. Let there be so much love in your life.

I'd like to hop back to Christmas Eve real quick before I move on. I was in Nashville with Ian as we were wrapping up our holiday visit with his family. We were set to drive to Chattanooga that morning after church. Of course, I woke up early and was going through my morning routine with my phone. I always start by checking my email. When you're a writer, rejection is just part of the gig. I have gotten countless rejections over the years. Over the summer, I submitted a draft of My Life Without Ranch (the book) to 50/50 press. The response I got was so heartfelt, but it was, in fact a rejection. After the rejection, I found myself inspired. I dove in to re-write the manuscript for a third time (at least). Once I finished, I sent it to 50/50 press again. I thought it was a long shot. I knew she appreciated my voice but truth be told, I was worried I would annoy her and I was so used to rejection I honestly didn't put much stock in it. Having said that, I knew this was the best draft I had turned out.

So, back to Christmas Eve. I'm going through my emails, mostly junk, and see her email address pop up. My immediate thought was, "Really?! Who sends a rejection on Christmas Eve?!" I didn't even open it right away. I went through and deleted all the Christmas Eve ad emails and then finally got back to the email from 50/50 press. The first word I read was "Congratulations." I threw the phone down in shock. I picked it back up and started reading the good news: my number one dream in life was coming true and I started sobbing. This book is so unbelievably personal. It has taken so much out of me. I've learned more about myself writing it than I have just living my every day life. The thought of people reading it is truly terrifying but because other people understand the struggle of body image and self-love, I'm getting my ISBN number, something I was starting to think was never going to happen.

I'm not exaggerating when I say that not more than a week prior to this news, I had a breakdown over a necklace breaking and cried to Ian telling him that I wanted to stop writing for awhile. It was a spiral stemming from the struggle I've had with weight for so long and the insecurity I had about getting that struggle on the page in an entertaining way. I had come to terms with the fact that maybe a book wasn't going to happen and I wanted to focus on something else. Writing is exhausting and draining and the rejection can be overwhelming. Receiving this email was the single most empowering, emotional and tremendous moment of my life. I know that's dramatic, but I AM a writer. I immediately woke Ian up to make him read the email at 7:30AM. I needed someone to verify that I was reading it correctly and then I proceeded to call my family, then Jordan and Cassandra. In the car, on the way to Chattanooga, every song made me cry like an idiot. I know it's corny but I LOVE sappy Tim McGraw songs. His song "Humble and Kind" came on and I flipping lost it. Ultimately, the song is a message to people to not be jerks when their dreams come true but dang if it doesn't choke me up. That day, hearing: "When the dreams you're dreaming' come to you, when the work you put in is realized, let yourself feel the pride, but always stay humble and kind." Y'all I lost it. I've skated by in some areas of my life but when I say I've worked hard on this book, I mean it. It's a wonderful feeling I can't quite put my finger on. I also cry when Paperback Writer plays now too, haha. I'm nuts. Anyway, the point is, thank you to everyone who has been so kind and supportive over the years. I can't wait for you to read the book this fall/winter. I can't wait to hold it in my hands.

There's not a smooth way to transition from that so I won't try. Ian and I went to New Orleans for a spur of the moment trip a couple weeks ago when his band found out they had a gig down there. We were only there two nights (one of which he played) but in the time we did have, we ate wonderful food, ran into friends, had tasty drinks and just enjoyed the city in general. I always love going to New Orleans…especially when it's not too crowded. I imagine it was crazy down there last night.

I've been back in cooking mode this semester now that I have a bit more time. One of the first recipes Ian and I made was a Philly Cheesesteak Sloppy Joe. We made two pans based on veggie preference. In each pan, we sautéed lean ground beef, garlic, salt, pepper, onions, about a tablespoon of ketchup and a little bit of beef broth. In Ian's pan, he had chopped bell peppers. In mine, I had chopped mushrooms. Once it was all cooked through, we had it on our bread of choice with a slice of ultra thin provolone cheese. It was DELICIOUS! The only fat came from the beef and since we used extra lean, it was not bad. It was nice to change up the typical lean burgers we usually have.

A couple weeks back, Fresh Market's Little Big Meal was taco night! We had chicken in the freezer so Ian had chicken tacos. I grabbed the shrimp and had shrimp tacos at home. Again, it was nice change and the seasoning Fresh Market provides had quite a kick! We eat Mexican food SO MUCH and love it just as much when we make it at home.

It's back to school time and on Tuesdays and Thursdays, I get up early and work out and then I'm on campus from about 10:30-6:15. That means, I bring lunch. I've been eating carrots and hummus and string cheese and applesauce and sandwiches and all the staples but a couple weeks ago, I brought leftover grilled chicken for lunch and to jazz it up just a touch, I wrapped it in ham slices. The truth is I always feel like I'm starving on campus. I don't know why. Because of that, I bring a ton of low cal options that I can snack on all day. It's a mental thing I guess.

In terms of weight, I'm about the same as I was last month. That's one of the reasons I've been super grumpy about my body lately. I'm trying to listen to my own advice but it's hard. I'm definitely eating better and one week I lost 3 pounds. The next, out of nowhere, I put it all back on. My body makes zero sense sometimes. I'm down about half a pound which means I still have 8 I want to get off for my first goal of the year. I'm not exactly in a hurry but the stalemate annoys me. Anyway, I digress. When I'm back on my diet, I rely on those 100 calorie popcorn bags for late night snack cravings. They don't exactly have a ton of flavor, but one day Ian and I were in the popcorn section and discovered this popcorn butter spray. It claims it's zero calories. It's kind of like Pam but with a stronger butter taste. Y'all, I hope this spray doesn't cause cancer or really have like 1,000 calories because Ian and I are obsessed. We get so cracked up because we will be sitting there and one of us will hear this loud, long spraying noise as we coat our popcorn in this stuff. It definitely cranks up the boring, plain, healthy popcorn up a notch. I highly recommend it.

Finally, since it's Valentine's day, I have to give extra kudos to Ian. Even though I've started cooking a bit more, he's still the primary cook of the house right now. He DESPISES mushrooms. He has branched out a lot since we've been together in terms of food but he draws the line at mushrooms. I happen to love them. One night, I sent him a sautéed mushrooms recipe that used beef broth (and a couple spray from the olive oil sprayer I have talked about before) and garlic, salt and pepper and he made them for me as a side dish to pork chops. They were DELICIOUS! I was super impressed that the made some bomb mushrooms even though he hates them. Anyway, I'll stop bragging now.

Enjoy your Valentine's Day y'all!

Talk to you next month!

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Special Addendum!



from 50/50 Press!

More details as they arrive! I'll fill you in on all I know when I update on Valentine's Day! Stay Tuned!

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Welcome to 2018 Y'all!

Happy 2018 y'all! I hope you had a wonderful holiday season and that you aren't currently freezing your butt off in this frigid weather. I'm just not cut out for cold weather. I do not enjoy it. I'm jumping right into to 2018 with goals, exciting news (TBA) and a path to better mental and physical health. I finally weighed this morning to take inventory/review the damage from the holidays. Since Thanksgiving, I've been indulging to say the least. We celebrated Christmas several times, then there was NYE, Ian's birthday (which happened to be the same day Alabama won yet another National Championship...ROLL TIDE) and a smattering of other caloric events. As of this morning, I need to lose 7.8 pounds to get back down to my pre-Thanksgiving weight. I expected this. I am not giving myself a strict timeline for this. I just want to have more of a routine and get back to a better, healthier schedule. Once I reach that goal, I will think about the next one. It's important to focus on small, individual goals. I am feeling good about things ahead.

I don't know if y'all are into resolutions but I made a list of several that included personal, career, health and other goals that I'm hoping will help me be a stronger, more determined human. This year I've taken the standard "lose weight" goal off the list and I'm focusing on more specific ways to get healthier that will surely lead to weight loss anyway. This year I'm ditching the dependence on numbers. For example, as silly as it sounds, one of my goals is to do a hand stand. Strength is something I'm aiming for both in muscle tone as well as mental strength. I've also banned edible bowls from my life in 2018 seeing as how I ate an unprecedented number of taco salads this year, destroying each and every fried tortilla bowl in its entirety. Other goals include paying off one of my credit cards that I've charged up again, being nicer to Ian, a multitude of teaching and writing goals, chewing my food better and easing up on the binge drinking. I haven't cut anything completely and I'm hoping that at the end of the  year I can say that I lived 2018 better than I did 2017 and that I continue that progression every year.

One of the habits I picked up over the holidays was an incessant need to bake. I made lots of holiday cookies and then in an effort to get rid of some of the chocolate in the house, I made cookies from scratch. They were SO good but a dangerous item to have in the house. Mostly, my biggest issues with cookie would be the fact that I am a bowl licker from way back. No speck of dough gets left behind.

Now that I'm back in school, I'm hoping for routine. As usual, I'm always looking for grab and go lunches. I found this meal kit at Target that included carrots, grapes, cheese, crackers, hummus and a trail mix that combined nuts, dried cranberries and chocolate. It was super tasty and filling and I wasn't convinced it was only 360 calories for the whole pack. On top of that, it was $5, which isn't terrible but I thought making my own at home was a better plan. So, I included ham, smoked gouda, a hard-boiled egg, protein crackers, and a combo of dry roasted peanuts and dark chocolate. I missed the hummus so if I make one in the future, I may add that, but otherwise, it was easy to make and packed with protein.

Now that Ian and I are back to our routine of cooking dinner every night, we went ahead and got a Hello Fresh box to mix things up. This particular one had meals that both of us could eat happily (though Ian wouldn't touch the cauliflower with a ten foot pole). The first meal was BBQ chicken, green beans and macaroni and cheese. We added teryiaki sauce to the green beans and cooked them into oblivion because that's the only way Ian will eat them, but other than that, it was tasty. I'm always on board when macaroni and cheese is involved and the sauce for the chicken was great. The next meal was a burger with a delicious bun and caramelized onions. The only catch was that it came with "fried" cauliflower which meant that it was tossed together with oil and panko and thrown in the oven. I enjoyed it fine, but the burger was hands down the bright spot in that meal. They are always so juicy and flavorful from Hello Fresh. The last meal we got was a chicken sausage and orzo dish that had spinach and tomatoes. It was also great. Ian isn't a huge fan of sausage (I know, right?) but even he had to admit the dish was delicious. I especially liked the bites that had chunks of mozzarella in them. Hello Fresh is a bit pricy but it's super convenient and always fantastic quality.

I wanted to tell you about a new product I got from QVC. It's called an EVO Oil Sprayer. You can put whatever oil you want in it but when you spray, it squirts out 1/4 of a teaspoon of oil. I love this because I know exactly how much I'm putting on whatever I'm making and it spreads the oil out well. This way I don't have to use too much oil. A little bit goes a long way with this and I highly recommend it as a product. That's all for now! Holla at y'all soon!