Food

Whole30 Recap, Round Three

I completed my third Whole30 last month, in January 2015.

For my first Whole30 in July 2012, I posted a blog entry every day with what I’d eaten that day. Before and after, I wrote about why I was doing it and did a comprehensive recap at the end. My first Whole30 was the hardest because it was brand new to me and I was battling an underactive thyroid at the time (I still take a pill every day for my thyroid but at least it’s under control now).

For my second Whole30 in October 2014, I wrote about why I was doing it again over two years later, but I decided to post weekly food wrap-ups instead of daily. I didn’t do a recap post at the end of that one.

For my third Whole30, I didn’t announce in advance that I was doing it or post my daily meals anywhere, but I did decide to write this recap. (Way to change things up, huh?)

Here are some questions that have come up in the past, or I’ve seen other Whole30’ers answer:

How was the Whole30, Round 3?
The third time around was mostly uneventful. I knew what to expect and I knew what I could eat. I had already identified some new paleo dishes during my second Whole30, so I pulled out the ones I like the most and made those again.

The first 4-5 days were unpleasant because I indulged in too much chocolate during the month of December. (In hindsight, it’s probably not a good idea to plan a Whole30 so far in advance because I was essentially giving myself permission to eat chocolate, knowing I wouldn’t have any starting in January.)

How was the temptation? Did you find it difficult to stick to the plan?
I’m going to be completely honest here: when it comes to decision-making, I find the Whole30 easier in a lot of ways than when I’m not on it. If I’m not allowed to have something, I don’t crave it. Since sweets aren’t an option for me, the permission button in my head – the one that asks “should I or shouldn’t I?” – just cuts off.

Sugar, gluten, legumes, dairy, alcohol. I can’t have it. The end. So I find something I can eat and I enjoy it because there’s a lot of tasty Whole30-compliant food out there.

During my periods of non-Whole30 eating, I do, of course, still practice restraint in my eating. I cut out most gluten in early 2012 (due to the aforementioned thyroid issue) and these days I eat mostly paleo. But I am more likely to say yes to the occasional indulgence – delicious desserts at work, pizza or beer with my husband, fried food at a restaurant – because technically there’s nothing telling me I can’t.

Did you feel deprived?
I don’t feel deprived on the Whole30 because you don’t restrict yourself to a certain number of calories or points. As long as you stay within the Whole30 food guidelines, you can pretty much eat whatever (and however much of it) you want.

I started making better food choices after my second Whole30 ended last October. Before then, even though I was eating mostly gluten-free I was consuming way too many corn tortilla chips. I also used half & half and stevia in my morning cup of coffee. (I drink decaf coffee during the week at work and regular on the weekends when Paul and I share a pot at home.) I haven’t had corn tortilla chips since last September and I only have cream in my coffee when I order it from a coffee shop (which has happened 2-3 times in the past four months). I’ve cut out stevia completely.

What did you eat?
I mostly took compliant foods from my two cooking lists (Top 25 Weeknight Dinners and Top 20 CrockPot Meals), or modified them to be compliant as needed. Turkey Satay Burgers with Broccoli Slaw is one favorite:

Paleo Turkey Satay Burgers with Broccoli Slaw

Since Paul wasn’t on the Whole30, I’d serve him side dishes of pasta and rice. For snacks I like shredded coconut, apples with almond butter, bananas, raw walnuts, and bags of frozen vegetables (mainly Brussels sprouts and broccoli, which I eat with a scoop of coconut oil mixed in because yum).

Any tips?
It’s very important I take enough food to work so I don’t find myself hungry with no Whole30-compliant options in sight. I’ll often leave food in my desk drawers for just such an emergency (a bag of shredded coconut is a great shelf-stable snack item). Hunger is the enemy of willpower.

How much weight did you lose?
I tend to lose 3-5 pounds whenever I do a Whole30.

What was the first non-Whole30 thing you ate after the month was over?
Paul and I attended a local Ice Festival the day after my Whole30 ended, where I had cream in my coffee and a small bowl of pumpkin bisque. I had a glass of wine with dinner that evening, plus a mug of cocoa with marshmallows. However, I was back on Whole30-compliant foods after that. I’d like to continue eating mostly Whole30 during the week with some breaks on the weekend.

Do you have any questions about the Whole30 I didn’t answer?

Books

Books Read in January 2015

I read 10 books in January. This number is a bit astonishing to me as I haven’t gone through so many books in a month since…well, I don’t remember when. Probably sometime in 2006, which was the year I read 110 books. My normal rate is more like 3-5 a month.

There are certain factors I should mention: 1) I started reading two books near the end of December that I didn’t finish until the first few days of January, so they’re included here instead of in my 2014 reading list; 2) January in Buffalo is pretty darn cold, so I spent more time than usual reading in my warm house instead of going outside; 3) I rarely watch TV, so those hours are available to spend with the printed page; and 4) I don’t have kids.

I read most books via the Overdrive app on my smartphone (borrowed from the library for free) because I pretty much always have my phone on me and it’s easier than carrying a physical book around. (I do check out physical books from the library but only if they’re not available in e-book form.) Using my phone, I can read books on my couch, while brushing my teeth, sitting on the bus as I commute to work, waiting for lunch to heat up in the microwave, and standing in line at the grocery store.

This month I surpassed the goal I set to read at least one work of fiction (I only read one total in 2014). Of the 10 books I read in January, exactly half were fiction. I’ve been taking note of what other book bloggers recommend, which has been a huge help in deciding what I should go with.

I rank my books with these categories: Highly Recommended, Recommended, Okay, and Not Recommended. In January, they all fell into the first three.

Highly Recommended

The Happiness of Pursuit: Finding the Quest That Will Bring Purpose to Your Life, Chris Guillebeau
I reviewed this book last week.

Recommended

Doerr

All the Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr
I really enjoyed this. The only danger, if you’re someone like me who has no qualms about putting a book down if you find it boring, is making it through the first few chapters. I seriously considered abandoning it. I figured the author was setting up the story and everything would tie back into the narrative later (which it did), but I found it hard to get through. I’m really glad I stuck with it.

The Light Between Oceans, M.L. Stedman
I wish I’d been able to read this with a book club. (Alas, I’m not a member of any book clubs in the city where I live. I’d love to remedy that.) I would have liked to discuss it with a group of ladies. This book was definitely a page-turner (I finished the last half in one day), but I couldn’t list it as Highly Recommended because I found myself so annoyed at the characters and also the way it ended. Without giving anything away, I was annoyed that Tom couldn’t just get over it and live his happy life like Isabel could. And I was really annoyed with the way Tom gave up their secret.

Astonish Me, Maggie Shipstead
For someone who has never had any ballet training or even attended a ballet in person, I really like reading books about ballerinas. (Has anyone else seen the 12-part documentary about NYC’s City Ballet published by AOL in 2013? I watched all of them.) This book is more set in the ballet world than describing the ins and outs of becoming and working as a ballerina, but it was really well done.

China Dolls, Lisa See
I had previously read and enjoyed another book by this author (Snow Flower and the Secret Fan), so when I saw this one I added it to my list. I like historical fiction, especially when the story is set in a time period I’m not overly familiar with. It’s crazy to read about the racism Asians experienced in America (not really all that long ago). This book covered the time period before, during, and after the bombing of Pearl Harbor when many Japanese in the U.S. were sent to live in camps.

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, Karen Joy Fowler
The structure of this story was different from the norm but the author navigated it well. I had no idea what the book was about in advance (as other bloggers’ reviews recommended), so I was surprised when the news about Fern was revealed — I definitely didn’t guess it in advance.

It was interesting how the narrator remembered certain things about her childhood one way, but discovered as an adult that she had been mistaken. I also liked how the story ended, which I wasn’t able to say about all fiction books I read this month.

The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That Way, Amanda Ripley
You’d think a nonfiction book about education might be dull, but this was a quick and interesting read. The author profiled three American teenagers participating in study abroad programs in South Korea, Poland, and Finland. Learning how these countries run their education systems compared to the U.S. (we score abominably low on international tests) was fascinating. It was also interesting to note that while these countries have high test scores, no education system is perfect. Parents and students in those countries find something to complain about just as easily as we do. The author offered suggestions for changes the U.S. education system could make, with more rigorous teacher training and standards being high on the list.

Okay

Something Other Than God: How I Passionately Sought Happiness and Accidentally Found It, Jennifer Fulwiler
I considered putting this book in the Recommended category, but I just couldn’t. I’m sure many people would disagree with me (I understand the author has a popular faith-based blog), but I didn’t find her very likeable. Maybe it was just the way she portrayed herself in the book, but she kept doing and saying annoying things that made me roll my eyes. A common theme was how she would constantly slack off from whatever she was supposed to be doing in order to read the Bible, research her questions, or get involved with long conversations with people on her blog. Those things are all fine, but do them on your own time. What I did like about the book is how fully she explored the subject of her (very slow) conversion from atheist to Catholic. She went in-depth about how difficult the transition was — she didn’t just decide one day to believe in God; the decision (and the constant questioning) took years.

Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight: An African Childhood, Alexandra Fuller
I like travel memoirs, especially books written by women who leave the U.S. to live in another country. I thought I would enjoy this memoir written by a woman who grew up in Africa, but…I just didn’t. For one thing, there was way too much description of what her surroundings looked like, which I don’t care for in any book. And most of the time she was writing about how drunk her mother was at any given moment, or her mother’s parenting failures (like taking her daughter out in the hot sun for hours without water). I found myself reading it quickly to get it over with.

An Atheist in the FOXhole: A Liberal’s Eight-Year Odyssey Inside the Heart of the Right-Wing Media, Joe Muto
What was interesting: Joe gives a behind-the-scenes look at how television shows are made; the roles of assistant, associate, and executive directors; clashes with anchors; the race to provide something for a story literally seconds before it goes on-air.

What I didn’t like: It felt like the author thought he was delivering shocking information, but it didn’t come across that way at all. Maybe we’re all immune to strict corporate policies and TV personalities by now, but I didn’t consider it much of an exposé. He admits later in the book that his goal for flaming out at FOX was to gain a job at Gawker – a risk that didn’t pay off. I didn’t feel bad for him.

Reviews

Book Review: The Happiness of Pursuit

Guillebeau

The Happiness of Pursuit: Finding the Quest That Will Bring Purpose to Your Life, by Chris Guillebeau

I don’t rate many books as Highly Recommended (in 2014, it was only 6 out of 53). I try to save this category for something that really pulls me in, teaches me something new, or inspires me to action.

A book blogger’s opinion and their ratings are incredibly subjective. Some bloggers put fantasy, romance, and YA high on their list of recommendations – whereas I skip right past them because those genres don’t interest me. I may speed through a work of fiction, but if the characters annoy me or I don’t like the ending, I won’t put it in my top category.

I admit: I didn’t expect to enjoy this book as much as I did. I read Guillebeau’s first book (The Art of Non-Conformity) last year and rated it just Okay. I had this new one on hold at the library for months (there was a long waiting list), and almost canceled the hold on several occasions because I figured I wouldn’t like it.

While I rated this book as Highly Recommended, I realize it’s not for everyone. The author talks extensively about quests – what they are, how they differ from regular goals (like losing weight or writing a book) – and gives examples of regular people who did something pretty extraordinary.

I like reading books like this. However, if you’re already passionate about something, you might not need additional motivation and encouragement. If you’re fine with the way your life is right now and couldn’t care less about a quest, then don’t bother reading this book.

If your life is good but you don’t feel completely fulfilled, if you feel some level of discomfort, if you have a sense of alienation or a frustration that’s hard to pin down…I encourage you to pick it up. A quest may be exactly what you need.

Blog

New Look For An Old Blog

After seven years with the same theme, it was time for something new.

This is the fifth theme I’ve had since I started blogging in September 2002. I started out with a blogspot site, which had a simple blue and gray background. I don’t have a record of what it looked like but it was pretty bare bones – blogging was still in its infancy back then, not equipped with all the fancy themes and widgets available today.

When I purchased my own domain, all the work that took place behind the scenes was due to the kindness of a fellow blogger named Kate (alas, she stopped blogging years ago). At the time, she wanted to gain experience building websites so she offered to transfer my blog to its new domain — and create a personalized theme — for free. Obviously I accepted her offer. This is what my second theme looked like (which was the first located here at zandria.us); you may recognize it if you’re a long-time reader:

For Posterity

Several years later she came up with this one. (I’m not sure why that thick yellow line is stretching all the way across the page; it didn’t always do that.)

Bye-bye, Old Design!

And then there’s this one, which I displayed from June 2008 through January 2015. Almost seven years! That’s pretty much forever in blog years.

Current blog design

When I started writing regularly on this site again last October, I knew I would need a new theme. Although I wasn’t frantic for a new look, the one I was using was outdated. It didn’t have the functionality I needed, and there was no easy way for me to add it. There was also a chance, if I tried to do something simple like upgrade WordPress, something on my site would break and I would have no idea how to fix it.

I contacted Kate once again. She’s busier these days but she agreed to help me. I made it easier for her this time, I think, because I purchased an existing theme (Florence) and asked if she’d back-up my blog and do the upgrade for me. (I did look at the instructions for backing up a WordPress blog, to see if I could do it myself. It looked like a bunch of gibberish. There are certain things I’m willing to pay for, and NOT spending hours doing something I have absolutely no idea how to do, and NOT breaking my blog, are worth the money.)

I kept my name in the header because…well, it’s always been there, and I wanted it to look similar to what I’ve had in the past. I retained the blonde cartoon version of me because I wanted the obvious holdover from the other themes. It feels like a representation of how long this site has existed, and I like that.

Please note that this blog now has certain functions common to other sites, like the ability to check a box when leaving a comment if you want to receive an email from me when I respond, and an email subscription option where you can be notified of new posts if you don’t use a feed reader (it’s over there in the sidebar).

Big thanks to Kate and her coworker Breanna at Third Boxcar for their help. It still kind of blows my mind that a lady I met online over 10 years ago (who I’ve never met in person!) has been responsible for all the updates to this site. I’ve used her as an example over the years when I talk about kindnesses I’ve received from people I met on the internet. Kate and I never had the chance to become real-life friends (she lives in Seattle and I’m on the east coast), but there are certainly people I originally met online and later developed offline friendships with.

I’ve mentioned a number of them on this blog over the years: Janet from Love is Blonde (we ended up working at the same place for a while in Washington, DC — I only heard about the job because she made me aware of it, and that was before we’d ever met in person); Nadine, who no longer has a blog (she and her husband picked me up from the airport in Amsterdam in 2004 when I arrived for a semester abroad and deposited me safely at my dorm – again, without having met me in person first. I’ve since seen them numerous times over the years); Janet from This Confetti Life (we met online when I lived in Richmond VA — when I moved to California in 2005 to live with my aunt, it just so happened to be the same town she lived in); RA from Definitely RA (I was the first blogger she ever met in person!); and Leah from Penn (we had a lot of fun exploring DC together on two occasions).

That isn’t everyone (I met many more people in person at the four BlogHer conferences I attended), and some of them stopped blogging years ago, but those are who come to mind first.

I sure hope Kate is around when I need more blog assistance one of these days. I like to think she will be.

Home

A Place to Eat

The desire to eat at a table (instead of the living room couch) has been on my mind constantly since we bought a house with a dining room. I’m tired of balancing plates on my lap and being careful not to drop food on the leather sofa.

I was quite excited to place an online order for a table in December. It was delivered last Friday.

Dining room table

Friday was actually the third time I had a delivery date on my calendar for this table – the first date was canceled due to heavy snow and when they showed up on the second delivery date, someone had forgotten to put the table on the truck.

Lucky for them, the successful delivery of a pretty table made past troubles quickly forgotten. I wanted something different from the norm so we chose this model with a reclaimed pine base, metallic (zinc) top, and rivets running along the edge. (It’s hard to get a sense of scale from the above photo — the diameter is 60″, so it’s a good size.)

The only problem I have right now is lack of seating. I’ve been staring at my table but unable to eat at it.

I’ve looked at chairs online for weeks, but it’s difficult to choose furniture when you can’t see it in person. Even if there was free shipping, I don’t want to feel pressured to keep the chairs if I don’t love them (due to the expense of shipping them back).

I was more comfortable ordering a table online without seeing it in person because 1) it’s a heavy duty piece from a respected brand (Restoration Hardware); and 2) it would be delivered and set up in front of me, so if something was off, I could refuse to accept it.

With chairs, unless you order them from a furniture store and have them delivered, they’re likely going to arrive in a box. In most cases, this means you’ll need to attach the back of the chair to the bottom, as well as all four legs. I’ve read many an online review from people who had trouble putting these chairs together, or once together they appeared wobbly, and/or cheap looking.

I want fully upholstered chairs (both back and seat) because I want people to be comfortable sitting in them for long stretches of time. (Due to my back issue, I have trouble sitting in wooden chairs for extended periods.) Plus, we plan to use them for extra seating in our living room when we have guests.

Paul and I have decided to go to some furniture stores and look at them in person. Crossing our fingers we’ll score good-looking chairs that don’t cost a ton of money!

Life

2014 Year in Review

I was supposed to compile this information at the end of 2014, but better late than never! In over 12 years of blogging, I’ve never written a year-in-review post before. I guess I figured the information was there to be found if you chose to look back, but 2014 was different — my posts were spread between three different blogs (this one, my Buffalo blog, and my food blog), plus there’s all the events I keep on my personal calendar but don’t write about anywhere.

Here are my highlights from 2014:

January: Went through the process of changing my last name after getting married the month before. Attended SoupFest with Paul & Bryana. Toured the Darwin Martin House. Started a new job.

(Darwin Martin House in winter.)

Darwin Martin House

February: Checked out Flurrious at Delaware Park. Traveled to Toronto, where Paul and I visited the Hockey Hall of Fame, the Royal Ontario Museum, and I reunited with an aunt I hadn’t seen in over 20 years. Attended the last meeting of the Lovin’ on Buffalo Book Club at Lobby Bar (I miss that group). Watched my friend Angela Keppel give a talk about the history of Buffalo streets at Forest Lawn Cemetery.

(Mini snowmen were created during Flurrious at Delaware Park.)

Snowmen at Delaware Park

(Me and long-lost aunt Jeanne at her art show in Toronto.)

Me and Aunt Jeanne

(Me and Angela after she gave her talk at the cemetery.)

Me and Angela

March: Took my mother-in-law to a Ladies of the Vine dinner at Providence Social. Went on a winery tour of the Niagara wine region and had lunch at the delightful White Linen Tea House. Attended a Buffalo Niagara 360 event featuring Buffalo Foodies. Went to the Buffalo Home Show. Saw my first movie at the historic North Park Theatre.

(Me, my mother-in-law Diane, and sister-in-law Stephanie at White Linen Tea House.)

Drinking tea with the ladies

April: Volunteered at the Unyts Bucket List Bash. Attended a VIP preview party at the Mummies of the World exhibit at the Buffalo Science Museum (where Paul and I had our photo taken and later found ourselves featured in a Buffalo magazine “who was there” spread). Saw Damn Yankees at Niagara Regional Theatre. Checked out my first Dyngus Day parade.

(Me at the Buffalo Science Museum.)

Zan at Buffalo Science Museum

(This is the photo of me and Paul that made it into Buffalo magazine.)

Buffalo Magazine - Mummies of the World at Science Museum

May: Flew to Virginia to visit my family. Paul started a new job. Drove to Penn Yan, NY to see friends of ours from DC who were vacationing there. Volunteered at the Ronald McDonald House (helped make dinner for residents, my second time doing so). Spent most of a Saturday outside: Participated in Hands Across Buffalo, walked through the Elmwood Village, enjoyed the sounds of Spring Porchfest, visited the Artisan Market at Canalside. Celebrated Memorial weekend at a lake house in Sunset Bay. Attended BuffaLoveFest at the Zoo for the second year in a row. Spent some time at the Greek Festival.

(Me and my sister Elissa at her house in Richmond, surrounded by her two large dogs.)

Me and Elissa

(My nephew Laine, in the best ultra-chill pose I’ve ever seen.)

Laine, relaxing

(Me and a girlfriend at a rented lake house in Penn Yan, NY.)

Me with friends in Penn Yan, NY

(Paul, on the far right, participating in Hands Across Buffalo.)

Hands Across Buffalo

June: Paul and I decided we were ready to buy a house; met with our realtor for the first time. Went to a Bisons game. Celebrated my 34th birthday with dinner at Tappo. Traveled to Baltimore and Washington, DC to visit friends (on the final day, had such a good time with one friend at brunch that I narrowly avoided missing my train to the airport). Signed a contract on a house that we ended up not buying. Supported Paul while he ran the Corporate Challenge race at Delaware Park. Took the Buffalo Living Tour. Attended a fundraiser for Grassroots Gardens at Resurgence Brewery. Volunteered at City of Night.

(Visiting my friend Shannon in Baltimore.)

Me and Shannon in Baltimore

(Inside Resurgence Brewery.)

Resurgence Brewery

(This is a view of the crowd at City of Night.)

City of Night 2014

July: Returned to the lake house in Sunset Bay for Independence Day (they have a great fireworks display there). Toured a new exhibition at the Albright Knox. Upgraded from a double to a king-sized mattress (love!). Attended my first Taste of Buffalo. Saw my first show at ComedySportz. Participated in a Reading Invasion at Black Rock Heritage Garden. Celebrated Paul’s birthday with dinner at Encore. Celebrated my friend Nicole’s birthday with dinner at Templeton Landing and a show at Canalside. Went on my first Garden Walk.

(This guy in the suit gave us a tour of an exhibit at the Albright-Knox.)

Tour at the Albright Knox

(I attended Taste of Buffalo with my husband and in-laws.)

Taste of Buffalo 2014

(This is what a portion of the Reading Invasion looked like. I was reading Some Girls: My Life in a Harem at the time, which was included in my 2014 reading list.)

Buffalo Reading Invasion

(Me at the Garden Walk.)

Me at Buffalo Garden Walk 2014

(More Garden Walk photos.)

Buffalo Garden Walk 2014

Buffalo Garden Walk 2014

August: Entertained weekend visitors (two friends from DC). Attended a co-ed bridal shower at Pearl Street Grill. Partied on the Portico at the Buffalo History Museum for their final show of the season. Gaped in wonder at the beauty of Letchworth State Park (joined by my friend Jaclyn and her family – she wrote a great recap). Spent a full workday volunteering with coworkers for the United Way Day of Caring. Attended a second Bisons game. Put an offer on our current house and had the inspection done. Took a weekend trip to Cleveland and Columbus, OH.

(Me and my friends from DC on the bridge that separates the U.S. from Canada at Niagara Falls.)

On the bridge between the U.S. and Canada at Niagara Falls

(Me and Paul at Letchworth.)

Letchworth State Park

(Letchworth again.)

Letchworth State Park

(This is me and Christina, a good friend I’ve known since childhood who now lives in Columbus.)

Me and Christina in Columbus, OH

(Paul and me at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland.)

Me and Paul at Rock & Roll Hall of Fame

September: Attended the Buffalo Niagara 360 kickoff celebration. Checked out the Canalside Maritime Festival. Took a Lawless District Tour at Canalside with Buffalo History Tours. Went to an evening party at A Gust of Sun winery. Started my second Whole30.

(Buffalo Niagara 360 kickoff – Amanda, Bryana, and me.)

BN360 event

October: Visited my friend Jennifer (met her through social media!) at her house for the first time. Attended a wedding here in Buffalo. Was talked into going to a PartyLite party but didn’t buy a thing (I’m stubborn like that). Went to Tifft Nature Preserve with Jaclyn and family (she wrote a recap of that event, too). Attended my cousin-in-law’s baby shower. Started writing on this blog again after an almost three-year absence. (Yikes! I swear I was writing elsewhere in the meantime.) Shared what a day in my life looked like at that point in time (it’s already changed because I’ve since moved to a new house.)

(A day in my life used to include a walk that took me by these trees.)

Day in the Life 6

November: Bought a house! Dealt with new-house tasks (Internet installation, meter readings, address changes, moving, unpacking). Attended my second baby shower of the year (this one was co-ed at least). Traveled to Virginia to spend Thanksgiving with my family.

(This is what my house looks like.)

New House 1

(This is me and my younger sister Angela on Thanksgiving.)

Angela and me on Thanksgiving in Virginia Beach

December: Celebrated my one-year wedding anniversary with dinner at Agave. Attended a friend’s holiday party. Hosted Paul’s parents for our annual Love Actually viewing. Made holiday candy and watched football at Jaclyn‘s house. Christmas Eve dinner with Paul’s extended family. Celebrated Christmas Day at my in-laws’ house. Sold an old couch and chair set on Craigslist. Wrote my final weekly meal plan for my food blog (an explanation is included in the post, along with what I made for Christmas dinner). Spent New Year’s Eve at a small gathering at my in-laws’ house.

(This is the delicious holiday candy I made: chocolate-covered peanut butter balls and peppermint bark.)

Peanut Butter Balls and Peppermint Bark

What was your favorite event of 2014?

35 Things in 2015

35 Things in 2015

I’ve long been a fan of lists. I keep lists to remind me of things to do in my daily life. I posted lists of my favorite CrockPot meals and weeknight dinners. Years ago I did the 101 Things in 1001 Days challenge. (Does anyone remember that? It was big for a while.) I also have a Buffalo Bucket List (I’ve been pretty good about crossing things off there) and a general Life List (which needs updating).

While I like the idea of a Life List, the goals tend not to be easily obtainable. They’re things you want to do someday, but it could be years down the road before the opportunity presents itself. I tend to stay on track better with short-term goals.

That’s why I decided to make a list of 35 items to complete in 2015.

Why 35? It was originally supposed to be a 35 Before 35 list (meaning 35 things I’d like to do before I turn 35 years old), but since I turn 35 in June 2015, I figured I should give myself a little more time to complete everything. I will post updates throughout the year on how I’m doing.

Home

1. Make the guest room in our house a comfortable and inviting spot
(I took three before photos of the room, which are posted here, here, and here.)

2. Host overnight guests

3. Host friends for dinner

4. Plant something in our yard when spring arrives
(I’ve always rented as an adult before now, so this option seems exciting.)

Financial

5. Max-out my workplace 401k and Health Savings Account (HSA) contributions

6. Spend less money in 2015 than we did in 2014
(Paul and I started tracking our spending in January 2014, which includes everything from housing costs, groceries, and fuel for our cars, to personal expenses like haircuts and clothing purchases. It’s been really interesting to see how much we spend in certain categories. Now I want to take that further and identify where we can save more money.)

Places to visit in/near Buffalo

7. New location of Five Points Bakery
(I haven’t been back since I visited their original location in Sept 2012.)

8. Lockport Cave and Underground Boat Ride

9. Lake Effect Ice Cream

10. Snowshoe at Tifft Nature Preserve
(I’ve been there twice, but never with snow on the ground, and I’ve never tried snowshoeing.)

Zandria at Tifft Nature Preserve

11. Reinstein Woods Nature Preserve

12. Ice skate at the new outdoor rink at Canalside

13. Take a photo with Shark Girl at Canalside

14. Wilkeson Point

15. Horsefeathers Winter Market

16. Buffalo Naval and Military Park

17. Eternal Flame at Chestnut Ridge Park

18. Take a tour at Forest Lawn Cemetery

19. Bird Island Pier
(I’ve visited twice before — Sept 2012 and Nov 2013 — but it’s a great place to visit on a warm day and I haven’t been back in over a year.)

Bird Island Pier

20. Pierce Arrow Transportation Museum

21. Buffalo Sabres hockey game
(Paul and I attended one of their games while living in Washington, DC, and we went to a pre-season game in 2013, but I’ve yet to attend a regular season game in Buffalo.)

22. Shakespeare in Delaware Park
(I’ve already spent two summers in Buffalo but I haven’t made it to this. Summer 2015 for certain.)

23. See a drive-in movie (my first ever!)

24. Experience something new at Niagara Falls
(I’ve been to Niagara Falls four times, but so far I’ve only ever looked at the Falls or walked across the bridge to Canada. I’d like to visit Three Sisters Island or possibly do the Cave of the Winds tour.)

Places to visit elsewhere

25. Return to DC to visit friends
(Last visit was June 2014.)

26. Return to Toronto
(My first visit was January 2014; I’d like to go again when it’s not freeeeezing outside.)

Paul outside Hockey Hall of Fame

27. Visit a city I’ve never been to before
(Areas immediately surrounding Buffalo don’t count. I’m thinking Detroit, Pittsburgh, Montreal…)

Food

28. Complete a third Whole30
(My first was in July 2012, second was in October 2014.)

29. Revisit my favorite Ethiopian food vendor at West Size Bazaar
(I wrote about my first visit in Sept 2013.)

West Side Bazaar

30. Locate a fabulous Thai restaurant that I can confidently recommend to Thai-loving visitors

Other

31. Surpass my 2014 reading total of 53 books

32. Read at least one fiction book per month
(I’ve been a nonfiction/memoir gal for years, but I need to branch out.)

33. Purchase a DSLR camera

34. Get my bike tuned so I can ride it again
(I purchased a bike in 2008 but haven’t been on it in years.)

35. Private goal

Books

Books Read in 2014

For the twelfth year in a row, I’m posting my annual reading list. Previous lists can be found at the following links; the number in parentheses is the total number of books read that year: 2013 (42), 2012 (66), 2011 (27), 2010 (47), 2009 (25), 2008 (34), 2007 (31), 2006 (110), 2005 (45), 2004 (42), 2003 (41).

Total books read in 2014: 53

I divided the books into four categories: Highly Recommended (my favorites); Recommended (good but not must-reads); Okay (read only if interested in the subject matter); and Not Recommended.

I read mostly nonfiction. Last year I read six fiction books, but this year it was only one (The Fault in Our Stars, which I didn’t care for). My goal for 2015 is to read more good fiction.

I’ve always posted my reading lists at the end of the year, but I think I may switch it up in 2015 and post them more often. Stay tuned.

Highly Recommended

1. The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, Daniel James Brown

2. Losing My Religion: How I Lost My Faith Reporting on Religion in America and Found Unexpected Peace, William Lobdell
Although I rarely re-read books, I picked this up for the second time after I convinced my husband to read it earlier this year. This book isn’t just for nonbelievers — my husband is Catholic (attends Mass every weekend without fail) and he enjoyed it.

3. Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea, Barbara Demick

4. Pilgrim’s Wilderness: A True Story of Faith and Madness on the Alaska Frontier, Tom Kizzia

5. Brainiac: Adventures in the Curious, Competitive, Compulsive World of Trivia Buffs, Ken Jennings

6. Stories I Only Tell My Friends: An Autobiography, Rob Lowe
I didn’t expect to rate a book by a movie star this high, but it was really interesting. I liked how he would describe meeting someone and it would take a page or two before you realized he was talking about Charlie Sheen, or Janet Jackson, or Sarah Jessica Parker.

Recommended

7. Hidden America: From Coal Miners to Cowboys, an Extraordinary Exploration of the Unseen People Who Make This Country Work, Jeanne Marie Laskas

8. Godless: How an Evangelical Preacher Became One of America’s Leading Atheists, Dan Barker

9. Living with a Wild God: A Nonbeliever’s Search for the Truth about Everything, Barbara Ehrenreich

10. Growing Up Amish, Ira Wagler

11. The Cooked Seed: A Memoir, Anchee Min

12. The World’s Strongest Librarian: A Memoir of Tourette’s, Faith, Strength, and the Power of Family, Josh Hanagarne

13. Behind Enemy Lines: The True Story of a French Jewish Spy in Nazi Germany, Marthe Cohn

14. From Scratch: Inside the Food Network, Allen Salkin

15. Somewhere Inside: One Sister’s Captivity in North Korea and the Other’s Fight to Bring Her Home, Lisa & Laura Ling

16. Lunch in Paris: A Love Story with Recipes, Elizabeth Bard

17. We’ve Always Had Paris…and Provence: A Scrapbook of Our Life in France, Patricia & Walter Wells

18. Bringing Up Bébé: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting, Pamela Druckerman

19. Mastering the Art of French Eating: Lessons in Food and Love from a Year in Paris, Ann Mah

20. A Thousand Days in Venice: An Unexpected Romance, Marlena de Blasi

21. A Thousand Days in Tuscany: A Bittersweet Adventure, Marlena de Blasi

22. The Lady in the Palazzo: An Umbrian Love Story, Marlena de Blasi

23. Dancing Through It: My Journey in the Ballet, Jenifer Ringer

24. The Sugar Season: A Year in the Life of Maple Syrup, and One Family’s Quest for the Sweetest Harvest, Douglas Whynott

25. Love & War: Twenty Years, Three Presidents, Two Daughters and One Louisiana Home, Mary Matalin & James Carville

26. Some Girls: My Life in a Harem, Jillian Lauren

27. Expecting Better: Why the Conventional Pregnancy Wisdom Is Wrong and What You Really Need to Know, Emily Oster

28. Upstairs at the White House: My Life with the First Ladies, J.B. West

29. Delancey: A Man, a Woman, a Restaurant, a Marriage, Molly Wizenberg

30. It Starts With Food: Discover the Whole30 and Change Your Life in Unexpected Ways, Dallas & Melissa Hartwig

31. Love Life, Rob Lowe

32. Here’s the Story, Maureen McCormick

33. I Don’t Know What You Know Me From: Confessions of a Co-Star, Judy Greer

34. Notes from a Blue Bike: The Art of Living Intentionally in a Chaotic World, Tsh Oxenreider

35. The Good Girl’s Guide to Getting Lost: A Memoir of Three Continents, Two Friends, and One Unexpected Adventure, Rachel Friedman

36. My Berlin Kitchen: A Love Story with Recipes, Luisa Weiss

37. Bread and Wine: A Love Letter to Life Around the Table with Recipes, Shauna Niequist

38. The Millionaire Next Door, Thomas J. Stanley

39. I Will Teach You To Be Rich, Ramit Sethi

Okay

40. Obsessed: America’s Food Addiction and My Own, Mika Brzezinski

41. The Scarlet Sisters: Sex, Suffrage, and Scandal in the Gilded Age, Myra MacPherson

42. The Fault in Our Stars, John Green

43. The Telling Room: A Tale of Love, Betrayal, Revenge, and the World’s Greatest Piece of Cheese, Michael Paterniti

44. Let’s Just Say It Wasn’t Pretty, Diane Keaton

45. Apron Anxiety: My Messy Affairs In and Out of the Kitchen, Alyssa Shelasky

46. Year of No Sugar, Eve Schaub
I wrote a review on this book.

47. The Art of Non-Conformity: Set Your Own Rules, Live the Life You Want, and Change the World, Chris Guillebeau
Maybe it’s because I’ve read similar books before, but this didn’t provide me with any new information.

48. My Salinger Year, Joanna Rakoff

49. I Do, Now What? Secrets, Stories, and Advice from a Madly-in-Love Couple, Giuliana & Bill Rancic

50. The Truth Is: My Life in Love and Music, Melissa Etheridge

51. Charlotte Au Chocolat: Memories of a Restaurant Girlhood, Charlotte Silver

52. This is the Story of a Happy Marriage, Ann Patchett
Book of essays – some were good, but others were boring.

Not Recommended

53. A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius: A Memoir Based on a True Story, Dave Eggers
I read this book because I recognized the name and assumed it must be good. Wrong. I’m surprised I finished it – I usually don’t have many books for the Not Recommended list because I stop reading boring books at the drop of a hat. It must be because this book started out semi-interesting and went downhill later.

Food

Top 25 Weeknight Dinners

I’ll admit it – I consider 99% of the meals I make to be weeknight meals. I’m not a fancy cook, and I rarely use fancy ingredients. I don’t even like to roast chicken because the only times I’ve tried, I never cook it all the way through (obviously I need to work on that.)

What I do have on my side is experience and repetition. I cook dinner (either on the stovetop or in the CrockPot) most nights of the week, if not all of them. Paul and I go out to dinner sometimes, but it’s an occasional indulgence.

I started doing weekly meal plans about three years ago, and it’s long become second nature. At this point, it would be more work – and more stress – for me not to meal plan. When I first started out, I’d regularly have to stop at the grocery store on my way home from work to pick up an ingredient or two that I’d missed. No longer. Now I grocery shop once a week, or sometimes once every-other week (which is fantastic because while I enjoy making dinner, I dislike grocery shopping).

Thanks to meal planning, I know exactly what I’m having for dinner every night (with enough flexibility to switch the days around as needed). All of the meals listed below have been made by me on a weeknight after work.

Note: I do buy meat like chicken, pork, and ground turkey in bulk, chop it up, and put it into meal-sized portions in the freezer (a 2-lb bag of chicken breast already pre-cut into bite-size pieces, for instance). Having the meat already cut saves a ton of time when making dinner during the work week.

A number of items have already been adapted from the original recipe and posted to my food blog, but many of these meals link back to the original authors. Whenever I link to a blog post that’s not my own, I’ve listed any adaptations that I make while cooking.

Just like with the CrockPot meals I posted, these were all made gluten-free (with brown rice and/or brown rice pasta noodles), but they don’t have to be.

Ground Turkey

#1: Turkey Zucchini Meatballs with Curry Coconut Sauce

These meatballs are so, so, so good — I find myself wanting to make them once a week (I don’t, but I could).

Changes: 1) I don’t add green onions or kaffir lime leaves; 2; Use regular coconut milk instead of light (I also use the full can because the meatballs don’t have enough sauce otherwise).

Turkey Zucchini Meatballs with Curry Sauce

#2: Turkey Satay Burgers with Broccoli Slaw

Changes: 1) I use 1.5 lb ground turkey; 2) Use minced garlic rather than grated; 3) Don’t add green onion; 4) Cook broccoli slaw for a bit in the hot pan (after cooking the burgers) to soften, instead of serving it raw.

Paleo Turkey Satay Burgers with Broccoli Slaw

#3: Easy Pasta Bolognese

Weeknight Bolognese with Penne Rice Noodles

#4: Cuban Picadillo

Cuban Picadillo

Chicken

#5: Baked Chicken in Creamy Tomato Sauce

#6: Baked Chicken Taquitos

Baked Chicken Taquitos

#7: Thai Honey Peanut Chicken with Chinese-Style Rice Noodles

Thai Honey Peanut Chicken with Chinese-Style Noodles

#8: Chinese Walnut Chicken

Changes: 1) I use 1/4 cup organic cane sugar instead of 1/2 cup (for the candied walnuts); 2) Don’t pre-toast the walnuts; 3) Substitute white wine for the Chinese rice wine; 4) Use arrowroot powder instead of cornstarch; 5) Don’t add scallions.

Chinese Walnut Chicken

#9: Country Captain Chicken

Country Captain Chicken

#10: Chicken Taco Salad
I link to the Pioneer Woman’s recipe here but the ingredients can be put together any way you wish. My husband likes her Ranch/salsa/cilantro dressing, so that’s why I linked to this version in particular.

My favorite ingredients are: shredded green leaf lettuce, diced chicken (cooked with homemade taco seasoning), red bell pepper, olives, and guacamole.

I limit my corn intake but Paul doesn’t, so he adds corn kernels (I use frozen corn that’s reheated in advance) and corn tortilla chips to his plate.

Chicken Taco Salad

Sausage

#11: Chickpea, Sausage and Spinach Pasta

Chickpea, Sausage and Spinach Pasta

#12: Sausage and Pumpkin Pasta

Sausage and Pumpkin Pasta

#13: Penne with Sausage in Tomato Cream Sauce

Penne with Sausage in Tomato Cream Sauce

Pork

#14: Citrus Carnitas

This takes about an hour and a half to cook on the stove, but I wanted to add it here because I made it for the first time not long ago (for my husband and in-laws) and it was a huge hit. The ingredients are simple but the flavor is outstanding.

Fish

#15: Balsamic-Ginger Marinated Salmon with Black Rice Salad with Edamame, Walnuts & Lemon Vinaigrette

Balsamic-Ginger Marinated Salmon and Black Rice Salad with Edamame, Walnuts & Lemon Vinaigrette

#16: Yum-Yum Fish Stew

Fish Stew

#17: Salmon Pasta with Vodka Cream Sauce

Salmon Pasta with Vodka Cream Sauce

#18: Thai-Inspired Salmon

Changes: 1) I don’t add lemongrass; 2) Use full-fat coconut milk instead of light; 3) I double the amount of red curry paste it calls for because I like the extra flavor.

Vegetarian

#19: Chana Masala

Chana Masala

#20: Cauliflower Pasta Puttanesca

Cauliflower Pasta Puttanesca

Soups

#21: Chicken Tortilla Soup

#22: Ratatouille

Ratatouille

#23: Smoky Tomato Lentil Soup with Spinach and Olives

Changes: 1) I usually double this recipe because I like to have leftovers; 2) Use chicken broth instead of vegetable; 3) I’ve substituted canned black olives for kalamata in the past and it turns out just fine.

Smoky Tomato Lentil Soup with Spinach and Olives

#24: Sausage and Chickpea Soup

Optional: I’ve added black olives and fresh spinach to this and loved it.

Sausage and Chickpea Soup

#25: Rotisserie Chicken Soup with Pasta, Tomatoes, and Zucchini

Changes: 1) Use 6 cups of chicken broth; 2) I add a 28-oz can diced tomatoes (undrained) instead of the smaller/drained can it calls for; 3) Only added one onion instead of two; 4) Used brown rice pasta (spiral shape) instead of regular pasta.

Rotisserie Chicken Soup with Pasta and Tomatoes

Food

Top 20 CrockPot Meals

When my friend Chris asked me recently for CrockPot meal recommendations, I realized I didn’t have an easy list to hand over. I’ve shared many CrockPot recipes over the past three years on my food blog, but they’re scattered all over.

I went through and easily picked out 20 meals that I’ve made multiple times (I’ve made some of the recipes dozens of times each). You may notice a number of them have already been adapted from the original recipe and posted to my recipe page, but many of these meals link back to the original authors. Whenever I link to a blog post that’s not my own, I’ve listed any adaptations that I make while cooking.

All 20 recipes are gluten free. Due to a thyroid condition, I’ve been eating mostly gluten-free for almost three years. (I never cook with gluten at home, but every once in a while I’ll eat gluten outside the house if it’s something special.) Even if you’re not gluten-free, I promise you won’t miss it in these recipes.

Following the gluten-free theme, most of these recipes (minus stuff like the chili and soups) have generally been served with either brown rice or brown rice pasta at my house.

In addition, the first 11 recipes are Paleo (minus the rice and pasta, of course). I’m not 100% Paleo but I do try to follow the eating recommendations as much as I can.

As you can see, I’m a big fan of the slow cooker. Looking at these recipes might lead you to believe that it’s all I use, but I assure you that’s not the case. It is, however, a treasured tool in my kitchen arsenal.

In random order:

#1: CrockPot Pumpkin Turkey Chili

Although these recipes are in random order, I had to list this one first because I’m sure I’ve made this dish more than all the others. It’s super easy to put together and tastes great.

You can add a can of black beans (drained) and corn (I use frozen) if you’re not Paleo and want to bulk it up a bit. I’ve done this in the past. (Shown here served over cabbage, but I usually eat it by itself.)

CrockPot Pumpkin Turkey Chili

#2: CrockPot Chicken Curry with Sweet Potatoes, Tomato and Raisins

Changes: 1) I use 2 lbs chicken instead of three, 2) Use 1/2 can full-fat coconut milk instead of yogurt; 3) Don’t add agave nectar.

#3: CrockPot Pork Ragu

Changes: 1) I don’t sear the pork in advance (I just add the meat and spices directly to the CrockPot); 2) I usually don’t add grated carrots.

#4: CrockPot Mexican Pulled Pork Tacos

Changes: 1) I use a 2-lb pork tenderloin but don’t double the amount of sauce; 2) Don’t add brown sugar.

CrockPot Mexican Pulled Pork Tacos

#5: CrockPot Chicken & Pumpkin Curry with Apple & Sweet Potatoes

Changes: 1) I use chicken breast instead of thighs; 2) Don’t add coconut sugar or spinach; 3) Only add one sweet potato (instead of three).

#6: CrockPot Thai Chicken Stew

I changed this one quite a bit because it started out as a beef stew recipe (see original link).

Changes: 1) Use 2 lb chicken breast (cut into small pieces) instead of beef; 2) Didn’t cook meat or veggies in advance (just dumped it all in the CrockPot at once); 3) Didn’t add jicama or carrots, but I did add a 1-lb bag of frozen broccoli (thawed, then added to the CrockPot at end of cooking time).

CrockPot Thai Chicken Stew

#7: Crockpot Mango Chicken Coconut Curry

Changes: 1) I use 2 lb chicken breasts, cut into bite-size pieces; 2) Don’t add honey or fennel (I’m fine with fennel but I have a hard time finding it at my grocery store).

#8: CrockPot Red Curry Pork with Pickles

This is another recipe I’ve made dozens of times. Only a few ingredients but great flavor.

CrockPot Red Curry Pork with Pickles

#9: CrockPot Mocha-Rubbed Pork Loin

This is another recipe where I changed the type of meat the recipe called for (I used pork but the original recipe called for beef).

Changes: 1) I use 2 lb pork tenderloin; 2) Don’t add Aleppo pepper to seasoning mix; 3) Use chicken broth instead of beef broth; 4) Substitute dates for the figs.

#10: CrockPot Chicken Tikka Masala

Changes: I make this with coconut milk and use dried cilantro instead of fresh.

#11: CrockPot Creamy Red Shrimp & Tomato Curry

CrockPot Creamy Red Shrimp and Tomato Curry

#12: CrockPot White Bean Chicken Chili with Zucchini

CrockPot White Bean Chicken Chili with Zucchini

#13: CrockPot Caribbean Pork Chili

Changes: I don’t add the optional chipotle chile pepper or red onion shards.

CrockPot Caribbean Pork Chili

#14: CrockPot Pork Tenderloin with Spicy Peanut Sauce

I make this recipe easier by whisking the sauce ingredients together rather than using a food processor. Less dishes!

Changes: 1) I use a 2-lb pork tenderloin, seasoned with salt, pepper, and garlic powder; 2) Use 15-oz can tomato sauce (instead of 1/4 cup); 3) Use tamari (or coconut aminos) instead of soy sauce; 4) Don’t add sugar/splenda.

CrockPot Pork Tenderloin with Spicy Peanut Sauce

#15: CrockPot Minestrone Soup

CrockPot Minestrone Soup

#16: CrockPot Moroccan Lentil Soup

Changes: I use regular lentils instead of red lentil and dried parsley/cilantro instead of fresh.

#17: CrockPot Pork & Edamame Soup

CrockPot Pork & Edamame Soup with Rice Noodles

#18: CrockPot Indian Butter Chicken

I promise this tastes much better than it looks.

CrockPot Indian Butter Chicken

#19: Crockpot White Chicken Chili

#20: CrockPot Turkey Pasta with Spinach and Mushrooms

CrockPot Turkey Pasta with Spinach and Mushrooms

Have you tried any of these? Will you?