Cooking during a Snowstorm

Pre-snowstorm bread isle at Whole Foods

Tomorrow is already declared a snow day in Boston and I always get giddy when that happens.  I love snowstorms.  It probably has a lot to do with living carless in the city, but I love traipsing around the usually busy streets to come home and play board games, booze it up and make food.

It’s actually weird, I don’t typically love cooking that much.  I mean, I don’t particularly dislike it either, I guess I just like it a normal amount (whatever that means).  Oddly enough, I find the time I actually like to cook the most is when we have dinner parties or other gatherings.  I don’t know, maybe I like the challenge or chaos of it all.  Anyway, tomorrow is one of those times.  During snowstorms I typically cook a lot considering most stuff is closed around here anyway, and tomorrow we will be having visitors all day.  I just finished our second trip to the grocery store today (aka I gave my S.O. a list to take to Whole Foods) in preparation for feeding at least 4 people all day tomorrow. This is what I came up with…

Produce section is looking kinda sad too

Breakfast:

Locally made English muffins topped with Eggs benedict and maple bacon.  Side of sautéed spinach

Light lunch:

Assorted hard and soft cheese and cracker plate with chicken soup and simple salad

Dinner:

Veggie lasagna with beef meatballs and sauce alongside a side salad

Dessert:

 Peanut butter blossom cookies

I like to make food for people that they wouldn’t have made for themselves that day, but not make the meal so impossible that I set myself up for failure and have a bad time trying to navigate 30 step recipes.  Anyway, this is what I came up with to get three meat eaters and one vegetarian through the storm.  Check my Instagram for how my recipes and snow day turn out!

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It’s the Destination that Matters

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Up until fairly recently, I had spent most of the early years of my life as pretty inflexible and rigid when it came to solving personal obstacles in my life.  This was largely in part due to my type-A personality as well as my tendency to – after careful and meticulous thought – assume that I had come up with the best solution to my problems. 

Sometimes it worked out that way. Many times it didn’t. 

My main issue when it came to effective problem solving was realizing that perfection is not as important as “getting it done”.  The most relevant example for me, personally, has been how I’ve approached finishing my education.  I started my undergraduate education traditionally, enrolling right out of high school, and attended one of the most expensive private engineering schools in New England. I loved it there, but quickly ran out of ways to pay for it so after being forced to leave after a year and a half, I started working. 

At the time, my only goal was obtaining enough money to go back to that school and only that school. 

Turns out paying $50,000+ a year while feeding myself, paying rent and putting gas in my car wasn’t an attainable goal for me at the ripe age of 19.  It took until about my mid-20’s to fully accept that. 

Back then, had I understood that federal student loans are available to EVERY student in reasonable amounts, are enough to go to a public university, and are capped off to avoid going into too much debt, that would have helped me out a lot.  It also would have helped to understand there is no shame in having to transfer to another school because I couldn’t financially make it work.

The point is, I vaguely remember someone mentioning federal loans to me at one time years ago, yet I immediately shot the idea down as “not possible without a consigner” or “does provide me with enough money to finish my engineering degree.”  Had I just stepped back and really considered what they were saying as a viable option I would have avoided years of anxiety and chasing a goal that I made unattainable not because it was, in fact, unattainable, but the path I was taking to get there made it seem that way. 

Fortunately, I eventually woke up sometime around my mid 20’s and I decided to explore other options.  After really considering all the paths that were available to help me finish my education, I ended up at the same point someone had suggested to me years before.  Through the government loans available (with, in fact, no cosigner) I received my associates degree at a very reasonable cost, and am now finishing up my bachelors at a state school. While it is not in engineering, I remained in the sciences and after completion I intend on enrolling in an engineering masters program.  While this path was not the prettiest, fastest or exactly what I wanted, it will get the job done.

Sometimes, when a solution to a problem seems daunting, complex or unrealistic, it is worth it to ask opinions of others or really listen to people we confide in for their advice. Sometimes a fresh perspective is all we need to see the simpler, better solution and in some cases, save years of wasted time.

Have You Been Told To “Get Serious?”

 cubicle

I’m getting pretty tired of hearing people refer to this “time to get serious” business.

What does that mean exactly? 

My interpretation is that it is a time when one gives up their dreaming to adhere to this life structure society has designed for the masses. Basically, finish college, get a job, get married, buy a house, have a kid.  

Why? Why is that “getting serious?” 

Of the people I know who live “not-so-serious” lifestyles they tend to be happier, focus more on their passions, and are usually able to roll with the punches better. 

I see this first hand in my group of friends.  

Some work in a startup created by a few good friends where start and end times are basically whenever they decide to come in, end when they’re done, and conclude with a few office brews and rounds of (super) old school NHL ’94. (you DEF know who you are 😉 )

Others work in the service industry, wake up late, kill it a few nights a week to have 4 days off in a row, and bring home some serious dough.  A few of them are using the extra cash to invest in real estate and create residual income by becoming a landlord in the Boston area or flipping houses out of state.

And some don’t care about chasing the dollar as much as they just value freedom and can live a minimalist lifestyle, travel on the cheap and work only for a few months when they have to.

I myself was able to tweak some habits and excess spending as well as finding a higher paying job.  This created a situation where I only work a couple days a week with a walking commute of 10 minutes.  This has changed my life and allows me to focus on school, travel, my social life and my newfound love of hiking.  Not to mention, I don’t loathe going to work…I actually look forward to it!

I don’t think I will put myself in a position to be unhappy and overworked at a job again.  There are ways to cut spending and still be able to do the things you want.  Thinking outside the box is key, and sometimes setting the situation up can take changing some habits and insecurities of “Will it all work?” “What will people think!” “What if I fail?.”  Which leads to some interesting introspection….Live life for you to be the happiest you can be, screw what others think, and if you fail, well, at least you tried and you’ll probably figure out what went wrong and will remedy it.

Life is meant to be lived. That is exactly what I intend to keep on doing. 

Essentials for a (tiny!) city kitchen when trying to eat healthy

mykitchen                                                  (Pegboard in my little Boston kitchen)

1. Crockpot – I love my crockpot.  It is a cheap, fool-proof and extremely low maintenance way to make large portions with little cleanup.  I find these meals, like pulled pork, soups and stews, are excellent for leftovers and taste like the food I used to eat at home.  The set it and forget it nature of crockpots is very convenient particularly because I have a hard time regularly fitting making dinner into my schedule.  Nothing is better than coming home and dinner is already made!

2. One big wok – I used to have complications cooking skillets and stir fry because a regular sized fry pan wasn’t large enough.  I now have a large wok with high sides, essentially just a really deep frypan.  It holds everything and I can make a ton of food at once for guests or leftovers.

3. Silicone spatulas – Small kitchens can get smokey and smelly fast, and that is why I try not to use plastic utensils when Im cooking.  Silicone can withstand very high temperatures and doesn’t burn, so there is no chance of filling my apartment with the smell of burnt plastic.

4. Salad spinner – I try to buy from local farmers markets as much as possible, and the Boston Public Market has really made this much easier as 5 days a week, vendors are under one (air conditioned!) roof.  My veggies come right out of the ground to me, so there is a lot of dirt that comes with them, too.  I LIVE for salad…I have a quite large container that I chop lettuces and throw in some other veggies about once a week and keep it in the fridge so when I want salad, it is always pre-made and ready to go.  Before I had a salad spinner I would painstakingly rinse each leaf and drying them with paper towels.  Super inefficient, time consuming and wasteful.  Now I can rinse and dry two heads of lettuce at once in 30 seconds.  Oh, and the bottom of the spinner doubles as a salad bowl.  No brainer. 

5. Adopting different shopping habits – People in cities have smaller spaces and this leads to less room to put stuff.  This (for me at least) equates to going to the store more often making smaller trips.  I find that I go to my local grocery store (Whole foods) and CVS usually about 3 times a week on average, and to a farmers market/Boston Public Market on average about twice a week.  This may seem like a lot, but both are very close to my home and I walk by both of them several times a week just being out in the city, so stopping in that much isn’t an inconvenience.  Also, I find this is the best way to buy produce as it is always fresh in my home and there is less waste when buying only what’s needed for a few days.

6. A high quality set of knives – We just bought a (badly needed) new set of high quality knives.  After shopping around for a few months we ended up with a Wusthof set from their classic line.  Using good knives cuts down on time and is just safer.  And If they’re properly taken care of, they can be used for life.

7. A dishwasher – If you don’t have one (like i didn’t) a table top dishwasher has been a lifesaver for all the cooking at home I’ve been doing, and it was relatively inexpensive (under $200).  No one likes doing dishes, and cooking at home most nights can get very time consuming and messy if everything needs to be washed by hand.  My little dishwasher fits service for 6 and even has a dry cycle.  It is a lifesaver and easily hooks up to the sink when I want to use it. 

8. Sign up for a quality online recipe site – I use eatingwell.com because of my limited space for cookbooks.  Every recipe contains caloric information, they have weekly plans based on the desired amount of daily caloric intake and its all free!!

Did I forget anything? What do you use to make life easier in a small kitchen?

Home Alone? Make the Most of It

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What’s the first thing that comes to mind when knowing you’ll have the house all to yourself for a few days….Indulging in your hobbies?  Binge watching TV shows?  Walking around completely naked?

While all of that stuff is great, I think it can be beneficial to take a different sort of time out as well.

When people leave our living space for a period of time, for say, a vacation or business trip, it can allow us to be alone with our thoughts and figure some stuff out.  Particularly, how we feel about ourselves, the people we live with and how we integrate those people into our lives to either help us accomplish our goals or use them as distractions to put off our goals.

I like this “here one day gone the next”  method because it happens so abruptly.  It is painfully obvious the impact the people who reside in our dwelling have on our lives.  I recently discovered during the last time I was alone at home (which was for 9 days) that for me personally, I tend to be a bit sluggish with action items that are detrimental to my success when they are hard, scary, or have uncertain outcomes.  I get them done eventually, but when other people are around after work I find it very easy to get wrapped up in their lives/issues and ignore the tough/important stuff I should be dealing with in my own life.  This became pretty obvious when my daily habitual distractions (aka. the people I live with) were not there and I was alone with my thoughts and looming to-do list.

I also like that abrupt aloneness can be a catalyst for a change in routine.  For example, I want to get up earlier, walk more steps per day and just be outside more.  I want to be naturally tired when I go to bed.  I want to think about myself more and not be so caught up in what everyone else is doing.  I want to devote time almost every day to my hobbies.  I want to drink a bit less and cook at home more.  These are all things I have found much easier to start without having another persons schedule or needs to consider for a period of time.  In addition, I also think this method of starting new habits first without human distraction makes it easier, later to integrate the people you live with into your new routine.

It has been a good reevaluation period at least for me, in a couple ways.  Firstly, I have used this uninterrupted quiet time to look at my life, my goals and the roadmap.  Ive dealt with a few immediate issues and tweaked the path to my goals.  I feel confident about having a recently revised plan.

The second way I reevaluate involves acknowledging and analyzing how much I depend on the people I live with, and for what.  For example, maybe the people around us give us financial support, companionship, or keep us busy, but their constant presence can also be an easy excuse to stay in our comfort zones.  Like say, maybe making new friends is something you really want and need to do, yet hanging out with your roommate at home is way less scary.  Or maybe you live with a significant other who helps provide you with monetary support but the situation is actually preventing you from gaining your independence and self-confidence. Or maybe your kids are busy and you need to devote a lot of time to their schedule, so this allows for excuses why you put a healthy lifestyle on the back burner.

Essentially, I find this type of alone time to be an eye opening exercise.  I find it fascinating to be able to recognize how our own daily habits involving the people in our homes can either lift us up or hold us back, and how we have the power to change it.  A little reflection also helps pass the time while the people you (hopefully) enjoy the most are out of town! 🙂

What Qualities Do The People In Your Tribe Have?

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Referring back to my “Blue Zone” habits is something I do frequently to see how much progress I am making following them and to access areas that needs the most improvement.  As of right now, I am particularly interested in finding my “right tribe”.

Making friends outside of “forced proximity” situations becomes more complicated as an adult, as we don’t see the same people at least 5 days a week for years on end (and work doesn’t really count, only very few people end up hanging out outside of their job).  Our responsibilities also multiply as we age and we tend to want substantial friendships that fit into our maturing lifestyles. 

So, I decided to make a list of top qualities that I am drawn to in others.  This is what I came up with:

1. Having direction that is truly ones own path.  Creativity in choosing career and alignment with personal happiness, interests and desired lifestyle, which many times means being comfortable making choices other people may scoff at.  I truly respect it when people are open to alternate ways to get them to their goals.

2. Good sense of humor, intelligent and sarcastic or witty.  I tend to have my most hilarious conversations with people who have a somewhat dry sense of humor and quick wit, and if they value reading, learning and educating themselves it is even better because I usually learn a few things at the same time.

3. A burning desire to “get out there”….travel, experience, try new things, take on big projects and strive towards big goals, and (perhaps most importantly) actually have the courage to take the leap.  There are so many things to see and do in the world!  I like being around people who can feed off each others fire for wanting to truly experience life.

4. Spiritual beliefs and practices that aren’t contradictory to personal actions and encourages stress relief and mental well-being.  I have recently become  interested in meditation and zen buddhism and we’ll see where I go with that.  If there is a major difference in the belief or code of conduct system in your religion and your beliefs or actions, then maybe you should rethink if that is the best fit for you.

5. A true desire to face personal demons and qualities that hinder growth.  I am closest to people who are able to talk through their problems with others.  I feel perspective is gained by talking to as many people as possible, and a well-rounded decision can be made about how to proceed as well as where to improve to be a better person.  This also builds trust, stronger relationships and is its own form of therapy so lashing out is less prone to happen at inopportune times (like….when drinking?!).

At first when I wrote this list I kept saying to myself “hmm…the list seems short.”  But after thinking on it for a few days what I realized is that while I probably could come up with more traits, I think they would be things that are “nice to have” not “need to have”.  There is no need to be completely picky to the point where only very few people meet your tribal demands. 

Creating a list like this is just an exercise to establish what is fundamentally important to you, and what personalities really draw you in.  Basically, what traits do people need to have to keep you in touch regularly, mutually inspired by one another and able to connect deeply?

The Grass Is Always Greener….Somewhere

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Before going away this past week to spend a busy 5 days in Newport, Jamestown and at a 4th of July party at my parents place in northern RI, I was in quite a rut.  I was feeling directionless, irritable, and “down-in-the-dumps” about some issues.  I suppose overall I was just unhappy and unable to see the positive side of well, anything.

The primary reason I bring this up is that despite the fact that I have made some major life changes which have enabled me to live more positively over the past year, I still find molehills to worry or be cranky about thus turning them into proverbial mountains.

Comparatively to about a year and a half ago, my life now is completely different.  I was working in an emotionally abusive job far from my home which involved commuting 2 hours each day.  I was not focusing much on school and struggled to submit quality work on time.  There were a few courses I failed.  I was in an exhausting relationship with a person who had many emotional demons and who tended to turn to alcohol to solve his problems.  I spent a lot of time and money partying and thus didn’t invest in quality hobbies to better myself physically or emotionally.

Today, things are much better.  I have much more free time, good people around me and have completed one college degree.

It is understood that feeling down happens from time to time.  It happens to all of us at different intervals in our lifetime.  But after taking a few days away to reset, upon my return home to the city I was able to step back and realize how good things really are.  Basically what struck me was the nature of my fairly solvable problems, and how minuscule they are compared to problems I used to have.

I found it interesting (and embarrassing) how quickly I forgot what it felt like to get up everyday to work at a job I hated just to come home to arguments with my then boyfriend.  I really had to search for the joy in the little things, like standing in a parking garage for 10 minutes a day to enjoy nice weather as that was the only time I had away from my desk.  Back then I was ecstatic to have a sacred three day weekend.  Now, every weekend is a five day weekend.  Where had my gratitude and sense of perspective gone? 

Even now, there is a life I occasionally dream of, “better” than the one I have now, as I think many people do from time to time.  However I think it’s important to remember that even when situations get better, there are still another set of issues that come with that life.  My feelings were just one example of how we become complacent and forget how thankful we should be on a daily basis just to be alive, healthy, have food, family, etc.  This is not even including the extra goodies in life, be it a backyard pool, kick-ass family cookouts or access to beautiful, passed-down family property.

In short, there are a lot of things to be thankful for.  I need to prioritize mindfulness on a daily basis.  It is essential for maintaining happiness, and I’ll need to work to make it become a habit.