Latest Posts

Quinoa Chef’s Salad with Honey Dijon Vinaigrette

Dan and I both work a lot of hours. By the time I get done with work, unwind, do a little yoga (maybe), and eat dinner, I have just enough time left over to walk the dog and watch a little Netflix before falling into bed. This doesn’t leave me time to do much of anything else after work. Plus, after a busy, stressful day, I frankly don’t feel like it. Mornings are mostly me running around trying to get everything done in an hour, so I don’t have much time to spare there either. Due to this, I’m always looking for an easy lunch that I can throw together quickly.

This quinoa salad is the perfect answer to my problems because I can I prep the ingredients for it on Sunday night, throw it all into a few sealed containers, and just scoop out what I want each morning before work. You could also put the salad together at night if that’s easier. Or, if you have enough meal prep containers, portion out each lunch for the week on Sunday night and pop them all in the fridge.

This salad is also great because I can eat it cold, which allows me to avoid the microwave at work, which as I’ve told you before, I hate using.

All in all, this takes about 45 mins. or less to cook and prep, and then you’re done with lunch for the entire week!

up close 22 salads

The ingredients below are enough for 5 days worth of lunches for one person. Just adjust the recipe depending on how many you need to make. I usually make enough for both Dan and I so I double most ingredients.

Ingredients for Quinoa Chef’s Salad:

  • 12 oz quartered artichoke hearts – I buy the kind in a jar but you can use fresh
  • 7 oz. package of all natural hickory smoked turkey breast (I buy GreenWise brand at Publix because it has no added sugar) or shredded chicken
  • 2 sweet potatoes + 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil (EVOO)
  • 1 cup organic quinoa + 2 cups water or no-added-sugar broth
  • 5 oz cheese- I use mozzarella here, but goat cheese or feta would also be great
  • 6 oz pitted kalamata olives
  • 2 bell peppers
  • 1 ct grape tomatoes + 1 tbsp EVOO
  • 1 cucumber
  • half dozen hard boiled eggs (I cheat and buy them already cooked)
  • a pinch each of salt, pepper, & cayenne pepper

Ingredients for Honey Dijon Vinaigrette:

  • 1 tbsp Dijon mustard
  • 1/4 cup EVOO
  • a dash of garlic powder, salt, pepper, and onion powder
  • 2 tbsp apple cider vinegar (ACV)
  • 1/2 tbsp honey
  • 1 tsp lemon juice

Salad Instructions:

For my Sunday lunch prep I start with the quinoa. I use about a cup of dry quinoa and cook it following the instructions on the packaging. The instructions for quinoa are usually as follows:

  1. Pour 1 cup of quinoa and 2 cups of water or broth into a pot and bring to a boil.
  2. Once boiling, cover the pot and lower the temperature to simmer. Simmer for 15 mins.
  3. Remove from the heat and leave it for about 5 mins.
  4. Fluff it up with a fork.

Once cooked, the quinoa expands and you’ll have about 3 cups cooked quinoa.

While the quinoa is cooking, you can work on the rest of the salad.

  1. Clean and chop up the sweet potatoes into bite sized pieces
  2. Toss sweet potato chunks in 1-2 tbsp of olive oil and season with some salt, pepper, and a dash of cayenne, and spread evenly on a foil-lined baking sheet (easier cleanup).
  3. Roast them at 425 degrees Fahrenheit for about 30-35 mins., flipping them periodically throughout the cook time so they cook evenly.
  4. While the potatoes start to cook, rinse the tomatoes and toss them in a bit of olive oil and season with a little salt and pepper, and spread the tomatoes out evenly on a second foil-lined baking sheet.
  5. Once the sweet potatoes have about 20 mins. left to cook, you can put the tomatoes into the oven as well. That way they both finish cooking about the same time.
  6. Chop up the cucumber, bell peppers, and artichoke hearts into bite-sized pieces. You can use fresh artichokes and cook them yourself, but just a warning that artichokes are kind of a pain to prepare. I’m too lazy for all that. I just buy the kind in a jar. Work smarter not harder.
  7. Cut the mozzarella and deli meat into bite sized pieces as well. I used sliced turkey here because that’s what I had, but you could really use any meat you choose.
  8. Slice the boiled eggs into quarters and the olives into halves.

Once everything is prepped, let the cooked portions cool a bit, then you can put it all into a container until you are ready to portion it out for lunch. I usually put the quinoa, eggs, meat, and cheese into separate containers, and all the veggies in one.
When you are ready to portion it out for lunch, you can put it all into one container.

Assembling the Salad:

I use about a 1/2 cup of quinoa, about 1 oz. of turkey, and a small handful of each other ingredient. You will be tempted to add more than this, because it doesn’t look like much, but I promise this salad is more filling than it looks. You can compare to my photos in this post for an idea of how much of each ingredient I use each day.

Next is the dressing. I love this dressing and I use it on all kinds of salads. It’s so simple, so healthy, and tasty af.

Salad Dressing Instructions:

  1. In a small resealable container combine the Dijon, EVOO, ACV, lemon juice, honey, salt, pepper, garlic powder, and onion powder.
  2. Stir until combined.
  3. Add a little water, 1 tbsp at a time, until you get the dressing to the consistency you like, combining completely. I usually do about 1.5-2 tbsp of water.

Depending how much dressing you use per day, you might need to make a little more later in the week. I use about 1.5-2 oz. per day. You’ll also probably need to give the dressing a stir each day, as it tends to separate.

I found some cheap little 2 oz. containers at Marshall’s that are perfectly portioned for salad dressing. I just pour a little into one of those to bring to work so I don’t have to pour it on ahead of time and end up with a soggy salad. I highly recommend finding something like that if you want to start meal prepping.

1 whole salad

You can easily tweak the ingredients in this salad to make it exactly to your liking, but this combo is my favorite. Hope you enjoy!

The Best BBQ Sauce with Pulled Pork & Potatoes

Who doesn’t love a good BBQ sauce? Nobody I know. Dan and I had a hell of a time finding a good barbecue sauce free of refined or fake sugars at the grocery store though. He bought one once that was labeled sugar free and was so excited to try it only to find out it had Splenda in it. Gross. After that, he just decided to make his own.

We generally make our pulled pork in the slow cooker because it’s so freakin easy, but you can make it on the actual BBQ if you’re fancy like that.

This is a great meal to make ahead of time on the weekend and eat for a few days throughout the week. It reheats nicely.

 

+Slow Cooker Pulled Pork

Ingredients:
2 lb pork butt
1 tbsp garlic powder
1 tbsp onion powder
1 tbsp smoked paprika
splash of natural liquid smoke
salt and pepper
1/2 cup beer
1 tbsp honey

Instructions:

Marinade: Rub the pork with the garlic and onion powder, smoked paprika, salt, pepper, and honey. Pour the beer into a large airtight bag, place the pork inside, and seal. Make sure the liquid covers the pork. Bonus points if you use a vacuum sealer. It really seals in the flavor. But if you don’t have one it’s totally fine without. Put that in the fridge to marinate overnight for best results. If you can’t do overnight, do at least 30 mins. in the fridge.

When you’re ready to cook:

  1. Pour 3/4 cup water and 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar into the slow cooker. Add another splash of apple cider vinegar for good measure.
  2. Place the pork (fat side down) in the slow cooker. Cook on low for 8 hours. As much as you want to peek, don’t lift the lid until it’s done. I read somewhere that every time you lift the lid you should add another 30 mins. to your cook time. We don’t want that.
  3. Once 8 hours have passed, remove the lid and admire your prize.
  4. Shred the pork in the crock pot. Remove the shredded pork and place in a bowl.
  5. Serve as you wish.
    You can serve it on a sugar-free hamburger bun (if you can find some) with some BBQ sauce, but if you can’t find any sugar-free buns, this pulled pork is honestly amazing on it’s own with just some BBQ sauce on top. That’s how I prefer it. You could also make pulled pork tacos on corn tortillas for an easy no-refined-sugar meal.

+BBQ Sauce

Ingredients:
1 14.5 oz can of diced tomatoes
2 tbsp natural liquid smoke
2 tbsp organic tamari sauce, coconut aminos, OR low sodium soy sauce with no added sugars
1/2 tsp onion powder
1 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup organic apple cider vinegar
1/3 cup honey (sounds like a lot but you aren’t eating it all at once)
2 tbsp smoked paprika
1/4 tsp chili powder
1/4 tsp cayenne*
1/2 tsp chipotle sauce*
*You can omit these if you can’t take the heat

Instructions:

  1. Pour diced tomatoes into a pan and let them cook at medium heat for 5-10 minutes to soften them up.
  2. Add all other ingredients and stir.
  3. Bring to a boil then reduce heat and stir once more.
  4. Pour into a blender and blend until smooth, or if you have an emulsion blender, use that instead.

If you’re into making sauces, soups, mashed potatoes, etc. I highly recommend purchasing an emulsion blender. We use ours all the time and you can get one for like $20 at Target or Amazon. Well worth it to not have to clean a blender.

This sauce recipe makes a pretty big batch, but we put whatever leftover sauce we don’t plan on using that week into an airtight bag and put it in the freezer for later use. When you’re ready to use it next, just pop it in the fridge the night before to thaw. It’s great on chicken, too.

This BBQ sauce is seriously so good you will want to put it on everything.

+Potato Wedges

Ingredients:
3 russet potatoes
About 2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 tbsp salt, pepper, garlic powder, smoked paprika, and chili powder

Instructions:

  1. Preheat over to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Clean and cut each potato in half long ways then cut into wedges. Don’t remove the skin.
  3. Place potato wedges into a bowl and toss in olive oil. Add a little more oil if needed until all of the potato wedges are lightly coated in oil.
  4. Add the rest of the ingredients to the bowl, and toss.
  5. Lay the seasoned wedges on a foil-lined baking sheet and bake for about 25 mins.*, flipping the wedges at the halfway point.

*Total cook time will vary depending on thickness of wedges.

Hope you enjoy this easy, healthy dinner idea! If you try the recipe, let me know what you think or any changes you made in the comments below.

The One Spice You Won’t Want to Live Without

Did you guess what it is? Maybe you’re already familiar with it and maybe you aren’t. But if you aren’t, you should be!

There was a period of time where I was literally telling every person I knew that they had to try turmeric. I was singing its praises to my family, friends, coworkers, and even strangers. Dan even joked that “big turmeric” should be paying me. I’ve calmed down a little bit, but I’m still seriously obsessed! But that’s because I am such a strong believer in this miracle spice, and here’s why…

For whatever reason, my body is very prone to small cysts and styes. At one point about a year ago I had multiple cysts at one time on various parts of my body. They weren’t painful or even really noticeable to anyone but me, but they were annoying. I went to the doctor and she basically told me that they were fine and there wasn’t really anything she could do about it besides removal, if they bothered me too much. At this point I’d already had two of the cysts for months. Since there were no medical solutions to the problem besides removal, I decided to start googling for a natural cure. This is when I stumbled upon turmeric.

The active ingredient in turmeric called curcumin is actually what gives turmeric its medicinal properties. In my Dr. Google research I discovered that curcumin can be beneficial for a variety of ailments, such as congestion, arthritis, and inflammation. It’s even being studied for the treatment of heart disease, Alzheimer’s, and depression, and has shown great results in studies so far. This is because of it’s natural anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Due to its anti-inflammatory properties, turmeric/curcurmin can also be a very powerful remedy in managing any type of autoimmune disorder that is caused by or leads to inflammation.

However, if you have diabetes, gall or kidney stones, bile duct problems, or take blood thinners you should consult your doctor before trying turmeric because you could have an adverse reaction. Same goes for pregnancy.

The curcumin in turmeric is best absorbed by your body when combined with piperine, which is found in black pepper. Therefore, it’s recommended to consume turmeric with black pepper for best results.

So back to my bod. I bought some ground turmeric powder at the store for like $6.99 and started experimenting. Turmeric has an earthy flavor. In powdered form, it’s honestly similar to dirt. I decided to mix a little turmeric powder in a glass of water with a pinch of black pepper. To be honest, this is not the most delicious thing you will ever drink. You might even think it is downright disgusting. I got used to it and actually came to enjoy it, minus the powdery consistency of the turmeric. Your best option is just to chug! I thought of it as medicine, and just did what I had to do to get it down.

So after taking this combo daily for only a few days my cysts started to shrink, and within 5 days, they were gone. I’m not exaggerating. These cysts I’d had for months were gone within days of using this natural remedy. That was enough to make me a believer. I started taking this combo every morning to prevent new cysts from occurring and I haven’t had one since.

I also noticed when taking turmeric that if I woke up with a stuffy nose from allergies or sinus issues, my morning dose would immediately clear it up. I often get sinus pressure, so this was another bonus for me.

Dan suffers from allergies most of the year since we live in Florida where plants pretty much never stop blooming. He wasn’t thrilled about the prospect of taking it, but after trying it out and seeing the results it had on his allergies, he started taking it with me every morning too, with a grimace on his face. He usually sneezes all day long, but on days when he takes the turmeric, we notice a definite difference in his sneeze frequency.

I even got my mom hooked. About a month into my turmeric obsession my mom came over and mentioned that she had a stye on her eye. I told her to take some turmeric and shortly after, her stye went away. It could have just been coincidence, but after that she started taking it daily, too. The turmeric powder was a little upsetting to her stomach, so she started taking it in pill form. After taking it for a few weeks she told me she could really feel the difference it made on the inflammation in her body. On days when she didn’t take it, her joints ached more.

Turmeric has been used in Ayurvedic medicine and Chinese medicine for centuries, but if that, along with my family’s personal experiences isn’t enough for you to give it a try, I implore you to look into the many scientific studies that have come out in support of its amazing medicinal uses.

You can buy turmeric in powder, pill or its natural root form. It can definitely be found at health food stores in one form or another, but with its recent boost in popularity, it can now even be found at most regular grocery stores. Powder or pill form is quickest, but I also enjoy cutting up the raw root and using it in teas and fresh juices. The earthy flavor of turmeric is also great in stews and curries. I think we will start seeing this wonder spice used more and more as people start to look for natural remedies to their ailments.

Here are my two favorite, easy ways to consume turmeric. Hope you give them a try.

+Turmeric shot – Put 1.5 tsp of ground turmeric powder, 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar, and a pinch of black pepper in a 5 oz. glass of water. Stir or whisk well. Chug!  **Note: I always rinse my mouth out with water after I drink apple cider vinegar because I’ve read it can erode tooth enamel if you drink it straight.**

+Turmeric/Ginger tea – Peel and slice a 1-2 inch piece each of turmeric and ginger root. Boil water. Place the ginger and turmeric slices in a mug and pour the hot water over them. Add a sprinkle of black pepper and stir. Let sit for 2 mins. Enjoy. Don’t chug. It’s hot-that will hurt. Duh!
***Warning*** Turmeric in powder or root form WILL turn anything it touches yellow, including your hands. So be careful not to get it on your clothes or skin, or prepare to look like Homer Simpson the rest of the day.

My Top 8 Favorite Things About 2018

Cheers to making it through 2018! This year has been quite chaotic for many people. Living in a never-ending political cycle where we are constantly being marketed to is draining. I don’t know about you, but I’m really, really tired both emotionally and physically. But besides all that, 2018 has truly been one of the best years of my life. I got to see myself and so many people I love reach milestones and so many huge, life-changing things happened for me and those I love this year.

Here are my top 8 absolute favorite things about my life in 2018:

  1. My best friend and Dan’s best friend both had babies! Dan’s best friend had the cutest little boy and of course my best friend added the most beautiful baby girl to our girl gang. I am so excited to buy her all the cute girly stuff forever. Definitely my favorite part of 2018.
  2. Two of my best friends got married… to each other! Two of my very best friends who I’ve grown up with and known for over a decade had the most amazingly beautiful wedding this year. It was a long time coming after being together for nearly 10 years, so I am over the moon for both of them.
  3. I got to spend time with all of my family. This year was the first year in probably close to a decade that I got to see every single member of my extended family on both sides. I was lucky enough to travel to both W.V. and N.C. in 2018 and loved spending time with all of my family there. I have always lived hundreds of miles away from them, and as we’ve gotten older we’ve seen each other less and less.  Seeing unexpected changes in my grandparents’ health has made me realize how important it is that I visit as much as I can. You can’t get that time back.
  4. I got to visit two new amazing cities. Oslo has been on my list since I started learning more about Norway and it was such a modern, fun, laid back city to visit. Paris has been on my list since, well, always(!), so it was a big moment for me to visit this year. Dan also treated me to my first Michelin star dining experience there for my birthday at Restaurant du Palais Royal, which could honestly count as its own number on this list. What can I say? I like food. It’s literally my blog name. Paris lived up to the hype and I can’t wait to get back  to try more of the food and see more of the sites. I’ll be headed back to Oslo briefly in about a month, which might I mention, David Chang just named one of the best cities for food in 2019.
  5.  I got to treat Dan to a trip to a new-to-him city. For his 30th birthday I surprised him with a trip to Denver. This was his first time out west and we had a great time exploring everything, taking in the beautiful mountain air and scenery, and of course, eating. Denver is one of my favorite cities so I loved being able to share it with him.
  6. Dan and I both got promotions at work this year. I feel so lucky to work for a company that appreciates the hard work I put in. Oh, and if you weren’t aware, Dan works there too! Yes, I know what you’re thinking. “You guys work together?!” Yes, yes we do. When he first got me a job there we worked in separate departments and didn’t collaborate on anything. With our new promotions we now work on quite a few projects together. Sometimes I want to strangle him, but besides that, it’s going surprisingly well. It works for us.
  7. I started this blog! Friends and family have been asking me for information and food advice for the past couple of years and kept telling me to start a blog. I agreed but kept putting it off because I didn’t know where to begin. This year I quit making excuses and just did it. It’s been great having a creative outlet while also being able to share my no-sugar info with others.
  8. I discovered the magic of turmeric and ginger. Okay I know this sounds like a weird one, but I’m seriously obsessed with both of these things!!! Ask Dan. I talk about them all the time and sing their praises to everyone I meet. They are seriously miracle spices and I credit them for some serious positive changes in my health this year. Give them a try and you’ll see what I mean. Game changers.

I’ll be spending the last few hours of this year at a small get together with my best friends, hopefully around a fire with a glass of champagne. I hope your 2018 has been as great as mine. Share with me in the comments what your top 8 were. I’d love to hear.

Let’s hope 2019 is even better!

 

 

My Favorite Healthy Snacks

Snacking seems to be everyone’s downfall when it comes to eating healthy. My urge to snack has honestly decreased significantly since I cut added sugar out of my diet. When I eat more healthy, satisfying foods and my blood sugar is stable I just don’t have as many cravings. However, many people, including myself at times, stress eat. In those moments it’s so hard to eat just a couple chips. If you’re anything like me, one quickly turns into the whole bag.

Portion control and slow eating are your friend when it comes to snacking. Choose healthy snacks that are easy to portion out and stick to that portion. If the snack isn’t pre-portioned, do it yourself ahead of time. Goldfish crackers aren’t the worst thing ever, but eating half the bag is not good for you. Put a handful in a small container and eat them one by one. You’ll still kill your snacking urge, but you won’t mindlessly shovel the whole bag into your mouth in a single sitting. Take your time eating. Savor the snack. If you eat too quickly, you won’t give your body enough time to process what you’re doing and it will take a lot more food to feel full.

Meal prep snacks on a Sunday evening for the week. If you like to snack at work, pack them in small containers for the week. Also have a few set aside for when you’re chillin at home at night after work. Not sure what it is about Netflix, but it seems to queue my urge to snack. I just grab something easy and healthy that I already have set aside so I don’t even have to think about it.

Here are my favorite snacks:

+Apple slices and organic natural peanut butter

+A plain rice cake with 1 spoon of organic peanut butter and frozen blueberries on top

+A plain rice cake with some no-added-sugar marinara sauce (or homemade) and shredded mozzarella

+Plain popcorn with olive oil, salt, pepper, garlic powder, paprika, onion powder OR SkinnyPop brand popcorn in the white cheddar or sea salt & black pepper flavors. They used to have a jalapeno flavor that was amazing but I can’t seem to find it anymore.

+A serving of no-added-sugar crackers (like Good Thins corn crackers) and some sliced cheese

+A slice of no-added-sugar bread with mashed avocado and everything bagel seasoning (or just salt & pepper)

+A mozzarella stick & small handful of plain, self-salted nuts or seeds like baked pumpkin or sunflower seeds

+Veggies like carrot sticks, sliced bell peppers, or cucumber slices with one of the following:

-hummus, laughing cow cheese triangle, or greek yogurt dip (greek yogurt, blue cheese crumbles, and a dash of salt, pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, smoked paprika, and a splash of olive oil)

+Homemade potato or sweet potato chips

+A handful of olives

+A handful of berries or snackable fruit like grapes or melon chunks

+A single serving of no-sugar-added corn tortilla chips with salsa (make sure the salsa does not have added sugar)

+Homemade oatmeal bars- combine 1 cup peanut butter , 1/2 of 1 banana (mashed), 2 cups rolled oats, 1 cup raspberries, and a dash of salt. Put a piece of waz paper on a cookie sheet (saves on cleanup). Mold the dough into rounds, so they look like cookies, and place them on the baking sheet. Bake at 350 for 20 mins. Will keep in fridge for up to 4 days.

Happy snacking!

Feel free to drop any healthy snacks you love in the comments. I’m always looking for fresh ideas to cure my snack cravings when they strike.

Florida Christmas Cocktail

Whether it’s the thought of single digits in your bank account or  hanging with family again so soon after Thanksgiving, something about the holidays probably has you stressed and looking for a quick way to chill out. Or maybe you love the holidays and just want to party with your visiting high school friends without spending the entire next day lying in bed with regret. Either way, it’s difficult to avoid the inevitable holiday drinking situation, so here’s a tasty and healthy drink recipe to save the day and keep your hangovers at bay. This recipe is enough for 2 drinks, so double, triple, quadruple it as needed, depending on how your holiday is going.

Ingredients:

  • 6 oz raw cranberries
  • 1 orange
  • 24 oz club soda
  • 3 oz gin or tequila (unless you need more)
  • mint
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 2 tbsp water

Cut the orange in half. In a small pot, bring the juice of half the orange, the cranberries and 2 tbsp of water to a boil. Boil for about 10 mins, until all of the cranberries appear to have popped and are cooked. Turn the heat to low, add the honey, and stir. Let cool for a couple mins.

Once cool, muddle the cranberry mixture with a few mint leaves.

In a cocktail shaker, combine cranberry mixture, mint leaves, juice of the other half of the orange, and the liquor. Shake! Shake! Shake!

Pour half the mixture into a glass. I strain it to avoid cranberry chunks, but feel free to leave them in if you wish. Add about 12 oz club soda and stir. Add ice. Then, serve and forget your troubles.

Happy Holidays!

DSC01826

 

Let’s Talk About Drinking

Fifty pounds ago I was living quite a different lifestyle than I am today. My nights consisted of going out and drinking somewhere. Hanging out with friends? Drinking. Hanging out with family? Drinking. Holidays? Drinking. Concerts? Drinking. Every night was a party and it’s how I filled my time. I was young and having fun. It felt like everyone around me was doing the same, so nothing seemed weird about it at the time. I didn’t even recognize that it had become essentially my only hobby. Looking back, it was a problem. When I was drinking my heaviest, my anxiety was also at an all time high. This was no coincidence since alcohol is a depressant, but at the time I didn’t see the correlation.

While drinking can be fun and is often a social activity, it can easily become a problem, or in the very least, a health deterrent. I strongly feel that a large part of my weight gain was due to alcohol. I definitely wasn’t eating well either, but alcohol is nothing but empty calories, and most drinks have way too many plus tons of sugar. If I was consuming a minimum of at least a couple of small glasses of wine a day, that’s 1,750 calories per week coming from alcohol. And let’s be honest, there were nights where I consumed more than a couple, and they weren’t small pours. If you are consuming an average woman’s daily recommended calorie intake on just alcohol every week, you’re going to gain weight.

I also felt terrible every time I drank. I seemed to have grown intolerant to it. Every night drinking, even if only a couple drinks, led to a migraine and and nausea the entire next day. It wasn’t a lifestyle I could maintain and still lead any type of functional life. As it does for most people, my tolerance to alcohol has decreased significantly with age. No more are the nights where I can go out drinking with friends and wake up for work the next day.

When I started to experience health problems like serious gastrointestinal issues and weekly migraines, I knew I had to change my lifestyle. I started with food, not even thinking about what a large role alcohol was playing in my health issues. As I started to eat healthier, I knew I had to cut my alcohol intake too if I was really going to feel better.
With the change in diet and lack of alcohol, my body did amazing things. I went from being on medications for my stomach issues and having Excedrin migraine constantly on hand to being essentially issue free.

I still drink on occasion, but it’s no longer every day; it’s not even every week. When I do drink, it’s in a social setting and I try to keep it to one. If I do drink more than one, I make sure to eat a really filling meal beforehand and drink water in between drinks and after.
I know drinking can be fun and it’s close to impossible to avoid alcohol for most people. I know that if I cut it out completely I’d feel even better, but I also know that’s not realistic for me, and it probably isn’t for most of you either. I think for people other than those living with addictions, having a drink on occasion can be totally fine.

If drinking, make a good choice with your consumption. Limit your intake to one or two, drink lots of water, and avoid any sugary mixers or drinks with added sugar. I don’t count calories when it comes to food, but I do with alcohol since it’s all just empty calories. Keep the calorie count on your choices as low as possible.

Here are some of my go-to drinks when I do imbibe. While all alcohol is broken down into sugars, these options have less than most:

Good
+Dry red wine- contains about .9 grams of sugar. Sweet reds and white wines have more. Avoid dessert wines. They can have up to 7 grams of sugar.
*Unlike other alcoholic beverages, there are potential health benefits to consuming a glass of red wine on occasion.
Better
+Wine spritzer (wine & club soda)- good option to cut the sugar and calorie content of your wine

Good
+Vodka (no flavored) w/ club soda & lime- Regular vodka has about 96 calories per oz. and no added sugars
Better
+Clear agave tequila w/ club soda & lime- Tequila also has no added sugars, but is only 64 calories per oz. It’s also gluten free and has less of an affect on blood sugar than other liquors. It’s my alcoholic beverage of choice when out somewhere.

Good
+Extra brut champagne (less than 1 gram of sugar)
Better
+Brut zero champagne (no added sugar)

Good
+Miller Lite- zero added sugars and only 96 calories
Better
+Corona Premier- without the lime it has only 90 calories and zero sugars

 

My favorite drink to make is a gin drink. It’s a pretty pink color and everyone loves it, even gin haters. raspberry cocktail

Here’s the recipe:

  • A handful of raspberries
  • 4 oz. extra brut champagne
  • juice of half a lime
  • 1 oz. gin (only has 73 calories)
  • ice

Instructions:

Muddle raspberries in a cocktail shaker or a cup. Add lime juice and gin. Shake (or stir if in a cup). Pour champagne into raspberry mixture and stir. You can shake it a little, but it will overflow from the carbonation of the champagne. You’ve been warned. Fill a glass with ice (crushed looks prettier) and pour contents of shaker into the glass through a strainer. You can add a few of the muddled raspberries as well if you’d like.

Enjoy! 🙂

 

 

Fish in Foil

Last week we had dinner with Dan’s dad while his mom was visiting family and he made us this great salmon recipe that I thought would be great to share with you. This meal is super easy and can be made with any white fish or salmon.

Dan’s dad loves to cook, which must be where he gets it from. Thanks, John! One of the family favorites is this super delicious, healthy, and most importantly, easy dinner of fish and veggies steamed in a foil packet.

Dan has made this meal before with cod after he was banned from ever frying cod in our house again. DO NOT FRY COD. I REPEAT. DO NOT FRY COD, unless of course you love your house reeking of fish for 3 weeks straight. I contemplated just burning our house down and starting over somewhere. But I digress…

Dan’s dad John typically makes this using salmon, as he did the other night, so that’s what I’ll use for this recipe. Also, this recipe will not make your house stink. *claps*

This is a great option if you want to eat healthy, but are expecting a busy night, or are just feeling lazy. There’s pretty much no clean up since everything is cooked in foil, which is always a win in my book, as I do the dishes when Dan cooks dinner. You could even save time by slicing up all of the veggies on a night you have more time so they are ready to go when you want to cook. It’s also great if you’re only cooking for one or two people, since it is cooked in single servings.

DSC01733

DSC01738

Just a warning that this is super garlicky. We love garlic, but if you don’t, just cut back on it in this recipe to a level that is acceptable to you.

The portion below is for a single serving, but you can double, triple, quadruple, etc. everything as needed.

Ingredients for one packet:

  • Salmon- about a 1/2 pound piece per person
  • about 1/4 potato
  • 1/4 red pepper
  • less than a 1/4 of one yellow onion
  • minced garlic- about 1 tsp
  • 4 lemon slices
  • olive oil- about 2 tbsp.

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Thinly slice (or mandolin if you have one) the potato, red pepper, and yellow onion, and cut 2 slices of lemon.
  3. Tear off about a 1 foot square of tin foil
  4. Put 1 tbsp. of olive oil  on the bottom half of the tin foil (but not to the edges, you’ll be folding those over to make a packet).
  5. On top of the oil, place the potato slices in 2 small rows. Do another layer of potatoes on top of the first layer. Then add a drizzle of oil on top and season with a dash of salt, pepper, and Old Bay seasoning.
  6. Add the red pepper in a layer on top of the potatoes. Add another drizzle of oil and season with a dash of salt, pepper, & Old Bay seasoning.
  7. Add the final layer of veggies with the onions on top of the red pepper. Again, drizzle with the oil and season those the same way as the last two layers.+Note that you don’t want the layers of veggies too thick, otherwise the veggies will not cook evenly.
  8. Place your piece of salmon on top of the onions. Season with salt, pepper, and Old Bay.
  9. Make a slurry of about 1/2 tbsp olive oil and minced garlic. Then, put it on top of the salmon.
  10. Place the lemon slices on top.
  11. Fold the other half of the foil over the top of the stack, then seal the edges by folding tightly. You want it to be sealed well so no steam or juices escape.
  12. Bake for 20-25 mins at 400 degrees, or until salmon is cooked through. Salmon is done when it turns from bright pink or red to a translucent pink/white color.
  13. Open packet and scoop contents onto plate. FYI this probably goes without saying, but just in case, the lemon is for flavor and garnish only. I don’t think you’ll want to eat them.

Voila! You’re done with a main course and sides, all in one, in less than 30 mins.

DSC01744.jpg

 

 

My Top 5 Travel Planning Tips

Dan and I just booked our accommodations for our trip to Tromsø, Norway in February so I’m starting to get that anxious/excited feeling again! I’ve been to Norway a few times, but only to the western and eastern parts of the country. Tromsø is in the Arctic Circle, so it should be a completely different experience. For a Florida girl like me, that’s very exciting, but also scary because I’ve never felt cold like that before, and I definitely don’t have the right clothes.

In Norway there’s a saying that goes, “Det finnes ikke dårlig vær, bare dårlig klær!”, which translates to “There is no bad weather, only bad clothing!” I’ve already begun my clothing search.

I’m starting to plan out the things we want to do while there. Since I’m in the midst of all this trip planning, I thought it would be a good time to share my top travel tips. These keep me sane and my wallet happy. Your girl ain’t rich! I’ve got champagne tastes on a beer budget.

Tip #1: Plan your payment options

This tip is especially important when traveling abroad. Before you leave, plan out what type of payment option(s) make the most sense for your trip. Some countries such as Norway are trying to go paperless, which means that it is sometimes difficult to find and use cash. You’d probably want to make sure you have a good card to use. However, other countries rely strictly on paper money, so you’d want to figure out whether to exchange money at home or upon your arrival.

Another thing to look into for international travel is a good travel credit card, if only to avoid international transaction fees. Some credit cards don’t have international fees, but many do, as do most debit cards. The typical international fees on most cards are between 1-3% of each purchase, and you will also be charged a fee to withdraw cash from an ATM. Even purchases made online to foreign entities can rack up international fees, so check before you make a large purchase. A good travel card will charge you nothing for international transactions.

The other reason I utilize a travel card is for the points! If you travel regularly (or hope to in the future) credit card points can be a great way to save you some extra cash. Dan and I have a Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card that offered a 50,000 point sign-up bonus. For Chase, the exchange rate for points is basically a penny for each point, so that gave us about $500 worth of money towards flights or hotel accommodations booked through Chase.

Something to note however, is that the interest rates for some of these cards can be high, so be sure to pay off purchases monthly, or the interest costs will negate your savings.

Tip #2: Compare flights

Consider all of your options. We don’t stick to one airline when booking our travel. We compare all of our options and simply choose whoever offers the best rate, or even a combination of airlines.

  • Google Flights can be very useful in comparing flight costs, especially if your travel dates and locations are flexible. However, they don’t always include budget airlines like Norwegian Air, so keep that in mind to compare those separately. Google is your friend when booking travel, but always be sure to delete your cache and cookies each time you do a search. If a site recognizes you’ve compared travel to a certain place a few times, they will automatically start raising the rates. I usually search in incognito mode.
  • Be sure to look up the high and low season in your destination of choice. You can often find great deals in the low season and still be able to do all of the activities on your list, just in different weather.
  • Look into all nearby airports, as well as those near your destination. For instance, Tampa Intl. is the closest airport to my house, but we also have smaller Clearwater/St. Petersburg Intl. close by, as well as Orlando Intl. an hour drive away, Ft. Myers Intl. 2 hours away, and Ft. Lauderdale Intl. 4 hours away. Especially when looking for international flights, I consider all of these locations as a point of departure or arrival.

Also keep in mind that you can leave from one airport and arrive at another. On our Tromsø trip we are departing from Orlando but fly into Tampa coming home.

Stopovers in other cities along the way can also save you money while expanding your horizons to other locations you might not otherwise go.

  • Search all budget airlines in the region. Budget airlines cut costs by cutting amenities, so if you’re looking for a fancy flying experience, then budget airlines probably aren’t for you, but if you’re looking to save money, they’re your best bet. It’s often cheaper for us to go to Europe on Norwegian Air than to the west coast of the U.S. Norwegian is our favorite, but you can find a list of other budget airlines within Europe here and some great budget airlines that fly within the U.S. here* *Note that since that article was published, Virgin America has now become Alaska Air.

Tip #3: Look into all accommodations

Where I stay depends on where I’m traveling and what kind of experience I’m looking for. I usually compare the best rates between traditional hotels and rental homes. Airbnbs are especially great if you are looking to save money by cooking a few meals at home, as they usually offer a kitchen and utensils to use, as well as the perfect amount of space for your number of guests. Airbnb and VRBO are my favorite for accommodating a larger group of people. I always try to book verified Airbnbs with good guest reviews.

If interested and you don’t already have an account, you can sign up for Airbnb through my referral link here. You’ll get a $40 credit just for signing up that you have up to a year to use, and I’ll get $20 when you book a stay. It’s a win, win for everyone!

I usually Google search hotels within the geographical radius I want to stay to get an idea of the best rates, then read the worst reviews of the ones I’m considering. If it seems dirty or mentions anything about bugs, I can quickly count that one out, but remember to take reviews with a grain of salt. Everyone is looking for different things.

I always book hotels directly through the hotel’s site, not a travel site. There are a few reasons for this, but I’ll get into those in a later post. I’ve heard enough horror stories about trying to make a last minute change through a travel site to know that it’s not worth the hassle for me.

You can often find great deals on private hotels and Airbnbs, but looking into hostels and shared Airbnbs can also be a great option to save money, especially if you are traveling solo. Even cheaper still, camping in a cabin or tent can be a fun option in certain locations, or even renting an R.V. or trailer, if you’re looking for a road trip adventure. If you go this route, you will need to keep in mind other things you’ll need to make your accommodations work, such as cooking utensils, sleeping bags, etc.

Tip #4: Be aware of the weather and terrain

If you’re going on a trip to a place you’ve never been, be sure to look into the weather and terrain at the specific time of year you are traveling so you know what to pack. I plan this out in advance if I’m going somewhere with a different climate from where I live, so I can shop the best deals on items I’ll need. Most places in the U.S. will have a cheap option nearby to pick up something you forget, but in Europe, that will definitely not be the case. Clothing is often much more expensive there.

On this trip I know that it will most likely be snowy and below freezing. I have exactly zero clothing items that will work for that type of weather. Poshmark is my go to when searching for travel clothes, especially if I’m buying something I probably won’t wear often afterward. If you aren’t familiar, it’s a resale site that sells men’s, women’s and children’s clothing, often at crazy low prices since they are gently used. However, sometimes you get lucky and find stuff that still has the tags! If you download the app, use code SLULU516 when you sign up to get $5 off your first order. I’ll also get $5 when you make your first purchase. Another win, win.

On my last trip to Norway in the spring I got this beautiful, red, never-worn boutique dress for Norway’s Independence Day and this North Face rain jacket for only $20 each.

DSC00485

 

 

DSC00599.JPG

Those are some big savings. On this trip I’m currently looking at a bunch of warm, cozy wool sweaters and hats to keep me warm. I’ve got my eye on a few for only $25 or less, which will end up saving me hundreds of dollars. They also have warm weather clothes, if you’re headed somewhere more exotic. Poshmark is addicting.

Another option is to rent clothing at your destination, but definitely look into pricing and selection ahead of time since items can sell out and prices can vary. I’m currently considering this for a few items such as boot spikes when we arrive in Tromsø.

Tip #5: Plan your activities in advance

When I travel I always try to make a list of things I want to see, do, and eat on my trip. I keep the list as a note in my phone so I can view it while traveling, even without an internet connection. You definitely don’t need to plan your itinerary down to the hour (unless you want to) but having an idea of the costs and timing for things is a good idea to ensure you accomplish the things highest on your list. For instance, on this trip I really wanted to see whales and was told that Tromsø is great for whale watching. Imagine how sad I was when I realized we arrive the day after the last whale-watching tour!!! Unfortunately our flights are non-refundable, so now I’m just hoping for a random whale to appear to me somewhere, and I’m probably S.O.L on that. Maybe someday I’ll make this dream a reality. Learn from my mistakes, people! Book important things in advance.

Try not to over plan. This will save you a lot of heartbreak if something goes awry. Leave space available in your itinerary for unexpected adventures and just try to enjoy yourself. Traveling should be fun, not stressful! If you get most of the important planning done ahead of time, it will be nothing but smooth sailing when you reach your destination.

My Top 5 Things to Do near Raleigh, N.C.

My dad, brother, Dan and I recently got back from visiting my dad’s side of the family just west of Raleigh, N.C., in a town called Holly Springs. I’ve been there many times growing up, but this was Dan’s first, so we wanted to show him a good time. The crisp fall weather was a nice break from our warm Florida “fall” and we got to take in the beautiful foliage that we miss out on year after year.

My cousin Emma recently inherited my grandmother’s 21-year-old Volvo since she can no longer drive, so we were chauffeured around in that beast by my cousin Chris. I have so many good memories of my grandparents taking my brother and I on road trips and driving around (slowly) in that car. It was fun to get out and make some new ones in it with a new driver at the wheel.

While much of North Carolina is still pretty rural, Raleigh is a modern city with lots to do and great food! It’s also the capital. The Raleigh area is know for its renowned universities and research institutes, which give it its nickname, the “Research Triangle”. With so many brilliant minds in the area for school and work, the city is a great place to live and play. Less than an hour outside the city in all directions, there are many up and coming, or easygoing, small towns to explore, depending on your style. That’s where we ended up this trip.

My uncle John was our tour guide and I gotta say, he really came through! He’s a cool hippie guy with a love for antiques and the Grateful Dead, so we enjoy a lot of the same things! Pretty much everything on this list was his doing. Five stars, Uncle Johnny!

In my travel posts, you might notice me consuming a little more (or sometimes a lot more!) sugar than usual. Trying the local cuisine is one of the best ways to take in a new culture or place, and it’s definitely my favorite part. It’s not every day you get to have a croissant in Paris or in this case, a homemade biscuit in the southern U.S. So I say go for it when you can! Cutting out sugar is something I choose to do because it makes me feel better, but it’s not like a food allergy where it’s dangerous to have a little. I might feel it the next day, but for me, sometimes it’s just worth it to have a little sugar.

Because of that, when I travel, I typically don’t stick to my no sugar plan like I do at home. I try to not to go crazy with the sweets, but I don’t over analyze everything I’m putting in my mouth, and I savor that home-cooked meal or dinner at the local spot. It is vacation after all! I know I’ll get back to my usual eating habits when I return home.

Which leads me to my first recommendation on any trip to North Carolina…

BBQ! It’s generally the first thing that comes to mind when you think of food in N.C. North Carolina BBQ is different depending on where you are in the state, but it’s always delicious and is generally vinegar-based, which is what differentiates it from other states. Even the more vinegary BBQ sauces generally have a little bit of sugar in them, but they definitely have less than the typical sweet BBQ sauce, and could even be made without sugar if you’re making your own.

Poor Dan really didn’t get the full N.C. experience this time because we totally jipped him in the BBQ department. I know! I know! He might as well have just hopped on a plane and went back home.  My dad, brother, and I flew up the day before him and stopped in at our favorite BBQ spot on our way to my uncle’s. When Dan arrived the next day it was too early to stop, so he unfortunately he had to miss out. I’m not sure he’ll ever forgive me… I certainly wouldn’t! But there’s always next time!

If you’re going to eat one thing in N.C., make it a good Carolina BBQ place. You won’t regret it.

My top pick, as well as the top pick for many ‘best of’ lists in the area, is:

1. Backyard BBQ Pit – Durham, N.C

They cook their meat the old school (and best) way, in an outdoor wood fire pit. You can see it right out back! The first thing we always do when my uncle picks us up at the airport is stop in for some grub at Backyard BBQ.

You order at the counter cafeteria-style, then grab a seat where you can. It gets pretty crowded at lunch time. My go-to is the pulled pork sandwich with some vinegar sauce on top and a side of green beans and mac n’ cheese. Make sure you get the slaw AND the vinegar sauce on your sandwich! Both are a must for an authentic experience. Their mac n’ cheese is well worth the carboload, too. TRUST! Oh, and did I mention this place is insanely affordable? Cause it is! I’m talking a full meal for like $6. You really can’t go wrong.

2. Aviator Brewing Company/ Aviator Smokehouse – Fuquay Varina, N.C.

Along with food, the local beers are always a must-try for me. This brewery is located near where my family lives, and came highly recommended by them. After visiting, I definitely see why. I tried the Crackpot Pilsner. I like a good IPA from time to time, but sometimes I just want a really good beer that tastes like… beer! This hit the mark. Not too hoppy or too much wheat. It was perfect. I would definitely buy it again if I found it here locally. They also had a jalapeno version that intrigued me.

In regards to the food, I honestly wasn’t expecting much from a brewery in terms of BBQ, but damn, they surprised me! I ordered a turkey club and it blew me away! Turkey is so easy to get wrong. It always seems to be too dry or too bland, but this turkey was flavorful and moist and all kinds of delicious. I would go as far as to say it’s the best turkey I’ve had. EVER!

They also have a Taphouse with a menu that sounds really good, so I’ll have to add that and a few more beers to my list for next time.

3. Belgian Cafe – Apex, N.C.

My grandpa has seen and done it all. He’s been all over the world. So when he recommended this place, I figured it must be decent. You guys!!! This place was amazing. The drink and food selections were a little taste of Europe in unsuspecting Apex. Dan got the Belgian waffles. Dan is a serious waffle connoisseur and gave them his seal of approval.  On our trip to Paris this summer, I had to miss out on the croque-madame (long story for another time), so when I saw it on the menu I was super excited. It was delicious! Now I need to go back to Paris to compare to the real thing! I also got a café au lait which was brewed to perfection, and some macarons to go. I’ve had macarons from local places and was never thrilled with them. They’re just never as good as the real thing. BUT THESE WERE! Seriously, they were on par with the macarons in Paris. This place is a hidden gem and I wish it were closer to me, because I’d probably be there every day.

4. Downtown Durham, N.C.

Many of the buildings in downtown Durham are old tobacco factories that have been converted to shops, restaurants, and offices. My family loves history but we didn’t have a ton of time, so we stopped in at the Museum of Durham History.  It’s a small museum, so it doesn’t take long, but it’s a great place to start and get a brief understanding of the area’s history. After that, we wandered over to Morgan Imports. This shop had a ton of stuff. Everything from clothes, to homewares, to funny gifts, and pet products. I picked up a few Christmas gifts while there. Then we browsed through the shops at Brightleaf Square. Check out James Kennedy Antiques. They have antiques from all over the world, including Asia and Africa, as well as really cool fossils and other interesting finds. It’s not your average antique shop. We also stopped in at Pine Cone Ice Cream. I just had a tea, but my family got ice cream and said it was great! There are tons of other cool shops and restaurants in the area and we definitely could’ve spent at least a day roaming around.

5. Pittsboro,NC – There are quite a few adorable little downtown areas throughout the state, but this one on Hillsboro St. in Pittsboro felt especially quaint. You know it’s something special when half the shops have either a sweet older man playing guitar, a shop dog, or both! It’s a great way to spend an afternoon and I would highly recommend it. From antiques, to toys, to books, or wine, there’s something for everyone in Pittsboro; all within a block or two on the main street. My personal favorite was the vintage shopping.

Here are some of my top picks from our visit:

Al’s Diner – My meal there was by no means the healthiest option, but it was well worth it! Along with BBQ, the next must-have food item in N.C. has got to be biscuits! There’s literally a fast food chain called Biscuitville! So of course when I saw it on the menu at Al’s, I had to get the biscuits and gravy. The biscuits were huge and so dang good, and the gravy was delish as well! I didn’t regret a single bite! It was also insanely affordable. The south truly does know how to give you a stellar meal on a budget!

Screaming For Vintage – Okay guys, I would honestly drive to Pittsboro only for this store. It was that good! The selection of men’s and women’s clothing was great and the prices were amazing. I came away with two 1970’s-era tops, but would’ve done even more damage if the six adorable dresses I tried on would’ve fit. They also had great mid-century modern housewares and furniture, and I’m sure I would’ve come away with some of that as well had I been able to fit it in my carry-on! Most vintage clothing stores either have a lackluster selection or the prices are astronomical, but this one managed to get it all right. I’d mark it as one of the best I’ve been in. Definitely stop in if you’re in the area!

S & T’s Soda Shoppe is a vintage soda shop that sells, of course , old-fashioned made-to-order sodas, ice cream, and baked goods. They also sell food, but we didn’t have any so I can’t vouch for that. But I can vouch for the milk shakes! I figured I probably shouldn’t order one myself or I’d go into a sugar coma, but I did steal a sip from my uncle’s strawberry milkshake and it was heaven. The decor in this place is spot on. Everything from the bar to the floors, to the medicine cabinets, and the old-fashioned milk shake machines, was exactly as I picture it would have been in it’s heyday. It’s an experience you won’t get many other places these days.

Liquidambar Gallery and Gifts was another really cool local spot. They sell beautiful, one-of-a-kind, local art pieces, including jewelry. My dad bought me a beautiful silver and turquoise ring, as well as some dainty, silver elephant studs as gifts. It’s a great place to browse and pick up a gift or two. Deep River Mercantile had beautiful homewares and gifts like soaps, shirts, and jewelry. I picked up yet another pair of earrings for myself and Dan bought himself a local cigar. They also had the cutest golden retriever puppy, but he wasn’t for sale.  Circle City Books and Music is a great stop for bibliophiles. They had a massive selection of books and some really great records to choose from. You could spend days in there browsing.

There are about a dozen more awesome spots to check out in Pittsboro, but those were some of my favorites. It’s only about a 40 min. drive from the city of Raleigh, and it’s worth an afternoon visit for sure.

The Raleigh-area really has so much to offer in terms of history, food and drink culture. From city life to cozy, small town, there’s something for everyone. If you ever find yourself there, check out some of my recommendations above.

Let me know in the comments of any cool places you find as well. I’ll add them to my list for my next visit!