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I accidentally went on a health kick

That headline is 100% serious. I am (for myself) firmly against diets and not really into New Year’s resolutions. But somehow over the last month, a variety of small choices and practices have developed into a fairly holistic health focus — probably the best I’ve done in that area a while. This was all spurred by a variety of motivations that all center on the idea of health: for my body, for my head/heart, and for the planet.

This post should probably start with a disclaimer that this post is a lot more “me-focused” than I usually go for here. None of these things are meant to be prescriptive, but hopefully they spark ideas regarding how you can prioritize health in your own life.

Physical

  • Going to yoga class with my best friend (almost) every week. That’s tonight (yay)! I’m not big on group exercise, but attending yoga classes has been sooooo beneficial for my muscles, stress, and overall well-being.
  • Trying to walk and generally move around more. Especially since winter weather restricts most of the exercise I like to do, this one has proven challenging. But I’m doing alright with it, and it will get easier as the weather warms.
  • Paying attention to my muscles and the ridiculous levels of tension they build up. I carry stress in my neck and shoulders, and boy does it stack up. A few at-home tools to help get knots and tension out — as well as stretching throughout the day and occasional massages — have really helped. Oh, and lowering my dang shoulders whenever I notice they’re up by my ears.
  • Getting enough sleep. This is one to be careful about because oversleeping can be harmful, but if I’ve done everything I need to do and feel really tired or sleepy, I just let myself rest.

Mental and emotional

  • Engaging more intentionally in conversations, and bringing extra kindness to interactions. Especially as an introvert, I’d sometimes like to ignore the existence of the outside world instead of putting in the effort to engage with it. But I know how much small kindnesses from other people brighten my day, and I’m trying to get better about doing the same thing.
  • Listening to a poem on my morning commute as a meditation of sorts. There are also apps and other methods of doing this, but I’ve found this is the easiest one for me to be consistent with.
  • Reading anything I want. Sometimes it’s an article or Twitter thread, but I’ve actually blown through several books in the last few weeks (much faster than my rate the last few years) because I stopped bothering with what I should be reading and just started reading stuff I felt like reading. (Surrendering to the idea of reading two books at once also helped this.)
  • Noticing when I feel anxious or drained, and responding to that. Sometimes life or my brain or who knows what other factors get to me more than I’d like. This is less of a recent thing, and more another step in the long process of learning to identify how I’m feeling and what’s behind that, to talk myself through it and reach out for help as needed, and to be patient with the reminder that it will get better and I’ve got what it takes to keep going.

Nutrition

  • Drinking more water. I really can’t emphasize how big of a difference this one makes for me. Seriously, my skin is clearer, I get fewer headaches, and I have more energy. My body needs way more water than I used to give it, and making sure I always have a cup or my reusable water bottle on hand means I don’t have excuses not to.
  • Eating more vegetables and less junk food. I like dessert. I still eat it when I want to. But making sure I toss veggies into at least 1-2 meals a day and switching to a healthier breakfast (a grainy bread, toasted with almond butter) have made it easier to over-processed foods and junk I don’t need to be eating.
  • I gave up meat one day a week. This is less for personal health reasons than environmental ones — meat production takes a big toll on the environment, which humanity has done a pretty crap job taking care of the last 200 years. I love steak and burgers and bacon, and haven’t given them up completely. But intentionally not eating meat 1 day a week (it’s really only in about half my meals anyway), and swapping in more sustainable options when possible — like turkey tacos instead of ground beef — is a step I know I can do to help protect the planet we can’t afford to lose.

These are small things, but they add up to a big difference. I know what it’s like to work to the bone and to not take care of myself, and I’ve let that pull me down too many times. What works for you might be a mix of these things, or involve something totally different. The most important thing is to make sure it’s a healthy practice for where you’re at, and to remind yourself that it doesn’t have to happen all at once.

What small things have you done to take better care of yourself and your surroundings? Let me know in a comment below, on Twitter @ohgrowup, or Instagram @oh.grow.up! Thanks for reading, and happy adulting!

(Photo is a free stock photo because this is the kind of stuff that motivates me to stick with the whole health thing.)

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Recipes: Peach crisp

Hey folks! It has been a very busy week, but I do have a recipe for ya to catch the last little bits of summer before they float away. This is one of my new favorite dessert recipes because it’s gluten-free, vegan, and delicious. Aka I can bring it to work and everyone both can and will eat it. Check it out below:

Ingredients:

Filling:
  • 4-5 cups sliced peaches (depending on the crumble-to-fruit ratio you want), best to use very firm peaches
  • 2 tsp. cornstarch
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
Crumble topping:
  • 1 cup gluten-free rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup ground almonds (can use almond flour, but it’s more expensive than crushing sliced almonds)
  • small handful sliced almonds
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 2-3 tbsp. olive oil
  • about 1 tsp. cinnamon (a healthy dose)
  • splash of vanillaimg_6475.jpg

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 375ºF, grease 8×8 glass baking dish or pie pan
  2. Combine filling ingredients in large bowl until well mixed, then empty into baking dish
  3. Combine crumble topping ingredients (I usually use the same bowl the filling was mixed in), then pour evenly over fillingimg_6477.jpg
  4. Bake for about 40 minutes
  5. Serve warm (ideally with ice cream) and enjoy!

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Cost about $10* (the most expensive part was the almonds), makes 9 large or 12 small servings.

Pro tip: You can substitute berries or other fruit, just scale back on the cinnamon. Everything else stays the same! I actually started making this as a berry crisp. And if you buy too much fruit, just freeze some to make it again later!

What are your favorite summer recipes? Let me know in a comment below, on Twitter @ohgrowup, or Instagram @oh.grow.up! Thanks for reading, and happy adulting!

*Once again, cost was a rough estimate because most ingredients are regularly stocked in most homes. The peaches were on sale for like $1.50 total, and almonds were the only pricier bit.

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Recipes: Pulled pork

Welcome to another installment of “Wow, I love my crock pot.” Rather than making a whole meal in the crock pot, this time I just made the meat. Having tried to slow roast things in the oven before with slightly underwhelming results, I was so excited when this turned out as pull-apart tender as I was hoping for. The best part is it was insanely easy.

Ingredients:

  • 2.5 lb. pork loin roast, thawed
  • 1 medium yellow onion
  • 6 cloves crushed garlic
  • 2 tbsp. minced ginger
  • salt & pepper
  • Goya adobo seasoning (or any other you like)
  • about 1 cup grapefruit juice (any citrus will work, use at least 1/2 cup)
  • 1 can root beerIMG_6329

Instructions:

  1. Put the roast in the center of the crock pot, fatty side up.img_6328.jpg
  2. Puncture the roast with holes a few inches deep and 1-2 inches apart.
  3. Cut onion into large chunks (I cut it into eighths), then peel layers apart and place around roast in crock pot.
  4. Season with garlic, ginger, salt and pepper, and Goya adobo. NOTE: I seasoned with the intention of using the meat mostly for Caribbean food, hence the brighter flavors and adobo seasoning. If you’re using it for a different cultural food, feel free to adjust the seasonings accordingly.
  5. Pour citrus juice and root beer over roast. These are super important because the acidity breaks down the toughness in the meat and brings in extra flavor.img_6331.jpg
  6. Cook on high for 4-4.5 hours, or on low for 8 hours.
  7. Use two forks to remove roast from crock pot, and then to shred the meat. (Pro tip: Pour some of the juices in the crock pot back over the meat to keep it moist.)img_6335.jpg
  8. Serve however you’d like! I fried mine with lime juice and more seasoning for tacos, but later this week I’ll be using leftovers for pulled pork sandwiches, and to eat over rice. As one of the most versatile meats, the possibilities are endless. Enjoy!

Cost about $16, makes about 6 servings

When making this recipe again, I might like to marinate the meat head of time for the flavor to seep in better (which I really should have remembered from my last crock pot recipe). Reminder to be safe about handling raw meat, and if you aren’t sure that it’s cooked through you can check it with a meat thermometer — any temp above 160ºF you’re good to go.

What’s your favorite way to cook pork? Let me know in a comment below, on Twitter @ohgrowup, or Instagram @oh.grow.up! Thanks for reading, and good luck adulting!

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To cook or not to cook

I love cooking. But sometimes I don’t have time, sometimes I don’t want to, and sometimes making the kind of meal I want when it’s only for one person is a challenge. So as much as I love cooking and eating fresh whenever possible, I do eat frozen meals, especially for lunch.

However, being an adult means we get to choose what we eat, and that should never mean we consistently subject ourselves to underwhelming frozen meals. I spent most of college without a kitchen, which started my quest for affordable, enjoyable frozen meals. Relative health is also a factor, so while they are frozen meals I try to only rarely eat ones that are especially unhealthy. And of course, if you’re able, you can always prep meals and freeze them for a more healthful, often even cheaper approach to the same idea.

If you’re in search of store-bought options, I’ve listed some of my favorites below. The best news is that all of them (except the ones with asterisks) are $4 or less, and several can make multiple meals. I’ve also ranked each section in terms of my favorites. Check them out below:

  • Pizza
    • Trader Joe’s tomato and arugula pizza – This is probably my favorite frozen meal. It feels like a treat but isn’t way unhealthy, and I can usually make two smaller meals of it
    • DiGiorno garlic bread crust pepperoni pizza* – Good for 2-3 meals. Less healthy but a good treat if you can find it at Walmart, Target, or a local grocery store
    • Amy’s spinach pizza* – Pricier but fairly healthy. Good for multiple meals and available at most grocery stores
    • NOTE: All of these need to be cooked it an oven based on size
  • Single serving
    • Trader Joe’s chicken tikka masala – This is so good. Simple, not super spicy and filling
    • Evol cilantro lime chicken burrito – Could use some lime or guac, but a healthy, well-portioned frozen meal option that can be found at Target and most grocery stores
    • Trader Joe’s organic pesto tortellini – This needs a little something, so I usually top with fresh parmesan, but with the addition is a treat that feels healthy, and is filling without being a large portion
    • Trader Joe’s yellow jackfruit curry with rice – A delicious and flavorful vegan frozen meal. I didn’t even miss the meat, and genuinely enjoyed vegetables I usually don’t like
    • Trader Joe’s chicken and cheese tamales – Homemade tamales still win, but these are a quality substitute. You can always top them with some cheese and/or guacamole to boost the flavor
    • Trader Joe’s chicken and vegetable wonton soup – The only frozen soup that’s been worth it for me. It isn’t restaurant quality, but it’s good on a cold day
  • Mac and cheese
    • Evol truffle mac and cheese – I love these. They are amazing. They are comfort food after a long day. Please go to your nearest Target or grocery store and treat yourself
    • Trader Joe’s gorgonzola gnocchi – not technically mac and cheese, but honestly delicious. Makes two small or 1.5 normal meals
    • Lean Cuisine Vermont white cheddar mac and cheese – I am not usually a Lean Cuisine person, but these are pretty yummy while also being easy and light on calories
  • Not standalone meals
    • Frozen green beans or broccoli – No brand here, though I usually get Trader Joe’s, C&W, or Target’s generic one, but it’s a great way to get veggies in small servings without them going bad before you can use it all
    • Trader Joe’s gyoza potstickers – These are a tiny bit tricky too cook, and definitely need soy sauce, but are great with a side of veggies
    • Trader Joe’s chicken spring rolls – I didn’t love the vegetable spring rolls (too much mushroom for me), but these were a good alternative. A very mild flavor, but good when dipped in sweet chili sauce. NOTE: These guys have to be baked in an oven or toaster oven

General reminders that it’s important to have a balanced diet — which means eating foods besides frozen meals — and that despite my obvious love of Trader Joe’s I’m not compensated in any way for mentioning brands or products. Just trying to save emerging adults the disappointment of buying and trying underwhelming frozen meals.

What are your favorite frozen meals? Let me know in a comment below, on Twitter @ohgrowup, or Instagram @oh.grow.up! Thanks for reading, and good luck adulting!

(Photo is a free stock photo because my freezer doesn’t have the aesthetic.)

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Recipes: Crock Pot chicken & veggies

Hey folks! I’ve got another recipe for you today and this one is exciting because it’s the first thing I made in my brand new crock pot! I had been wanting to get one since I moved, but storage is a bit of an issue in our kitchen. Luckily, we got a little more storage, so I finally made the oh-so-adult purchase and bought one! I got it (a 6-qt. that also has a temperature probe) on sale for about $35, but you can find a ton of good option under $50, and the awesome thing is they do the cooking for you.

I had some chicken in the freezer that I needed to use, and wanted to spruce it up (and fill the crock) with veggies and potatoes, so I looked up a recipe online and then proceeded to mostly ignore it. The nice thing about a crock pot is you can pretty much wing it with a little bit of cooking know-how and still be safe. Though I expected the recipe to be good, it turned out excellent, so I wanted to share it with y’all!

Ingredients:

  • 3 chicken breasts, thawed (you can also use thighs or more meat, but I wouldn’t advise much less than this, which seemed to be about 1.5 lbs.)
  • about 1.5 lbs. red russet potatoes
  • about 1 lb. whole carrots
  • 1 white onion
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • about 3/4 cup grapefruit juice (I just squeezed 1 big, very ripe grapefruit)
  • 6 cloves crushed garlic
  • 1-2 tbsp. minced ginger
  • salt & pepper

I know that looks like a lot of ingredients. I promise this is still a beginner-level recipe (and tastes at least like an intermediate level). img_5905.jpg

Instructions:

  1. Prep veggies — I don’t usually count potatoes as a veggie, but today they can be. Wash everything, cube the potatoes (I cut them into eighths since red russets are small), cut the carrots into big chunks, and the onions into slightly smaller pieces. Think about 2-inch pieces for potatoes and carrots, and about 1-inch pieces for the onions. (Pro tip: Leave your chicken in the fridge until the last minute so it stays cold and doesn’t get funky.)
  2. I actually sprayed my crock pot with olive oil before I put anything in to hopefully make cleaning easier. I don’t know if that made the difference, but cleaning was definitely easy. Then, put the potatoes in, and add a little salt and pepper.
  3. Set the other veggies aside, and work on the sauce. Stir the soy sauce, honey, grapefruit juice, crushed garlic, and ginger in a bowl until the honey doesn’t give much resistance.
  4. Add the chicken on top of the potatoes, and pour about 3/4 of the sauce over it. You can also add more salt and pepper if you want.img_5907-e1526488110444.jpg
  5. Dump the mixed carrots and onions on top, then pour the rest of the sauce, and add salt and pepper.
  6. Set the crock pot on low for 5 hours. Walk away and let it do its magic. (Pro tip: If you want some greens, add them in about the last 10 minutes of cooking — I used broccoli.)IMG_5908.JPG
  7. When the time goes off, ta da!!!* Enjoy your meal (and serve with rolls if you want)!

Cost about $12, makes about 4 servings

Next time I make the recipe I might want to marinate the chicken, as it seemed like the veggies soaked up the flavor better. But that is pretty much all I would change, and of course, you can switch up the meat or other ingredients as you like.

Most of this recipe is just prep, which is mostly cutting veggies. Easy peasy. So next time you need a few days worth of meals (I ate it for about 3 days), or have guests coming over that you want to impress, or are busy and won’t have time to cook in the evening, you have a solution! (Sorry for all the exclamation points, I’m just really excited.)

What is your favorite thing to make in a crock pot? Let me know in a comment below, on Twitter @ohgrowup, or Instagram @oh.grow.up! Thanks for reading, and happy adulting!

*Sorry I don’t have a picture of when it all finished in the crock pot, I honestly just forgot to take one. It should smell good and have a lot more liquid in it, and as long as the chicken is cooked through it’s safe to eat.

Recipes: Cold smoked salmon

Even when life gets crazy, you still have to eat (hence all the food-focused posts lately). Today’s recipe is courtesy of my second mom, who taught me a bunch of my cooking and baking skills, and makes some of my absolute favorite recipes.

This one is super simple, and the best part is you don’t actually have to cook anything! As a disclaimer, I realize that salmon is a bit of a pricy ingredient, especially for budget-mindful emerging adults. But the rest of the recipe is inexpensive, and if you keep an eye out for sales — or shop at cheaper places like Costco — it can still be a cost-effective way to eat healthy. On the health note, whenever you can, try to buy wild-caught salmon that doesn’t have color added (and hasn’t been frozen if available). Farm-raised salmon are often less healthy, and the farms frequently have bad environmental impacts.

Also general reminders to practice food safety with meats, including washing your hands with soap before and after handling it, and storing it in the fridge at all times.

With all that said, let’s dive in!

Ingredients:

  • 1.5 lbs. raw salmon (it’s okay if it has skin, but boneless is better)
  • 1/2 cup pickling salt (if you can’t find pickling salt, it’s okay to use sea salt or kosher salt that has no additives or anti-caking agents)
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 tbsp. liquid smoke

IMG_5500

Instructions:

  1. Rinse off the salmon, and pluck out any bones if it has them (a small pair of pliers is actually best for this, check out how here). I was under the false impression that I needed to remove the skin too, but you can avoid the time and hassle I spent and leave it on until later.
  2. Mix together the pickling salt and sugar in a bowl.
  3. Rub the mixture all over the salmon, and put the salmon in a sealed container with any extra mix. I used a *super fancy* gallon Ziploc bag, but you can also use a baking dish and saran wrap. It just needs to have a tight seal.IMG_5504
  4. Refrigerate for 24-48 hours. I’d recommend somewhere in the 36-hour zone, but 24 is the minimum and you can always go 48 to play it safe. This process basically cures it, and the salt and sugar sink into the meat making a cool chemical reaction that means you don’t have to cook it. IMG_5505
  5. After salmon has cured, take it out of the fridge and rinse well. (Pro tip: If you left the skin on til now, you should be able to pull it off at this point.)
  6. Rub 1/2 tbsp. liquid smoke over fish, and place it in a clean sealed container. (Note: There are other ways to smoke it, but I promise this one is the easiest. Google the fancy ones if you feel like.)
  7. Refrigerate for another 24 hours, then remove and rinse thoroughly.
  8. Enjoy!

Cost varies*, makes about 6 servings

*Cost mostly depends on how much the salmon costs. I got mine on sale for $8/lb., which means I spent about $12 on the salmon. I also had to buy the pickling salt and liquid smoke, but each ingredient will last me several more uses. Total ingredients used besides the salmon cost about $2, and with the salmon it was about $14.

I’ve been adding the smoked salmon to my morning bagel for bagel and lox, but you can also have it with a sandwich, in a salad, or solo with other side dishes!

Things I’d change next time: I really wish I’d bought boneless salmon, and that I hadn’t tried to filet it to remove the skin before curing it. I also think I may have left it in the liquid smoke a bit too long, but overall I’m happy with the first effort.

What are your favorite no-cook dishes? Let me know in a comment below, on Twitter @ohgrowup, or Instagram @oh.grow.up! Thanks for reading, and happy adulting!

Psst… You don’t have to love meal prep

Confession: I hate meal prepping. I don’t mean chopping vegetables and seasoning meat before I actually cook my food. That part I enjoy. I mean cooking enough food for 4-7 meals, packaging it separately, and then eating it throughout the week. I’ve tried it. It annoys the heck out of me.

Of course, the problem that it’s trying to solve is good. Cooking for one person sucks. I’m used to cooking for a whole family, or at least a decent group of friends, which means making enough food for 4-6 people and often having a little leftover. It’s easy to cook that way, and I’m happier to put effort in because it isn’t just for my sake.

When I’m cooking for just me, it’s harder to portion things, a lot of effort for just one person, and can lead to extra expense or wasting ingredients. To avoid that, the lazy thing to do is to eat lazy food like frozen meals and takeout, which are often unhealthy and are usually also more expensive than normal cooking. Hence — especially since emerging adulthood often means we’re cooking solo and short on funds — meal prep.

But I have been forced to realize that I simply will not eat more than 2 (maybe 3) portions of what are effectively leftovers. I don’t like leftovers, and that’s a very privileged problem to have, but here we are. However, part of the issue is that I don’t like anyone telling me what I have to eat, including past me. And while I’m willing to eat the same thing frequently, three dinners in a row is too much.

Which, of course, presents a problem. To which I am currently trying out what has (so far) been an effective solution. I present to you: partial meal prep. What I mean by that is that I go to the store, buy a number of ingredients that are an A+ in the mix-and-match department, do all the washing and chopping ahead of time, and then package them up and put them in the fridge/freezer/whatever. This way, I have options where I still get to choose the details of what I’m having and do the final stages of putting it together (rather than just reheating it). But all my options are fairly healthy and I’ve taken some of the work out of the process.

So far, this has mostly been with fruits and veggies because like most of us I know I need to be eating more of them. I bought a bunch of salad ingredients I actually like, prepped them, and then when it’s time to eat I just pick whichever ones I’m feeling like and make a salad that actually tastes good.

I’ve also been pre-cutting and packaging berries so that I have those as a snack at home or at work instead of chips or bread or other things I already eat enough of. I’m still working on incorporating more proteins, but have at least separated some meats into smaller portions sizes in the freezer so when I cook it it’s a couple rounds of leftovers and I don’t end up wasting food.

Of course, if the full meal prep thing works for you, go for it. But if you’re like me and are prone to food boredom, then this is a good halfway point to help out your health and your wallet without making a week’s worth of dinners in one go.

What have you found most helpful when cooking for one person? Let me know in a comment below, on Twitter @ohgrowup, or Instagram @oh.grow.up! Thanks for reading, and happy adulting!