Staycations and Happiness

With all the uncertainty in the world, we are not going on any vacations this summer. We love to travel but it’s just not possible this year. No one wants to get on a plane this summer for good reason.

New Jersey is blessed and cursed at the moment….. one of the most locked down states in the country but also one of the most delightful places in the summer. Did you know there are lovely mountains in NJ? I didn’t either…. before I moved here…. and it’s delightful out here in the Garden State!

Growing up in the South, I never knew how fabulous Jersey Corn and Tomatoes were…. or how delightful the Jersey Shore could be so at least we have a gorgeous summer to look forward to!

We have decided to make lemonade out of lemons and are doing things to make our outdoor living space even more enjoyable like many others around the country.

Now is a perfect time to refresh the pillows, umbrellas and flower pots or whatever you can to enjoy your outdoor space even more. Let’s face it, you’re going to see it a lot this summer. We took on a low voltage lighting project this past week that really added value to our deck! I say “we” lightly because I had input but my husband did all the work. Thank goodness he is handy because he just knows how to do things like this and is willing!

We added lighting to our deck steps so that we can confidently walk out from the house and see the step down. All of a sudden, we find ourselves in our 50’s and it’s not bright enough to see the step down. LOL…. we are indeed turning into our parents.

I’ve also pulled out an old decorative piece I hadn’t used in a while… this gorgeous planter that goes around my umbrella to create a 360 degree centerpiece! ! It really makes me happy to see it and makes my outdoor living space more inviting! Even if you don’t have this pretty planter, you can easily just put a few small flower pots out with some annuals to spruce it up! I am going to be home more than not this summer so I certainly have time to water it. That’s always been the challenge when we travel.

I wasn’t up to planting a full on garden this summer but I do love to plant a few herbs and tomatoes for a quick Capresse salad (tomatoes, buffalo mozzerella and some basil) or a nice little refreshing Mojito with some fresh mint and lime! This simple pleasure adds to our outdoor dining experience and gives me a little something to tend to! We simply potted these in pots on the deck so I can water everything easily! SO much joy out of these simple things!

Finally… since we want to entertain but we have to do it carefully and responsibly, we moved an outdoor table into our gazebo for covered outdoor dining! Honestly, it felt like a special event or a vacation… sitting outside and being protected from the drizzle that sometimes comes with summer storms. We enjoyed a poolside dining experience and once the rain stopped, we enjoyed the beautiful sunset!

Joy and happiness doesn’t have to come from traveling the world, or having things… sometimes just cherishing your home, and your friends and family and all the blessings that we have right at our fingertips, is all you need. The pandemic has unveiled a lot of emotions in people ranging from fear to annoyance, panic, anxiety, care, love and gratefulness…. and sometimes we can succumb to all of these emotions even in one day.

I want to choose to be happy and hopeful rather than being fearful and desperate. Don’t get me wrong, I’m being careful and am taking this pandemic seriously. I’m following guidelines and not being around a lot of people because I do want to protect the people I love… but I am choosing to be grateful everyday for what I have. People I love, friendships and health… I do feel blessed! I pray that everyone reading this can focus on the good in this situation… I know it’s not possible for all but I hope that focusing on the good brings you more good in your life! Remember… your thoughts, become your words, become your actions, become your habits which become your destiny…. so choose happy!! God bless!

Thai Night

After I shared my blog with my friends, someone immediately asked me for this recipe! I’m so excited to share it!

Pad Thai is one of my “cravings” I have and I love that I can make it myself now. It’s super easy and delicious!

You’ll need the following:

  • 8 oz rice noodles
  • 2 tbs lime juice
  • 2 tbs brown sugar
  • 1 tbs fish sauce
  • 1 tbs soy sauce
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 2 tbs vegetable oil
  • 1 red bell pepper thinly sliced
  • 1/2 small package of bean sprouts
  • 1/2 small package of snow peas
  • 2 cloves garlic minced
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 lb shrimp, thawed, peeled and deveined, tails off is nice too.
  • 2 green onions, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 c peanuts chopped
  • Sweet chili Sauce

Cook rice noodles per instructions

In a small bowl whisk together lime juice, brown sugar, fish sauce, soy sauce, and cayenne pepper. Set aside

In a large nonstick pan over medium-high heat, heat oil. Add bell pepper, snow peas, sprouts and cook until about tender (approx 4 min). Stir in garlic and cook until fragrant about 1 min more. Add the shrimp and season with salt and pepper. Cook until pink.

Push the shrimp and vegetables aside and pour in the egg and scramble until just set then mix with the shrimp mixture. Add cooked noodles and toss until combined. Pour in the lime juice mixture and toss until coated.

I found that this recipe is a little dry… so add sweet chili sauce to taste and to moisten. Depending on how spicy you like it, add Sriracha sauce to the entire pan or to individual servings. Top each plate with green onions and peanuts and even a wedge of lime! Enjoy!

Going Bananas

Who else is going bananas during this Covid-19 stay at home order? I am losing my sense of time and days and it feels a little crazy… I am sure you can relate.

I try to go to the grocery store as little as possible of course to reduce any chances of getting it… and I’m trying to make groceries last as long as possible… So here’s another tip I found to keep your bananas around if you can’t eat them fast enough. I mean, I don’t want anything to go to waste these days.

So my bananas were ripe.. and I didn’t want them to get “over ripe” so I cut them in discs and froze them on a flat tray, once they were frozen I just dumped them in a ziplock bag and put them back in the freezer. They can be a sweet frozen treat or can be used to make banana bread or smoothies when the mood arises.

This is a great way to keep your bananas from going to waste!!! You could even dip these in chocolate and re-freeze for a YUMMY treat!! Again, freeze flat and then once frozen, pile into a ziplock! You’ll have a healthy treat anytime you need it!

Let me know what you think or if you try it! I’d love to hear!

Save time – Save money

So when Covid-19 hit... and things were getting locked down, we were all scared to go to the grocery store and I wanted the fresh veggies I was used to. I wanted to stock up on things we would use and I didn’t want things going to waste. You know how you buy onions, peppers and even cauliflower or zucchini or potatoes and if you don’t use it fast enough, the onions get slimy, the potatoes grow buds, the veggies are not as firm and fresh…. eeek… sometimes they turn into watery messes if you leave them too long.

So I fixed that!!! I was so thrilled to have been doing this before the pandemic… but I was doing it on a smaller scale…

Buy a bag of onions and chop the whole thing!!! Buy potatoes and chop the whole thing ( julienned, cubed, sliced). Wash and chop those peppers (diced or in strips) and FREEZE them FLAT! Why flat? So they can break apart easily! OMG! Such a game changer in our house! Anyone can pull off a nutritious omelette with onions and peppers and even potatoes in it and it takes no time at all due to all the prep! Freeze left over ham, cubed, for quick ham and cheese anything or a pasta carbonara!

Making Pad Thai or Stir Fry and need those red peppers sliced thin? Got that covered! How about making homemade chili? Toss those frozen peppers and onions into your crock pot or saute pan and you’re good to go! I love how this method has saved me prep time in the moment!

Need a side dish in a hurry, just take those cubed potatoes out of the freezer, drizzle with oil and spices and pop in the oven! SOOOO simple! The trick I found with potatoes is that once they are cut, you’ll want to rinse them in water to get some of the starch off… otherwise they’ll turn brownish pink before they get frozen!

I hope this inspires you to save time during the week in your daily cooking and saves you money as nothing will go to waste! Cooking has been so much more enjoyable when most of the prep work of washing and chopping has been done!

Comment and let me know if you tried it and what you think!

Cooking Therapy –

We are still in lockdown here in New Jersey... although we can get take out or delivery, our family is having fun cooking from scratch and trying different recipes! Without the commute time, everyone pitched in and we had this meal in less than 1 hour! One night this week, my daughter got the idea to try to recreate one of her favorite meals from a restaurant in Blacksburg, VA

Cabo Fish Taco Soy Ginger Shrimp Tacos is what we tried to recreate! I am pleased to say it turned out AMAZING… and healthier since we didn’t beer batter fry the shrimp! Take a look at the process!

Soy Ginger Shrimp Tacos

I’d start with the Marinade…. just to get things moving….

1/3 C Soy Sauce

2 TBS honey

3 cloves garlic minced

1 tsp ginger minced

1 tsp sriracha sauce

2 tsp fresh parsley chopped

1 Lb of shrimp (We doubled the shrimp and marinade for 5 people… you can make what you want to eat but leftovers will also be amazing so okay to make more than you need!)

Here’s how they’ll look when they bubble and when they are ready!

You’ll want to make your salsa before you assemble it all… you can do this ahead of time and save some prep time in the moment! Don’t skip this step… jar salsa just won’t do in this case!

Take a little time to prep the fixins…. either shredded cabbage or lettuce and some extra cilantro and your salsa!

Also helpful to take the tails off the shrimp prior to cooking! Heat a skillet and add all the shrimp and then the marinade! Once shrimp are cooked through, remove them and leave the remaining marinade in the skillet. Make a rue with about a cup of hot tap water and about a TBS of corn starch and mix thoroughly before adding to the marinade…. stir over medium heat until thickened. This can be drizzled over the tacos when assembling!

VOILA! Bon Appetit!

I hope you enjoy it as much as we did! Please comment and tell me how yours turned out!

Corona Cooking

I’ve never cooked so much in my life…. well, maybe when I was newly married saving for a house… but I have experience now! I’m such a better cook after years of experience! I hardly use a recipe anymore (except for baking) and I have lots of gadgets. I dug out lots of gadgets after years of collecting and I’m using them again! I’ve used my Kitchenaid (pasta maker attachment included) Oster juicer, OXO mandoline, handy chopper, mixer, Hamilton Beach egg sandwich maker, Silpat baking mat, Cuisinart food processor and my Ninja Foodie.. which I admit may be my favorite… even though it’s a beast on my countertop… it is AWESOME! I admit it’s kind of fun! I am a creative human… and I like to create but let’s face it… it’s a lot of work!

I’m also trying to not go to the grocery store very often.. it’s a process of Clorox wipes, Purell and face masks. I try to avoid it so when I go, it’s an ordeal… I feel like I am going to war with all the supplies and I try to stock up on as much as I can without hoarding. When I get home, I begin to cook like I remember my mother doing.

What ingredients need cooking.. what’s going to go bad first? I feel like a pro here…. fresh veggies for the week and let’s make the best of it! My strategy is to chop all the onions and peppers when I bring them home…I mean, I could just leave them laying around but they may go bad and I don’t want to waste! I chop them like I would for chili or an egg scramble and I chop them in slivers to use in Pad Thai or Fajitas and I freeze them in a gallon zip lock bag FLAT. The key is to freeze them flat so you can break them apart… otherwise they’ll end up like a block of ice you can’t break apart. Cooking is easier when your veggies are pre-chopped… a lot less prep in the moment. Freezing bananas when they are ripe to use in banana bread or oatmeal and slicing apples before they go bad and dehydrating apple chips. I even started storing my fresh asparagus by cutting off the stems and standing them in shallow water just like they do at the grocery store… duh… now I know why they do that…. it lasts much longer! The key is using everything… just like the depression era my mom remembered… I think I can relate more than ever to the stories I heard growing up. I get it now.

I’m glad my mom taught me how to cook… well, she tried anyway…. I was raised on home-cooked food although I’m not sure I paid that much attention when I was younger.. but I guess it gave me an appetite for good food which made me want to cook for my family as an adult. I wish I knew what I know now when I was a young mom. Oh how cooking was much more of an ordeal when you’re juggling kids activities and dinner…. I wish I had the Ninja Foodie (pressure cookier/air fryer) and my knowledge of freezing peppers and onions when I was in the busy days…. it would have saved me a ton of time!

Now, in this Covid-19 stay at home mandate… I have a lot of time… a lot of time to plan meals, cook and prepare. The trick is to cook what needs to be consumed first… it’s like being on the show Chopped. You can use 2 tomatoes, one cucumber and whatever else you have in your fridge. I’ve given up on counting calories and watching carbs and cooking like my mom did…. a “balanced” meal with a carb, a veggie and a protein. Gotta make things last in this pandemic. We are eating rice and potatoes and even making homemade pasta and bread… of course we are balancing it with veggies and protein…but boy is it good! Let’s call it comfort food.

Don’t worry… with all this eating, we are getting lots more exercise too! Truly, our eating and exercising habits are very much in balance! I’ve never felt more satisfied on that level…. but back to food! ūüôā

I’m quite happy with some of our creations.. pictured below.. and although this Pandemic is changing everything from our socialization, our work habits and our lives…I’m grateful we have the time and resources to enjoy meals at home. Bon Appetit!

Sweet Tooth!

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So I have been on a massive “slim down” for summer…. and if you’re like me…. YOU love Chocolate!

Well… this does not exactly taste like rich chocolate mousse…. but it does help the cravings and gives me something to sip on in the evening that feels like a treat!

Another idea to feel like you are getting something decadent….combine non-fat greek yogurt with stevia sweetener… Coconut, chocolate… pick your favorite and just enjoy!    On the Weight Watchers plan, it is ZERO points!  I’m all about that!   I think I’m going to try freezing some to see how that tastes!  YUM!  Stay tuned!

Let’s GO!

Years ago, I would pack large! It was a challenge to keep my bags under 50 pounds but as airlines started becoming more strict and started charging for bags I figured I had better pack lighter. It can be quite a challenge when you want to pack lots of options! A few years ago, our family travelled to Italy and my husband put a lot of pressure on every family member to only bring a carry on. EEEK! I knew why though… and it made sense but traveling between cities would be miserable carrying big bags…. So, I packed in packing cubes and with a carry on and a back pack I was able to pack for 10 days!

I rolled my clothes so I could see them.. and I packed maybe 3-4 pair of pants and lots of tops for options… stuffed underwear and socks inside of shoes to help save room and help them keep their shape. Toiletries and more shoes in the backpack and I was in perfect shape… and even had a little extra room to pack a few goodies I picked up along the way! Jewelry also could dress up or dress down any outfit so I packed a few collections to layer and change up outfits! I was so pleased with myself!

As you pack for your next trip, I’ll challenge you to pack light and tell me how you like those packing cubes and any other packing tips you have!

Own it!

So…. I turned 50 years old this past spring and well, it kind of threw me for a few weeks…. couldn’t say the word “Fifty” when anyone asked my age! ¬† ¬†I got my AARP card in the mail and well, that made me feel old.

This fall, I took my youngest to college and became an empty nester and that was a big change too…. When you devote 18-20 years of your life to raising and taking care of your kids and then it just stops for the day to day routine, you have to find your purpose again and reconnect with your spouse and your friends! ¬†Don’t get me wrong, the kids still need you but more as a mentor as they grow to be fully functioning adults. ūüôā

Luckily I still love my husband and WE celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary this fall…. I hope for at least 25 more! ¬† ¬†I’m proud of the marriage we created…. before the kids were born and during the process. ¬† If there’s one thing I would advise younger couples to do is to nurture their marriage…. don’t use the kids as an excuse for not taking care of yourself… or your marriage because when the kids are gone, you’re alone again and you want it to be fun!

So I guess I say all this to say I’ve decided to OWN it… when it comes to my age and stage in life…. I have had a journey…. of raising kids, working, building a business, building a life, losing a job, a parent or two and having to move a few times…. In life you can always expect change and it’s truly how you deal with that change that defines you…. YOU can own it… and deal with it or you can mourn it and wish for the past. ¬† The past won’t get you anywhere though….. Embrace change…. embrace your age and stage in life and Own it…. Enjoy it and come to peace with it! ¬† Enjoy life to the fullest and meet new people along the way! ¬†Life is a journey and I’m glad I’m on it!

 

Hot Hot Hot!

Cooking skinny so you can get in that bathing suit this summer? ¬† ¬†Here’s a no fat, no carb, no sugar and no dairy, ¬†PACKED with flavor Mexican chicken recipe with Spanish Riced Cauliflower that is YUMMY!!

You’ll need: ¬†Chicken, Chipotle Seasoning, Cilantro, ¬†Rotel Tomatoes, Jalepeno slices, and Juice of 1 lime to make the chicken! ¬†It takes about 5 min of prep and 20-30 min of bake time depending on the thickness of your chicken.

Just shake chipotle seasoning on both sides of your chicken in a large baking dish. ¬†Sprinkle chicken with chopped cilantro and then dump on can of Rotel Tomatoes on top, ¬†sprinkle some jalape√Īo slices on top of that and then squeeze lime juice over entire dish of chicken. ¬†BAKE!

As a perfect SIDE dish with no carbs… .Try Spanish Riced Cauliflower instead of Spanish Rice

Here’s what you’ll need in addition to your riced cauliflower you can find in your local grocery store!

Just saute your riced cauliflower in chicken broth… Just enough to cover the bottom of the pan. ¬† Add and mix in a can of Rotel Tomatoes, cumin, chili powder, Garlic salt and Oregano to taste…. cook until cauliflower is tender and most of the liquid has evaporated.

All you’ll need is a side salad to compliment this meal!

Enjoy the flavor and none of the guilt!