Spaghetti Squash and Meat Sauce

As much as I love eating pasta, it’s not something that digests well in my body so it’s something I only allow myself to have a few times a year. A healthy substitute can be made in the form of spaghetti squash, which is much easier on my digestive system, and while the texture and bite isn’t really close to actual spaghetti, it’s still quite good.

I learned this past year that roma tomatoes are the least tasty tomatoes to eat raw, but also the best ones to choose when making a tomato sauce. By giving them some time to simmer in along with whatever other flavors I choose to use, I’m able to create a rich and flavorful sauce to go on top of my spaghetti squash (or pasta, if that’s what I end up doing that day). I like to play with different fresh herbs in my sauces, and on this day I had a lot of fresh thyme available to me, so that’s what I ended up using. Oregano, basil, and rosemary would all tie in nicely as well, as would dried bay leaves if you have any of those laying around.

Spaghetti Squash and Meat Sauce Recipe

1 medium to large spaghetti squash (2-3 pounds)
1 pound of ground beef, pork, or bison (or a combination of those)
1 large onion, diced
2 jalapeños, sliced
1 pound of roma tomatoes, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 big pinch of fresh thyme
1 big pinch of paprika
1 big pinch of red pepper flakes
1/4 cup of red wine
butter
sea salt and pepper
olive oil

For the spaghetti squash: Puncture the squash all over with a sharp knife, then set the squash in the oven on a roasting tray at 375 degrees for an hour. Once the squash is done, take it out and cut it in half, then carefully scrape the seeds out of the middle. What’s left is the flesh inside, which you can carve out with a fork to pile up what looks like spaghetti strands.

For the meat sauce: In a pot or dutch oven, heat some butter over medium heat, then brown the ground meat for a few minutes until cooked through, all while breaking it into small pieces. Once the meat is finished cooking, remove it and set it aside.

Put the pot back on the stove, and begin to sauté all your veggies, herbs, and spices together. After 5-6 minutes, the tomatoes and onions should be cooked down a good amount, and you can add your meat back in and stir everything together. Add your red wine, along with some salt and pepper, then turn the heat up until the pot begins to boil, and once that happens turn it back down to a simmer and cover with a lid. Let the sauce simmer for a couple of hours, stirring occasionally.

When the sauce has cooked for a good while and the squash is ready to be eaten, combine the two, add more salt and pepper if you like, then serve.

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Slow and Steady

5678994308_cfe0a409a0_zSomething I’ve noticed this past week is how much quicker my body responds to foods that it doesn’t like compared to a year ago. Instead of having to eat poorly for a few days before deeming it unacceptable to continue on that path, my body tells me that I need to shift back into healthy, easeful eating after just one day of poor choices, or sometimes just one meal. As I continue to train my awareness on the way that my body reacts to certain ingredients, I expect this response time to continue decreasing, perhaps down to one bite of a food I don’t want, or maybe even one sniff.

It’s exciting for me to think about how far I’ve come in my relationship with cooking and eating food. A concept like stopping when I’m full is something that I never would have thought of ten years ago. Five years ago, I probably knew it was a good idea but didn’t understand how to listen to my body. One year ago I could listen to what my body was telling me, but still sometimes would finish my food as a way of avoiding facing emotions or feelings I was having.

In the same way that a watched pot never seems to boil, it can be difficult to see all the progress that you’re making when you set out to break old, ingrained habits and replace them with new ones. Tracking your daily actions and results might work for some people, but I find that doing so tends to promote an attitude of wanting immediate results rather than long term success.

If you’re sixty pounds overweight, weighing yourself each day and keeping track of everything you eat every day will probably drive you nuts and make you more likely to give up altogether. The key to success in a long term project like this isn’t about how fast you can get there, it’s about how you can set yourself up to have the highest chance of getting there at all.

With any issue in your life that’s going to require time and diligence to change your current situation, the best path is usually a little less hands on. Set an intention. Determine your best action steps to get you there. Live your life for a while, and check in every now and then to see if you’ve been following through. If you have, keep going. If you haven’t, recommit to your intention and see if there’s any new action steps you might like to take. Repeat that process over and over, and eventually as you keep checking in with yourself you’ll notice that things are a little different, a little easier.

Compared to grinding it out each day, taking the long view definitely feels easy, gentle, and more effective. As you go forward in your life, see if shifting from a short term perspective to one focused on the long term has you feeling more at ease with the way you go about getting what you want.

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Photo by Don DeBold

Crispy Pan Roasted Chicken Breasts

breastI pretty much always choose dark meat chicken when given the choice, based on what I consider its superior flavor and higher level of good fats. Skinless, boneless chicken breasts are pretty much completely unappetizing to me, since the skin is my favorite part of the chicken and white meat tends to be dryer and less flavorful.

Having said that, I was at the store one day and saw that they had chicken breasts with the skin on, so I thought I’d buy a couple and see what kind of recipes the internet could offer me in the way of cooking a juicy chicken breast with crispy skin. I found one quickly via Simply Scratch, made it, and was very happy with the results. The breast meat was actually juicier than I thought it would be, and being able to eat the crispy skin is always a huge bonus.

I’ve pared down their recipe into the most basic version one could imagine. You can enhance the recipe by adding a dash of cayenne pepper or making a pan sauce in the way that they’ve described, but the easiest formula of chicken, salt, pepper, and butter, along with the pan roasting method produces a great entree. I complemented my chicken with some roasted beets and a side salad, forming a nicely balanced meal that I’d be happy to have again at any time.

Crispy Pan Roasted Chicken Breasts Recipe

Ingredients:

2 chicken breasts, with bone and skin on
sea salt and pepper
butter

Preparation:

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Season both sides of the chicken with salt and pepper, then heat a skillet over medium heat with a couple tablespoons of butter.

Once the pan is hot, add the chicken skin side down, and don’t move it until for 6-8 minutes, or until the skin has become crispy and golden brown. Once the skin is done to your liking, flip the chicken and cook skin side up on the stove for about 4-5 minutes, then move into the oven for 15-20 minutes.

There’s More Than One Way

7605082378_a3c6256430_zSeth Godin wrote a post about money that I really enjoyed a few months ago, and today I’m thinking about different ways that we can go about solving our problems other than the usual practices.

If you want to have more money, it doesn’t mean that you have to make more money. If you spend $300 less per month, this has the exact same impact on your bottom line as if you were to make an extra $300 per month. If you do both of those things you’ll really be in business.

If you’re overweight and desperately want to drop down a few sizes, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to eat fewer calories. If you eat the same amount of calories, but eat only foods that your body metabolizes better than the ones you’re eating now, you’ll be creating the same impact as if you were on a diet, except you’ll feel good while doing it.

If you want to incorporate some exercise into your life, it doesn’t mean that you need to pick one thing and then do that same thing every day. If you try a handful of different activities, and then only do the ones that you really enjoy, you’ll be much more likely to exercise regularly and less likely to stop one day and never return.

If you want to create deeper, more meaningful relationships in your life, it doesn’t mean that you need to go out and latch on to anyone who you like until you’re best friends. If you start by creating a deeper, more meaningful relationship with yourself first, you’ll probably show up in the eyes of other people as someone who is worth getting to know.

These are just a handful of ways that we can solve a problem by working at it from a different angle, and I imagine that there are ways to find new solutions to old problems in just about every facet of life. If you’re willing to step outside the box, take a breath, and think about your problems from a different vantage point, easier, more sustainable solutions can begin to emerge.

Photo Credit: Dave Catchpole

Investing in Your Body and Self

cowMy feeling is that people would take better care of themselves if they were to view personal health care as an investment rather than an expense. There’s a big difference between the two, and shifting personal health care from one side to the other could have the power to make big changes in your life.

It’s true that things like organic ingredients, bodywork, and therapy can often get expensive. But if we were all to place things like food, wellness, and bodywork under the category of investments rather than expenses, there would be a whole lot more people walking around in the world feeling a lot better than they currently are, and I think that would be a very good thing.

I don’t think people in general place a high enough value on feeling really good. Whether it’s because we’ve been conditioned to struggle, because we don’t think we deserve to feel good, or any other of a host of reasons, it just hasn’t caught on as a top priority yet.

Feeling good is probably the best investment you could make with your money. When you feel good you’re more likely to be productive at work, spend enjoyable time with the people you love, and come up with your best ideas. You’re more likely to me motivated to do things you’ve been wanting to do, say yes to trying new things, and have a happier overall disposition wherever you go.

There’s always a dollar figure that we’re willing to pay for certain things when we’re considering a purchase. When I remember that certain things are actually investments towards my feeling good (and receiving the benefits that come from that), that number marches higher, and when I’m considering buying things that aren’t really going to contribute to my feeling good, that number goes down. As my priorities shift from things like impressing people (myself included) or doing what I think I “should” be doing to feeling good, the way I direct my money into the world changes as well.

What’s your price for feeling good, and what’s something you’ve been wanting to do for yourself that would contribute to your wellness that you’ve been putting off because of the dollar amount? Would you be willing to view it as an investment in yourself?

Flood Thoughts

floodIt’s been 11 days since my last post, which is the longest I’ve gone without updating my blog since I started it. In that time, Boulder and its surrounding areas have flooded quite badly. They’re saying we got a year’s worth of rain over two days, and that something like this happens once every hundred years.

In the time since the flooding happened, I’ve been through quite a bit of stuff. I watched the bottom floor of the house I live in get covered in a layer of dirty flood water. I lived upstairs on the couch for a few days while slowly moving all my things out of the bottom floor so they wouldn’t be ruined forever. I noticed the smell of the damp carpet and mildew seeping upstairs to the point where it was the first and last thing I noticed each day. I read the reports, saw the pictures, and listened to the helicopters fly over my house.

I planned out what I was going to do until the floor got fixed, I got introspective about what kind of person I wanted to be, and I came up with several ways in which I could write about some of the things I learned while experiencing my first ever natural disaster. But no words ever came out, because there was something else I needed to do first.

I’m realizing that I haven’t given myself time to sit back and simply feel sad yet. It’s coming out in different ways: I’m craving and eating a few sugary things here and there, I’m having trouble falling asleep at normal hours, and I’m waking up much later than usual. These are the kinds of things that happen when I’m not current with my feelings.

For the rest of today, and for however long it takes to feel complete with it, I’m going to simply allow myself to feel sad about the events that have occurred, and let that be okay. Sometimes it’s easy to jump ahead to what we want to do next and how we want to respond to a big event like this, when really what needs to be done is to let the feelings flow and just be with it for a while. So that’s what I’ll be up to.

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Photo via CBS Denver

Nothing Off Limits

6055884449_31e2fa1ba1_zThe phrase I hear a lot now is “lifestyle change”, which has replaced the more traditional term “diet”. My thought is that if a “lifestyle change” means there’s a whole sector of foods you love but never allow yourself to eat, you’re actually still on a diet and just filing it under a different name. And as we all know, diets never work. So what does?

I had a long talk with a good friend of mine this weekend about her inability to lose weight, despite eating a strict paleo diet and exercising several times a week. In response to her lack of results, she went back to eating whatever she wanted, since nothing seemed to matter. I pointed out that it seemed as though she had been eating foods that she had researched thoroughly and concluded should work for her, since it seems to help a lot of other people lose weight. In actuality, different bodies respond differently to the same foods, and what helps one person lose weight might cause another person to gain a few pounds.

Because of this, my general opinion on eating strategies is that there’s no set list of foods that everyone should be eating. I strongly advocate playing with many different types of foods and then noticing how your body reacts to each one of those. Some foods will make you feel strong, energized, and happy for hours at a time, and I suggest you eat those foods often. Some foods will cause you to feel bloated, tired, and sad, and I suggest you avoid those foods for the most part. The majority of foods will fall somewhere in between, and it’s then up to you to pay close attention to how your body responds to certain ingredients and combinations of ingredients, and then make your food choices based on how you’re wanting to feel.

If this sounds like a lot of effort, it might be at first, but if you’re wanting to understand just how big a deal food choices have on our lives, it’s worth every bit of effort. What we eat has a huge impact on how we feel later.

When doing your first round of experimentation, try the “nothing off limits” approach. Wander around the grocery store as if you’ve never been there, and give yourself permission to grab anything that your body thinks it would enjoy having. The point of this is in understanding that if you’re generally a low carb/starch person (as I am), there’s nothing wrong with occasionally ordering a sandwich when it feels like a good time to have a sandwich. The key to maintaining feeling good isn’t always saying no to foods that you like but aren’t great for you; it’s about eating slowly, savoring each bite, and stopping when you know it’s time to stop. When you eat too fast or as a way to avoid feeling your feelings it becomes hard to tell when you’ve had the right amount, but when you choose eat consciously that message comes in loud and clear.

When everything is in play you’re taking full responsibility for what you eat and how you choose to eat it. You’re recognizing that you are the creator of how you’re feeling in your body and that each bite of food you take is a vote for how you’re choosing to feel later on. It may feel foreign at first, but over time it becomes the only way to truly have the relationship with food that you’ve always wanted.

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Photo by Ralph Daily

The Bacon Method

baconspotatoI love making stuff up in the kitchen, and while I’m sure that what I discovered in the past month is not anything that’s never been done before, I did think of it independently, which makes me happy. In the month or so that I spent on the road staying in other people’s homes, I cooked many meals while doing my best to limit the amount of equipment and ingredients I was using for the sake of simplicity and ease of cleaning. My favorite discovery is what I’m now calling The Bacon Method.

The Bacon Method requires nice thick cuts of bacon (pancetta works too) with plenty of fat on them, and then anything else that you’re wishing to cook for yourself. What you do is cut the bacon into either thin strips or small dice, depending on how you want the pieces to be shaped when you’ve cooked them. By taking the small pieces of bacon and then cooking them slowly on a low to medium heat in a skillet, you allow the bacon to become nice and crispy while also rendering a lot of the bacon fat into the pan. This fat then becomes the oil you use to cook whatever you’re choosing to pair the bacon with. As with any other kind of cooking, fresh herbs and spices can really help add a nice zing to whatever you’re making.

There’s a lot to love about this technique. You only need one skillet to cook an entire batch of food, which makes prepping and clean up a breeze compared to other meals. You retain the freedom to experiment with all sorts of food parings to go into your skillet, which can mean a lifetime of fun experimentation. And best of all, you get to eat bacon, and you get to pair it with any of your other favorite foods that are then cooked in bacon fat, which is pretty much the best tasting fat you can regularly buy at the store.

This morning I put together a nice breakfast dish using The Bacon Method along with half of a sweet potato I had leftover in the fridge, then added some minced garlic and fresh rosemary to amp up the aroma and flavors. This dish was incredibly good on it’s own, and it’s also easy to imagine the possibilities in expanding this recipe to include all kinds of other breakfast goodies like sausage, eggs, onions, or cheese (or whatever else your mind thinks of) to make it even better. I encourage you to give this technique a shot, all while keeping an eye out on what you personally might like to create for yourself while cooking.

Sweet Potato + Bacon Hash Recipe

Ingredients:

3 strips of thick cut bacon, cut into thin slices or diced
1/2 large or 1 small sweet potato, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 big pinch of rosemary, minced
sea salt and pepper

Preparation:

Take your bacon pieces and place them into a skillet over low-medium heat for several minutes, stirring occasionally. Once the bacon starts to crisp and the fat is rendering into the pan, add your garlic, rosemary, and diced sweet potato, turn the heat up to medium, and sauté everything by stirring continuously for about 2-3 minutes. Taste, then add however much sea salt and fresh black pepper you wish.

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