A Backyard Birthday BBQ and Deck Makeover

Hi, friends! Life has been some kind of busy in my neck of the woods. House projects, the busy season at my nine to five, parties, holidays and weekend trips have gotten the best of my attention on the blog front. Something I continually try to improve on is my attention and presence in the moment which unfortunately can put some things on the back burner. BUT with that being said I am here nonetheless and providing house updates! I hear from many of you how you can’t wait to see more house posts and I’m realizing I have not shared any further updates since posting about our kitchen makeover. There are still quite a few rooms that are a work in progress (and continuously will be) that I’m not ready to share yet but I will slowly and surely give snippets of our changes…count me to it!

The most recent project has been our house exterior. Here’s a few listing photos before we get started:

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As we headed into the warmer months Evan and I began to discuss our visions for patio furniture, garden growing and overall landscaping desires and knew that the porch might be the easiest project to tackle first. That is until we realized how expensive outdoor furniture can be! Knowing something full price was out of our reach (in the time frame we were working with) I scoured Craigslist and online yard sales daily. After a few weeks of thinking we were going to have to break the budget we were able to come across this conversation piece on Craigslist — for almost $200 less than the retail value!

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We picked it up on a Friday afternoon and the next morning I was at Home Goods, Target and Home Depot getting all of the final touches. I love the contrast of the terracotta pots and have them filled with fresh herbs and seasonal flowers. They bring the perfect touch of earthiness and texture to the neutral colored cushions and rug. I’m so happy with our purchases and we’ve already spent so much time lounging, sipping and relaxing.

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We had a few close friends over to celebrate E’s 27th birthday at the end of April which I’m sharing pictures from as well (2 birds, 1 stone). I picked up local BBQ (Deano’s is his favorite!), made a few sides and way too many desserts. Give me a reason to celebrate anything and I go all out :).

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I hope you too are enjoying the warmer temperatures, longer days and the celebrations that come along with it. Cheers!

A Backyard Birthday BBQ and Deck Makeover

Blue Floral Bridal Shower

This past weekend we celebrated my bride-to-be sister with a blue themed bridal shower. It was a beautiful, sunny day that was filled with so many friends and family. My sister is getting married in Raleigh, NC in June so I was happy to assist in putting together a fun afternoon full of sweet treats, craft beer and delicious wine.

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We asked guests to sign this bottle of champagne which will be opened the morning of Jessica’s wedding. 

Floral Square

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The shower included wine, beer and sweet treat pairings. It was such a fun way to incorporate my sister’s preferences and offer something a little nontraditional. 
A happy bride!
Blue Floral Bridal Shower

Whole 30, Week 3 Update

Whole 30, Week 3 Update

Greetings from a dreary Sunday where I am 23 days complete on my Whole 30 journey. Am I boring anyone yet? I hope not but if you are keeping count this is my last week as I’m closing this book in five days and to be honest I have mixed emotions about it. But before I dive in here’s a recap thus far:

Introduction and My Why  |  Week One  |  Week Two

You’ll notice that in previous posts I have been documenting my meals and sharing as much as I can. This week I feel like I failed to capture pictures as I’m less conscientious of documenting my everyday meals. While this doesn’t help on the content front I see it as a good sign. I’ve moved on from savoring over breakfast, lunch and dinner and my body (and mind) is accepting this way of eating as its new normal.

As far as overall feelings…I feel great! Yes, I still crave sweets but I’ve come a long way. These days I love having fruit as a healthy sweet treat and certainly do not mind having repetitive meals. Prior to this appetite change I felt I was always looking for savory recipes to fill that bottomless pit of cravings full of sugar and fats. Today, I am proud to say that I finally feel in control of my cravings and eating habits. I feel confident in my choices and comfortable enough to say no to the cupcake across the room. I wish I could explain how freeing this feels to you all, particularly since this was one of the main reasons I chose to embark on the Whole 30 challenge. It is overcoming things like this that empower me to continue the remaining few days.

With only 5 days remaining I’m beginning to examine and think about how I intend on incorporating this way of eating into my everyday food and lifestyle choices. I wouldn’t be honest without admitting that I am a little fearful of how my body will react to incorporating certain food groups back into my diet but I am also excited to learn so much more about these targeted food groups, their effects and very much look forward to a glass of wine or two. I hope to be back next week with an overall summary of my journey and my post Whole 30 choices.

What I Ate

BREAKFAST

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Hashbrowns, Fried Egg & Mashed Avocado with Fruit
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Sweet Potato Toast topped with Almond Butter, Cinnamon and 1/2 of a Banana

I’ve come to the conclusion that breakfast may be the hardest meal to find variety on the Whole 30 challenge. Between the constant rotation of eggs, fruit, chicken sausage and my Whole 30 pancakes I typically stick to the items I have come to know; however, this week I tried Sweet Potato Toast and absolutely love it.  They are the perfect carbohydrate and protein balanced substitute for what I was typically eating before my morning workouts.

Slice a sweet potato 1/4″ thick, puncture with a knife or fork a few items and microwave for about 3 to 4 minutes. I then toast under my oven’s broiler and top with almond butter, cinnamon and 1/2 of a banana. I have no doubt that this recipe will be a keeper post Whole 30!

I also began to research frozen hash browns and here’s a fun fact: it is extremely difficult to find a frozen variety of shredded potatoes that is not laced with hidden sugars or other preservatives. I found myself becoming frustrated while grocery shopping and not finding a single brand that was Whole 30 compliant — even at Trader Joe’s. Instead of resorting to something else I decided to make my own. Here’s the recipe I used which is already compliant.

As far as coffee goes I do still miss the rich taste of coffee with sweetener and creamer and unfortunately I do not think that my desire will ever go away. I am happy however that I no longer feel dependent on coffee to get my mornings started, a huge win in my book. I plan on doing some research this week to decide how to bring back coffee in a healthier manner as I end the program.

LUNCH

Sorry if I am a disappointment but nothing new here! Lunch typically consists of dinner’s leftovers or a thrown together salad with a protein (typically a hard boiled egg). I have however tried RxBars this week and love them! They are higher in protein than Larabars and I love that they are “BS” free.

DINNER

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Crispy Chicken Thighs with Roasted Fennel, Potato and Carrots as well as Balsamic Brussel Sprouts

 

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Dijon Pork Tenderloin with Balsamic Mushrooms and Onion as well as Mashed Sweet Potatoes 

I love telling people that I have yet to repeat a single dinner since being on the Whole 30. Other items yes but dinner can come so easily if you train yourself to keep it simple. This week our menu included:

Potato and Fennel Baked Chicken – another easy weeknight dinner to prep in advance and throw into the oven after a long days work. The recipe calls for chicken breast but I used thighs and it turned out delicious. I paired mine with brussel sprouts that I sauteed in coconut oil and splashed with balsamic vinegar.

Dijon Pork Tenderloin – an easy dinner that does require at least 1 hour to cook. I served with onion and mushrooms sauteed in coconut oil and then splashed with balsamic vinegar. I paired the pork and veggies with these mashed sweet potatoes. This recipe has changed my life! So creamy and rich without an ounce of dairy.

That’s it! I’m having a hard time imaging next post I will be a Whole 30 alumni. Thanks again for following this journey. I’m having so much fun interacting with so many of you, hearing about your Whole 30 experiences and acquiring recipes you have tried. I’ve come to learn that Whole 30 is a community filled passionate folks. Have a great week!

Whole 30, Week 3 Update

Whole 30, Week 2 Update

Whole 30, Week 2 Update

I’m halfway there!! Que Bon Jovi’s Livin’ on a Prayer. Can you believe it? I’m happy that the past week has flown by and has gone by a little smoother than the last. I’ve been mentally noting my feelings  and symptoms everyday and comparing them to this calendar which summarizes how most participants feel on each day. So far, it’s been pretty spot on. I do feel that I rode the cranky train a little longer than just 2 days…it was more like 4. I tried my best to slap on a smile and keep moving forward but I felt even more frustrated by not being able to just snap out of it. I would be curious to know if any Whole30 alumni have ever experienced this. Let me know in the comments below!

Staring around day 14 however things seemed to gravy. My mood light switch flipped and I’ve now gotten adjusted to the taste of foods that aren’t carbohydrate and diary focused or loaded in sugar. Not to mention I feel I’ve come a long way in reading food labels. I know if I’ve learned anything in the 17 days so far it’s that there is so much hidden sugar in the prepared and processed foods I was commonly buying. Ketchup, frozen hash browns and fruit bars. I’ve forced myself to think outside the box and come up with ways to make things from scratch – something I never mind doing :).

What I Ate

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Breakfast – 

  • Egg Omelet Muffins – which I talked about last post
  • Aidell’s Chicken Apple Sausage
  • Whole30 Pancakes (my new favorite when I have the time) – 1 part mashed banana to 2 parts egg. Mix together and fry in coconut oil. I add a little bit of cinnamon and baking powder to give it some rise. I love drizzling them with almond butter or reduced fruit.
  • Coffee – I still miss my coffee but no longer feel like I need it get my morning started. During the week I primarily stick to green tea but if I have the time to make a cup I gladly do. I add about ½ of a tablespoon of melted coconut oil and ¼ cup unsweetened almond milk and use a frother to combine. If I’m feeling fancy I’ll add a little bit of cinnamon or pumpkin pie spice.

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Lunch –

  • Leftover Pork Pineapple Salad: this week we had pulled pork for dinner so for lunch I had a mixed green salad topped with pulled pork, pineapple, red onion, cherry tomatoes and cucumbers. I dressed it one day with a failure of a homemade dressing but the other days it did just fine dressing-less!
  • A Pantry Smorgasbord: if you follow my Instagram stories you’ll know this was my lunch on Saturday. A smorgasbord of items we had in the fridge that needed to be eaten. I live by Trader Joe’s Everything but the Bagel seasoning these days but love it particularly on a fried egg.

Dinner –

  • Grilled Chicken topped with fresh Strawberries and Kiwi – I added cilantro and lime juice as well.
  • Slow Cooker Pulled Pork – using this tub from Costco made it so, so easy! To a slow cooker I added water, chicken stock, onions, apples and grated ginger and let cook on low for 10 hours.
  • Slow Cooker Chicken Cacciatore – dummy me cooked the zucchini on the wrong night but I used this recipe and it wasn’t half bad! I made E’s with brown rice spaghetti noodles and mine with spaghetti squash.
  • Sloppy Joe topped Potatoes – the original recipe called for a baked potato but I had a few Yukon golds there were about to go bad so mashed potatoes it was. I’ve found if you splurge a little for a nice can of tomatoes it goes a long way.
  • Chicken Wings – yes, Frank’s is Whole30 Compliant. I made my own ranch dressing and called it a day.

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Sides and Sweets –

  • Roasted Vegetables – the staple on our dinner menu at least 3 times a week. I’m loving roasted zucchini and squash with red onion or carrots and parsnips. Here is a great infographic on cooking times for roasting veggies.
  • Roasted Pear topped with Coconut Cream – I try to treat myself to dessert at least one night a week (Whole30 or not). This week I made a roasted pear topped with cinnamon, nutmeg and coconut cream. Split a pear in half, submerge halfway in a baking dish with water (cut side down) and bake at 350 for about 40 minutes.

This week I made a trip back to Trader Joe’s and grabbed a bottle of clarified butter (or ghee) and already know it’s going to be a major game changer in the taste and cooking of my food. I’ll be back next week to share recipes and thoughts! Fingers crossed I can keep this good momentum going – 13 days left! And as always, thanks for listening :).

Whole 30, Week 2 Update

Whole30 Week 1 Update and Meals

Whole 30, Week 1 Update

It’s Saturday…my favorite day of the week! I live for Saturdays filled with a little bit of sunshine, relaxation and productivity. I am lucky enough to have my entire family in town this weekend. My sister and almost brother-in-law are staying with us and are officially crowned as our first overnight guests in our new house! I’m sure they feel quite honored.

Moving on! Today is my 1 week marker for W30 Week 1 – cue the trumpets and confetti (but champagne would be nice if I’m being totally honest)! I feel tempted to say that everything has been rainbows and butterfly’s over here but it’s been a roller coaster of emotions and cravings. Last night was my first real struggle of temptation to sneak a small piece of cheese or morsel of bread, not to mention seeing all the Easter candy at the grocery store was pure torture. But nonetheless I’ll be the first to celebrate small victories over here and say I managed to suppress those feelings and push forward with nothing but compliant foods…minus the fact that I realized I was still chewing gum on Day 1 and 2 before nit wasn’t compliant.

FYI – If you’re wondering where this all is coming from take a glance back at last week’s post about why I’m completing this challenge and little bit more information about what the Whole30 is.

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Overall, my food has been good. Surprisingly, I think I miss coffee the most! I’ve made coffee blended with almond milk, coconut oil and cinnamon but it just isn’t the same. As I go into next week I’ll do a better job at capturing pictures of meals to share with you all.

My favorites foods so far: 

  • Roasted Whole Chicken: I adapted Ina Garten’s recipe just replacing the butter for olive oil to make it compliant. It was insanely delicious!
  • Mashed potatoes: cube them, boil them, mash them and I added a splash or 2 of chicken stock and truffle oil. If I didn’t know they were non-dairy I wouldn’t have had a clue.
  • Breakfast egg muffins: making breakfast on the go incredibly easy. Just whisk a few eggs, add your toppings (I added ground beef, tomato and bell pepper) and baked at 375 for 20-25 minutes.
  • Creamy sun-dried tomato chicken: I pan-seared some chicken in coconut oil. Removed and added chicken stock, a tablespoon of coconut cream, chopped sun-dried tomatoes, Italian seasoning and tomato paste.
  • Tahini tuna salad:  this was my lunch for the entire work week. 1 can of tuna (including the water) mixed with a teaspoon of tahini, cilantro, S&P & lime juice. I plaed this on a bed of lettuce and sprinkled with grapes and red onion.
  • Roasted strawberries: quarter a few strawberries,  toss in melted coconut oil and balsamic vinegar and roast at 375 for 15 minutes. I topped mine with cinnamon and coconut cream.

My feelings so far:

I feel like I’ve done more complicated tasks than this but the first week has been a true tug on my emotions. Day 3 and Day 7 have been the hardest so far. Between bad and irritated moods to constantly feeling hungry it hasn’t been easy emotionally. Shout out to my wonderful husband who unfortunately gets the brunt of this and is forced to eat a majority of this food! I’m beginning to realize the frustration behind just wanting to indulge a little bit but staying on track is so important! By placing high importance on the end product is imperative to my success on this. I look forward to incorporating foods back into my diet and seeing their effects on my body (this is huge for a girl who has been dealing with IBS for the past year and a half) so I use this to curve my cravings and desire to steer off track. I’m also feeling the frustration of cooking so much. You all know I love to spend time in the kitchen but making breakfast, lunch and dinner for every day of the week is not only incredibly time consuming but exhausting.

But there have been positives too! When things are good — they’re good! I’ve stopped missing my one-a-day Diet Cokes and actually enjoy my morning green tea. I’ve begun to feel less bloated and think I’ve lost maybe a pound or two even though I haven’t checked. I don’t regret starting this journey and I’ll continue to keep it up and report back on week two next Saturday.

In the meantime, follow me on Instagram and see other things I’m cooking throughout the week! Have a great weekend.

Whole30 Week 1 Update and Meals

Whole 30 – My Why

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Whole 30 – My Why

Happy April, friends! This post makes me mildly nervous to write because it’s something I don’t speak on often (via my blog or to friends really) but I kept pondering on whether I should share my story with you all. I, in fact, took to social media last night and simply asked if this would be of any interest to you all. I was taken back by how many people said yes! And comforted as well by those who shared their experience, journey and outcome of the challenge. This blog can be therapeutic for me and by shouting from the rooftops that I’m participating I’m hoping will only keep me accountable to stick to the next 25 days.

With that….as of Saturday, April 1 I’ve been participating in the Whole30 challenge! As I began to share with a few friends I realized there’s quite a few people who aren’t aware what the Whole 30 is, what it means, etc. To begin I’ll share my why and then get into what this all means….

My Why

Staring August of 2015 I began on a fitness and health journey to prepare for my wedding that October. I became one of those crazy brides who should have worn one of those ‘Sweating for the Wedding’ shirts. I hit the gym (for the first time ever), started Pure Barre and began to monitor my eating habits through the Paleo diet. I worked out about 5 times a week and followed the Paleo guidelines within reason (i.e. I still had 1 Diet Coke a day and continued to use soy sauce, ate Chick-fil-a once or twice, etc.). I managed to lose 15 pounds in two months and it was awesome! I felt great, looked great but always knew that wasn’t the lifestyle I was looking for long-term. I continued to eat healthy(ish) and maintained my weight loss. Fast forward to this past November when we moved out of our apartment, the holidays were in full swing and my eating habits began to spiral out of control. Cookies, cake, chips and the like were becoming more than simple indulgences to enjoy from time to time. Excessive junk food on top of removing exercise for 30 days had changed my body, my mindset and my moods. I began to feel lethargic, unmotivated and simply not in control of my mind and it’s craving for all things unhealthy. My want for something to help get me back on track aligned with the Whole30’s mission and presented me with the opportunity to reset my taste buds and bring back the mindset of fueling my body with healthy and wholesome nourishment.

I had heard about the Whole30 challenge primarily through social media as well as a few friends that had taken the dive (and yes some that had even failed) and was so inspired by their stories of rejuvenation and mindfulness of eating wholesome foods. I began to do additional research and now have decided to take the plunge.

My Game Plan

I’m keeping things simple! Balanced meals that are easy, can be prepped ahead of time and that offer a variety to my palette. Meal planning and prep is not a foreign concept to me so I know as long as I intentionally create the time to get my act together this can’t be that bad!

The In’s and Out’s 

What is Whole 30?

The plan is marketed as a lifestyle change and is intended to strip certain food groups (like sugar, grains, dairy, legumes) from your diet completely so that you can begin to understand if and how these foods are affecting you.

What are the rules?

Eat moderate portions of meat, seafood and eggs; a lot of vegetables, some fruit, natural fats, herbs, spices and seasonings. This leaves out:

  • Added sugar (real or artificial): goodbye Diet Coke, goodbye Splenda in my coffee,
  • Alcohol: au revoir to my beloved pinot noir
  • Grains: no morning cinnamon toast, no whole wheat noodles and certainly no more sushi
  • Legumes: no beans of any sort, chickpeas (bye, bye hummus) or peanuts and peanut butter
  • Dairy: so long coffee creamer and post-workout yogurts
  • Carrageenan, MSG or sulfites: i.e. no processed or prepared foods
  • Baked good, junk foods or ‘treats’ with approved ingredients: think gluten free cookies, cauliflower pizza crust

The plan even emphasizes the importance of not weighing yourself for the next 30 days believing that this isn’t about the number on the scale but your mentality and overall well being.

So far, so good

While I’m only on Day 5 things have been okay and I’m beginning to feel much more clear minded. I do feel like I am constantly hungry but I know this will go away — not to mention my stomach expanded from really indulging the days leading up to the plan.

I’ll be checking in every week with updates on how I’m doing, what I’m eating, etc. if any of you are interested in experiencing this with me!

Stay tuned 🙂

Whole 30 – My Why

My First Dinner Party

Title SquareMy First Dinner Party

As I’ve developed my cooking and baking skills I’ve also come to love making and sharing with others. Baked goods, gift baskets, small mementos, I find so much joy in providing others a small token of appreciation for their friendship and their role in my life.

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Going into home ownership I couldn’t wait to host friends and family for holidays and meals. There was a reason we registered for a full set of wine glasses and numerous serving platters. Getting folks together around a table with great food, a beautiful tablescape and a few bottles of wine is pure bliss in my book.

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Shamrocks from Trader Joe’s.

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With today being St. Patrick’s Day I found it only appropriate to dress the table in green and keep things festive and fresh. I found this tablecloth on Ebay (a total score and will certainly be used again as we head into the summer months) and made the easiest centerpiece to date. A few kale leaves, Italian parsley, Russet potatoes and a head of cabbage, simple and rustic!

I provided the main course of Shepherd’s Pie and used this recipe. Nothing overly complicated and was easy in the sense that I was able to assemble the casserole before everyone arrived, popped it in the oven and it was ready in about 30 minutes. By keeping the main dish simple I am able to host and participate in conversation rather than standing over a hot stove while everyone gets to enjoy each other’s company.

I am yearning now for patio furniture so we can take entertaining outdoors when Spring is here to stay. I’m curating this home one dinner table at a time!

My First Dinner Party