Beauty in Ordinary Things; Love for People Who Make us Whole.

I don’t know for sure what the meaning of life is – life doesn’t come with built in guarantees, a guide book, or ways to predict what’s coming next.  It’s a pop quiz all the time. And while there’s no way to anticipate the challenges, sometimes it’s also difficult to anticipate all of the good (unknown) things that could be on the horizon.  Or just right in front of you – in the now.

beauty in ordinary things

If we were all able to constantly be aware of all the good things we really have in our lives — if we were able to see beauty in all of the ordinary things, and people, we take for granted — life would be a lot easier.  Thankfully, there are days that manage to raise our awareness for us.

Several weekends ago I was lucky enough to be reminded — and in a way that sourced all my gratitude and love through an assortment of challenging, inspiring, hilarious, and raw moments.

Sometimes we just need a night with friends to really remember we’re alive.

UDAY 40

A good friend of mine turned 40 a few months ago, and had made sure his birthday party was inked into my planner far, far in advance.  It was not your average birthday party, or a huge production, but rather a really small dinner in the basement wine cellar – Treble – of Keswick, one of the most renowned vineyards in the area (which is saying something). It was perfection.

Treble

There was something about being in the cellar, separated from all other distractions, stresses and demands.  It was also the company — 10 people with different realities, pasts, and contributions to the conversation — that took thoughts deeper, and also made them lighter.  Laughter was ever-present –even through the sentiment and the sweet tears of toasts and tributes.

We spend so much time working – trying to meet deadlines and fit more into our packed schedules – stressing out about squeezing a workout in before or after our regularly scheduled workloads, and striving to be everything to everyone.  The problem is, we don’t always take the time to appreciate the moment.  (Or maybe you do… but I needed a refresher.)

We rarely take conscious moments to not to worry about how many emails we have waiting, when we’re going to fit in our next workout, and even (dare I say it…) how clean we are eating.  There has to be a balance.  80/20 is reasonable, but 95/5 is not.

I really think that our personal sanity, and our ability to appreciate others, is in direct proportion to our ability to cut ourselves some slack every once in a while — to take a damn break from the grind to remember what it feels like to love and be loved — whatever that may mean.

This particular night it was so thick in the air that it was impossible to ignore.  There was love — the love of great friends, of families formed, and of life, wholly.   I needed it.  I needed it all, and that includes the break from life structure and the complete and utterly worthwhile embrace of this rich and beautiful dinner:

I started with the sweet potato bisque – no doubt (and thankfully) made with the heaviest cream in town.  Amazing.

Butternut Squash

I also got a few other shots of the amazing menu options from  my plate neighbors, Mindy + Dar,  since they were (unfortunately for them) within reach of my camera shot.

That being said, here is the quail that was offered as an appetizer, and was apparently awesome.

Quail

For the main course I chose a Butternut Squash Linguini (literal strands of butternut squash) with grilled eggplant, roasted almonds, fresh ricotta and pepperonata.

butternut squash linguini My friendly neighbors chose the braised beef option, over creamy risotto, which I’m still craving,

braised beef

and the grilled salmon, which I think speaks for it’s own awesomeness.

salmon

And of course, there was dessert.  A peanut butter chocolate ganache bar, and baked apples with vanilla bean ice cream (so classic).

peanut butter truffle

apple pie

So, the food was amazing.  Really amazing.  But it still paled in comparison to the weight of the evening, and the impact of appreciating moments solely existing to celebrate life.   There is so much beauty in ordinary things, and the people who are unknowingly the salt of our lives.   If I can dare make a guess, the meaning of life might just exist in those moments of awareness and gratitude — and in the love we have for the people that share those moments with us.

So, thank you to my beautiful and amazing friends that made that night possible, in whatever role, and to  those who bring beauty into my life every day without the comfort and lure of a fully stocked wine cellar and an evening escape from all the noise.

Oh, and also to these fools that are soul brothers on a level none of us may fully understand, but still makes us laugh.

Dar Uday

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Kitchen Therapy: Thai Chicken Stir-Style

I’ve been feeling pretty anxious and overly committed lately, so last weekend I made a very concerted effort to take time to do some of the things that too often get dropped from my schedule.  Aside from taking full advantage of the additional hour of sleep, I managed to squeeze in two massages (yep, two), a mani/pedi, and back to back trips to Home Goods.  That last one might not sound restful, but for me it’s damn near a spiritual experience for me these days.

And while all of those things were great, and definitely contributed to a few necessary zen moments, the most important thing I did for my overall well-being was an extended  (un-rushed) and completely unplanned full-cart adventure at Trader Joe’s.

Trader Joes

It had been a while since I strolled through TJ’s Isles, and it felt great to be back.  It’s so easy to fall into the routine of going to Whole Foods, and blindly adapting to the $250/trip sticker shock until it almost seems uncomfortable to spend less.

I held back at nothing — I bought enough meat, produce, and ‘extras,’ to last through the full week, and a few bottles of wine to make it (me) whole.

On Sunday night I roasted the chicken, cauliflower, and spaghetti squash — all which turned up in Monday’s meal of leftovers.  I also took some extra time on Sunday night to revisit the Apple Streusel (Egg) Muffin recipe, thanks to a special and fresh delivery of Granny Smith apples from Carter’s Mountain Orchard.

Apple Streusel

These are pretty easy to make, and this time just by switching to coconut oil spray (rather than trying to manually spread oil with a paper towel…) and letting the apples cool before mixing them with the eggs, the batch turned out just a little better.

With the fridge stocked full of groceries (and some pre-made daytime meals), I got to have a little fun with dinner this week.  Ingredients included:

  • Chicken Breasts
  • Red + yellow bell peppers
  • Zucchini
  • Mushrooms
  • Celery
  • Cauliflower
  • Almond Butter
  • (light) Coconut Milk
  • Sesame Seed Oil
  • Coconut Oil

vegetables for sauteing

And of course a glass of wine on the side, which is optional (just not if we’re going to be friends).

The idea for this meal was to make a (non-peanut) Thai Chicken Stir Fry.   And, if you ask me, it worked.

I started by (cutting up &) sautéing the chicken in some sesame oil.

stir fried chicken

Once it was a light golden brown I placed all the chicken on a plate, and threw the cauliflower (finely chopped) into the remaining oil to fry it up like rice.

cauliflower fried rice

 

Vegetables were next.  Cut in long slivers (where possible) and simmered in coconut oil to give it a sweet flavor, they cooked until they were tender

IMG_5746

 

Then came the ever-too-simple part that made all the difference in the world – I mixed almond butter and coconut milk in a little tupperware, and shook it until it blended into a nice sauce and poured it over the vegetables to finish.

non-peanut thai chicken stir fry

 

Despite being born out of zero planning, and mostly just a desire to use what was stocked in the fridge, I have to say this is one of the best meals I’ve cooked in the last six months…. humbly speaking of course.

thai chicken and rice dinner

 

There’s really nothing like taking time in the kitchen to create when things are getting a little too stressful and real — and if you do it up big enough, mass quantities of leftovers can also help to ease the burden of lunch-time hunger games.

Well, there’s nothing like it if you get to reap the benefit of eating it.  Spectating, apparently, isn’t the jam when you’re a hungry little bug….

Bug

Falling Back with Coffee + Home Cooking

Hello Monday.

Rise & SHine

Even with the bonus hour of sleep (which I took FULL advantage of), Monday came as abruptly as ever.      And with the lowest temperatures of the fall, which is really only going to contribute to my discontent.

I’m definitely a coffee-only morning person, and will consider food a few hours later once my body has had a chance to wake up.  This morning I was definitely on the slow and steady path, starting with iced coffee first thing, and followed up with a vegetable, steak, and egg scramble late-morning to keep me going.

By noon I was hungry for a little something more, and needing another kick in my veins, so I made my new favorite midday pick me up (aka: vitamixture):

vitamixture

I started hoarding collecting iced coffee tumblers from Whole Foods a few months ago, not only because proves economical for me ($4 refills!), but also because I don’t have the time or energy to coordinate a coffee run every morning.   Having their amazing iced Toddy mixture  just an arms length away, in my own fridge, feels like winning each and every morning.

So, with a tumbler in hand, and vitamix plugged in, I make my own version of a Frozen Monkey.

Here’s what you need (measurements are discretionary):

  • 1/2 c. Ice

  • 1/2 c. Coconut milk

  • 1 c. Iced Coffee

  • 1 frozen banana

  • 4 Strawberries

  • 1 tsp. raw cocoa powder

  • 1/4 tsp. pure vanilla extract

  • (option to add in 1 tbsp almond butter)

Frozen Monkey

Today was a long day of work, and since I took class at MADabolic the last three days in a row, I decided upon a well deserved rest day.  I’ve been trying to be better, recently, about really enjoying my rest days and fully listening to my body when it needs a break.  So that’s what I did.

What does an afternoon of rest look like, you wonder?  It looks like this (and it feels awesome).

Fall Salad

Mixed greens, chopped walnuts, a honey crisp apple, and blueberries, made for a pretty awesome fall salad.  And since no salad is complete without some protein and side items, this particular meal was rounded out with a mixture of Sunday night’s leftovers: roasted chicken, and spaghetti squash sautéed with roasted cauliflower.

monday night dinner

Lets be honest, if it’s going to get dark before 6pm, the least you can do to cope is have a great meal ready and waiting.   And this one was exactly the right blend of not-too-heavy combined with the warm comfort that comes with cold weather food.

Welcome November, I was not looking forward to you, but so far, so good.

Fall Living: Halloween + Taco Salad

There’s something inherently warm and inviting about the smell of fall air.  I’ve always loved this time of year.  I loved the start of school when i was younger – the supply shopping, the structure of a set schedule, and the feeling of a new beginning.

As I’ve gotten older and school no longer serves as my annual beginning, I still find something undeniable about the change of seasons, and the crispness in the fall air that makes me want to reorganize closets, drink tea, and transition into heartier comfort meals.

I was a little under the weather today, but by this evening I was feeling halloween inspired, hungry, and wanting a mid-level comfort meal with some color to brighten up an otherwise gloomy day.  So, I went with a modified version of an awesome taco salad a good friend made for me a couple weeks ago, and it was awesome.

Savory Seasoning

My first step was to make the taco seasoning — finally utilizing more than just one flavor from my favorite spice collection from Savory Spice Shop, and an awesome DIY recipe I found.

Taco salad!

I was out of chicken, so I went the ground turkey route, with onions of course, and added the seasoning in to the mix.

turkey

Added color came from chopped red and yellow peppers, zucchini, and mushrooms.

taco salad base

I let this simmer for a while to soak in the seasoning, and then set it aside to cool and got to work on the ‘salad’ half of the meal.

Taco Salad

If you’re a grain-lover, this is great with rice or pasta.  If you’re into salad dressing, feel free to add some, but there is plenty of flavor in the dish itself to cleanly top chopped lettuce for a full and complete meal.  Add wine, some friends, and a little halloween candy, and you’ve got yourself a pretty great Thursday night (if I do say so myself).

With all the change in the air – all the new and the old – sometimes you just need a warm meal and a little reminder to keep breathing and appreciate the more basic elements of life – they’re so easily taken for granted, or assumed to be smaller than they are.

drink the wile air

Plus, who doesn’t want to drink in the wild air?  Thick, humid air? No thanks.  Wild air, I’m all in.  Bring it on Fall, I’ve been waiting for you.