Thursday, June 27, 2013

Fruit Crisp and Nostalgia

Hey guys, just a reminder that Google Reader is shutting down on Monday :( I'm sad, because I use Google sites for a lot of online doings (blogging, email, picture storage), and it's nice to have everything organized and in one place. However, Bloglovin easily imports your Google feed, and so far I'm loving the fun interface and easy-to-use features! Some people are saying good things about feedly, but I'll stick with Bloglovin for now. If you also are looking for a new reader, and want to follow me, click the button below!
Follow on Bloglovin

So, last night a handful of my friends went to a concert that was just dripping with Nostalgia: Goo Goo Dolls & Matchbox 20. We had found tickets on Groupon for $15, bought them months ago, and promptly forgot about them. On Tuesday, my roommate reminded us all that yes, the following evening we'd have to get out of work early (well, I would, since all my friends have flexible schedules or work at schools and have summers off AND I AM SO JEALOUS) and drive 2 hours to see the show that had the soundtrack to our teenage years and younger. I was about 10 or 11 when Goo Goo Dolls and Matchbox 20 started becoming popular, right around the tweenage time that you start discovering music because you're getting too old for toys but you're still too young for boys.

Concert accompaniments that I did not have at age 11...

I remember watching VH1 because my parents told me I was too young for MTV and loving Goo Goo Dolls. Later, in middle school I made an older friend--I had just had a falling out with my best friend and was somewhat labeled a "loser" during my middle school years by my peers--who let me borrow her Goo Goo Dolls CD and Acoustic #3 became my regular AIM away message. Sadly, they didn't play that one last night, but they played Name, Iris, Black Balloon and a bunch of others plus some new songs, which was good enough for me. Matchbox 20 was also pretty freaking fantastic. I found myself amazed that the lead singers of both bands DON'T LOOK ANY DIFFERENT than they did in 2000. Music keeps you young, I guess...

Drinks are $10-$13 a pop at LiveNation, yuck.

Can I just say it was the most incredible time? Because it was, it totally was. I was not expecting for this concert to make me so incredibly happy, but it did. Best $15 I ever, ever spent. I don't have many pictures where I don't look like a sweaty mess, and the Lifeproof case on my iphone makes it tough to take good quality pics, but I assure you--it was an awesome show. Check Groupon to see similar deals, or click the link up there even to just see when they're coming to your town!

Anyways, these little berry crisps were created when I decided to have low calorie, nutritious, and somewhat low carb snacks on hand for the week. I had the brilliant idea to put them in mason jars and thankfully they had good quality ones at the dollar store that I scooped up. In the future, I'd use a shallower mason jar, since the fruit collapses a bit during baking, but I used what I had. The crisp is lovely--full of fresh fruit bursting with flavor and only a little added sweetness, with a crunchy almond flour top. Plus, it's gluten free!

As I said before, I'm trying to cut down on dairy and gluten, to test my experiment that these two things set off my upset stomach-ness. I keep accidentally making Paleo-ish food because the ingredients on a whole tend to be less expensive than gluten-free flour mixes and such. For example, a batch of Paleo-friendly cupcakes I made last week (recipe forthcoming, though the picture quality on them is 'meh') included coconut flour and almond flour--two reasonably priced flours for my budget. A gluten-free from-scratch flour mix typically includes 4 flours or more, all of which are maybe $10-$15 for a one pound bag. So, while I'm only really flirting with the idea of a Paleo-inspired diet to try and kickstart my weight loss and get me eating cleaner, my baking seems to be going that way just for the sake of saving some money.

Gluten Free/Paleo Fruit Crisp
(adapted from Delighted Momma)

  • 2 cups strawberries, hulled and sliced into chunks
  • 1 cup blueberries
  • 1 cup cherries, sliced in half and pitted
  • 1/4 cup honey or maple syrup, plus an additional 2 tbs
  • 3 tbs butter, melted
  • 2-2 1/2 cups almond flour or pulverized almonds (latter works better)
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • Optional: pecans or roasted almonds

-Wash and dry about 6 small mason jars (or, alternatively, a 9x9 glass baking dish) and lightly grease. In a medium bowl, mix together fruits and 1/4 cup of the honey or syrup. Spoon fruit into mason jars and arrange on a baking dish.

-In a small bowl, combine the cinnamon and almond flour. Slowly stir in the butter and additional syrup or honey until mixture is crumbly. You may not use all the butter. If too sticky, add more almond flour. Stir in nuts if you desire and spoon crumbs over the fruit.

-Bake at 350 degrees F until crumb mixture has browned and fruit has broken down a bit. Serve warm with a dollop of cream, if desired.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Dishcrawl Pioneer Valley

Last night was the foodie event that I'd been waiting weeks for--Dishcrawl Pioneer Valley! It's like a pubcrawl, but for food, so... better than a pub crawl as far as I'm concerned. Four restaurants, $45 (drinks not included), and each stop is a surprise. It's a growing company that has crawls all over the country, check it out! I was sad to miss the previous Dishcrawl, in May, because of lack of funds and being busy, but when Dishcrawl ambassador, Jenn, offered me a ticket for the June crawl, I couldn't say no! Last crawl they hit McLadden's Pub, Ibiza Tapas, Caminito Steakhouse, and The Deuce for Big Kats Katering. That's a pretty awesome line up, and since each crawl is a surprise I was really excited to see what Jenn had in store for us on the June crawl!

Thanks to the hints posted on the Dishcrawl Facebook Page, I was pretty sure I knew what the first two stops would be... and I was right! Note: It's a REALLY good idea to follow the Dishcrawl Facebook Page--thanks to a caption contest they ran, my friend won 50% off her ticket. Though she couldn't come, she was able to gift it to another friend of ours, meaning I had a girly date for the evening, yay!

First up was my old favorite (which I recently reviewed here), Mulino's.

I guessed that we'd be given the Lobster Ravioli, which seems to be a signature dish at Mulino's, as it is featured every summer pretty frequently. I was right, but what's more, they gave us an additional bite--an enormous meatball on top of a lightly dressed salad. Yum. The lobster ravioli was in a smoked mozzarella sauce that was just divine, but totally overshadowed the lobster. It was delicious, but I could have been eating plain cheese ravioli and not have known the difference--not necessarily a bad thing! The meatball was perfectly seasoned and the sauce was just right, the meatball was just slightly too dry for my liking. Overall though, it was a nice little sample of what Mulino's has to offer.

My friend and I got some of the House Pours of wine--white zin and pinot grigio. I am a big fan of the house wines here, they're $6 for a heavily poured glass and they don't have the "cheap wine" taste you might expect from the lowest priced wine on the menu. We were pleased, and the little boost of liquor helped us be a bit more social for the rest of the evening ;) We met a couple who drove all the way from Boston to do the Dishcrawl, and a local author (Amy Patt) whose new book, The Bartlett Journals: The Prima Ballerina is available on Amazon. Always cool to meet writers in the area!

Next up--and I was correct in guessing, again!--was Eastside Grill. I'd been here recently also (see my post!) but I was still excited. I tend to only ever order the scallops here, because they are awesome, so it was great to be given a surprise dish to try something else on the menu. Eastside is known for their seafood, and their New Orleans-inspired dishes, so it was great to be given a plate of BBQ Shrimp & Grits with Spinach for our meal! The BBQ was mild but delicious, and the shrimp perfectly cooked. The grits soaked up the juices nicely and I seriously wanted to lick the plate clean.

For a drink I got the strawberry basil cocktail and it was AMAZING. I could suck down ten of these if you let me, and I'm fantasizing about making my own now. I could tell the ingredients were super fresh, if not local, because the berries tasted like they were right off the bush. The drinks came way after the food, which was kind of strange, but this drink was so sweet and delicious that it made a pleasant dessert to end with.

The third place was a total surprise, since there hadn't been any Facebook clues, and it was Local Burger! I was expecting another fancy-ish restaurant, but while Local Burger is said to be the best burgers in the area, I'd yet to ever have one, so I was happy for the opportunity to try them. In truth, I've been to Local Burger many times... mostly at the end of a bar-hopping night since they are open late... where I am pretty liquored up... so the times I've eaten their famous burgers I'm too tipsy to really give them a real evaluation. The verdict?

Really freaking good! It was set up buffet-style, so a bunch of quartered bacon cheeseburgers and fries laid out for us to grab. It was hard not to take a full burger, but since I was already getting full and we still had a restaurant to go, I took a half and some fries.

They were PERFECTLY cooked. Medium and Medium-rare seemed to be the norm for the plate of burgers and that was fine by me! A lot of places I know overcook their burgers, so it was nice to see a pink inside. The cheese was melty, the bacon was the perfect balance of chewy and crispy, and the fries were just right too. I will be returning to Local, sober, and getting a full burger for myself one of these days for sure. I wish they'd given us samples of their famous milkshakes, but I suppose I'll just get one next time ;)

Last up was the dessert stop. Again, a total surprise. I was thinking we'd go to a specific dessert restaurant--Herrell's? La Fiorentina? Go Berry?--but Jenn surprised me again and we actually went to Spoleto! I've never been to Spoleto, but it's highly regarded in the valley as one of the best Italian restaurants. The dessert was a tiny sampler of three Italian desserts: Cannoli, Tiramisu, and Gelato. I pretty much hoovered my plate, being the utter sweet tooth that I am. And then my friend's plate because she was too stuffed to do much else but nibble the edges of her desserts. If this is how Spoleto does desserts, I will totally come back for their dinners sometime.

Overall, my first Dishcrawl experience was an awesome one! It's an excellent way to meet new people who are also foodies, and try out new restaurants, or get new items at an old favorite. As it gets more popular and they branch out to more Pioneer Valley stops, I'm sure it will only get better. I love finding foodie events in the valley! While $45 for a night out is at the very top of my budget, Jenn has enough fun contests and random promotions and coupons that I am sure I could swing it again if I budget correctly. This is the IDEAL Girls' Night Out or a fun Date Night. Next Dishcrawl will feature Easthampton, a town I lived in for a few years but never really explored food-wise. It'll be fun to see where they stop!

Does your city have a Dishcrawl? Have you ever been on one? Share your experience!

Out of focus and dark, this burger came out looking a little spooky...

*Full Disclosure: I was given a complimentary press ticket under the assumption I would blog about the event. However, all opinions are my own.

Monday, June 24, 2013

I Don't Givea Fug Today -- Bad Pictures of Delicious Spare Ribs

Let me tell you a bit about my morning. It has nothing to do with food, and everything to do with the fact that if I complain about something, it makes me feel better about the situation at hand. Now that you know how my mind works, let's proceed.

I woke up at 4am to a yellowjacket stinging the crap* out of my arm. In the comfort and security of my own bed, I woke up to a freaking stinging wasp-bee-hybrid-thing stinging me. Repeatedly. Before I could wake up completely and realize what was happening, it had dropped to my leg and started stinging me there.

So, Happy Monday, Ashley, here is your worst nightmare realized.

Seriously, I'm one of those wimps who runs in fear when a yellowjacket or two ends up buzzing around a picnic or fair or whatnot. I scream and run and it's just bad news all around. This morning I had a fleeting thought that Freddie Krueger has finally made his way to Greenfield and was using my worst fear to kill me in a nightmare, but I'm sure it would have been hundreds of wasps and not just one, had that been the case. So I'm relatively safe, for now.

It had snuck in through the open window, which had been accidentally left open because it was hot as balls outside and someone had forgotten there was no screen.

So, basically what I've learned this morning at 4am is that, you're not safe in even the safest place you can think of--your own bed. Lovely life lessons for a Monday morning. However, I also learned that my poor sleep-deprived boyfriend is willing to jump out of bed at the first sign of danger and bring me ibproufin, benedryl, water, and an ice pack as well as closing the window without me having to say much else besides "CORY CORY OH MY GOD THERE WAS A YELLOWJACKET IN THE BED IN THE BED AND IT STUNG ME A BUNCH OF TIMES AND OH MY GOD HOW DID IT GET IN HOW DID IT GET IN??"

My arm is still in throbbing pain, but the swelling in my face (WHY MY FACE??) is down to barely noticeable.

Anyways, this has nothing to do with food, but it's all I can think of right now. I don't have the energy to edit and post the pretty pictures of food I made over the weekend,, so instead here is an older recipe I'd had in my drafts for braised short ribs. I made these on a whim after short ribs were on sale at the discount grocery store. It was evening by the time they were done, so the photo quality in these is not great--if anyone wants to be generous and buy me EGO lights, I'll be your friend forever--but trust me when I say braised short rib is one of the most delicious things out there that you can make yourself.

*I said "crap" instead of "shit" because, while I do swear occasionally in the spoken word, as many my age are wont to do, I try to keep my blog relatively PG. However, going with the whole "I'm 25 and dealing with occasionally tough 'growing-up' stuff" angle this blog seems to take, I feel like I should be able to drop a swear or two if the spirit moves me. My book will definitely have some, and I don't want readers to be blindsided if they pick up my book and see an unsavory word or two. Thoughts?

Wine Braised Short Ribs
(Adapted only slightly from Pioneer Woman)

  • 8 whole Beef Short Ribs
  • salt and pepper (to season ribs and at the end "to taste")
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 6 pieces bacon, diced
  • 2 tbs olive oil
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, diced
  • 3 carrots, diced
  • 2 green onions, diced
  • 2 cups red wine
  • 2 cups Beef broth or stock (I used a combo of both since I was low on broth)
  • 2 sprigs Thyme (I used dried)
  • 2 sprigs Rosemary (I used dried--In all honesty I used the two fresh herbs I had on hand, basil and oregano, and sprinkled these two dried versions in as well)

Sprinkle ribs with salt and pepper, then dredge in flour. Set aside.

In a large dutch oven, cook bacon over medium heat until crispy and all fat is rendered. Remove and set aside. Leave a few tablespoons of grease in the pan, drain the rest.

Add olive oil to remaining grease, and raise heat to high. Brown ribs on all sides, then remove and set aside to a shallow dish (can be the same dish bacon is on). Turn heat to medium.

Add all vegetables to pan and cook for 2 minutes. Pour in wine and deglaze the pan. Bring to a boil and cook additional 2 minutes.

Add broth, 1 teaspoon salt and sprinkling of pepper. Taste and add more salt if needed. Add ribs and bacon to the liquid. Add herbs and mix in well.

Put on the lid and place into the oven. Cook at 350 for 2 hours, then reduce heat to 325 and cook for an additional 30 to 45 minutes. Ribs should be fork-tender and falling off the bone. Remove pan from oven and let rest 20 minutes. Skim off any fat you see before serving.

**I served this with truffled roasted asparagus (clean and cut asparagus, toss with EVVO and salt and pepper, bake at 350 until wilted and a black bits appear, drizzle with truffle oil), and a red wine beef risotto. My boyfriend, however, requested that next time I make a side of potatoes, as they would be ideal to soak up the excess juices and the drippings from the beef would make an excellent gravy.

Also, I am SUPER EXCITED for Dishcrawl Pioneer Valley tomorrow night! I get to meet some local foodies and try some surprise courses at area restaurants. Can't wait! If you're a Western Masser and are interested, please email me! It's pricey, but I have a 15% off code... if there are still tickets available, that is.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Ice Cream Loves, Old and New -- Plus Happy Birthday to my BF

So. I'm kind of obsessed with my ice cream maker. I've always been somewhat of an ice cream snob--I mean, after living within a five minute drive of THE BEST ICE CREAM I'VE EVER HAD IN MY LIFE, it's a reasonable thing. Once you've had the creamy, dreamy amazing-ness that is Herrell's Ice Cream, there truly is no going back. Watery, icy, bottled-syrup-filled frozen "treats" will never compare to the custard-base delicious perfection that is Herrell's. So, I had high aspirations when embarking on my endeavor to create my own homemade ice cream. No watered-down ice cream for this gal, I wanted the real deal.

<---On an unrelated note, I went to college with the owners' daughter, we eventually became roommates and she remains one of my dearest friends. I fondly remember the time she asked me how to properly make an ice cream float and I stared blankly at her before going--"aren't you the ice cream girl of Western Mass? Shouldn't you KNOW this?" But, I digress.--->

I got this Cuisinart on a lucky ebay deal--$30 for a $50+ piece of kitchen equipment. In RED, which is perfect because I've decided to build my kitchen theme around my red Le Crueset Dutch oven since it's probably the most expensive thing I own aside from my car and laptop.

Isn't she beautiful??

I was gifted the Humphry Slocombe Ice Cream Book (and plan to give it a proper review in a later post) by a friend and was told to make their signature ice cream (the Secret Breakfast) STAT. I didn't quite do that. Instead, I made Baracky Road (the other ice cream pictured), their tribute to our president and a great, luxurious update to the classic rocky road flavor. And it came out amazing, albeit a little gooey, but totally not bad for my first-ever batch of ice cream. But, when I wasn't even halfway through, I tasted the custard before pouring in the chocolate.

It. Was. Incredible.

I knew I'd have to return to this recipe and use this caramely goodness as the base. And so, that's what I did. I doubled the caramel, chopped up a Godiva bar, and pored in some Heath bits I'd been saving to make toffee cookies. At the very end, I folded in a swirl of my favorite Herrell's fudge.

I'm pretty sure if Steve Herrell and Humphry Slocombe (if he even is a real person... I have to go back and actually read this book) tasted this concoction of mine, they would be proud.

Ashley Bee's Fantastic Flavor*
Salted Caramel Ice Cream with Godiva Chocolate, Heath Toffee Bits, and Herrell's Hot Fudge
(Adapted from the first part of Humphry Slocombe's Baracky Road recipe)

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2/3 cup water
  • 2 1/4 cups heavy cream
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup Heath Bits or generic toffee bits
  • 1 milk chocolate Godiva chocolate bar, broken into dime-sized chunks
  • 1/4 cup Herrell's Hot Fudge or fudge sauce of choice (buy Herrell's at your local Whole Foods or online IT IS WORTH IT)

-In a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-high heat, melt 1 cup of the sugar, stirring occasionally with a silicone spatula and watching constantly. Continue cooking until the caramel takes on a deep amber color and is smooth, about 15 minutes. Watch CAREFULLY, it burns quickly!

-Immediately add the water to stop the cooking – and STEP BACK! It WILL splatter. Reduce the heat to medium and stir until smooth (this takes forever). Add the cream, milk, and salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is hot.

(Fill a large bowl with ice and water. Place a large, clean bowl in the ice bath and fit the bowl with a fine-mesh strainer.) <--including this because it is in the directions, but I did not follow it. I simply chilled a bowl big enough for the ice cream base.

-In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and the remaining sugar until well blended.

-Remove the cream mixture from the heat. Slowly temper the hot cream mixture into the yolk mixture, whisking constantly until there is enough liquid in the yolk mix to heat it. Be careful not to scramble the eggs!

-Transfer the yolk mixture back to the saucepan with the remaining cream mixture and return it to medium heat. Cook, stirring constantly with a silicone spatula and scrape the bottom of the saucepan so it doesn’t scorch, until the liquid begins to steam and the cream has thickened, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from heat.

-Immediately pour the custard through a strainer into the cold, clean bowl. Refridgerate, stirring every 20 minutes for the first hour or so, then occasionally every hour after that. When the custard is cold, leave in fridge for an additional hour or preferably overnight.

-When you are ready to make the ice cream, transfer it to an ice cream maker and spin according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Once ice cream has churned for the recommended time, pour in the chocolate chunks and the Heath toffee bits. After about a minute, turn the ice cream maker off.

-Pour the ice cream by the cup into your desired ice cream vehicle (I use Cool Whip containers, they are about perfect for this purpose), layering a bit of fudge sauce in between layers. When you have filled the container, take a small spoon and swirl it through the ice cream. This will create the fudge ribbons.

-Eat immediately if you like it at thick-milkshake-consistency, or freeze overnight for more traditional ice cream texture. Eat. Die of happiness. Repeat.

*If you get the reference you are my hero. Hint: it was my favorite childhood book!

In other news... it's my amazing, wonderful, incredible, freaking HANDSOME boyfriend's birthday!

Love the tattoos.

Happy Birthday, Cory! I love you a lot and hope you have a nice, relaxing day. I'll meet you at 26 in a few months ;)

 We are actually pretty terrible with the PDA...

I look sleepy, he looks handsome. This is how it goes.


Friday, June 14, 2013

Asparagus and a Dreary (But Fun!) Week

Last week was a heat wave. Hot, sticky, sweaty, and full of summer sun. I'm one of those weird people who would much rather be hot than cold, so I was in all sorts of love with the weather. For those of us who wait through the endless New England winter, summer is always a godsend--after a blink-and-you-miss-it bit of spring, of course.

This week, I'm trying to find that guy with the Ark so that I don't get swept away.

I suppose that's one of the great and terrible things about living in New England--the weather does whatever it wants to do, with no rhyme or reason. Yesterday, I thought the rain had passed since I woke up to a room full of sunlight, but I stepped outside into a breezy, frigid day and the rain returned somewhere in the night.

To whomever left the large umbrella in my car, thank you. I don't know what I would have done without it this week!
(She lives far away and I don't see her often)

Anyways, this week has been pretty great despite leaving me uncomfortably drenched and frizzy-haired*. I went to India House with some friends for a much-needed Girls' Night on Monday, and made THE MOST AMAZING GLUTEN FREE PIZZA EVER EVER EVER with friends last night and we devoured it too quickly for a photo shoot but you best believe it's going to be here on the blog in the very near future, as we added a bit here and there to the recipe ;)

Also I got to see some college friends that I haven't seen in foreverrr for my friend Shawna's 25th birthday last Sunday. Shawna unfortunately developed food poisoning, but since everyone was already coming over (some from as far as Chicago and Los Angeles) she was a trooper and stuck it out. We had a great time nonetheless while she drank Pedia lite and we (NO JOKE) drank DOM PERIGNON MIMOSAS OUT OF SOLO CUPS.

It's a long story as to how we acquired this bottle, but we felt almost classy. We ate brunch as soon as we knew she could handle the smell of food, and then played Cards Against Humanity until it was time to go. I was grateful for this day because I miss these ladies a whole lot.

*I am daring myself to go the whole summer with my curly hair. We'll see how that goes, because I cannot stand my hair but the constant flat-ironing was leaving it broken and sad so I figured this might help rejuvenate it a bit. I've hated my hair for 25 years and been straightening it ever since I got my flatiron at age 14--I don't think I've ever gone more than a week curly. At this point, it's been nearly two months.

Last time I had my hair straight was for Alice, left.

So that was my week. How was yours? Is it raining where you are, too?

This light and flavorful salad is a take on Japanese seaweed salad. It was made during last week's heat wave and was a great simple lunch that helped me cool off a bit. Since I do not have seaweed easily accessible, alternate greens were used, two of my favorites, in fact--Brussels sprouts and asparagus. Asparagus is best in New England, and I happen to live next to the best town to harvest it in: Hadley. They don't call it Hadley Grass for nothin'!

Brussels Sprout Asparagus Sesame Salad

  • 5 stalks asparagus, sliced thin (I used a vegetable peeler)
  • 5 large Brussels sprouts, shredded
  • 1 clove garlic, chopped fine or pressed
  • 2 tsp sesame oil
  • 2 tbs rice vinegar
  • 1 tsp chili oil
  • handful of almond slivers
  • sesame seeds, for garnish (I was out)

-Mix all wet ingredients together and set aside for ten minutes in the fridge to let flavors blend. Taste, and if needed add a little more of whatever flavor you'd like (for example, I thought the sesame was too strong, so I added a dash of soy sauce and a bit more chili oil and vinegar).

-Toss together asparagus and Brussels sprouts with sauce. Sprinkle almonds and sesame seeds on top. Serve cold.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Almost Paleo but Definitely Gluten-Free Banana Bread Muffins

 Guys, I've seriously made a batch of these every week. They are SO GOOD. You won't even miss the gluten, or the white sugar, or anything, I promise. I actually think I like this better than traditional banana bread (using almond flour = slight nutty flavor and I LOVE it), and that is really saying something!

--I'm about to vent just a bit about diets and such, so if that's not your thing please skip over or just check out the recipe--even if you're not on a diet this banana bread is packed with flavor and a great recipe overall!--

So lately I've been trying to eat cleaner and pay better attention to what I'm eating. I am currently at my heaviest weight ever, and I gained most of it in a very short amount of time, which has been kind of freaking me out. I seem to care less about the weight gain and more about how I have a whole drawer of pants and entire summer wardrobe from last year that my butt refuses to fit into anymore... And since my dad's untimely death was probably greatly tied to unhealthy living and obesity, it was definitely a wake up call that I have to start doing something and paying better attention to my health. If nothing else, I am now in my mid-20s and probably will have to work a bit harder since my metabolism will inevitably start slowing. I'm currently trying to figure out a diet plan that works for me while also going to the gym for an hour five mornings a week. So far it's been almost a month with no results, and while it's frustrating I know it takes a long time to see any changes.

A foodie on a diet is a very complicated thing. So many factors to consider.

Here are the undeniable truths about my personal eating habits:
-I love food and want to somehow inject food into my career goals
-I will try any food once, no matter what (see: puffin from my Iceland trip)
-I do love veggies (SO excited for my farm share this summer!)
-I go in phases of loving a certain food or type of food and then over-do it and won't touch the thing for months (cold salad is currently on my do-not-want list after three weeks of mason jar salads for lunch)
-I have a never-satiated sweet tooth
-Booze on the weekends is a must, but I could probably restrict it to ONE weekend evening now that I'm no longer in college and suceptible to my Party Girl Ways, and the occasional glass of wine after a long day of work to unwind
-Dairy is delicious but too much makes my stomach turn
-Bread and pasta and other carby things are delicious too but they have a very similar affect to dairy

Many friends have sang the praises of the Paleo Diet, and my good friend and former science teacher actually is the founder of Stupid Easy Paleo and Healthy Happy Fit Life. While I don't think I could ever totally give up sweets and carbs, those last two list items up there do give me pause: dairy and wheat do not make my tummy happy. It just so happens that they are not present in a paleo diet, so I find myself looking more and more into paleo recipes when I want to ensure a clean day of eating that won't make me feel gross afterwards.

So far, the paleo fried rice is a win, as are these banana bread muffins. If a recipe tastes good and doesn't upset my stomach, it's a-okay in my book :) My current diet plan is to push wheat and dairy into "sometimes foods" and limit my sugar intake while exercising more and eating more veggies and lean proteins. Hopefully I'll see some improvement if I keep at this for a while.

 Bonus: I put the recipe into a calorie counter, and each muffin comes out at about 75 calories each. So if you're going the calorie counting route, they are a great snack! I have been bringing these to work to munch on when I need a sweet fix and they really hit the spot.

Almost-Paleo/Gluten-Free Banana Bread Muffins
(adapted only slightly from Peanut Butter Runner)

  • 3/4 tsp baking soda
  • 3/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 3/4 cup almond flour (or ground almonds)
  • 1/4 cup coconut flour
  • 2 tbs melted coconut oil
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 very ripe bananas, mashed
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup spiced pecans
  • 1/2 cup chocolate chips (dark is more "paleo friendly" but milk chocolate is more "Ashley friendly")

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line or grease cupcake wells (alternatively, a 9 x 5 loaf pan also works, but takes a little less time so watch it closely).

In a medium bowl, whisk together all dry ingredients, leaving out the pecans and chocolate chips. In a separate small bowl, mix together wet ingredients, including bananas. Slowly add wet ingredients to the dry mix together until just combined. Carefully fold in pecans and chocolate chips.

Pour batter into liners to 3/4 full and bake 50 minutes to an hour or until set in the center (springs back upon touch) and a toothpick comes out clean.

Restaurant Week Day 4 -- Zen

This week I'll be visiting area restaurants for Northampton Restaurant Week and blogging about the experience. Restaurant Week runs until Sunday, June 9, and is a great way to get a 3 course meal at any of the many amazing restaurants in downtown Northampton for only $20-25!*

How lovely to finish off such a food-filled week with my absolute favorite sushi spot downtown--Zen. I have mentioned them before, but they remain my favorite place to go for special occasions, or when a new friend comes to visit, or when I'm having a sushi craving (it happens often, and it hits hard). Their sushi is the freshest I've tasted and the rolls are so unique and fun. I know many friends tell me they prefer other sushi restaurants downtown, and while I've tried most of them and they are decent and offer some interesting rolls, something about Zen just tastes the best to me. I sing its praises to anyone who will listen and have made sushi-haters into sushi-lovers just by taking them here--still working on my boyfriend, though! I appreciated the Restaurant Week menu, because it gave me a chance to try an appetizer  and dessert--usually I save my money to just get another roll or two.

Having an appetizer for lunch felt silly, but I am pretty sure the Zen Nachos are my new favorite thing. It's a mound of spicy tuna and spicy salmon, topped with tobiko, eel sauce, and spicy mayo. Fried wontons provide the chips for scooping up all the deliciousness. It was perfect, like a deconstructed version of my favorite sushi roll. The spicy mayo and eel sauce made a spicy-sweet dressing for the fish that I wanted to douse everything in. I would have appreciated another chip or two though, because they ran out quickly and while I wanted to enjoy the fish by the spoonful. the texture was just too soft for me without the chip. I ended up with maybe 1/4 of the fish left on the plate before I decided to just wait until my entree arrived. I'll be ordering these again, but probably asking for extra wontons if that's an option.

I was tempted to choose something else, since I've had this roll before, but I ultimately couldn't resist. This is the Pyramid Roll, my absolute favorite roll. Occasionally they'll make it for me upon request, even though it's technically only a seasonal roll. Spicy tuna, crab, spicy salmon, asparagus, avocado, and spicy scallop are all wrapped up with rice and nori and shaped into a pyramid. The bites are HUGE and there is no way to eat them gracefully, but you'll be rewarded with the most excellent, flavorful roll you've ever had. I use spicy tuna as the barometer for how good a sushi restaurant is (since it's a common roll that each place does a little differently) and Zen always hits it out of the park. Since this roll features spicy tuna pretty heavily, it's obvious why it's my favorite.

Finally, dessert. Something I definitely rarely am able to afford after gorging myself with appetizer and main course. I'd had the fried banana spring rolls before, but this time they seemed a little different--there was some sort of red berry in there too, though I cannot remember if it was raspberry or strawberry. Either way, this was a great dessert with the warm, sweet spring rolls and the creamy vanilla ice cream.

Quick lunch with Cory at Zen before work.
How awesome is my necklace??

So my plan for Restaurant Week was to visit as many new restaurants as possible. Day 4 was slated to be Pizza Paradisio, but thanks to some scheduling issues my last restaurant had to be done as a Saturday lunch, and sadly Paradisio doesn't open until 4 on Saturdays. So instead, I decided to return to an old favorite yet again. This brings my "new" restaurants to 1 (Ibiza) and "old favorites" to 3. However, I'll be taking part in the Pioneer Valley Dishcrawl on the 25th, and hopefully at least one of the mystery spots will be somewhere I've never tried before!

Overall, Restaurant Week was an excellent success in my book, and well worth the $100 I'd budgeted for the occasion (plus a little for tips and drinks) and I got to at least try one new restaurant. Great food, great times with great friends. Too bad it only comes once a year!

For the rest of my Restaurant Week Adventures:
Day 3: Ibiza Tapas
Day 4: Zen

*FYI: these are NOT sponsored posts! I have received nothing for free, I just LOVE Restaurant Week and wanted to give my favorite foodie spots in Western Mass a little love :)