An Appreciation for Reading

I’ve always considered myself an avid reader. One of my favorite things to do as a child was to go to our local library with my parents and pick out my weekly limit of seven books. My typical lot included plenty of Curious George, Jan Brett, Eric Carl, and Shell Silverstein. I adored the library and was in awe of the millions of books on the shelves, the glass floors, and beautiful spiral staircases leading up to the famous copper dome. Mind you, my local library is probably prettier than yours. Like, unless your public library is That of Congress, I’m willing to put money on mine winning in a beauty contest. See for yourself how easy it is to fall in love:

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I know, right? Who wouldn’t want to get lost in those stacks for hours? The Handley Library in Winchester, Virginia, was built in 1913, thanks to an endowment from Judge John Handley, and is, rightfully so, one of the crown jewels of my small town. Judge Handley also endowed my high school, appropriately named John Handley High School,which is pretty darn impressive itself:

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Anyway, back to my point:

I’m extremely grateful to my parents for instilling in me the value of language and literature at a young age, and encouraging this passion throughout my teenage and early adult years. My grandmother has audio tapes of me reciting original poetry from times she babysat me, before I even knew how to read. I remember being enrolled in half-day kindergarten, but some weeks staying the whole day with first-graders, just to have extra reading time. My parents would read to me every single night before bed, without fail, a tradition we kept up through middle school. My dad and I read the first few Harry Potter books together when I was in the 6th and 7th grades, and to this day I am still awaiting my invitation to Hogwarts.

As I grew older and matured, so did my literary taste. I went through years where I was obsessed with The Babysitter’s Club, Sweet Valley Twins and The Boxcar Children. Then in high school I grew fond of the YA genre, “Sloppy Firsts” and “Angus, Thongs & Full Frontal Snogging” being some of my favorites. Early college brought about exploration into chick-lit authors such as Sophie Kinsella, Jane Green, and Emily Giffin (many, of whom, I am still big fans today.)

These last few years, I’ve really gotten into thrillers and crime stories, as well as hot titles on the Best Sellers list. I’m really into Karin Slaughter, MJ Arlidge, Laura Lippmann, Jodi Picoult, and the oh-so-hot-right-now Gillian Flynn.

I’ve found myself getting oddly sentimental writing this post, truly appreciative for the many lives that books have allowed me to live. There really is nothing like getting lost in a good story, completely detached from the worries of reality, even just for a few moments.

Throughout this past year, I’ve probably read more than I ever have before. I recently went back into the Handley Library for the first time in about four years, having gotten caught up in the ease and accessibility of the Kindle instant download. And immediately upon walking in the doors, I was filled with a feeling of belonging, contentment, and gratitude. I had come back to my happy place.

 

FRIDAY: Banana Overnight Oats & Chicken Burrito

So I am a little late and delinquent with this post, it was my meal from last Friday! The final day of my meal prep. Life has gotten crazy and I haven’t had time to write until now. But, I will say that with all the craziness, it has been a blessing to have meals already prepped ahead of time–one less thing to do!

Chicken Burrito

BREAKFAST: Cinnamon Banana Overnight Oats

As previously mentioned, overnight oats are so versatile and have endless varieties. Adding banana gives the oats a thicker consistency, and the taste pairs so well with cinnamon. I like to add walnuts or pecans to the top to give it an extra crunch. This version I made using steel cut oats, which are a thicker and grittier consistency than rolled oats, but are nice to use as something different.

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What you need (for two servings)

  • 1 banana
  • 2/3 cup steel cut oats
  • 1/3 cup vanilla Greek yogurt
  • 2/3 cup milk (or almond or soy)
  • 1 packet stevia
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • Handful walnuts, for topping

What you do:

  1. In a large bowl, mash the banana with a fork until smooth.
  2. Add in next 5 ingredients and stir well.
  3. Pour into airtight container and top with nuts.
  4. Leave in refrigerator overnight.

Eat cold or warm for ~1 1/2 minutes in the microwave. This tastes just like a good old fashioned comfort breakfast!

 

LUNCH: Southwest Chicken Burrito, Veggies & Hummus

This recipe utilizes the leftover southwest chicken mixture from Wednesday’s burrito bowl. It’s a great way to have a second meal from the same ingredients, with a different twist.

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What you need:

  • 1 small can tomatoes & green chiles blend (Rotel)
  • 1 can black beans
  • 1 can yellow corn
  • ~1 1/2 cups pulled chicken (again, I used rotisserie)
  • 1 packet taco seasoning
  • 2 tbsp water
  • 2 whole wheat tortillas/wraps (burrito size)
  • 1/2 bag baby carrots
  • 1/2 bag snap peas
  • 2 tbps hummus

What you do:

  1. In a large skillet, combine the first six ingredients.
  2. Simmer on medium ~10-15 minutes.
  3. Spoon chicken mixture onto center of tortilla. Tuck in corners and roll into burrito.

Add your veggies into your travel container, and spoon hummus into a small condiment container and you’re ready to go! I like to drizzle a bit of Cholula (Mexican hot sauce) onto my burrito and eat with a side of plain Greek yogurt, which tastes almost exactly like sour cream!

Monday: Almond Butter Toast & Buffalo Chicken Sweet Potato

DAY 1 (MONDAY)

Almond Butter & Fruit Toast

BREAKFAST: Almond Butter, Banana & Blueberry Toast

This is one of my go-to’s for breakfast. It is so easy and healthy and keeps me full until lunch. It’s a great breakfast for when you don’t have much time to throw something together.

What you need (for one serving):

  • 1 slice of multi-grain bread
  • 1-2 scoops almond butter
  • 1/2 banana, sliced
  • handful blueberries
  • honey

What you do:

  1. Spread the almond butter over your bread.
  2. Place banana slices on top of almond butter.
  3. Do the same with blueberries, spreading out evenly.
  4. Drizzle honey over top of bread.

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That’s it! Seriously, so easy and one of my favorites. It’s like a better version of a peanut butter and banana sandwich. If you haven’t had almond butter before, I really recommend trying it. It’s sweeter and less salty than peanut butter. And while peanut butter certainly isn’t bad for you in moderation, almond butter has about half as much saturated fat as peanut butter, and also has more fiber and vitamins. Unfortunately, it’s quite a bit pricier, but is a great staple to have in your pantry when you just need a change from the regular ol’ PB&J.

LUNCH: Buffalo Chicken Sweet Potato

This is a new one for me this week and it turned out amazing. What’s not to like with buffalo chicken? The saltiness of the buffalo and ranch compared to the sweetness of the potato, and the tangy taste of the blue cheese is a great combination. Sweet potatoes are exceptionally good for you and rich in vitamins and minerals. I’m sure you can go a step further and make your own buffalo sauce, but I was lazy and used Frank’s in a bottle.

What you need (for one serving):

  • 1 sweet potato
  • 1-2 tbsp buffalo sauce
  • 1/2 cup pulled chicken (cooked)
  • handful blue cheese
  • 1 packet Hidden Valley Greek Yogurt ranch dressing (dry mix)
  • 1 cup plain Greek yogurt
  • 1/2 cup milk (1% or 2%)

What you do:

  1. Preheat your oven to 425 degrees.
  2. Clean sweet potato and poke holes with fork.
  3. Place directly on center rack of oven and bake ~45 minutes, flipping halfway through.
  4. While potatoes are baking, mix together the ranch dressing, according to packet, using the Greek yogurt and milk.
  5. In a separate bowl, mix together chicken and buffalo sauce. Be sure the chicken is coated well, but not soaked. (I used pulled chicken from a rotisserie chicken, so there was no baking or cooking involved. You could also boil or bake your own chicken breast and pull apart, or use canned chicken.)
  6. When potato is done, remove from oven and slice in half, lengthwise. Use a fork to mash up some of the potato inside the skin.
  7. Place chicken inside the potato.
  8. Top with blue cheese.
  9. Drizzle with ranch dressing.

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As I’ve said before, I’m really obsessed with anything buffalo chicken, so I really loved this recipe. The potato is very filling so it was enough of a lunch for me on it’s own. But I could see pairing this with some carrot and celery sticks to get your fill of vegetables, as well.

Strawberry Feta Salad

I have been eating mason jar salads several times a week for about two months now and I have some “regulars” that I always throw into my meal rotation. I felt like I needed a new option for a spinach-based salad (my favorites) and I wanted to try to some feta cheese instead of my standard blue.

Strawberry

I decided to tackle making my own dressing for my new salad creation. This idea actually originated because I couldn’t find my favorite sweet balsamic dressing on my latest grocery store trip. I’ve never before attempted my own dressing because I figured it’d be labor intensive, expensive, and just downright difficult. Boy, was I completely wrong! I was shocked by how easy it was to throw together my very own strawberry red wine vinaigrette.

What you need:

For the dressing:
-1/8 cup red wine vinegar
-1/4 cup olive oil
-pinch of salt & pepper
-pinch of sugar
-3-4 strawberries

For the salad:
-Spinach (or mixed greens)
-Strawberries
-1/2 pear (diced)
-Unsalted almonds
-Walnuts (chopped)
-Feta cheese (crumbled)

What to do:

For the dressing:

  1. Mix the first 4 ingredients together.
  2. Add strawberries and crush with spoon (or mortar and pestle)
  3. Mix well.

For the salad:

Layer everything in a mason jar in this order: dressing, almonds, walnuts, feta, pears, strawberries, greens.

Shake and pour onto plate or eat directly from jar.

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The dressing turned out really well! It is not as sweet as what I am used to in a dressing, but umpteen times healthier. I am going to keep experimenting with dressings to see what other varieties I can whip up.

Berry & Blue Cheese Salad

I’ve been making mason jar salads several times a week for lunch lately. There really are so many options and varieties! This berry & blue cheese salad is another favorite of mine. I prefer spinach salads over lettuce, and the spinach with a sweet dressing and fruit with the tangy taste of blue cheese is amazing.

Berry Blue Cheese Salad

Another great dish to prep the night before and take with you to work for lunch the next day!

What you need:

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-Spinach
-Blueberries
-Raspberries
-Walnuts
-Blue cheese
-Raspberry vinaigrette dressing

What to do:
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Layer your salad in the following order:

  1. Dressing
  2. Walnuts
  3. Blue cheese
  4. Berries
  5. Spinach

Shake well and pour on plate when you’re ready to eat!

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Greek Yogurt Chicken Salad

I love chicken salad, but all that mayonnaise isn’t exactly healthy. So I decided to try to find a way to lighten it up. This chicken salad uses Greek yogurt instead of mayo. It gives the same consistency, but it is rather sweet, so I played up that aspect by adding apples, raisins and pecans. I ate it in a whole grain pita to keep with the healthy trend.

Greek Yogurt Chicken Salad

What you need:

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-Cooked, pulled chicken breast
-1 cup plain Greek yogurt
-Handful raisins
-1/2 chopped sweet apple
-Handful chopped pecans
-Pinch of salt and pepper
-1/2 whole grain pita

Mix the first 6 ingredients together and add salt and pepper to taste. Stuff into a half of a pita. This is a great quick, healthy option for lunch!

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Meatball & Vegetable Slow Cooker Soup

We are right in the middle of a major blizzard here in Virginia! They’re calling for 24-30″ of snow. So what is better on a cold, snowy day than a crock pot full of warm, delicious soup?

Veggie Soup

This soup is packed with veggies and simple to prepare the night before, or even freeze ahead of time. It is a “tomato based” soup, so to speak, but it cheats with spaghetti sauce, rather than crushed tomatoes or tomato paste. To me, it tastes very reminiscent of Olive Garden’s minestrone soup with I absolutely LOVE. This was a real hit, and we have TONS of leftovers to keep us full and warm throughout this snowstorm. Let’s just pray we don’t lose power…

What you need:

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  • 1 lb small frozen meatballs, thawed
  • 3 cups frozen green beans, thawed
  • 1 zucchini, chopped
  • 3 large carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 1 can kidney beans
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • 24 oz. pasta sauce
  • Onion flakes and salt & pepper to taste

What to do:

Just thaw your frozen items the night before in your refrigerator, and dumb everything into your slow cooker. Give it a good stir. Cook on low for 8 hours.

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I channeled my inner Olive Garden and sprinkled a bit of cheese on my bowl, and even considered eating it with a side of garlic bread. My husband loved this soup too, and so did our spoiled little dog. To those of you experiencing “The Blizzard of 2016,” stay safe, warm, and full!

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