Damn Good Chili

Who needs cheese? #whole30

I don’t know what you do for fun, but I like to cook things and sometimes inspiration strikes at weird times. Maybe I need some other morning friendly hobbies, I don’t know. Sometimes Matt Lauer just doesn’t do it for my like my Le Creuset does.   
Can we all just pause for a minute and think about where I can find a job where all I do is cook, read, drink coffee, and sometimes watch bad reality television in the morning? I would be an EXCEEDS Employee.   Excuse me while I go update my LinkedIn Profile.   
Anyway, this morning I was up early and since I had some extra time I made some chili.  It occurred to me that I should share this chili recipe here for three reasons:
  1. It is Easy — so easy you can sleepwalk through it at 5am and have lunch ready by 6am! 
  2. It is Very Customizable and Packs some Major Vegetable Punch in One Pot— flexible with the ingredients you have on hand, and efficient. 
  3. It is Damn Good.
That is quite the trifecta, I think — so here we go.   
Damn Good Chili
 
Ingredients
  • 2 TBS Fat of Choice
  • 1 Large Onion
  • 3-4 Medium Carrots, small dice
  • 1-2 Small Zucchini, small dice
  • 2 Small Yellow Squash, small dice
  • 1.5 lbs Ground Beef
  • 2 Cloves Garlic, chopped
  • 2 Tablespoon Chili Powder
  • 1 Tablespoon Paprika
  • 2 teaspoons Red Pepper Flakes
  • 2 teaspoons Cumin
  • 1 Tablespoon Salt
  • 2 teaspoons Pepper
  • 1 14 oz can diced tomatoes with their liquid
  • 1 14 oz can tomato sauce
  • 1 Cup Beef Broth
  • 1 Tablespoon Apple Cider Vinegar
  • 2 Bell Peppers (any color), small dice
Instructions
  1. Heat Fat of Choice in large, heavy bottomed pot over medium heat
  2. Add Onion, Carrots, Zucchini and Yellow Squash and cook up until they get soften, about 5-7 minutes
  3. Add ground beef in to brown and break up into crumbles with spoon. Continue until beef is mostly cooked
  4. Add garlic and all seasonings through salt and pepper and toss with the meat and the vegetables
  5. Add diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, broth and apple cider vinegar
  6. Bring pot up to a boil and then reduce heat to simmer
  7. Simmer, mostly covered but with lid a little cocked for 45 minutes
  8. Add bell peppers
  9. Simmer with the lid completely off for 15 more minutes
  10. Serve with toppings of your choice -- My recommendations are: avocado, black olives and diced scallions. YUM!

 

A Week of Big Accomplishments!

Back to reality, eh?  Man do I love a long weekend, but the Monday that follows is a little rough, no?

I hope you all enjoyed your holidays — Garrett and I spent our Thanksgiving morning running our first 5K together and man, it was chilly!  (28 degrees when we left the house!  Uh, we Californians don’t do much when it is 28 degrees out, so I was certainly second guessing my decision to run a race!)   

I use the term ‘together’ loosely though, because Garrett left me in the dust almost immediately, which ended up being a pretty smart decision.  Since I have never really ran more than 2 miles at one time (hi, I am not a runner) I was afraid to run too fast in the beginning and then crap out at the end, so I wanted to make sure I paced myself.  It turns out, however, that not getting ahead of the crowds during  “Fun Run” full of kids and old people and strollers (OMG dodging the strollers!) ends up being kind of a mistake if you are trying to run in a decent amount of time — live and learn. 

So running the race took me about 45 minutes and although I won’t be winning any awards with that time, I am pretty stoked that we did it.  And you guys —  I ran the whole. damn. thing. 

Now where’s my medal?

Don’t they give you a medal for running 3.1 Miles?  No?  Well that is bogus, I say!

In all seriousness though, I think that I have to thank Crossfit for my performance — and by performance I mean Not Dying.  Like I said earlier I am not a runner, so I have never really forced myself to run very far.  A few weeks ago one of our WODs involved running a mile, lifting some weights, and then finishing it up by running another mile and I about died when I read that because  I was just SURE I wasn’t going to be able to do it.  

But then one of the coaches said to me “You don’t have to do it fast, Holly — you just have to do it.”   And what the hell do you know?  I did it!  So during the 5k when I wanted to stop and walk or quit or whatever, I just said that over and over in my head.  I like a good mantra when I’m in pain. 

Also, I turned up my music very loud.  I don’t know how people run without music.  It was a necessity to take my mind off of things.  Do you know what was playing when I crossed the finish line?   Only the cheesiest and best pop song ever!  And I found the lyrics to be quite apropos at the time.  I was so happy to cross that damn finish line you would have thought I just ran a marathon.  But I guess in a way it kind of was my marathon, ya know?  It was my first timed race ever, my first little shoe clippy thingy (the technical term, I’m sure), my first race bib and all that — and I enjoyed the heck out of all that silly stuff.  It was a measurable accomplishment and I was pretty proud of myself.  Also, I basically gave myself free reign to eat my weight in turkey and stuffing when I was done, so that was an awesome bonus! 

Speaking of my weight — I woke up the day after Thanksgiving (of all days) and hit 50lbs lost.  Also another hat tip to Crossfit.  (The timing almost made me want to go back for some more stuffing!)  CAN YOU FREAKING BELIEVE THAT?  Because I can almost not even believe that.  I kind of can’t get over that number because when I look at myself I see the same person, but dude that is a lot of pounds lost.  In fact I’m not sure I have ever lost more than that EVER.  I feel pretty excited to keep going but since it is a notable pit stop on this journey to become as healthy as possible before we have kids, I think I’m just going to stop and enjoy the view for a while!   

 

A Love Letter to Jello Salad

So Thanksgiving is all about the food.  That’s a given. 

Of course it is also about gratitude and tradition and family and all of that goodness and stuff, but since I don’t have any kids yet and I’m pretty grateful the other 364 days of the year, WHEN DO WE EAT?  I’m looking forward to football, family, card games and good times, but what I really can’t wait for is DINNER!  Or lunch, I guess. 

Do you all eat your Thanksgiving dinners early?  We like to eat around 3 so that we can have pie (or turkey sandwiches, what?) around actual dinner time. 

Anyway, both my mom’s and dad’s sides of the family cook very similar spreads, so it doesn’t matter who we are celebrating with because there is always a delicious feast.  There is one major difference in the two menus though, and it happens to involve one of my absolute favorite dishes:  Raspberry Jello Salad.  You see it’s a staple on my dad’s side of the family, but we only occasionally make it on my mom’s.  There is really no rhyme or reason to it on my mom’s side, sometimes we have it, sometimes we don’t, but usually it is per my request.   I thought about whipping up a real quick batch tonight, but with all the other dishes I am tasked with, plus squeezing in one more workout so I can freely snarf stuffing without guilt, it just seemed like a bit too much.   So since I’m not going to be eating it, well, I feel the need to at least discuss it at length.  Will you humor me? 

First of all, I will acknowledge a few things about this recipe:

1.  I Get it.  It is not salad.
I used to have an irritatingly food obsessed roommate and during one of the years we lived together I cooked my first Thanksgiving Dinner EVER (you know…by myself.)  I was feeling sentimental and I was telling her about each dish and how I made them, and why we make them year after year when I pulled out this dish she laughed like I had just told the most hilarious joke.  Then she tried it and said,  “Yeah, it’s good, but you are kidding yourself if you think this is a salad.  This totally isn’t very healthy, Holly.” 

And all I can say to that is THANK GOD SHE ENLIGHTENED ME.  I mean where would I have been in life had she not made a flow chart defining salads and health for me in our little kitchen?  Praise the lord!

For this, and many other reasons as you may assume, we are not only no longer roommates but no longer friends.  But I do think about her often when I make this SALAD, and 12 years later I still feel incredibly happy that I chose it over her.  It’s that good, people.     

2.  I Get it.  It sounds gross.
I have seen many different faces when I’ve explained that my favorite thanksgiving dish involves a jello salad with cream cheese, whipped cream and — wait for it — pretzels.  Not all of them have been excited faces.  It sounds like a ridiculous combination, and I full acknowledge that.  But let me just promise you that it is the best gift from the Sweet and Savory Gods, and I swear on a bag of kettle corn that the combination works.  And it just gets better and better as the days pass. 

3.  I get it.  It’s a dessert.  It doesn’t really go with the meal.
Who the hell cares when I eat it, you psycho control freak?  Oops, sorry, I think that was a little residual ex-roommate rage there.  Seriously though, it does taste more like a dessert than a side dish.  But if no one is going to be a stickler with the candied yams about it, then leave my jello salad alone too, okay?

4.  I get it.  Jello Salad is NOT sexy.
In fact, there is little that is less sexy than jello salad, well you know, at least when we are talking about cravings and Thanksgiving food.  I nominate Turducken as a food that sure sounds less sexy, but I have to agree that saying a jello salad is one of my favorites sort of makes me  feel like I’m answering one of those “You Might Be a Redneck” jokes in the affirmative.  

But it is so super duper delicious that I am willing to put all of those points aside!  And I have to admit, I will really be missing my Raspberry Jello Salad this year.  So on the off chance you are in dire need of a last minute side dish/salad/dessert, this recipe on Tasty Kitchen is quite similar to the one traditionally served in my family.  And you should try it, because I dare you not to love it.  Plus then we could be White Trash Friends Forever.   

Do you think they make a necklace for that? 

Do you have any crazy family food traditions?  Tell me so I don’t feel so stupid now that I have written a bazillion words about jello salad.  Pretty please?

Green Smoothies: Breakfast of Champions

Untitled

5 days a week, I start my day off with an enormous green smoothie — and at least one day a week I hear something about it:

“What the heck is that?”

“Did you make that yourself?”

“What’s in that?”  or the ever so tasteful “That looks gross.” 


And the truth is — it does kind of look gross.  It looks like lawn clippings mixed with water or something, and just typing that made me dry heave a little.  But it is the best tasting, most-efficient, on-the-go breakfast ever so I remind myself regularly that food doesn’t always have to be pretty to be delicious.   And this Breakfast of Champions is definitely delicious.  If you are not sold on the delicious factor, what if I told you it had 2 CUPS OF SPINACH in it.  I mean, hello, when else are you going to eat 2 cups of spinach??  If you are like me, probably never, since I don’t even like spinach that much.  But in this smoothie?  You can’t even taste it!  So here we go…


Add the following to a blender and give it a whirl:

1 Cup of Almond Milk (I used unsweetened Vanilla Almond Milk, but you could use plain too)
1 Frozen Banana
1 Scoop of Protein Powder of Your Choice (you need an emulsifier so it’s milkshake-like)
1-2 TBS of Almond Butter (You could use Peanut Butter if you have it on hand)
2 TBS of Ground Flax Seeds (Or anything else you’d like to sneak in)
2 Cups of Spinach


You all, it tastes like a giant peanut butter and banana smoothie but you just ate 2 cups of spinach.  How badass is that?  Plus, with the almond butter/milk/protein powder combo you will not be hungry until lunch, I promise. 


IT. IS. AWESOME!  

And if nothing else, Popeye (and your mom, no doubt) would probably be proud.

Faces Only Mothers Could Love

So Garrett and I have been together for five years today.  I was feeling a little sentimental about that fact this weekend and because we have a million photos of us lying around the house, I thought I would head over to Target and pick up some new frames because they were on sale (holla!)Obviously we spent the weekend hanging them, and let me tell you, if your relationship can survive hanging photos on a wall when both of you have VERY different opinions of what the correct procedure is for hanging said photos — well then, I think your relationship can survive pretty much anything.  

Anyway, as I was looking at some of the nice photographs of us that we were hanging it reminded me of a complaint that I hear from my mom all the time which is that we always take the same picture over and over.   And here is the thing about that:  we kind of do.  But in our defense it is mostly because we don’t hang around the house taking artsy shots of each other with our expensive cameras where we look simultaneously look gorgeous yet deeply in love.  We just aren’t those people.  We’re the people who have photo album after photo album filled up with the same off-centered couples self portraits with the scenery of our current vacation in the background.  And honestly, we are lucky if we can even take those pictures correctly.  Ahem, exhibit A:

But I’m kind of ok with that.  We are goofy, and un-photogenic, and have a hard time standing in one place long enough to try and look attractive and in love before we burst into giggles, or someone gooses the other, or eyes start rolling — and really it is SO EXHAUSTING TRYING TO BE PHOTOGENICALLY FABULOUS, MY GOD.  I need a rest just thinking about it.

That said, this year instead of a sappy post about love and happiness, I thought I’d give you this:  

Holly & Garrett — Celebrating 5 Years of Not The Same Picture Over and Over, Mom, Really.  I promise.

Year One:  This was on our first vacation together ever to Pajaro Dunes.  We definitely loved each other, but I’m not sure we had actually you know, told each other we did at that point.  Aw, just babies.  Don’t you think it would be fun to get married there (hint hint, Garrett)…ANYWAY…

Year Two:  Our second major vacation together up to Humboldt County — the prettiest stretch of coastline in Northern California, and I will fight you on that one.  Yes, this is an off-centered couples self portrait, BUT THEY ARE NOT ALL LIKE THIS, I SWEAR.  

Year Three:  See I told you they aren’t all like that.  Apparently sometimes they are off-centered tongue in ear portraits.  Garrett may or may not have been questioning what the hell he had gotten himself into with this crazy chick at this point.



Year Four:  Because sometimes love just makes you want to jump off the end of pier, am I right?  Tell me I am right, people.  

Year Five:  Finally this year we got our act together and just had some professional photos taken, because as evidenced we certainly were never going to get a shot like this without some serious intervention.  This is one of the pictures I framed this weekend, and I can’t say enough fabulous things about the photographer who took these.  She definitely captured the best versions of us, and that is a hard task to do! 

But as I look back over these years of good memories, and silly faces, and badly centered self portraits, there is no doubt in my mind that the best parts of this relationship are rarely this polished.  And that is the thing that I am most looking forward to celebrating today.  

Here’s to many more years of un-photogenic, yet picture perfect love! 






 

Tales of My City

I’ve been looking for a new book to read for a few days now.  I wasn’t quite ruined by the last book I read, though I did find it mostly entertaining.  It was a library book that I picked out right before my trip to Chicago because I assumed it would give off the vibe of “Don’t sit next to me on the plane *ahem*  I like extra leg room”  and since it worked for 3 of the 5 legs of my flights, it appears I was correct in that assumption.  (Would you sit by someone reading this?  Me either.)  My shelf of checked-out library books has dwindled, so out of necessity I have been aimlessly perusing my own bookshelf lately, which frankly is a collection large enough that if I devoured every unread book available I could probably stay away from the library for at least a year or two.  But since they are kind enough to subscribe to all the good magazines I like, and I already have to stop by weekly to keep up with the Kardashians and Justin Bieber’s hair and all that, reaching for one the books I already own first rarely ever happens. 
(Sidebar:  What are you reading right now?  I need to pad my library reservation list too since that is also quickly dwindling!)
So when I headed over to Peet’s to grab some tea and say hi to Garrett this afternoon, I was thrilled to see Sacramento Bee’s Books & Media section abandoned at an empty table.  On the front page was a feature article on Armistead Maupin, as he is doing a reading at the Library Galleria this week to promote his new book.  It was such an entertaining article and it reminded me of my years living in LA in an instant.  I talk about my life in LA sometimes on this blog, but definitely not enough.  I’m going to fix that.  It was such a fun and unique time in my life and full of stories — and today’s article reminded me of that.    
You see I moved to LA when I was 19 because a friend of mine at the time was going to school down there.  I had taken a hiatus from college, my dad had just died, and really my life had a complete lack of direction – why not move to LA, I thought?  So I did.  And I immediately got a job at Peet’s Coffee & Tea in Brentwood (fun fact:  the Peet’s I worked in was actually the old location of Mezzaluna Trattoria of OJ Simpson fame, and years earlier in the midst of the famous trial while my parents and I were looking at colleges we must have driven by it a hundred times so my mom could film it at every angle because she was so wrapped up in that trial!)  

One of my responsibilities at that store was Community Marketing, which was just a fancy title for schlepping thermoses of coffee to big events to promote Peet’s and then sitting there with a smile on my face serving all evening.  I thought it was a giant pain in the ass at the time, and my car’s light colored interior definitely suffered dragging brewed coffee back and forth through LA traffic, but looking back I got to hang out at some very cool events for free just because I was serving coffee:  Food and Wine festivals, concerts, chi chi parties, you name it and chances are I served coffee there.

One of my favorite events to serve was the UCLA Hammer Lectures & Readings Series  which featured lectures by prominent authors, musicians, and artists.  I would serve coffee before the event started and then I could sneak in and listen to Elvis Costello talk about his songwriting process, or Margaret Atwood discuss exactly what she thought of literary criticism.  It was a thankless part of my job for which I most certainly wasn’t not getting paid, but the benefit of eavesdropping on such uncensored fantastic talents was pretty inspiring to me at the time and was an incredible perk, especially since I was so lost in my life at the time. 

One of the final lectures that I attended was one featuring Armistead Maupin.  He spoke of his travels and of San Francisco.  He detailed the catharsis of writing one of his most famous novels and coming out all in the same year.  He talked about AIDS and how no one was discussing it when he started writing about it, about film and about music.  He was the kind of person who you wanted to invite to your cocktail party and sit next to wide-eyed the entire evening. 

After the event I was carrying all of my gear out to my car parked in this back alley, certainly bitching in my head about how I should not have to be doing this so late at night — and it must have been written all over my face because all of a sudden out of nowhere I heard someone say “Need a toke?” and then a giggle to himself.  I turned around to find the event’s Guest of Honor outside smoking a joint all alone, and I couldn’t believe that this super famous author was willing to lend me an ear and a puff.  I declined at the time because I was 20, and a do-gooder, and the sheer shock of someone openly smoking marijuana on the University campus was almost too whacky for my sheltered little mind to even conceive of, but he had such a kind face and was so earnest in his effort to let me know “It’s here if you need it.”

Of course after that encounter I went out and picked up a few of his books, though I have never actually cracked the spine and read one.  Not for any particular reason either, except that I have a lot books and most of them end up sitting on the shelves unread because of my penchant for library books.  And when I thought of that story this afternoon while drinking my tea, it pretty well convinced me that Tales of the City needs to be my next book choice, even if I do have to do some digging around on my bookshelves.  And hell, with the annoying Monday that I’ve had today, don’t think it hasn’t crossed my mind to head downtown later this week and take him up on that long overdue offer.  I think we all know that my do-gooder tendencies still have a stronghold even 10 years later though, so chances are it’ll probably remain just a memory.

The Blathering: Part Deux

So Chicago?  Was a MAJOR whirlwind.  I truly can’t believe that less than a week ago I hopped on a plane and flew halfway across the country to hang out with a few people that I had met once before, and some that I had never met at all.  Does that sound strange to you?  Because when I actually write it down it sounds strange to me.  But in reality, it made so much sense it was scary. 

About a week before the trip I started telling friends and co-workers that I was going to Chicago to hang out with my “friends inside the computer” when they asked about my trip.  We’d all have a little chuckle but there would always be a pause because, “Wait…what? Was she serious?” 

Yes, totally serious. 

But you see, that’s the thing about the blogging and the internet — if you’re not that into it, it kind of does seem totally strange and abnormal — like football or boxing or Snooki.  But when you really get into it — it totally makes perfect sense.  For me, I think my attitude about blogging and the internet all changed at The Blathering last year. 

I’ve been blogging since 2006, and reading blogs since, well..forever, it seems.  Being a person who loves to write, it’s just kind of hobby that makes sense to me.  But I had never really embraced “the culture of blogging.”  Yes, I know that was a totally douchey phrase.  What I mean is I had never gone to BlogHer, I wasn’t dying for Dooce to send me a tweet,  I didn’t consider Maggie Mason my mentor.  I was just a blogger, I wasn’t a Blogger…you  know?  And then along came The Blathering – 2009.  Being that it was in Sacramento, I told myself that I was just meeting up with some other writers in my hometown, no biggie.  Nothing out of the ordinary.  Sure it was a bit anxiety inducing, but I was mostly in my comfort zone.  I was at home and if it was awful I could just hop back in my car and drive back to my house rolling my eyes at all the weirdos I left behind.  But then, the exact opposite happened.  

Every single person that I met in Elizabeth’s backyard last Fall was a delight, and after that weekend, opening my Reader and following the happenings of all of their lives last year made me absolutely fall in love with the way this silly blogging community connects people.  It’s more than stats and traffic, drama and popularity.  It is extraordinary people living ordinary lives and sharing their stories with each other, something that happens so infrequently in our busy everyday lives.  Really sharing.  It tugs at my heart strings a little when I think about all of the experiences and changes that this small group of women went through this past year, and I feel overwhelmed with gratitude that I got to be a part of it all just because of this little blog right here. 

So this year, when the opportunity presented itself to buy a stupidly expensive plane ticket to Chicago, and fly half way across the country to spend a weekend with people I didn’t know at all in the hopes that there would be that thing — that intangible element of humanity and friendship and connection that writing this blog has introduced me to before — I obviously jumped at the chance.  And because I did, I met some delightful, intelligent, hysterical, and exciting ladies whose lives I cannot wait to watch unfold this year.  Friends that I’m excited to share my own stories with.  Women who I know will provide fantastic advice.  Ladies who I know will cheer me on through the highs and lows of this coming year — and for which I hope to do exactly the same.  

So as much as The Blathering was about this past weekend — eating deep dish pizzas, navigating public transportation, searching for the perfect pair of jeans on Michigan Avenue, having late night conversations in bars listening to David Bowie, drinking one too many cocktails, laughing until my stomach hurt over the stories of our lives — what makes me the most excited is the future.  Where will we all go?  What will we do?  How will our lives be different a year from now? 

What will happen because of this one strange weekend with a bunch of friends from inside the computer? 

I’m so incredibly lucky that I get to find out.

Out of Office Reply

I know I’ve been a blogging slacker lately but after this weekend, that will all change I’m sure.  I’m off to The Blathering this weekend in Chicago for 48 hours of fun and fabulousness, and aside from the fact that my plane leaves in about 12 hours and I haven’t packed, I couldn’t be more excited. 

See ya on the flipside!


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