Sunday Snaps, 01-04-2015

Happy first Sunday of the year! It has been quite the month, hasn’t it? (I also now do realize the irony of “Sunday Snaps”: this doesn’t seem to be a weekly thing at all. More like monthly. Ah well, better luck next time.)

Its been a whirlwind guys. I suppose the holidays always are, but this year seemed to go really fast. Now I have the post-holiday blues, mostly because Christmas isn’t for pretty much a whole year minus 1 week, and it won’t be appropriate to wear all glitter errythang until next New Year’s Eve. Life is hard sometimes.

This Christmas was low-key, which was exactly what Christopher and I needed after a stressful and crazy busy fall. We figured out that since September, either one or both of us had been traveling or having guests stay with us almost every other weekend and sometimes back to back weekends. Also a perk of a New Mexico Christmas? Shooting guns. And biscochos. And Ponchoclaus. (He had a donkey. With a reindeer antler headband.) Nope, not a joke, and yep, a New Mexican staycation was just what we needed:

Old town Mesilla on Christmas Eve

Old town Mesilla on Christmas Eve




Ponchoclaus is real. 

Ponchoclaus is real. 



Can't stop eating

Can't stop eating

And it has been full of gorgeous scenery, especially the past couple weeks:





A friend just told me that eggs are actually considered protein/meat and not dairy. Whatt???? Mind blown. I mean, it makes sense, it does. Its not like an egg is made of cheese and milk or anything, but then why is it always found in the dairy section?? And why hasn’t anyone informed me of this? I’ve gone almost 27 years thinking eggs were dairy. Step it up, world. I’ve lived in ignorance for far too long.

I’ve really noticed the prices of food going up the past few months. Admittedly, healthy eating, and especially following a paleo diet, is always more expensive than conventional diets, but really. Is it just here in the southwest? Anyone have insight on this one? I am baffled.

I am currently obsessed with my new Christmas gift acquisitions, which include a blanket scarf and a pair of Hunter boots. I think they're super cute, but Christopher has been looking at me quizzically and asking why I am insistent upon wearing a blanket around me neck and bright red rain boots in the desert. Men. They will never understand. 

Many in the paleosphere are doing a Whole 30 this month, which is admittedly a great idea following holiday eating. Currently, I feel like this:

I thought about doing a Whole 30 as well, except I’m going to D.C. soon, where I will inevitably eat 10 Georgetown Cupcakes and drink approximately 12 moscow mules, so I’m holding off. Until then, I’ll be continuing to indulge in these wonderful paleo treats I recently posted:

Paleo, dairy-free caramel hot-chocolate with homemade marshmallows

Paleo, dairy-free caramel hot-chocolate with homemade marshmallows


Paleo hot chocolate bar

Paleo hot chocolate bar


Paleoish Kombucha Gin Ricky

Paleoish Kombucha Gin Ricky


Non-dairy chocolate "ice cream" with peppermint-mocha marshmallow swirl

Non-dairy chocolate "ice cream" with peppermint-mocha marshmallow swirl


After I’m back from my D.C. weekend, I’ll be strict paleo…at least until the next sprinkled pastry comes along. But really, I’ve even working on some detox-ready, paleo-friendly recipes. I can’t wait to share, but here’s a sneak peak:



Clearly, this photo is appropriate right now. Except I have been diligent about doing Hot Yoga lately, which I feel detoxes my body, but I really have no scientific evidence to back that one up. I just like sweating. It makes me feel good. And the showers after a long sweat are epic. I also like wearing my lululemon yoga pants for doing actual yoga, and not my normal lululemon routine of drinking coffee while browsing through instagram.

Today is my last day of break before returning to work, and I am so sad. My days of lounging and doing nothing are over. During break, Christopher has figured out a gentle way to tell me to go find something else to do and not bother him while he watches football. Very subtle:

 

Happy New Year! I hope 2015 brings you lots of happiness and health!

 

P.S: If you haven’t seen my Top 10 Faileos of 2014, go check it out here. You’ll get a good laugh:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Southwest Adventures and Peppermint Mocha Marshmallows

In the beginning of December, two of my coworkers, a fellow SLP and a PT doctoral student, dragged me to Carlsbad Caverns in the Southeast portion of New Mexico. Perhaps “dragged” isn’t necessarily the appropriate term, but they definitely needed to cajole me to wake up at 7am on a Sunday to drive 3 ½ hours each way the morning after our open bar work holiday party.

One of the factors in my decision to move to the NM was to be able to explore a quadrant of the country that I haven’t seen much of. After moving, I started off my explorations strong, but then quickly faded as work piled on more tasks and the holiday season set in. In the end, I was really glad they convinced me to go to the caverns.

Carlsbad was amazing: it is the western hemisphere’s largest cave, and its largest room is about 4,000 feet long by 625 feet wide. There are actually two known caverns within the cave: an upper cavern open to the public, and a lower cavern that has been preserved for research and is only available to scientists by permit. They are still discovering offshoots and rooms with the cavern, which was first estimated to discovered in 1898. (Although it is still not known if Native Americans knew about the cave sooner.) My favorite recent discovery story is that of the Halloween Cavern, which was discovered accidentially by a balloon on Halloween, therefore inspiring it’s name.

No worries, we actually did not touch any of the cave in this picture. (Its one of those optical illusion pictures.)

No worries, we actually did not touch any of the cave in this picture. (Its one of those optical illusion pictures.)

I’ve explored several caverns throughout my life before, but Carlsbad was by far the best. It is the most decorated cavern I’ve been to, meaning that there are stalagmites and stalagtites galore; there are dots of water pools, rock windows with views of smaller rooms, pockets illuminated like passageways, and even a whimsical area called Fairyland. Venturing into Carlsbad is like entering a different world. While touring the cavern my friends and I were trying to create descriptions to describe the sights: “the Middle East”, “The Moon”, “a fossiled coral reef”, were all thrown out but quickly abandoned simply because there just are no adequate words.

Since we went in winter, there weren’t any crowds, which turned out to be eerie. To enter the cave, you can either take the elevator down or walk the winding path that slowly descends into the natural mouth of the cave, switching back and winding through and around boulders and growths and moss-covered rocks. The day we went, we chose to walk down, and since we were one of the few groups of people there, our voices echoed as the three of us descended into the quickly engulfing darkness. If not for the lights along the path, it was evident that we would have been in complete and total darkness within 3 minutes of entering the cave.

The natural mouth of the caverns from above.

The natural mouth of the caverns from above.


The natural mouth of the cave, but this time, looking up from total darkness. 

The natural mouth of the cave, but this time, looking up from total darkness. 


The entrance of the cave is a natural mouth, meaning that the ground naturally opened up into an entrance, or in summer, a grand exit. It is estimated that Carslbad Caverns is home to an estimated hald a million bats, and at dusk in summer, they exit in flocks through the natural mouth, creating clouds of flying creatues swirling and dipping through the sky on their way to hunt. I’ve linked a video of this here from a user on YouTube so you can see this magnificnent show; unfortunately the bats had already migrated to warmer Mexican locales by the time of our winter visit, so I did not see the bat show first hand. I’ve already decided, however, that I will be back to see the nightly mass exodus when the bats return to their home in spring.

The caverns, amazingly, keep a stable 57 degrees year round. My fellow SLP, Alexa, told me that in summer, the caves are refreshingly cool: the cave’s placement within the Guadalupe mountain ranges on the border of southeast New Mexico and rural Texas, in the middle of a vast stretch between the middle of nothing, desert, and borderlands, creates soaring and dry temperatures in summer. Alexa explained that visiting the caves in summer is like a little cool oasis, and the constant humidity of 90% underground is refreshing. Even when we visited in winter, the humidity in the air felt cool and comforting: after living in the desert, suddenly stepping into a room of sorts with moisture in the air is novel and refreshing.

Our timing to visit the caves was incredibly appropriate. As much as I love working with kids, trying to gather their attention and cultivate growth during the time period after Thanksgiving and before winter break is incredibly grappling, difficult, and taxing. Those few weeks between each holiday are really exhausting, and I’m sure everyone can relate. In the past, I have plowed through the holidays with constant stream of coffee and a candy induced sugar high, but I’ve since realized that that is not sustainable for long. Instead of creating burnout that takes weeks of solitude and relaxation to recover from, I’ve decided to boycott that entirely. No more gathering willpower to muscle through our self-induced periods of stress and anxiety; its just not a way to live. This holiday season, and hopefully for every one after, I’ve decided to make time to take breaks, to explore to recharge, just like I did in Carlsbad Caverns, and to take time for the activities that I really, truly enjoy engaging in.

I challenge you all, this holiday season, to take the time to do whatever is you need to do for yourself: whether that is reading a book, taking a road trip, or spending all day in the kitchen decorating holiday cookies. Recharging is important, and necessary for a well-cultivated, enjoyable, and productive life.

So what will I be doing in the coming weeks to recharge? Dreaming of Carlsbad Caverns, mapping the rest of my Southwest adventures, and curling up with a good book and a mug of these holiday-inspired Peppermint Marshmallows. (I just can’t get enough!)

Happy Holidays.



Paleo Peppermint-Mocha Marshmallows

  • 3.5 oz. high quality, dark chocolate
  • 1 cup water, divided
  • 3 tbsp. powdered beef gelatin
  • 3 tbsp. instant coffee granules
  • ¾ tsp. peppermint extract
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • ¾ cup coconut sugar
  • Tapioca Starch, for dusting
  • In a large bowl, mix all powdered beef gelatin with ½ cup water. Let set for at least 10 minutes to soften.
  1. In an 8x8 baking pan, line with parchment paper. Dust bottoms and sides with a small amount of tapioca starch. Set aside.
  2. In a saucepan, combine remaining water, vanilla, peppermint extract, coffee granules, and coconut sugar. Stir and then bring to a medium simmer, then immediately reduce heat so mixture has only occasional bubbles. Let heat for approximately 10 minutes longer, until mixture is thoroughly heated and all coconut sugar has dissolved. Mixture will be a dark amber color.
  3. Add ¼ saucepan mixture to bowl with softened gelatin. Turn on mixer and beat on medium-high heat for 3 minutes. Add second ¼ of saucepan mixture and continue to beat on medium-high heat. Repeat process until all saucepan mixture is used.
  4. Once all of saucepan mixture has been added into the mixer bowl, increase mixer to high speed (setting #8 on a Kitchenaid stand mixer) and beat for about 3 minutes, then on highest speed (Setting #10 on a Kitchenaid Stand Mixer) for about 4-5 minutes more. Marshmallows will be done when they have the viscosity of marshmallow fluff. Be careful not to over mix, as they will become too springy and difficult to handle.
  5. Using a spatula, pour the marshmallows into your prepared baking pan and gently shake until they are level. Dust the top once more with tapioca starch, and then place another strip of parchment paper over the top of the marshmallows for evenness and protection.
  6. Store pan of marshmallows in a cool, dry spot for approximately 4-6 hours, or even overnight, to let set.
  7. Once set, remove top strip of parchment paper, and lift marshmallows out of pan by pulling out the parchment paper. Cut marshmallows into evenly sized squares.
  8. In a small bowl, melt chocolate in the microwave in 10 second intervals, stirring in between to avoid scalding or burning. (You could also use a double boiler to melt the chocolate, if that is your preference.) 










New Mexico: a food paradise (but not so primal friendly)

Since moving to the New Mexico, The Land of Enchantment, I’ve been constantly challenged with some pretty big decisions…

…and they mostly focus around Mexican food.

The food here is quite possibly the best food of any state I’ve lived in. (Which says a lot, considering my obsession with Maryland crab cakes and Chicago-style pizza, all places I have formerly called home.) However, as you probably guessed, these Mexican food choices are so far from being Paleo or primal friendly. The first couple weeks I was here, I literally made myself sick eating burritos, tortilla chips, enchiladas, and huevos rancheros. Since my time in New Mexico, I’ve learned that refried beans are made with lard, and the traditional way to make biscochos, the melt-in-your-mouth sugary Mexican cookie, is to mix wild turkey fat into the cookie batter. My Midwestern based ideas of baking have been totally turned upside down.

Don’t get me wrong, the food here is awesome, but I’ve made some pretty poor eating poor decisions. Now I’ve been getting back on track, stepping away from the grains and burritos, and restoring my gut bacteria with kefir, kombucha, and bone broth before the onset of cold and flu season. (Especially since I work with kids- let’s hope I’m not too late.)

Another thing I’ve learned about New Mexican cooking is that they take two things very, very seriously: salsa and chiles.  Traditional New Mexican food uses chile peppers many different ways, and most of their salsas and sauces (For everything from enchiladas to tamales to burritos) incorporates the meaty, spicy pepper in one way or another. Hatch, New Mexico, the chile capital of the world, even has the annual Hatch Chile Festival in August, complete with a Chile Queen. The festival celebrates the harvest of the chiles for the year. Hatch chiles are where most of the U.S’ chiles are grown, and they export an insane amount; I recently read that Hatch provides 80% of the chiles in the continental U.S. In places other than New Mexico, theses babies can be obtained frozen at Trader Joe’s, and by the box at some Wal-marts. (Surprising, right??) If you are not from New Mexico, I highly suggest buying these now, since they’re in season, and freezing them for later use. According to Christopher, they’re very hard to find past the month of September in anywhere but the southwest. You’ve been warned.

Since chiles are such a staple here in New Mexico, they’re found literally everywhere. Since it is the beginning of September, they can be bought individually and in boxes, in grocery stores, farmer’s markets, and at stands on the side of the road. Grocery stores and vendors will sometimes even have giant chile roasters set up outside, where you can get your chile’s roasted and ready. (I swear, its like I’ve moved to a different country.) Roasting chiles gives them a richer, deeper flavor, and allows the chef to remove the skins for easier cooking and freezing.

Green chile roasting

Green chile roasting

Chiles are also used liberally in salsa. Although I have never heard of it before my time here, both red and green chiles are a fantastic addition to salsa. There’s a big debate on whether or not to use fresh chiles, roasted chiles, red chiles, or green chiles in salsa, so much so that every family and restaurant seems to have their own unique salsa version.

Two weeks ago, I went to Las Cruces’ very own Salsa Festival. For the $5 admission fee, you got unlimited tastings to about 20 different salsa booths.  Essentially, everyone walked around, taste testing salsa, and then voting on their favorite. Being from Chicago, I am no stranger to food fests, but this salsa fest was unreal; there are so many ways to make salsa! Red, green, sweet, smoky, chipotle, mild, spicy, mango, pico….

….the list is literally never-ending.

Las Cruces' Salsa Fest

Las Cruces' Salsa Fest


There were many contenders at the salsa fest, but my favorite, hands down, was the booth called “! Aye Chihuahua!”, who used roasted green chile peppers and the fruit from the prickly pear cactus. After chatting with the owners of Aya Chihuahua, they gave us the story of using cacti in salsa, and even let us try the fruit from the cactus. The prickly pear fruit tasted like a cross between watermelon and a traditional pear, and was sweet and watery without being sugary-sweet. (However, is was filled with incredibly hard seeds.) Christopher and I even asked if it was true that we could eat the fruit if ever stranded in the desert. Their answer? Yes, but it was unlikely that we would be able to find one un-scavenged by other like-minded desert animals. ! Aye Chihuahua! ‘s salsa was savory, spicy, and a little sweet. It even might be my most favorite red salsa to date. It received 3 of our 6 combined votes for salsa of the year. Deeeelish.

Prickly pear fruit from a cats comes in both green and red. The red version is slightly sweeter. 

Prickly pear fruit from a cats comes in both green and red. The red version is slightly sweeter. 

But what about green salsa? With the help of Brian, an electrician turned gardener, who I met at the local farmer’s market, I learned how to make my own version of salsa verde, or green salsa. Brian instructed me that when choosing tomatillos, the best tasting ones are the larger ones with the purplish spots that resemble a bruise beneath the husked underlay. Salsa Verde is tangy, due to the green tomatillos, and is a great pairing with “brighter” and fresh tasting food like fish, shrimp, white wine, and anything with citrus undertones. Although tortilla chips are the traditional way of consuming salsa, I have learned that salsa can be eaten by these primal-friendly ways:

  1. As a sauce on meat instead of a sauce loaded chemicals, dyes, high-fructose corn syrup or preservatives
  2. On salad instead of a salad dressing
  3. Mixed with scrambled eggs or used as a topping on over-easy eggs
  4. As a mix into soup-bases to add extra flavor or spice

My favorite way to enjoy salsa, in the primal sense, is in soups or on top of steak. Mmmmm. How do you guys enjoy your salsa?


Salsa Verde

  • 5-6 medium sized ripe tomatillos, husks removed
  • 1 medium Serrano pepper*
  • 3 medium green chiles
  • Juice from ½ of a lime
  • ½ cup cilantro, chopped
  • 2 tsp. minced garlic
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  1. Remove stems and shallow cores from the tomatillos. Dice the tomatillos into quarters and add to a food processor.
  2. Add chopped cilantro, garlic, and lime juice to food processor.
  3. Seed Serrano chile, and roughly dice the pepper. Add to food processor.
  4. Roast green chiles by placing them on the stove burner on medium heat. Roast until there are black burner marks on one side of chile. This will take approximately 5-6 minutes. Flip chile over to unroasted side and roast that side until done.
  5. Let chiles cool and remove roasted skins by peeling them.
  6. Remove skin from cooled, roasted green chile by cutting of the top and peeling the skin down the sides.
  7. Roughly chop skinned chiles, and add to food processor.
  8. Process all ingredients on medium speed for approximately 1 minute, or until smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste.

*For increased spice, include more Serrano peppers. 

Choose these purple spotted tomatillos for the best flavor

Choose these purple spotted tomatillos for the best flavor


Stove-top roasted tomatillos

Stove-top roasted tomatillos




Salsa fest-ing

Salsa fest-ing

Sunday Snaps, 9-7-14

Can you believe that its “fall”? I am using fall in parentheses because although NCAA and NFL games are officially underway, it is still in the triple digits in New Mexico. Tall boots are quite possibly my most favorite thing to wear, and it looks like I won’t be breaking into those for awhile. My friend from grad school, Emily, and I used to count down the days until we could wear boots, and we declared it a rule that we couldn’t wear them until it dropped below 70 degrees for the daytime high. At this rate, I won’t be wearing boots until December. Emily is now living in Minnesota, so she probably broke out her boots in July. I’ll have to call her to verify.

Emily and I in our favorite boots, road tripping to Atlanta. 

Emily and I in our favorite boots, road tripping to Atlanta. 

It has been so hot lately, that Christopher and I decided to wake up early yesterday to go on a morning hike and beat the heat. (You’ve already seen these pictures if you follow me on Instagram.) We woke up as it was raining, and so the effect we had was hiking throughout the cloud at a mild elevation at Dripping Springs:


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Gorgeous. It reminded me of my visit to New Zealand in 2005.

We’ve also been doing lots of other hikes in the area, and they have been breathtakingly gorgeous. Here are some shots from Picacho Peak:

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The start of fall also means that I started my new job as a school SLP, after switching from a medically based position. (I’ll be sure to post more on this later!) I think every fellow SLP will find this, ridiculously true, meme hilarious:

The end of summer and the start of fall means some of the best produce. Spaghetti squash, acorn squash, tomatoes, okra, and apples:

Remember how I moved 6 weeks ago? Well, I’m still unpacking. I’ve done most of it, but between starting a job, setting up events, cooking paleo meals, and starting some house updates, I’ve gotten a little sidetracked. Moving. Is. The. Worst. A good thing, however, about moving, is getting to sort through things again and really determine what to keep and what to part with. I clearly did not part with any of my costume jewelry, but I thoroughly enjoyed trying to organize them all:

Have I mentioned the AMAZING artwork here? (I am so far from the Smithsonian.)

I scored this super cute apron at a Salsa Fest I went to 2 weeks ago from a clothing line called Seven Sisters. The owner of the little shop, is so incredibly nice, and I loved everything she had for sale. Anthropologie, watch out: 


Remember that chalkboard I keep around to post motivating quotes and phrases? If not, here’s a reminder:

Well, that chalkboard has been compromised. Downside of living with a boy:

I tried the Cinnamon Chocolate Swirl Banana Bread from PaleOMG’s cookbook, and it is amazing. I highly suggest making it. It didn’t last long, and I will probably make another 2 loaves this week. Also, cinnamon is a fantastic fall flavor.

To finish, I leave you with this thought I’ve been ruminating over lots:


Happy Sunday and have an enjoyable start of the week!