11/21/17

Strawberry Butter

Last summer my supervisor added an assignment to my scope of work, supporting new teacher mentors in 13 rural districts in Northwestern Tennessee. The work would take place at the University of Tennessee’s satellite campus in a small town called Martin, TN. 

I had been to Tennessee dozens of times- Nashville, Memphis, The Smoky Mountains- but Martin? Where in the world was that? 

To get to there takes a bit of, well, driving. Basically I fly into Nashville, where I connect with my co-worker for the week, and then hop in a car and drive about 2.5 hours northwest to Martin. 

Luckily, the drive is pretty easy and the scenery is beautiful- rolling hills, corn fields, and quaint small towns to pass through all the way into Martin. And with this particular work assignment, I feel like I hit the co-worker lottery! For the past year and a half I have been blessed to be partnered with someone who makes the travel, and the work so enjoyable.

During those 2.5 hour drives, and all throughout the week, we laugh, sing carpool karaoke (we need a dash cam I swear!), chat about life, plan for how we’re going to make the training ah-mazing, and, most important, plan what we’re going to EAT while we’re there, and when we get back to Nashville prior to heading home.

Traveling with fellow foodies, and all around great people who become dear friends, always makes for the BEST times!

Now while Martin may not be the foodie capital of the world (there’s not even a Starbucks!), there are a few tried-and-true places we always visit while we’re there. 

For our morning coffee run, we love to visit Sacred Grounds, a cute little coffee shop right by our hotel. 

For lunch, we love popping by Sammies or The Grind, a brand new burger and mac & cheese bar just across the street from UT Martin. 

For dinner, our go-to’s are Mexican at Los Portales, Italian at Mousto’s, or dinner at Sassafraz, where we can get anything from steaks and chicken, to salmon and pasta. 

Out of the three dinner spots we frequent, I think Sassafraz has to be our favorite. The menu is diverse, the food is always fresh, they have great salads and sides, and, the serve baskets of freshly baked yeast rolls with butter at the start of the meal.

There are lots of places who serve freshly baked yeast rolls with butter before the main course comes out., but Sassafraz puts a special spin on the typical bread and butter basket, because they have no ordinary butter. Sassafraz serves homemade STRAWBERRY BUTTER. 

Now I know what you are thinking… “Strawberry butter? Say what?”

But guys…you have got to trust us on this one. The combination of the whipped strawberry butter and the hot, fresh rolls is out of this world! 

Since we started traveling to Martin, we’ve been visiting Sassafraz mostly for a taste of that delicious butter. When we were there last week, we decided to ask about the butter, and low and behold, without prompting, the waitress told us the recipe!

Considering it’s going to be a while until my next trip to Martin, I had to whip up a batch of this delicious spread at home so that I could enjoy it. And the best part? Knowing the ingredients from the original recipe, I was able to modify this a bit making it low carb, keto friendly, and sugar free without compromising the flavor one bit! I used freeze-dried strawberries from Trader Joe’s, and zero calorie/carb Truvia, making this butter just 1/2 carb per tablespoon! 

::Faints::

You’ve got to make this butter ASAP. It would make the PERFECT addition to your holiday table this year, or as a great gift to bring to a party host or potluck! Here’s the recipe!

Low carb, sugar free whipped strawberry butter
Yields 10
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Prep Time
10 min
Prep Time
10 min
Ingredients
  1. 1/4 cup freeze-dried strawberries (I used Trader Joe's brand)
  2. 2 sticks of softened unsalted butter
  3. 1/4 cup no-calorie sweetener of your choice (I used Truvia brand)
  4. 1 tbsp. vanilla extract
  5. 1 tsp. sea salt
  6. 1 tsp. unflavored gelatin powder
  7. 1 tsp. strawberry extract (optional, but provides extra strawberry flavor!)
Instructions
  1. Remove the butter from the fridge and let it soften for 2-3 hours in a mixing bowl.
  2. In a blender or food processor, blend strawberries, sweetener, and sea salt until it turns into a find powder.
  3. Add the strawberry mixture, vanilla, gelatin, and strawberry extract to the butter and use an electric mixer to beat until well combined and fluffy.
  4. Place in an airtight container and serve with your favorite rolls, biscuits, or scones!
Notes
  1. The butter is best the next day, so make ahead if possible.
  2. Keep refrigerated when stored, but remove at least an hour before serving so that the butter is soft and spreadable.
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Enjoy and Happy Thanksgiving! 

 

11/21/17

How to find joy this holiday season (when all you really want to do is get it over with)

Lately I’ve been hearing similar messages from friends, family, internet acquaintances, and even random passerbys:

I’m ready for the next two months to be over with. 
I just need to get through the holidays. 
I’m just going to grin and bear it for my kids’ sake. 

I’m no stranger to grief and difficult times. And I know these struggles can be exasperated by this time of year. The holidays can remind us of what’s missing, what has changed in our lives, or stressors that we’re facing. They can also be a time where we might feel like the only way to get through is by putting up a facade- for our families, our friends, and sometimes even for ourselves. That “keep smiling and grin and bear it” approach is exhausting to maintain, but sometimes it’s all that we feel capable of.

Between the expectation society places on us to have a “perfect holiday experience” (and to create a “perfect holiday experience” for our loved ones), and the demands that come from, what has become, such commercialized time of year, we can sometimes lose ourselves and our spirits in all of that hustle and bustle.

Pair those expectations and demands with internal feelings of grief, loss, sadness, anxiety, and other emotions that come from being human, well, let’s just say that these bags we carry don’t always make for a holiday season that’s very merry and bright. 

But it doesn’t have to be that way. 

Like I said before, pretending to be perfectly happy through the holidays is exhausting, especially when we are doing it for the sake of others. It takes a lot of energy to put on a smiling face and fake happiness, even if we think it feels easier in the moment. Over time, those fronts we put up to survive the holiday season become overwhelming burdens to carry.

Have you ever had to “fake smile” before? Like when you’re at a work event or a party that maybe you don’t want to be at for whatever reason (like your spouse’s holiday work party for example), so you’ve got your friend the Facade front and center taking the place of your true self so that you can just get through the event. Your friend the Facade is smiling, engaging in small talk, and listening and nodding along to stories (from a multitude of people many of whom you have never met) all night long. 

By the end of the night, when you get into the car to head back home, you notice that your face hurts from fake smiling all night. You might even have a headache from all of that forced happiness, head nodding, and strained attempts at active listening. Not only are you exhausted from having to keep your facade shiny and fresh all night long, but you’re also drained, and want nothing more than to climb into your pajamas and get your head on that pillow, relieved that you won’t have to do this again until next year. 

Now I want you to think about spending time (a party, a girl’s night in, holiday dinner, etc.) with your absolute best friends. You spend the entire evening telling hilarious stories of days passed, sharing inside jokes, reminiscing about fond memories and good times, and literally smiling and belly laughing way passed your bedtime. Your friend the Facade never needs to show up because your true self was there the entire time, present and enjoying the moment. Your smiles weren’t forced, so your face doesn’t hurt. Your laughter was genuine. You’re exhausted, but in a good way, because your spirit isn’t drained. Instead, it’s been renewed, replenished, and restored. 

Now imagine spending an entire two months relying on your friend the Facade to show up for you each and every day through Thanksgiving, the winter holidays, and all the way until the ball drops in Times Square. Just typing out those words feels unbelievably daunting and exhausting. You think your Facade can keep up, but it can’t. It’s unreliable and unpredictable. And because it’s not your true self, it has an expiration date.

By the time you ring in the new year, you are so “over it” all, that the thought of going back to the routines of a post-holiday life is also a disheartening reality. You’ve just spent two months in a negative state of mind, pretending that everything was ok, and now you are faced with normal life again. That life may seem easier, but the exhaustion left over from the Facade will still be there because you have just lost a perfect opportunity to reconnect, renew, replenish, and rejuvenate your spirit over the holiday season.  

So how do we do this? How do we look at the holidays as a time of renewal instead of burden? How do we give ourselves permission to remove the Facade? How do we find those moments (like that party with our friends) where we are truly, genuinely content? How do we let go of the perfect expectation and commercialized image of the holidays and embrace the joy and peace of being present in the moment? How do we transform the energy we use pretending that everything is great, into an experience that actually is? How do we find ways to honor the people in our lives (both past and present) and appreciate the beauty of the season? How do we find ways to rejuvenate our spirits so that we are ready to start a new year with passion, purpose, energy, peace, and joy? 

It begins with practicing self-compassion. The holidays can often make us feel pressured to be perfect. We strive to create the perfect family photo for the perfect holiday card, to perfectly decorate the house in a way that keeps up with the neighbors, to lose weight to work our hips into the perfect party dress, to buy the perfect gifts for our loved ones, to cook the perfect holiday meal, to literally create a picture-perfect holiday experience for those we love.

The problem with perfection is that we place value in what we DO rather than who we ARE. The situation becomes even worse when we tell ourselves what we should be doing. I should be hosting Thanksgiving this year. I should be already done with holiday shopping. I should be able to manage it all.

When we become wrapped up in a bad case of the “shoulds“, we place judgement, guilt, and shame on ourselves, instead of striving for a place of self-compassion, joy, and grace. When we do things because we think we should, a feeling of resentment may cloud the gesture or action. When we do something from a place of love, we bring a positive energy to the gesture that is memorable, long-lasting, and full of joy.

The most beautiful gift that the holidays give us is the gift of time. Schools are closed for winter break, offices shut down for the holidays, and vacation time is often given (or used). The holidays provide us with opportunities for togetherness, and quiet, peaceful times. Finding moments to spend that time with others who life your spirits, and taking time to honor your needs, is the best way to begin to practice self-compassion. Put aside the pressures of perfection, and embrace the joy of togetherness. Say yes to lunch with a friend, take your kids for a walk at the park, volunteer your time at a charitable organization, bake cookies with your spouse, treat yourself to a pedicure, take that fun exercise class you’ve been eyeing, go driving around looking at Christmas lights, start a new holiday tradition (or rekindle one from the past), sit on the couch and watch holiday movies in your pajamas as a family drinking hot cocoa (even if it’s 80 degrees outside). 

50 years from now, you won’t remember that perfect party outfit or the holiday cards you sent that year. But you will remember the cozy, slow, and joyful moments with your nearest and dearest, and yourself. If we are constantly tangled up in the quest for perfection, we are constantly thinking about what’s next on our holiday to-do list (and how much time, money, and energy it will take to complete each task). Instead, try focusing on being present, because in the present is where we can find true happiness. When you find yourself getting lost in the future (or drumming up regrets or guilt of the past- like saying “last year I got the kids this gift, so I have to get something bigger and better this year!), remind yourself to come back to the present. Notice what’s around you (even if it’s a pile of laundry that you’re currently working through), think about or write down what you’re grateful for in that very moment, say something kind to yourself, drop what you’re doing and do something that brings you peace and calm (even if it’s a simple cup of coffee with your favorite seasonal creamer). When you find yourself becoming overwhelmed, or if you feel the urge to put up the Facade, center yourself in the present and intentionally seek moments of joy, content, and appreciation for what’s happening around you. It’s not about being perfectly happy, it’s about being aware and acknowledging that your spirit needs a bit of replenishing in that moment, and following through with those needs so that you can continue to take steps towards joy. 

I encourage you to seek opportunities to find beauty and peace this holiday season. Resist the urge to give into negative thoughts about this time of year, or what this year will bring because of whatever stressor, hardship, or loss you may be facing right now. Reframe those thoughts as they creep into your mind (I just want to get the holidays over with. I’m looking forward to making new memories with my loved ones). Focus on being intentional this year. Focus on building on the good: the opportunities for togetherness and self-care, the simple moments, traditions old and new, trying new things, pausing for awareness and appreciation. And give yourself the space, and the grace to do so. 

This year I encourage you to avoid worrying about how the holidays should be, and instead, embrace the little things that make you and your loved ones feel special, even if it doesn’t fit into the norm of the holidays. Connect with purpose, peace, joy, and love, and disconnect from perfection. Your spirit will thank you for the opportunity to renew and strengthen. 

Happy Thanksgiving and Happy Holidays!

11/20/17

How to have a low carb, no sugar, keto-friendly Thanksgiving!

Since I started living a low carb, no sugar, high healthy fat (ketogenic) diet back in August, I have had the holidays on my mind. 

I. Love. Holiday. Foods.

Dressing (or do you call it stuffing in your part of the world?), buttered rolls, green bean casserole, pie, cookies, sweet potato casserole… the list goes on and on.

However, I don’t want to lose sight of my goals, or reverse the progress (35lbs lost!) that I’ve already made. I’m feeling way too great to trade that success in for a scoop of mashed potatoes, so I’m going all-in, planning a keto-friendly Thanksgiving meal from start to finish!

My family is holding a casual pot-luck this year, so my plan is to make a sampling of some of the recipes listed below so that I have options, and family and friends can sample these recipes if they’d like! All of the recipes below are low carb, no sugar, and ketogenic diet approved

Appetizers
Two cheese sausage balls
Eggplant stuffed mushrooms
Spicy, crispy, cauliflower (you can also make this using broccoli!)
Jalapeno popper deviled eggs

Main protein
Ina Garten’s perfect roast turkey (this turkey recipe has made an appearance on our Thanksgiving table for 15+ years. It is simply the BEST!)
Crispy skin slow roasted pork shoulder

Side dishes
Mac and Cheese with Zeroodles!
Creamed kale 
The best creamy mashed cauliflower 
Sausage and sage stuffing
Roasted pecan green beans
Buttery drop biscuits with no sugar strawberry butter! 

Dessert
Pumpkin cheesecake bars
Pecan pie bars 

Additional tips and tricks for having a satisfying Low Carb Thanksgiving:

  • Pack some snacks! Olives, pickles, cheese and salami are all things that can ensure you have some healthy snack options if Thanksgiving dinner runs later than planned.
  • Fill up on fat! Add butter to veggies and those slices of turkey, go for that creamed spinach (or kale!) that’s made with full fat cream cheese, enjoy a cup of coffee with heavy cream after your first helping, and most of all, listen to your body as it becomes full. It’s easy to overdo it with all of those yummy things to eat, so pay close attention to how you feel as you dine!
  • Have some fun! Start a game of pickup football, go for a walk before or after the feast, play a game of checkers or cards with family or watch a holiday classic with family- there are lots of fun things to do during a Thanksgiving celebration besides eating! 
09/1/17

This is YOUR REMINDER

September 1st marks the beginning of Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, followed by October, which we all know is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. 

Have you had your annual well-woman exam this year? 
Are you doing monthly breast self-exams? Continue reading

08/21/17

Greek Wedge Salad with Herb Vinaigrette

Two years ago I visited my cousins at the beach house they were renting for summer vacation.

We were having a little lunchtime potluck, and so I decided to whip up a healthy and refreshing Greek quinoa salad since we’d be in the hot sun most of the day.

Well apparently, my cousin Ryan has been thinking about that simple side dish since that day, and so for this year’s beach trip repeat, I made that same salad.  Continue reading

08/16/17

What’s holding you back?

Change is an important part of life.  

My 20th high school reunion just passed a few months ago and that milestone got me thinking about all of those messages high-schoolers write to each other in yearbooks: “Keep in touch!”, “Call me over the summer!” and the probably the most infamous jotting- “Never change!” Continue reading

07/20/17

Stretching and Massage with DeepRecovery.com

Disclaimer: I’m not a physical fitness expert, so please consult your doctor prior to starting any form of physical exercise or change to your diet and/or lifestyle. 

Stretching is NOT something I’m good at. 

Let me rephrase- I know how to stretch, but I don’t always dedicate the time and effort to stretch!

Why? Who knows. Sometimes I forget, sometimes I feel like it’s too time consuming. Sometimes I feel like it HURTS and so I avoid it (hello foam rolling and deep tissue massage!). But I NEED to make a better effort to work on flexibility and healing every day.  Continue reading

06/24/17

6 years

2191 days since we met, and every day is better than the last…

One of our first dates in 2011

Happy first date anniversary, husband! This life together is just everything. Continue reading

06/20/17

Easy oven baked ribs

I can’t recall the first time I had ribs. 
But I remember NOT liking them.

I’m not much of a “eating meat off the bone” kind of lady, so gnawing on chicken wings, T-bone steaks, and ribs just isn’t my thing.

But then, I decided to play around with making a version at home and that’s when these delicious, tender, fall-off-the-bone ribs came into my life. 

And I was forever changed.  Continue reading