On Burn Out + New Year's Resolutions

I've been slow to jump into 2018. Usually, by the first day of the year, my resolutions are set and written out. Without fail, by this point I'm laughing, placing internal bets on how soon they'll be broken.  Writing about the winter months - how excited I get about decorating, cooking large and cozy meals, hosting friends for latkes, our yearly trip to South Carolina, and the break that comes with disconnecting from the hectic day to day - gives me so much joy. But this year has been very different. I spent most days in bed or glued to the television. Didn't read a single book. Didn't cook a single meal. Couldn't even muster the energy or excitement to make latkes! Small and silly for some, but this is not my status quo. For the longest time I couldn't figure out what was going on with me. This was the case until a dear friend pointed out: "You're burned out. Stop. Disconnect." She sent me the this article and once I read through all the symptoms, it's like a light went off in my head. 

Let me start from the beginning - In August, Ian and I found out that we're expecting. (So excited to finally share more with you!) In September, I took a whirlwind and emotional trip with my family to my birth country, Azerbaijan. Between October and December I was traveling almost non-stop, both for work and personal reasons. I recently counted that during my first trimester I was only home for a total of 15 days. Long story short, by the time I realized what was going on with my body and mind, it was too late.  

For weeks I wrote off what was happening as a combination of stress + pregnancy hormones. No doubt, the latter contributed to my rising anxiety. Truth is, those were not the only factors. Blaming work projects or the insanity of living in NYC on the inability to disconnect and enjoy personal, small moments and interests is a recipe for hating everything. Sweeping things under the rug and simply saying "Oh, I'm pregnant!" or "I'll just push through" was an excuse. For me, it was even a symptom of the larger issue. At five months pregnant all I could talk and think about at every minute of every day was work work work work, and work. The things I usually pride myself on - organization and efficiency fell out the window. Meal planning and cooking turned into carry out every night, engaging with friends turned into watching endless reruns of The West Wing (my go-to comfort TV). My entire definition of who I am began to completely revolve around professional work and the fairly inconsequential worries of urban life. "What will we order for take out? Which train should I take? What should I buy online for the apartment?". Online shopping is not a coping mechanism for stress, huge shocker.  I turned into someone I barely recognized - a woman who all but abandoned her personal interests and pursuits. Once I read through the symptoms of "Burn Out", it hit me - I need to slow down. It was time for a hard stop. 

The big lesson here was to take a huge step back. Since we moved to NYC three years ago, I've fallen into the "live to work, not work to live" hole. The last two weeks gave me the opportunity to fully unplug and recognize that my personal and professional lives have existed without any boundaries separating them for a very, very long time. My work is very important to me, but at the end of the day, it's not all that I am. Turning off my email on the weekends and taking a step back from always being "on" is not a cause for anxiety, it's a management tool for it. I know that work-life balance is an endless conversation had on many platforms, but it's one thing to read about others struggle - quite another to address it in your own life.  The only way to succeed professionally and be the kind of woman - not to mention, mother - I want to be is to start prioritizing the personal. 

So, in 2018, I'm not setting long term resolutions. Truthfully, with a baby due in Spring I have no idea what I will want to prioritize 4-6 months from now. Putting that kind of pressure on my life feels unnecessary at the present. Instead, small, short term goals are the aim. There's a lot that I'm capable of and enjoy doing outside of heading to work each morning. I am resolved to remind and reconnect with what those things are. Bring it on 2018. 

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It's Chilly. Eat Chili. Also, Cornbread.

Alright, I'm going to spare you my usual song and dance of, "I can't believe I haven't written in so long! Holy crap, how has it been since August?? Can you believe it?! I can't believe it." Truth is, I can believe it. The last few months, have been nothing but travel. Not complaining, but even the best hotel bed doesn't compare to home and cuddling up with these fellows.

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To put it in perspective, I haven't been in our apartment or kitchen or living room or bedroom for more than 15 days over the last 3 months. Insanity, right? Right. Even though the whirlwind of travel which has marked the last year isn't slowing down, I've finally made the decision to learn to live in it instead of letting myself be carried away by it. What the hell does that even mean, you ask? It means that the worst thing when you're away a lot is to come home every weekend and feel like all you can do is catch up on having a personal life. Opening an empty fridge, sorting through endless laundry, it doesn't add up to quality time spent at home. Basically, first chance I had, I sat down, and made a plan for how I'm going to tackle the next few months of being away 2-3 days a week without losing my f-cking mind. (Yes, I'm swearing in this space now. But only when the occasion calls for it.)

First things first, I went to the grocery and made a real meal. 

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I didn't want something insanely time or labor intensive because well, it's me. Also, when you're working with a limited amount of time at home you want to spend as much of it as possible with your butt on the couch next to your dogs and husband and not at the stove. The other thing is that I wanted enough food to last us a few days so that we could really enjoy some time without having to worry about cooking again. The other other thing is that it's chilly, finally, and I've been craving chili. 

Weirdly enough, it was hard for me to find a recipe to settle on for a nice slow cooker chili. So many options, so many of them from weird somewhat unreliable to me sources like Betty Crocker or Stouffer's. I don't love the idea of getting my recipe from a corporate behemoth and some of the fancier ones were just too fancy. I'm sure you probably have yours, or your grandma's, but I finally put together my own, and of course I want to share it. Also, I made the best damn cornbread of my life, all because I listened to my husband and added 7UP to it. Don't judge until you've tried how insanely fluffy it makes the bread coming out of the oven. Seriously, don't judge. I did and was wrong. This cornbread is so good I've had it for breakfast every morning since. 

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Chill, Chili + Cornbread

Chili 

Ingredients

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  • 2 lbs ground beef/chicken whichever you prefer or have on hand. 
  • 1 large yellow onion, diced.
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced. 
  • 2 cans crushed tomatoes, with juices. I used the basil kind because it's what I had and they worked great. 
  • 1 can tomato paste.
  • 3 cans kidney beans or black beans, your choice. Drained + rinsed. 
  • 2 habanero peppers, diced. 
  • 1 tbsp. paprika
  • 1 tbsp. chili powder
  • 1 tbsp. cinnamon
  • 1/2 tbsp. cayenne
  • 1/2 tbsp. red pepper flakes
  • 1 tbsp. cumin
  • 1 tbsp. salt
  • 1 tbsp. pepper
  • 1 bay leaf

For toppings: cheddar, scallions, sour cream, some people like cilantro - we are not those people but maybe you are? 

  1. In a large skillet, sauté onions until they start to sweat and turn golden.
  2. Add beef or chicken (or both!) and cook until no longer pink. Drain! 
  3. Take the onion/beef mixture and throw it into your slow cooker. 
  4. Add tomatoes, tomato paste, kidney beans, habanero peppers. 
  5. Mix all the spices in a large bowl and dump them in too. Don't forget that spices are a really individual thing - some like more some like less. Please season according to your taste buds, not mine. It's your life, your chili.  (But do remove the bay leaf before you eat, please.)
  6. Mix well. Really, really, really well. 
  7. Set your slow cooker for 4 hours on high or 6 hours on low. Ignore it until the smell of chili consumes your house. Start the cornbread an hour before you're ready to eat.  

 

Cornbread

Ingredients

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  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 cup cornmeal
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/4 cup veg. oil
  • 1 cup buttermilk or whole milk
  • 1 cup 7UP or Sprite or plain seltzer if you just cannot with the soda. 
  • 1/8 stick butter, softened. 
  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. Mix all dry ingredients + wet ingredients in separate bowls. 
  3. Butter the hell out of a cast iron skillet. (If you don't have one, use a normal baking pan. Totally fine.)
  4. Combine ingredients, mix well, pour into skillet. 
  5. Bake for 40 min or until toothpick stuck in the middle comes out clean. 
  6. Dot the top of the cornbread with butter, watch it melt. Maybe drool a little? We did.

Now, throw a slice of the cornbread into a bowl. Top it with scoops and scoops of chili. Top that chili with cheddar, sour cream, scallions. Eat a serving, then eat another serving. Feel like you ate too much? Good. Repeat the next day. 

This is a crucial step in the process: cornbread first, dollops of chili second. You want the most mush, trust me.

This is a crucial step in the process: cornbread first, dollops of chili second. You want the most mush, trust me.

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Chocolate Banana (N)Ice Cream

Since I've jumped on the eat clean food wagon a few months ago, I've learned two things:

  1. I have a lot less will power than I thought. I kept Whole30 for a week and then broke it for a glass of wine. (No regrets. It was worth it.)
  2. I want to change my approach to food + cooking, as a whole. Sugar and processed foods as a treat, not a cornerstone of my daily diet. 

Truly the greatest shift of the last few weeks hasn't been whether or not I can stick to a diet but rather the attention I pay to the kind of food I eat. I knew that most of what we were cooking and eating had additives and so much sugar, but since I've made it a practice to notice, the amount is frightening. Switching to primarily whole foods has not just been healthier, it's been more flavorful. I've been so pleasantly surprised by how fun cooking has been! (I originally wrote "easy and fun" but that's a lie. This is not easy, ordering pizza and Indian is easy.) Cutting out processed foods and substitutes has made me experiment and look up more new recipes than I have in months. Oh, and my jeans fit better.

frozen muscadine grapes in place of candy or chips as a snack.

frozen muscadine grapes in place of candy or chips as a snack.

whole ingredient dinner.

whole ingredient dinner.

Unfortunately, it's not all roses and saturated fat free brownies over here. There's one thing that I've tried to go without the last few weeks that has been difficult to forego. Ice cream is my downfall. One problem, I don't handle dairy very well so ice cream has been relegated to the "once in a while with an acid reducer pill" category. There's also that whole fitting into jeans thing, remember?

Hence the discovery of Chocolate Banana (N)Ice Cream. 

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For weeks I've been heading to the grocery looking for ice cream substitutes because to me Summer = Ice Cream. I've tried everything on the market and here's the problem - none of it is that good. I'm sorry vegans, but that stuff doesn't cut it.  Also, the imitation ice cream is expensive! $6.99 for less than a pint adds up quickly. There's also added sugar, weird ingredients I don't know, etc. To satisfy my craving and save money I've been making my own creamy, cold, slightly sweet treat to have after dinner on a warm summer eve. Maybe topped with a few berries and a drizzle of honey, maybe with a spoonful of crème fraîche. Just a little something. Give it a whirl? It's not ice cream, it's for sure not frozen yogurt, it's just... (n)ice.

 

Chocolate Coconut (N)Ice Cream

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  • 3 bananas, sliced.
  • 1 can coconut milk
  • 1/3 cup cocoa powder
  • 1 cup unsweetened coconut flakes
  • 1/2 cup almond butter
  • 1/4 cup cold espresso or coffee
  1. Freeze bananas for an hour.
  2. Blend all ingredients in a food processor until smooth.
  3. Eat immediately with toppings of your choice.
  4. Freeze leftovers for up to two weeks. Frozen dessert will be hard to scoop so before eating let it sit on the counter for a little bit. Most ice creams have preservatives and additives that make them easy to scoop once frozen, natural versions do not.
Topped with Coconut flakes and roasted almonds.

Topped with Coconut flakes and roasted almonds.

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Guiltless Pasta + Meatballs

The last few months have been so busy in our home that finding time to test and write up new recipes has taken a back seat to literally everything else. Full disclosure, I've basically stopped cooking. Between travel and work it's been much easier to order out than plan, prep, and prepare. What is not easier is seeing how much all the eating out depleted the ol' bank account. In our house, Indian food (our go to take out) doesn't last longer than a day. Also, Seamless orders at $40 a pop add up quickly. 

Seriously, we ate so much cake on vacation. I want to say it was all watermelon but that's a dirty lie.

Seriously, we ate so much cake on vacation. I want to say it was all watermelon but that's a dirty lie.

There's all that and a very gluttonous six day trip to South Carolina where all diet bets were off. Getting back to a healthy diet was and remains priority #1. (Mostly because anything to avoid going new jeans shopping and bathing suit season is far from over.) In an effort to streamline both the budget and the waistline, I went for an oldie but goodie - meatballs + pasta. Instead of making the classic, both full of carbs and carbs, I substituted healthier ingredients. The result is flavorful and just as hearty. I made a big batch of the meatballs and stuck some in the freezer for future quick meals. Instead of pasta we made sweet potato "noodles" with our zoodler because yes, we're those people now.

 

 

Guiltless Pasta + Meatballs

Ingredients

Halve the recipe if you don't want to stick some in the freezer.

  • 2 lbs ground chicken
    • As usual with my recipes, feel free to experiment and substitute turkey for chicken, pork for turkey, lamb for pork... you get the idea. Or just get crazy and mix 2 meats together because why not??
  • 2 eggs room temperature
  • bunch chopped parsley (about 1 cup)
  • 1/2 cup very finely chopped walnuts (food processor!)
  • 1 yellow onion, small dice
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 cup chopped basil
  • 1 cup almond flour (use more if the mixture isn't holding together well)
  • 1 tbsp. Dijon mustard
  • 1 tbsp. dried oregano
  • s+ p to taste
  1. Preheat the oven to 400˚F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Or if you're lazy, which I am, use a sheet pan that's seen the test of time and you don't care about getting all grimy. No judgment here.
  2. Mix all of the ingredients in a large bowl. I use my hands because it's faster.
  3. Pour a glug of olive oil into a heavy bottomed pan. Heat it up.
  4. ***Form small balls with your hands, no bigger than a golf ball, brown on the skillet.
  5. Place the meatballs on the baking sheet and bake through 10-15 minutes until nice and golden.

*** The alternative is to keep cooking these on the pan and add BBQ sauce or marinara. Choose your own adventure!

For sweet potato "noodles" just toss them in olive oil, s+p, and sautée on that same pan. You can also use zucchini, onion, regular potato, carrot. Seriously any vegetable. I won't get into it here because there's a whole world on the internet of people making noodles out of not pasta. I made a lot and didn't cook all the noodles. They keep really well in tupperware in the fridge so you can use for sides all week long!

We ate this with a side of tzatziki sauce because something about walnuts, parsley, and basil screams "dip me in Greek yogurt + cucumber" to me.

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