A study in nostalgia and adventure…

When my mother decided that it was time to teach me to cook, she began with meatloaf. As she taught me how to prepare the mixture of ingredients in the bowl–the eggs, the tomato sauce, the ground meat, the dried spices, and the other things that made her meatloaf indelibly “hers”–she told me that when she was a kid, she had to make meatloaf every single Saturday for a year. Once her mother was satisfied that she could make a loaf with her eyes closed and at the drop of a pin, only then could she move on to the other makings of the standard dinner items in the typical 1950s-1960s Midwestern American home. My mom told me that I was lucky, that I wouldn’t have to make meatloaf every weekend for a year.

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As I grew older and moved away into my own apartments, homes, and living situations that included kitchens and as I began to buy my own groceries, I rarely made meatloaf. That was from the cavalcade of recipes from my childhood. In a world that was so much more interesting and varied, why did I need to keep on cooking the standard dishes that I already knew? I learned about the joys of frittatas and butternut squash soup and so much more. I lived, at one point, in a cooperative living situation that had mostly vegetarian residents and a couple of people who observed Kosher eating habits, so I learned to cook some Kosher-friendly recipes out of the Moosewood cookbook that sat in the co-op’s shared kitchen library. I learned to roast all sorts of mushrooms and make tomato-mustard tarts with a lemon rosemary crust. I learned to make foods that were perhaps healthier and foods that were certainly indulgent. I didn’t care so much, in my 20s (and even into my early 30s), about cooking in a way that was as healthy as it was flavorful; I cared, rather, about what it would be like for my mouth to burst with flavor and for my spirit–no matter how high or low it felt at the time–to feel comforted.

As I grew to pay attention to what I ate, to understand the ethics behind what I wanted to eat, and to incorporate meal planning and exercise–as well as the understanding that great food can be a great, happy, tasty fuel  to help me stay energized through long days of teaching, taking classes and then studying for exams and writing a dissertation for my PhD, and then going to the gym and kicking ass, my approach to food changed. I looked for recipes that were affordable to a doctoral student with a modest budget. I looked for ways to cook food that required as little of my time as possible. I bought enough tupperware to portion out the recipes I did make…

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…and I returned to meatloaf. I came to meatloaf not as the recipe my mom for the entire year that she was 12 years old and then taught me to make, but as a concept. I started to wonder what was possible with meatloaf. Did it need to have bread crumbs (I had gotten “off” of flour)? Did it need to have ketchup or tomato sauce, per se? Did it have to have the dry onion soup mix, the parsley, the other dried herbs and spices that I had always known?

What if, instead, meatloaf was more about the method? What if I could take a ground protein, eggs to help bind, something-that-wasn’t-flour-but-worked-like-it, and a variety of other ingredients depending on my mood?

And: what if meatloaf could be healthy and fun? What if it could reflect the variety of flavors from different parts of the world whose foods I like?

I got to work. I put this theory to test.

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What I have for you today is the meatloaf that I cooked as part of this week’s meal prep for me and my fiance.  Because we like Tex-Mex flavors and we are always up for eating tacos (no matter what day of the week!!!), I decided to use this idea for the composition of this meatloaf. See? Doesn’t it look tasty? It’s just waiting for a nice side salad, or a great side of roasted asparagus (but because I was in a mood for a little something crunchy, I sliced up about half of a cucumber to accompany my meal–maybe next time on the asparagus?).

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This meatloaf is a Tex Mex meatloaf. Or–rather–a turkey loaf, because I am a fan of turkey. The variations, however, are endless. For instance:

Italian: mix together equal portions of beef & sweet and/or hot pork Italian sausage (or turkey and turkey sausage), and add sundried tomatoes, artichokes, and roasted garlic cloves. Use your favorite marinara sauce instead of tomato sauce.

Indian: Use your favorite protein and mix in garam marsala, curry powders, ginger, or a Tandoori spice rub and use a tikka masala simmer sauce instead of tomato sauce.

Vietnamese: Mix ground beef, lamb, or turkey (or maybe even a beef/lamb mix) with the spice, vegetable, and flavor profile (lemongrass? ginger? garlic?) that is in your favorite recipe for a Pho broth or your favorite curry.

The possibilities are endless!

For now, however, here is my recipe. I hope you like it!!

Tex Mex Turkey Meatloaf

Ingredients:
2 lb. ground turkey (I use 93% lean)*
2 eggs
1/3 c. almond flour
1/3 c. of your favorite salsa
1 1/2 c. raw baby spinach chopped into small bits
Taco seasoning**
Hot sauce (I can’t recommend Hoff & Pepper enough; it’s my favorite!)

Method:
1. Heat oven to 400 degrees
2. In a large bowl, dump all of your ingredients–the meat, the eggs cracked from their shells, the almond flour, the salsa, all of the spinach, your taco seasonings, and as many dashes of your favorite hot sauce as you want. No need to be exact here–go by your gut instincts!
3. Use your fingers and mix it really, really good! Let your hands get super gross and let all of the ingredients thoroughly mix in with each other.
4. Spray the bottom of a meatloaf tin with coconut oil or your favorite spray-able oil
5. Dump your mixed-up ingredients in the tin and distribute it all evenly.
6. Sprinkle more hot sauce on top of your loaf!
7. Cook for about 35-40 minutes.
8. Do a happy dance in your home as the smells of your very own healthy, flavorful, gluten-free, paleo-friendly, super-easy meatloaf get stronger and stronger.
9. Devour with friends and loved ones!

*Not a turkey fan? No worries! You can use ground beef (I recommend above 85% lean and preferably above 90% lean), ground chicken (as lean as you can get), or your favorite ground protein!
**You can use your favorite taco seasoning mix whether it’s homemade or from the store; I used the first recipe that came up when I conducted a Pinterest search.

Wellness Wednesday: Self-Care and Happy Feet!

Winter down here is not the same as it is in Missouri or Kansas (where I have lived in the past), or Boston (where I lived), or New Jersey (where I grew up). Typically, when the weather dips below 60-65 degrees, people complain that it’s cold and I see runners and cyclists wearing thick-fabricked, fleece-lined clothing. Right now, however, it is *legitimately* cold in Atlanta. The weather app on my iPhone put today’s high at 41 degrees, but I don’t think it got above, oh, 35 or so in my little corner of the city. It made me grateful that Wednesdays are work-from-home days for me and that I could flop around in sweatshirts, knee socks, and yoga pants and do my work instead of dressing like I have some sort of authority (which, lately, has meant dresses, tights, and ankle booties…because, you know, fashion, right?), fighting my way to a parking spot, scurrying across campus to the right building, and standing in front of my classes maintaining that authority I try to create, at least, on a visual level. Wednesdays, right now, are days that I know by one word: glorious.

Work from home days are great in many ways, because if I decide that I need to take a small break for myself in the middle of my day, I have the flexibility to do that. And today, well…let’s just say that life has been more than a bit chaotic lately and has brought on more than its fair share of #adulting and navel-gazing and perhaps some ugly-crying. I needed that little “me-time” break in the middle of the day, and I totally took it. I grabbed the bottle of Mineral Fusion nail polish sitting on my bureau and drove myself to the land of affordable pampering–or, as it’s more commonly called, the nail salon. I needed a pedicure, and I needed a little bit of time sitting still and letting someone else do something for me.

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I’m on my feet a lot. Whether I am in front of my college classrooms at work, or walking with a training group through the Atlanta Track Club, or standing in tadasana on my yoga mat or even applying pressure on my feet, clipped into bike pedals, to make the spincycle go faster and faster in the middle of a Les Mills RPM or Sprint class, I put my feet through a lot. Even when I am meandering around and thinking about all of the things that might cross my path in any given day or trying to work out some of the big things that life can throw my way, I trust my cute, little, Size 7 feet to sustain me and carry me through whatever may come. So, when I need to take a little time out and when I know that doing something nice for myself is really necessary, I pretty much always go for a pedicure. It doesn’t change any of the big thoughts in my head, but sitting in that pedicure chair with that back massager cranked all the way up reminds me that there is a lot more to this life than the thoughts that spin and spin in my own head. It’s sort of like taking a “commercial break.” And for a small amount of money, I leave the nail salon with freshly painted toes, smoothed callouses, massaged calves, and a desire to return back to my own daily grind and see what comes next.

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My pedicure today, however, felt special. That’s because the nail polish I brought is from one of my favorite brands. I find Mineral Fusion at Whole Foods, and a week ago, one of the Whole Foods locations near me had a special display of the brand’s products, a brand ambassador on location, and a nice little discount on their products. Mineral Fusion products seem to focus on incorporating as much of the natural stuff in the ingredient list while being mindful of the kinds of ingredients that can be seen as harmful in the whole world of body care and cosmetics. The price point is affordable (and, a week ago, was even moreso with a handy-dandy little sale…), Whole Foods and the natural products stores that carry the brand are ubiquitous and I can find them everywhere I go, and–hey–I am a firm believer in treating yourself in little and meaningful ways whenever possible! Today I put that polish to good use and let it add some nice little meaning in the middle of a whole lotta chaos. And my life, well, is made–if nothing else–all the prettier for it!

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(Mineral Fusion did not sponsor this post; I just really, really, really like their products!!!)

This is how I take it…

I’ve never been one of those people who’s “by the book.” I always search for ways to personalize a set of instructions for what might suit me better, and I am one of those people who can’t seem to keep an exact and predictable gym routine. My life, it seems, is way too busy for that. But the gym is a priority to me. Getting regular exercise at least 5-6 days per week (on a good week; 4-5 days is acceptable in the middle of a very, very, very bad week…).

To keep me on track and to help me get organized, however, I have a habit of projecting for the week ahead. I think about all of the things I like to do (yoga and Les Mills Body Flow workouts on my own when I can’t get to the gym or when I am not actually teaching a class as well as the different classes & activities that my local track club and my gym offer…), and I look at my day planner and figure it out. And, each week, I make a schedule like the one I am showing below. The schedule also goes in my day planner, and this sheet of paper gets posted on my fridge, exactly at eye-level. As long as I hit the amount of cardio, yoga, and strength work that makes me happy each week, the exact schedule doesn’t matter. It can morph and mold to work with all the things that fill the rest of my life!

Usually, I make my schedule on Sunday mornings at the same time when I figure out groceries for the week and what meal prep will look like. This afternoon, though, I had a few minutes and zero desire to get to work, so I got busy and made it happen. Once I have actually exercised, I transfer the information to my profile on dailymile, the amazing website I have been using for years.

What works for you? In your healthy and hectic life, how do you stay organized and make sure that you get your workout in on a regular basis?

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