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And so we begin

2014 February 24
by Laura

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Two big happy letters that somehow represent all the hard work over the past two years. Horray! In three weeks I get a paycheck and then life will be so grand.

Ta ta to the life of stay-at-home girlfriend, who cooked, cleaned, exercised, and looked forward to retirement. Hello 12- (read: 13.5) hour shifts, aching feet and back, emotionally gripping and physically demanding work, and the career of my dreams.

The best guac ever

2014 February 21
by Laura

I’m serious, guys, this guac is really, really, really good. Many of you might think ,”What? You don’t even need a recipe for guac.” But trust me — you do. And the recipe you need is Alton Brown’s (modified slightly by moi).

This dip is better than any table-side guac that has ever been prepared for me, and of that I’ve had a lot. In fact, the reason the picture is so blurry is because I was fighting Someone tooth and nail, chip for chip, to get this guac into my mouth. YEAH.

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(Someday I will get married and will register for this and this and THIS and I will have guac and marg parties all the time. You’ll all be invited, don’t worry.)

You need:

3 ripe Haas avocados, halved, seeded and peeled*
The juice from 1 lime, cut in half (see below)
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt (for this recipe I would really do the kosher thing)
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon cayenne (add more if you like it spicy)
1/2 medium onion, diced (the smaller the dice, the better)
1/2 jalapeño pepper, seeded and minced (omit for a more mild guac)
2 plum tomatoes, or 1 vine tomato, diced
2 tablespoon chopped cilantro
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
1 tbsp feta or cotija cheese

*To easily handle avocados, slice them in half longways and then use a spoon to scoop the flesh out of the skin. Drop the halves in a bowl after removing the giant boulder inside them.

Place the scooped avocado halves in a large bowl. Squeeze the juice from half a lime over the avocados, toss to coat all sides of everybody in the bowl. Drain the excess lime juice. Add the salt, cumin, and cayenne and mash with a fork. Then, fold in the onions, jalapeño, tomatoes, cilantro, and garlic. Add 1 tablespoon of lime juice from the other half of the lime. Sprinkle with cheese. Let sit at room temperature for 1 hour and then serve.

If you have any leftover, squeeze more lime juice over the top to prevent browning and cover with saran wrap in the fridge.

Enjoy with a marg.

Oh my GOD these fish tacos

2014 February 20
by Laura

Holy cow were these fish tacos delicious. Cooking Light knows what’s up, and they nailed it with these Fish Tacos with Cilantro Lime Crema. I made a few changes that I think were good ones, but please trust me and make these sometime in the next week. So springy, EASY, light, and fantastic. I served with corn/veggies and refried beans.

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Crema:

  • 1/3 cup thinly sliced green onions
  • 1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1/4 cup fat-free mayonnaise
  • 1/4  cup reduced-fat sour cream
  • 2 teaspoons grated lime rind
  • 1 tbsp fresh lime juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon minced garlic

Tacos:

  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground red pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 1/2 pounds red snapper fillets (I used haddock, any white fish would work)
  • Cooking spray
  • 8 (6-inch) corn tortillas (I used crunchy ones)
  • 2 cups shredded cabbage (I bought the package of Cole Slaw mix in the bagged lettuce section)

Prepare the crema a bit ahead of time: mix the first 8 ingredients in a bowl and refrigerate until serving.

When ready to cook, preheat oven to 425 degrees. Mix cumin and next 5 ingredients (through garlic powder) in a small bowl; sprinkle spice mixture evenly over both sides of fish. Place fish on a baking sheet coated with cooking spray. Bake at 425° for 9 minutes or until fish flakes easily. Place fish in a bowl; break into pieces with a fork.

Heat tortillas according to package directions. Divide fish evenly among tortillas; top each with 1/4 cup cabbage and 1 tablespoon crema.

Nashville

2014 February 20
by Laura

Nashville is in its second season, and I’ve been watching since the very beginning.

Let me set one thing straight: It’s not the best show on TV, by any means. It’s no Downton, it’s no OITNB (which comes back June 6th, btw, for the best birthday present a girl could ask for!), it’s no Friday Night Lights (even though Connie Britton is there…Hi, Tami Taylor!).

But it has enough soap-opera like story lines (kind of reminds me of The O.C. in that way) and lovable characters to get you involved. The real reason I watch every week, though, is because (and this is HUGE)… this show got me to like country music.

WHAT?! I know. But guys, listen to the harmonies. The original songs ABC is throwing into Nashville are just so gosh-durn catchy!

Deacon and Rayna, being magical together…

The Stella sisters, being amazing…

Deacon and Maddie, writing a song in 10 minutes together…

And Gunnar, Avery, and Zoey writing a song that’s been in my head for days…

Um, speaking of Avery, can we talk about Jonathan Jackson for a moment? You might have thought to yourself, “Hmm, that fellow looks a little familiar.” Wanna know where you know him from (if you’re a child of the early 90s, as I am)?

Why, he was Morris “Mud” Himmel in the 1994 classic Camp Nowhere!

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My brother and I watched this movie over and over again as children. As 90s kids, we did that thing where you go to the movie store every Friday night with your parents and each get to rent one movie. We would basically alternate between the same movies every few weeks: Camp Nowhere, BeethovenTeenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Angels in the Outfield, Three Ninjas, and the Mighty Ducks.

(We were seriously into ninjas back then. In fact, we “lost” the Three Ninjas VHS so we never had to return it and could secretly watch it day after day after day.)

Remember dreamy Andrew Keegan? He was in Camp Nowhere, too.

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ANYWAY! I have seriously digressed here.

The point of this post was “Watch Nashville!”

The End.

Valentine’s Day, winter weekend fun, and my last week of freedom

2014 February 18
by Laura

The first week of January and I didn’t get along very well. I was staring ahead into a period of unemployment (however temporary), the winter was all stupid and wintery (although we had it pretty easy back then and didn’t even know it), and my  holiday trips and plans and schemes were all coming to a close.

“What am I going to DO!?” I implored Someone and my family members.

“You’ll have so much fun doing nothing! You can do whatever you want! It will be the best two months of your life!” They said.

“No, you don’t understand. I can’t be alone doing nothing. I CAN’T. Time will drag. I will go crazy. This will kill me.”

But here I am, less than a week of freedom left, and I’m wondering where all that time went.

Time spent in PA in front of the fireplace with Riggins and the family; in Williamsburg with my love; in NYC to see Pippin and eat delicious gluten-free food; in Marco Island riding jet skis with dolphins; and in DC spending hours at the gym, in the kitchen, and doing a massive puzzle (see below) really added up. I’ve got several things left to accomplish in my 5 remaining days (Costco, haircut, pedicure, more kitchen-stock-up cooking, etc.) but the main thing is to get rested and get pumped for the next chapter of my life.

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hardest puzzle ever. 

What else to recap for you? Ah! Galentine’s Day and Valentine’s Day!

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My roommate and I invited our girls over for some chocolate-eating, classic rom-com-watching fun. And although I forgot to break out my Ryan Gosling coloring book….

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…we still had a great time!

The main event: my first REAL Valentine’s Day with someone special. MY Someone! A winter storm had dumped 12-inches of snow on us, but that didn’t keep Someone from getting my flowers to me on the day we were celebrating. He trudged through the snow to the metro and then through the snow again, both ways, to pick up my (beautiful, exactly the kind I love) flowers from the non-delivering-in-snow florist.

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I’m a lucky girl. After a dinner at the location of our first date (almost 10 months ago, what?!?!) we listened to a Spotify playlist of 90s Love Songs and smiled at each other all night. Pretty great evening, if you ask me.

From snowy DC we headed to the Eastern Shore in Delaware for a reunion weekend with my college loves. We drank beers, ate, talked, laughed, sang and danced, and reminisced. I taught everyone the Sentence Picture game with hilarious results, and we all remembered just how much we love and miss one another. It made me extremely excited to reunite for a few wedding celebrations this summer!

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Hope your President’s Day weekend of Love was fulfilling and relaxing. Only 5ish more weeks of winter…

Salmon Cakes, Tomatoes with Basil and Feta, and Cucumber Dill Salad

2014 February 12
by Laura

Winter? I. Am over. You. (For any Friends fanatics, I said that the way Rachel tells Ross she’s over him when she gets drunk and leaves him a voicemail.)

So what is a girl to do when the forecast calls for anywhere between 4-15 inches of snow? Whine, use the light box, and make a very summer-inspired menu for her man: salmon cakes, sautéed tomatoes with basil and feta, and a cucumber dill salad.

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Salmon Cakes! Maybe those words go together weird in your head, but think of more like a crab cake, and we’re good to go.

  • 3/4 cup GF panko or regular bread crumbs
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped celery
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped onion
  • 1/4 cup nonfat sour cream
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 egg white, beaten
  • 1 14-oz can of salmon, drained, skin and bones removed, flaked*
  • 1 4.5 ounce can chopped green chiles, drained
  • jar of tartar sauce

In large bowl, mix all ingredients (except tartar sauce) with a fork until well combined. Cover and refrigerate for about 10 minutes or until the mixture is slightly firm.

Shape mixture into about 4 really big patties, about 3/4 inch thick. Spray a skillet with non-stick spray or lightly drizzle olive oil. Heat over medium-high heat and add patties. Cook about 5-7 minutes (I put a lid on the pan for added heat), turning once, until the cakes are golden brown and hot. Serve with tartar sauce, cocktail sauce, or horseradish sauce!

*I had never cooked with canned salmon before and I got scared when I took the lid off that can. Steel yourself, don’t think about it, and rinse the salmon in a colander. The skin and that gray part fall right off and any bones that are left in there easily rinse away. Fluff it up with a fork in the bowl and you’re on your way.

Easiest Summery Side Dish Ever: Tomatoes with Basil and Feta 

  • 1 pint of grape tomatoes, halved
  • fresh basil leaves, torn
  • 2 tbsp feta cheese
  • 1 tsp olive oil

Drizzle a small skillet with olive oil and add tomatoes and basil. Heat over medium-low for 3-5 minutes, stirring often, or until the tomatoes soften and get warm. Add feta cheese and stir around until it’s about as melty as feta ever gets (aka not that melty). Serve hot.

Cucumber Salad with Red Onions and Dill 

  • 5 cucumbers, sliced
  • 2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1.5 cups nonfat sour cream
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup fresh dill
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1/4 cup thinly sliced red onion

Place cucumber slices in a colander and sprinkle with salt. Let sit about an hour until the liquid is pulled off the cukes. Rinse the salt off the cucumbers and pat dry.

In a large bowl, mix everything else together (except the red onion) with a whisk. Add in the cucumbers and red onion, and chill for about 1-2 hours before serving.

Monday musings

2014 February 10
by Laura

Hello, friends!

1. Yesterday I saw The Wolf of Wall Street. Verdict? SKIP IT. Way, way, way too long. Did anyone else see it? Agree/disagree? I love Leo as much if not more than the next gal, but I just wasn’t that into it. What was the point? Don’t launder money and do drugs? I’ve already learned that lesson…

2. Someone and I went to a little Valentine celebration on Saturday — music, chocolate, and wine. It was a concert of a group of women opera singers who blew the roof off a little church in Alexandria singing famous love songs and arias. In between each set of songs we got to try a different wine and chocolate pairing. It was pretty adorable and I can’t believe I have a boyfriend so totally awesome that I barely had to convince him to join me. (Just kidding, honey! To protect your manly man-ness I’ll tell everyone you were dragged kicking and screaming.)

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3. I have seasonal affective disorder, BIG TIME. I usually get a little depressed in winter, but the double whammy of “unemployment” (in quotes, since it lasts for only two more weeks) and a snowier-than-usual, colder-than-usual, more-miserable-than-usual winter has made it difficult to get out of bed a few times. Enter light box!

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I got a NatureBright SunTouch Plus Light and Ion Therapy Lamp from Amazon and have been using it for at least 30 minutes every morning. I wake up, pull out the box, and check e-mail and drink coffee and read my book by the light of the (fake) sun. I know not everyone has that kind of time to spare with their new best friend, but I would recommend putting make-up on or doing your hair near the light. Eating breakfast by the light would also do just fine. If I worked at a desk, I would keep it at the office.

It’s only been a few days, and I’ve already noticed a difference in my mood and in my attitude. I wake up more quickly and leave that groggy-and-sad phase about 3 hours earlier than I normally would. And when it is time for me to start night shifts, I know this little box will be a key player in helping me adjust to the circadian-rhythm disaster that is the night shift.

4. This Valentine’s Day is my first with a date in years and years….and not just a date, but a date with Someone. We have plans on Thursday evening that seem to be doomed by the next big fat winter storm that has its eyes on the Eastern Seaboard. We’ve been trying to go to the restaurant at which we have rezzies for months, so it’s only fitting that it get put off even further!

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5. Two more weeks of freedom. $164 later (for three pairs of scrubs) and I’m rethinking this whole “soooo nice to wear PJs to work!” thing.

Marco

2014 February 6
by Laura

My mom and I had an incredible time on Marco Island.

The weather tried to break our spirits for the first half of the trip…

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…so we entertained ourselves with the fitness center, a few hours of HGTV, and a film in a nearby movie theater (Philomena — SO good!).

We went on one of the coolest water adventures ever — Capt Ron’s Awesome Everglades Adventure.

We jetskiied around town…

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And came thisclose to dolphins:

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The guide was knowledgable and friendly and we zipped through mangroves and around corners at about 40 mph. A thrill-seeking adventure for sure!

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But best of all, as always, was spending QT with my Mom in a new place. I am so lucky to have such a fun travel buddy who is up for anything (seriously —  I don’t know if I would be driving a jet ski through the Gulf in 20 years like my incredibly brave mother) and loves the sunshine, travel, and good food as much as I do.

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Cannot WAIT to go back to Marco. Thanks, Mom (and Dad!!).

Passing the boards, Florida, and other things

2014 January 28
by Laura

Hello, folks! I am writing to you now as Laura Sullivan, BSN, RN. I took the boards last week and passed, and I am now officially a nurse. I don’t start work for another three weeks yet, but it feels amazing to make it all official and legal. Phew!

Me, post final 12-hour shift of nursing school

Me, post final 12-hour shift of nursing school

In other unrelated news, I am heading to Florida tomorrow with my Mom for a biennial girls’ trip! Our last one was to Disney World in February of 2012…

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…and this year we’re heading to Marco Island, Florida. Marco Island is in the Gulf on the west side of Florida and is home to some pretty astounding beaches. We plan to read, relax, eat seafood, drink, and do some jet-skiing with dolphins. I am so excited for this trip I can barely type!

(I am going to try not to talk too much about MI, because if I were a blog reader in the middle of the Polar Vortex and had to listen to someone go on and on about sunny Florida I would probably delete their blog from my reader forever. But I can’t promise not to share a picture or two.)

Also (a blessing for the fellow beachgoers on Marco Island): In three weeks I’ve lost 7 pounds! MyFitnessPal is an incredible tool and I never would have believed something so silly as an app could get me as motivated and committed to eating better and making healthier decisions as it has. I still won’t look too pretty in a bathing suit (I think I might reflect light from the sun back up into space off my pale legs), but it will be far better than it would have been just a short time ago.

Stay warm, everyone. I hope you all can find some light amidst this brutal winter!

(Even if it’s in the form of a lightbox, like mine!)

 

Winter vegetable soup

2014 January 21
by Laura

It’s snowing here in southeastern Pennsylvania. And this morning, thanks be to God, I was able to get to the testing center at 7:15 a.m. and take my NCLEX exam before the blizzard conditions really picked up. If my appointment had been scheduled any later it surely would have been canceled, and with testing centers as strangely and bizarrely booked up as they are, god knows when I would have been able to reschedule. This is one time that the freakishly early appointment time paid off!

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So, here is a good snow day soup. Winter Vegetable Soup, to be precise, from Cooking Light.

  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 3 ounces pancetta, chopped
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 2 cubs peeled butternut squash, chopped into cubes
  • 1/2 cup chopped celery
  • 1/2 cup chopped carrot
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 28-ounce can whole tomatoes, chopped in the can but undrained
  • 2 (14-ounce) cans fat free less sodium chicken broth
  • 4 cups chopped kale
  • 1 (15.5-ounce) can navy beans or other small white beans such as cannellini

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Heat the oil in a dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add pancetta and cook for 3 minutes, stirring. Add onion and garlic, cook about 3 minutes or until onion begins to get tender. Add squash and next 6 ingredients through the cinnamon, stirring to combine, and cook 4 minutes while stirring frequently. Add the tomatoes and cook 2 more minutes.

Stir in the chicken broth and bring the soup to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 8 minutes, then add kale. Cook 5 more minutes and then add beans. Cook about 5 more minutes and then serve.