Applesauce Muffins

Applesauce MuffinsOh, how I love this recipe! I’ve made it so many times that I can’t believe I haven’t shared it with you. I’m sorry! While prepping PART II of my Epic List of Freezer Meals (coming soon!) I searched for the link only to discover it was nowhere to be found on the blog. Well, that changes today!

This is one of the simplest muffin recipes you’ll ever find, but you’d never know because they’re so delicious. The combination of cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice will warm you all the way to your soul. You can make the batter in the time it takes to preheat your oven. And get this: You can mix everything together in ONE bowl. That’s right – no separating the wet and dry ingredients. No dirtying multiple dishes. Just mix it all together!

One note regarding flour: You can make this with part white and part whole wheat (noted below). If you’re making it for yourself or your family then I highly recommend using some whole wheat for the extra fiber and nutrients. But if you’re making these for a special occasion such as a brunch, then stick with white flour. You’ll get the most perfect crumb you’ve ever seen in your life. Either way, just wait until you experience how amazing these muffins will make your house smell. You’ll want to bake them every day!

Applesauce Muffins

Applesauce Muffins

Makes 12 muffins

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup canola oil
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce (homemade or store-bought)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cup flour (use all white or 1 cup white + 1/2 cup whole wheat)
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp allspice
  • 1 Tbsp ground flaxseed (optional)
  • 3/4 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

Preparation

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Prepare muffin tin with cooking spray or muffin liners.

In a large bowl, combine oil, sugar, egg, applesauce, and vanilla extract and whisk to combine. To the bowl add flour(s), salt, baking soda, baking powder, nutmeg, cinnamon, and allspice. Mix until combined. Add flaxseed and walnuts, if using, and mix until combined. Pour into prepared  muffin tin. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes.

The Most Epic List of Healthy Freezer Meals Ever (Part I)

The most epic list of freezer meals ever

For the past few weeks I’ve been on a mission: To stock our freezer with as many delicious and healthy recipes as I possibly can. It’s become a bit of an obsession, really. I can’t be stopped. Since reaching 34 weeks, I’ve spent pretty much every spare minute cooking and freezing meals. I’ve chopped onions at 5 a.m. I’ve put recipes into the slow cooker at 10 p.m. I’ve been to Costco, Trader Joe’s, and Whole Foods more times than I can count. I’ve made so many lists that Robert’s sure he’s going to come home from work one day to find recipes scribbled on our walls. I’ve spent so many hours cooking on weekends that by the end of the day I can no longer stand.

The most epic list of healthy freezer meals ever

And you know what? I’ve loved every single moment of it! Honestly, deep down, I know that it may be a long time before I get to spend six consecutive hours on a Sunday by myself, cooking in the kitchen, blasting the Taylor Swift Pandora station. It’s my happy place. I know it’ll always be there for me, but I also know that it’ll look a little different for a while once Baby is here. So for now, I’m trying to soak up every moment and along the way create meals that hungry, sleep-deprived Future Paige and Future Robert will be oh so grateful to have.

I’ve also kept careful notes (more lists!) of everything I’ve made along with instructions for prepping, freezing, and serving every recipe so I can share them with you! No matter your situation–baby on the way, crazy work schedule, busy home life–everyone can benefit from having a few (dozen?) freezer meals ready to go.

The most epic list of healthy freezer meals ever

My plan is to share my epic list in three parts:

  • PART I: Entrees {That’s today!}
  • PART II: Breakfasts & Baked Goods {Coming soon!}
  • PART III: An update on how everything worked out, things that froze exceptionally well, changes I’d make for the future, etc. Freezing meals isn’t rocket science, but I’ve never done anything like this before so I’m sure there will be plenty to learn.

But first, some things you should know:

  • Although I try to avoid plastic, stocking up on glass containers proved to be way too expensive for the volume of meals that I made. Once completely cooled, I froze most things in BPA-free 1 gallon sized freezer bags.
  • Freeze plastic bags flat (place on a plate or baking sheet while freezing) so they take up less space in your freezer.
  • Keep a list of everything that’s in your freezer and cross them off as you eat them
  • LABEL LABEL LABEL EVERYTHING!!! What’s inside, date, etc.
  • I’ll always prefer fresh food to frozen. So rather than cooking every single recipe all the way through (though some I did), in many instances I cooked it up to a certain point, froze it, and included instructions for how I’ll finish it once it’s thawed. All of these modifications are included in the instructions below. But if you want to cook a recipe all the way through and freeze it like that, by all means go for it!
  • When the instructions below say “thaw in refrigerator overnight” it’s smart to place the bag in a baking dish or bowl in case any tiny holes occurred in the freezing process.

Here’s the complete list of meals that I made for PART I. Scroll down to find cooking/freezing/thawing instructions for each recipe.

Complete List of Freezer Meals (PART I)

And we’re off!

Supplies you’ll need (besides food ingredients):

  • LOTS of 1 gallon BPA-free freezer bags
  • Labels
  • Sharpies

Main ingredient: Boneless Skinless Chicken Thighs

Slow Cooker Chicken Tikka Masala 

I made the sauce and froze it with the raw chicken

To cook:

  • In a bowl, combine raw chicken, coriander, cumin, salt, and yogurt. (Skip browning the chicken). Transfer to freezer bag.
  • Make the sauce: Saute onion, garlic, 1 chopped, seeded jalapeno (instead of adding it whole), and salt until onions are soft & translucent (8-10 mins). Add garam masala and fresh ginger, cook about 1 minute, add tomatoes, increase heat and bring to a boil. Turn off heat and set aside to cool.
  • When sauce is cool, pour into freezer bag with raw chicken. Freeze.

To eat:

  • Thaw in refrigerator overnight
  • Empty contents of bag into slow cooker. Follow remainder of the recipe.

Main ingredient: Boneless Skinless Chicken Breasts

Slow Cooker Sesame Honey Chicken 

made the sauce and froze it with the raw chicken

To freeze:

  • Season chicken with black pepper, add to freezer bag (raw)
  • In a bowl, combine soy sauce through sriracha. Whisk together. Pour into bag with raw chicken. Freeze.

To eat:

  • Thaw in refrigerator overnight
  • Empty contents of bag into slow cooker. Follow remainder of the recipe.
  • Serve with brown rice, green vegetable (such as steamed spinach, broccoli, or bok choy), top with sesame seeds and chopped green onions.

Slow Cooker BBQ Pulled Chicken 

I made the sauce and froze it with the raw chicken

To freeze:

  • Place chicken breasts, raw, in freezer bag.
  • In a bowl, whisk together the barbecue sauce, Italian dressing, and Worcestershire sauce (I omit the sugar). Pour into bag with raw chicken. Freeze.

To eat:

  • Thaw in refrigerator overnight
  • Empty contents of bag into slow cooker. Follow remainder of the recipe.

To serve {options}:

  • BBQ pulled chicken sandwiches: Pile chicken onto whole wheat buns with toppings.
  • BBQ pulled chicken quinoa bowls: Layer cooked quinoa on the bottom of a bowl, top with BBQ pulled chicken, black beans, corn, green onion or cilantro, and avocado. (Inspired by recipe from What’s Gaby Cooking)
  • BBQ pulled chicken pizza: Top prepared pizza dough with extra BBQ sauce, BBQ pulled chicken, sliced red onion, and shredded mozzarella cheese. Bake. Top with chopped cilantro.

Slow Cooker Chicken Tortilla Soup

To cook:

  • Follow recipe all the way through. Let cool. Transfer to freezer bag (I divided it into 2)

To eat:

  • Thaw in refrigerator overnight
  • Reheat soup in a pan on the stove or individual portions in the microwave.
  • Add any toppings you like (cilantro, tortilla chips, fresh lime, hot sauce, etc.)

Main ingredient: Rotisserie Chicken

Freezer Chicken Quinoa Burritos 

Makes about 20 burritos

  • Changes I made: Add chopped red onion & use whole wheat tortillas
  • To make, freeze, and reheat: Follow recipe!

Homemade chicken broth using rotisserie chicken carcass from the freezer burritos

This is totally extra credit, but SO easy especially if you use the slow cooker! Just dump the chicken carcass from the rotisserie chicken (and any remaining skin, etc.) into your slow cooker. Add any veggies from your veggie drawer: I usually add 3 to 4 carrots (unpeeled, quartered), 3 to 4 celery stalks (roughly chopped, it’s okay to keep any leaves on), fresh herbs such as parsley or green onions (if you have it—I’ve made it with and without), 1 yellow onion (unpeeled, quartered), 4 to 6 garlic cloves (unpeeled, smashed), 1 Tbsp or more black peppercorns, some Kosher salt, and then pour enough water to cover everything by about 1 to 2 inches. Cover and cook on LOW 12-24 hours. Pour contents of slow cooker through a strainer into a container (discard solids) and store broth in the refrigerator until chilled (overnight or even a whole day is fine). Skim the fat off of the top and either use the broth within a few days or pour into freezer bags or mason jars to freeze.

Main ingredient: Ground Beef

Pasta e Fagioli Soup

To cook:

  • Follow recipe (I substituted ground beef for the sausage), but skip pasta. Let cool. Transfer to freezer bag.

To eat:

  • Thaw in refrigerator overnight
  • When ready to eat, cook pasta
  • Reheat soup on the stove. Taste and adjust any seasonings. Add cooked pasta. Add additional broth if needed.

Easy Meaty Mushroom Marinara Sauce

Original recipe: In a large pot, heat 1 Tbsp olive oil and sauté 1 yellow onion, chopped until softened, about 5 minutes. Add 2 to 3 cloves of garlic, minced and cook until fragrant, about 30-60 seconds. Add 10 oz sliced mushrooms (I used cremini), and sauté until softened. Add 1 to 1.5 lbs lean ground beef, season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until cooked through. Pour a 2 lb jar marinara sauce (any kind you like—I used an organic kind from Costco) into the pot. Add 1 tsp dried oregano, 1 tsp dried basil, 1 tsp dried parsley, ½ tsp dried thyme, and ½ tsp red chili pepper. Simmer 5 to 10 minutes. Allow sauce to cool completely. Transfer to freezer bag (I divided it between 2)

To eat:

  • Thaw in refrigerator overnight
  • Reheat in a pot on the stove. Add extra sauce, if needed. You could also mix in some spinach or other greens until wilted.
  • Serve on whole-wheat pasta or zucchini noodles

Slow Cooker Beef Chili

To cook:

  • Follow recipe. Changes I made: Saute 1 jalapeno with the onion instead of using chipotle in adobo. Add 2 cups frozen corn when it’s done cooking (it’ll quickly thaw). Let cool. Transfer to freezer bag. Freeze.

To eat:

  • Thaw in refrigerator overnight
  • Reheat in a pot on stove. Add any toppings you like.

Main Ingredient: Ground Turkey Breast

Barefoot Contessa Turkey Meatloaf  

Recipe is for one huge meatloaf. I made 5 smaller ones—see instructions below

To cook:

  • Follow recipe through mixing ingredients in a large bowl.
  • Instead of forming one giant meatloaf, divide into five smaller meatloaves (you’ll need 2 baking sheets). Spread as much ketchup as you like on each meatloaf.
  • Bake about 60 minutes until internal temperature is 160 degrees.
  • Allow meatloaves to cool completely.
  • Individually wrap each meatloaf in parchment or wax paper, leaving a little space so the ketchup doesn’t get smushed. Then wrap in foil. Store in freezer bags.

To eat:

  • Thaw in refrigerator overnight
  • Reheat in microwave or oven
  • I like to serve meatloaves with mashed potatoes or sweet potatoes and something green such as sautéed broccolini.

Turkey Meatball Parmesan 

I browned the meatballs and froze them in the sauce

To cook:

  • Follow recipe through browning the meatballs. Remove meatballs to baking sheet or baking dish to cool.
  • Pour pasta sauce into freezer bag. Add meatballs. Freeze.

To eat:

  • Thaw in refrigerator overnight
  • Preheat oven to 400 F. Finish following recipe: Empty contents of bag into a baking dish. Top meatballs with mozzarella. Bake, covered, for 30 minutes until bubbly. Uncover and broil until a light brown crust forms on the cheese, about 3 minutes.

Other

Beef Vegetable Soup

To cook:

  • I used lean beef stew meat instead of bison.
  • Follow recipe all the way through. Let cool. Transfer to freezer bag.

To eat:

  • Thaw in refrigerator overnight. Reheat in a pot on the stove. Add extra broth if needed.

Chicken Sausage Vegetable Soup

To cook:

  • Follow recipe all the way through. Let cool. Transfer to freezer bag.

To eat:

  • Thaw in refrigerator overnight. Reheat in a pot on stove. Add extra broth if needed.

Barefoot Contessa Winter Minestrone 

doubled the recipe and separated into 4 freezer bags

To cook:

  • Follow recipe through adding beans.
  • Let cool. Transfer to freezer bag(s).

To eat:

  • Thaw in refrigerator overnight. Reheat in a pot on stove. Add extra broth if needed.
  • Cook penne. Add to soup.
  • Stir in pesto, if desired (I sometimes skip)
  • Serve with baguette or other crusty bread

Chicken Sausage and Kale Soup with Chickpeas 

To cook:

  • Follow recipe all the way through. Let cool. Transfer to freezer bag (I divided it between 2).

To eat:

  • Thaw in refrigerator overnight. Reheat in a pot on stove. Add extra broth if needed.

Red Lentil Soup 

doubled the recipe and separated into 2 freezer bags

To cook:

  • Follow the recipe, except double the carrots per recipe (if you’re making one recipe use 2 carrots, if you’re doubling it use 4). Use low-sodium vegetable or chicken broth (not water). All soup to completely. Transfer to freezer bag(s).

To eat:

  • Thaw in refrigerator overnight. Reheat in a pot on stove or reheat individual portions in microwave. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed.
  • Top with fresh lemon juice (so key!) and fresh chopped parsley.
  • Serve with naan pizzas: Heat whole wheat naan (frozen) in the oven according to package instructions. Top with hummus, raw baby spinach or arugula, and anything else you like!

Other items I froze:

  • 3 packages of naan from Trader Joe’s (great with the slow cooker chicken tikka and as naan pizzas)
  • Basil pesto from Costco (emptied the contents of two containers into four sandwich-sized baggies; great on toasted baguette or other crusty bread served with soup, excellent in pasta salad similar to this)
  • Giant bag of frozen stir-fry veggies from Costco
  • 2 lb bag of frozen shrimp
  • Frozen wild caught salmon
  • Frozen pizza (pesto, tomato, mozzarella) from Costco
  • Frozen organic chicken dumplings
  • Frozen fruit for smoothies
  • Frozen pie dough for quiche (recipes such as this or this)

Baby Fowler’s Jungle Themed Baby Shower

DSC07075

Last weekend, three friends and my sister hosted a baby shower here in Chicago for our little guy. I can hardly find the words to tell you what a special day it was. They thought of absolutely everything. I couldn’t stop smiling the entire time because I was so touched and grateful.

Everywhere I looked it seemed like I noticed something new–the jungle theme and decor were too cute for words and fit perfectly with baby’s nursery (I really can’t get enough lions, monkeys, elephants, and giraffes), the food and drinks were amazing, there were notes for guests to write to our baby, and there were so many thoughtful and generous gifts that I can’t wait to put to use. And there were donuts. Lots and lots of donuts. Is this real life?

But most of all, I loved looking around and seeing so many incredible women all in one place. Some already knew each other and others were meeting for the first time. I loved introducing my mom and sister to so many Chicago friends, too!

This baby of ours is already so loved and I felt that so powerfully all day long.DSC06884Sweet Kiera does it again!!! How adorable are these cookies? You may remember Sweet Kiera’s gorgeous (and delicious) treats from my bridesmaid ask and bachelorette party, too! DSC06860One of the hostesses, Lisa, who also took most of these photos (thank you!!) MADE these animal poufs. I couldn’t stop staring at them!!! DSC06878Mimosa bar!DSC06906DSC06903Parfaits, quiche, salad, muffins, and more made for such a delicious lunch! DSC06869 DSC06870DSC06917 DSC06916 DSC06927 More books for Baby F’s little library! DSC07033DSC07022My mom surprised me with my baby book! I can’t wait to read through it more thoroughly soon. In a separate post, I’ll be sharing something else my mom did for the first two years of my life that I now plan to do for our son, too. Stay tuned!DSC06992You guys, this is my BABY BLANKET! That my Grammy knit! And it’s an ELEPHANT!!!! I can’t wait to wrap our baby in it. Every time, it’ll be like a hug sent from his Great Grammy in heaven. Aaaand cue the tears….DSC06986I absolutely loved having my mom & sister there! DSC06934The incredible (and super talented) hostesses DSC06940Scotch Club WAGSIMG_1882Kappa Delta friends! DSC07069Northwestern!! DSC07073They truly thought of everything—including indulging my biggest pregnancy craving: DONUTS!!! Before becoming pregnant I didn’t really have any strong feelings about donuts. Now, I think about them constantly and can’t get enough. Baby was very, very happy once I ate one…DSC06879After balancing it on my belly of course.IMG_2581FullSizeRenderThank you so much to everyone who made it such a special and memorable day. My heart is still so full.

{Oh and one last thing. That dress? It’s STITCH FIX! Crazy, right? It came in a shipment a few months ago and I knew right away that I’d wear it to the shower (thank goodness it still fit…I was a little worried). I’m a terrible shopper and wasn’t too excited about finding a dress for the occasion, but it literally showed up at my door and I was done! They have maternity stuff and I’ve enjoyed wearing a few Stitch Fix items throughout my pregnancy.}

Turkey Meatball Parmesan

Turkey Meatball ParmesanThis weekend, I finally started making my way through my epic list of freezer meals to cook before baby arrives. {I’ll be sharing my list, links, and instructions on the blog soon.} And I just have to say…it was the most fun ever! Sunday morning, we woke up to a massive snowstorm here in Chicago. I was already planning to spend the entire day inside cooking, but the storm just made it so much easier and fun to do. I had absolutely nowhere to be but in our kitchen, chopping onions, mincing garlic, making a mess, and using every single burner on our stove. I cooked about eight meals in one day. As silly as it sounds, I haven’t felt a sense of accomplishment quite like that in a long time. I can’t wait to do it again soon–there’s still a lot to make in the next few weeks.

At the top of my list for the next round: These heavenly meatballs. I cannot get enough. And the wonderful thing is, they’re ridiculously easy to make. Just make your favorite meatball recipe {I use a healthy turkey meatball recipe, below, but you can make any kind of meatball you like–turkey, chicken, beef, etc.}. Brown the meatballs on the stove, add them to a baking dish {I love our Le Creuset Casserole} with your favorite jarred tomato sauce, bury it all under an obscene amount of shredded mozzarella, and bake until bubbly and gooey and omg so delicious.

They’re so great on their own that I don’t even bother serving them with pasta, though you totally can! Every time I make this I just roast some broccoli until it’s brown and crispy and pile it beside the meatballs. It really doesn’t get any better than this.

Turkey Meatball Parmesan

Turkey Meatball Parmesan

Ingredients:

  • 2 lbs. ground turkey breast
  • 1/2 cup breadcrumbs
  • 1/2 cup parmigiano-reggiano cheese, grated
  • 3-4 cloves garlic, grated (I use a microplane)
  • 1/2 tsp dried basil
  • 1/2 tsp died parsley
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • salt & pepper
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • Olive oil
  • 25.5 oz jar pasta sauce (my favorite is Muir Glen Organic Italian Herb Organic pasta sauce) Note: If you like things extra saucy you may want to have a second jar on hand in case you want to add some additional sauce
  • 3/4 lb part-skim mozzarella, shredded (I buy a block or ball of mozzarella and shred it myself)

Preparation:

In a bowl combine meatball ingredients (ground turkey through beaten egg). Mix with your hands until combined. Form into meatballs smaller than ping pong balls. I get about 40 to 45 meatballs.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Heat 1 Tbsp olive oil in a medium-sized pot on the stove. Add meatballs in batches, being careful not to crowd the pan. Brown meatballs on both sides. They don’t have to be cooked through– they’ll finish cooking in the oven. Add additional olive oil between batches, if needed.

Pour half of the jar of sauce in the bottom of a baking dish. As you finish browning each batch of meatballs, transfer them to the baking dish. Once all the meatballs are browned and in the baking dish, pour the remaining pasta sauce on top. (Here’s where you may want to add some extra sauce from a second jar.) Sprinkle grated mozzarella over everything. Cover and bake for 30 minutes until bubbly.

Remove dish from oven. Move top rack just below the broiler and heat broiler to HI. Remove the cover from the baking dish and broil meatballs until a light brown crust forms on the cheese, about 3 minutes.

My Pregnancy Favorites

ABalancedLifeCooks.com Pregnancy FavoritesWell here I am at 33.5 weeks! The countdown is on. Before becoming pregnant, I remember reading other bloggers’ pregnancy favorites and thinking, do you really need that much stuff? Of course, you don’t need much else besides a good prenatal vitamin (I take these), some TLC, and a few people who will tolerate you talking about baby stuff 24/7 (thank you Robert, Mom, and Leah!)

Yet I discovered that it never hurts to have a few things that make you feel a little more comfortable. I never could’ve anticipated that these items would be on my list, but with some trial and error I’ve found that they help me sleep better, stress less, move more, and feel better overall. And I think it’s thanks, in part, to these items that I’ve felt pretty darn good throughout my pregnancy. I’m crossing my fingers that they’ll help me sail through these final weeks.

{From left to right}

Crane Cool Mist Humidifer  There are some things nobody tells you about pregnancy, but are incredibly common. Like how you might get bloody noses all the time. I’ve been (un)lucky enough to experience them often. We finally got a humidifier in our bedroom that we use at night and I’ve noticed a huge difference ever since. Thank goodness.

Bump Nest Pregnancy Pillow I purchased one of these at the very beginning of my second trimester as a gift to myself (and our baby!) I’m so glad I did! This thing is soooo comfy. After the first trimester, you’re encouraged to sleep on your side. When you sleep on your back, there’s a risk that your growing uterus may compress the vena cava and affect blood flow to your baby and to your heart. While there’s some debate about whether this is truly an issue, I decided to follow the guidelines and sleep on my left side as much as possible. Normally, I sleep on my back so this pillow helps me comfortably lie on my side. I’ll admit that it takes up A LOT of space and takes some getting used to at first, but it has been so worth it. Fact: Dogs love Bump Nests as much as humans do. Husbands? Well let’s just say they love having well rested pregnant wives : )

Starbucks VIA Instant Coffee  Once I started liking coffee again, I made the informed personal decision to enjoy one cup per day. The problem is that it’s incredibly difficult to make one good tasting cup of coffee with a regular coffee maker or a French press. Instead of spending $2 a day for a cup at the pie shop a block away or $4 for a latte at Starbucks (though I’ve been known to do both from time to time), I discovered that Starbucks instant coffee is actually very delicious, convenient, and more affordable. Instant coffee has come a long way.

Fitbit Zip The Zip is basically a fancy pedometer. Since my main activities have been prenatal yoga and walking, I wanted to be sure I was getting in enough steps/activity per day. The Zip helps me keep track of that. Whenever I’m shy of my 10,000 steps per day goal, seeing that number encourages me to fit in some additional movement. I’m quite proud of the day I hit more than 22,000 steps!

Hugger Mugger Yoga Bolster I’ve had this bolster for years and only used it occasionally. Now? I keep it in our living room and use it almost daily. I’ve been fortunate to not have too many aches and pains, but I have experienced some low back pain and even a few days where I had full on back spasms. Not fun. The ONLY thing that helped was lying on the bolster in reclining bound angle pose. It helps relieve compression in my back, as well as open up my hips, chest, and shoulders, which often feel tight. Surprisingly, I’ve also found that the bolster is super helpful whenever I have heartburn. For some reason, I don’t get a burning in my chest as much as I feel it in my upper back, behind my heart. Lying over the bolster in the same position with a pillow propped under my head has been a lifesaver.

Coconut Oil I haven’t been too worried about stretch marks. If they happen, so be it. However, a few months ago I discovered the awesomeness that is coconut oil–for your skin. It makes your skin so soft and of course it smells delicious. I keep a jar by my bed and rub it on my belly most nights before I go to sleep. So far, I haven’t noticed any stretch marks (whether I can attribute that to the coconut oil, genetics, or my super pale skin, I have no idea.) But I think the coconut oil has been especially helpful for minimizing any itching that occurs as the skin on my belly stretches.

Lululemon Energy Bra I LIVE in this bra. I have two and it’s a sad day when I’m washing both at the same time. It’s super supportive without being too tight in the upper rib cage or shoulders, which is a rare combination. A word to any newly pregnant ladies: As soon as you outgrow your current bras get new ones ASAP even if you have to go up a size more than once. I waited way too long and can honestly say that I felt 100 percent happier when I finally found what worked for me. For regular bras, I like the hidden underwire ones from Gap. The underwire is great for support, but doesn’t cut into you like other underwires do.

Old Navy Rollover-Waist Jersey Lounge Pants (not maternity) and Old Navy Maternity Super-Soft Hoodie Welcome to my uniform. I have two pairs of the black pants and the tops in three different colors and I wear them pretty much every day of the week. Although the pants aren’t maternity, they’re perfect – the waist hits right below my belly so there’s absolutely no pressure on it. I love my Lululemon leggings and Groove pants as much as the next gal, but I found that as I got bigger, the rise was too high and put too much pressure on my tummy. And these hoodies are just as soft as their name implies. There’s plenty of room in the torso to accommodate growth, yet they don’t make me feel like I’m wearing a tent or come down to my knees. I’m sure I’ll still get plenty of use out of both of these items long after baby arrives.

Chicken Sausage and Kale Soup with Chickpeas

Kale Sausage Chickpea SoupThis is one of the best soup recipes I’ve made in a while and I absolutely couldn’t wait to share it with you. I hesitated for a moment because I already have a few similar soups that offer some combination of sausage and veggies on my site like chicken sausage vegetable soup and sausage sweet potato soup (and I highly recommend them all!) But when you live somewhere cold like Chicago, you can’t have too many soup recipes up your sleeve. You just can’t. Plus, soup is such a great way to pile in lean protein and a heap of veggies so I always feel good about it.

In this bowl of goodness, you’re looking at some lightly browned chicken sausage, chickpeas, lacinato kale, and tomatoes. There are also carrots, onions, and lots of garlic. It’s a winning combination.

Take my advice and serve this soup with some really yummy crusty bread. I don’t know what took me so long, but I normally don’t serve bread with soup. Now there’s no going back. I was in Costco recently eyeing the freshly baked multigrain loaves (they were still warm!) when another shopper talked me into it. She said she knew the exact day and time to arrive when they’re fresh and that they freeze beautifully (because of course you get two ginormous loaves.) She didn’t steer me wrong and I promise you’ll experience a whole new level of comfort when you serve some warm bread alongside your soup, too. Kale, Sausage and Chickpea Soup

Chicken Sausage and Kale Soup with Chickpeas

Ingredients

  • Olive oil
  • 3/4 lb mild chicken sausage, casings removed
  • 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
  • 3 medium carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 8 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • 28 oz can chopped tomatoes*
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • 15 oz can chickpeas, drained and rinsed*
  • 2 bunches lacinato kale, stems removed and leaves cut into bite-sized pieces
  • Salt & black pepper
  • Parmesan for grating on top (optional)

*In order to avoid BPA, I’ve eliminated cans from our house as much as possible. Instead, I use organic tomatoes and beans in boxes. The sizes aren’t exactly the same as standard can sizes listed here (boxed beans tend to be 13.4 oz and boxed tomatoes are 26 oz), but the boxed sizes work just as well and you don’t need to make any adjustments. If you’re looking to switch from cans to boxes, you can find them at Whole Foods and Target.

Preparation

Heat olive oil in a soup pot over medium-high heat. Add sausage and cook until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. It doesn’t need to be cooked through. Break up large sections with a wooden spoon. Once lightly browned, remove sausage to a bowl and set aside.

You may have enough fat from the sausage to cook the veggies in, but if the sausage is super lean you may want to add about 1 Tbsp olive oil to the pot. Add onions and carrots. Sautee until softened, about 8 minutes. Add garlic and stir just until fragrant, about 30 to 60 seconds. To the pot, add chicken broth, tomatoes, and oregano. Increase heat to high, bring to a boil, and then lower to a simmer. Simmer, uncovered, for 15 to 20 minutes.

Add sausage, chickpeas, and kale to the pot. Cook for another 10 minutes  until kale is wilted. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Ladle into bowls. Top soup with grated parmesan, if desired. Serve with crusty bread.

How we spent our Christmas vacation

I’ll always remember this Christmas vacation. We didn’t do anything special or go anywhere exciting. We were right here, at home, for two glorious weeks. It wasn’t exactly what we’d planned. We were supposed to be in Vermont for New Years with my family. However, due to Remy’s surgery we needed to be here to care for him. (By the way, thank you so much for your sweet thoughts regarding my last post! Your comments here, on Facebook, and on Instagram meant the world to me.)

It’s crazy to think about, but those two weeks were the last stretch of time that Robert and I will have, just us, for a very long time.

That time gave us the opportunity to spend our days doing productive things while also spending tons of time relaxing. We slept in, watched a whole bunch of movies (Magic in the Moonlight was my favorite), listened to hours of Pandora holiday music, binged on the first two seasons of The Americans (love!), cooked delicious meals, ate bowls upon bowls of popcorn from our new Whirley Pop (highly recommend!), downed daily plates of homemade Christmas cookies, and soaked in the holiday season by our Christmas tree. We also celebrated Christmas Eve and New Years Eve with wonderful friends.

I tried to snap at least one photo per day to remember this precious time. You won’t see anything especially exciting here (or a stitch of makeup or anything except sweats). Yet it captures, for me, some of the most memorable moments of the past year, cone-headed dog and all.

12/22: Planning our Christmas Eve dinner. This was so fun! It’s the first time I ever cooked for Christmas and we wanted to go big. I’m so happy with how everything turned out. Everyone says you shouldn’t make a recipe for the first time when cooking for guests (our friends Erica and Zack were joining us from Christmas Eve). I don’t agree–as long as I follow a Barefoot Contessa recipe to the letter, even if it’s new to me, it’s always going to be great. Ina didn’t disappoint.

IMG_1117 Robert made this beautiful display for our holiday cards. I loved walking by and seeing so many friends and family up there all season long. Hey look, that’s us at the top right! IMG_1125 I went cookie crazy! Over several days I made: these Christmas tree spritz cookies (a classic from my mom’s side of the family), peanut butter blossoms, chewy molasses crinkles, and frosted sugar cookies (Robert’s mom’s recipe). IMG_113412/23. Ooof, that morning. We’d just dropped Remy off for his surgery and had no idea what the future held. In a teary/numb/zombie-like state we made our way to Glazed and Infused for some good old-fashioned emotional eating. Happily, we got the call a few hours later that we’d be bringing our fluffanutter home. IMG_1181 12/24. Christmas Eve! We had the best day!! I woke up ridiculously early (like 4 a.m.) thanks to a little baby practicing his swim flips in my belly. So I did the only logical thing and started cooking. I made several more batches of cookies and began prepping for dinner. Before our friends arrived that evening, Robert set the table.  IMG_1210Party time!! Appetizers included a cheese plate, olives, homemade spiced nuts, and Barefoot Contessa’s roasted shrimp cocktail and cocktail sauce. IMG_1218 Next course: Apple and butternut squash soup. This recipe from Simply Recipes is SO good. The pinch of cayenne at the end really gives it a kick! Sweet and spicy is always a win. The next course, not pictured (oops), was a simple green salad with a Barefoot Contessa vinaigrette. IMG_1221 Onto the main event. Barefoot Contessa’s Filet of Beef Bourguignon. Oh. My. Goodness. It’s the best thing I’ve ever made. Hands down. Game over. I served it with mashed potatoes and sautéed broccolini. We chased it all down with a plate of Christmas cookies. I’m just sad I didn’t get a photo of the four of us, but we had a great time.IMG_1225 12/25. Christmas Day!! Before Christmas, Robert and I never discussed whether we’d be getting each other gifts or not. Lately, we’ve focused more on experiences (like our anniversary trip) rather than material things. And we love that. So it’s funny that we ended up giving each other a bunch of (thoughtful) material gifts this year. IMG_1261 Also funny: We gave each other bathrobes! Here, Robert’s testing out his new robe with his new shower radio. The man loves his NPR. IMG_1263This pretty much sums up how we spent the rest of our Christmas Day: Watching movies, relaxing, and napping. I didn’t even cook anything because we had so many delicious leftovers from the night before. In case you were wondering, beef bourguignon only gets better with time. IMG_1272 12/26. We may be crazy, but we’re planning to cloth diaper our baby boy. I may do a separate post about this (although do you really want to read about diapers on a blog that also has food?…) After LOTS of research it just feels like the right decision for us. I had everything we’ll need for the first few months and I was excited to prep these prefolds and fitteds. Prepping involves four to five cycles in the washer and dryer in order to strip away the natural cotton oils and increase their absorbency. I’ve never been so excited to do laundry in my entire life, which may explain why I appear slightly possessed : ) IMG_1309The end result! I still stare at his drawers of dipes and covers daily. Also: nursery sneak peek! (Full tour coming eventually.)IMG_1427This spread is basically how we ate for those two weeks. So many snack lunches & dinners!! We had some real home cooked meals in there too, I promise. We didn’t eat a single meal outside of the house for more than a week. It was extremely gratifying. Also, I’m currently obsessed with romaine and iceberg lettuce salads. I know darker leaves are better, but I just can’t get enough of the crunch right now. IMG_1402New Years Eve! Once again, I’m sad I didn’t get a group picture. Our friends Lisa and Brian had a bunch of friends over to their home for NYE. They recently gutted and remodeled nearly the entire house (themselves!!!!) so it was a great way to break it in. Everything came out so beautifully! IMG_1397New Year, new house projects!! Over the holiday we got a freezer for our garage. Robert hung a tennis ball from the garage ceiling so I won’t drive into the freezer. So far so good : ) IMG_1409Painting the baby’s bathroom!! I still can’t believe our baby has his own bathroom (?!??) The walls needed some patching and painting and Robert got ‘er done. Eventually we’ll tackle the weird door-less vanity situation… IMG_1437Chicago has been brutally cold since the New Year, but we had a fairly mild holiday. Finally, on the very last day before returning to work it snowed several inches. Here’s Remy watching the big flakes fall from the sky. I love this picture because it’s less than two weeks after his surgery and he was basically fully recovered by then. Dogs heal so quickly! A snowstorm and another day spent warm and cozy inside was the ideal way for our holiday to end. IMG_1444