Keto Cooking Adventures

I will do a separate post on my process for cooking and eating, but it is basically summarized by doing meal prep/very easy meals all week, saving the time and energy for a more fun, interesting meal on the weekend. As far as health and nutrition, I am a big “balance” and “do what works for your body” person. I usually find my recipes online but recently bought Emily Stimpson Chapman’s e-cookbook, Around the Catholic Table, which is also a fundraiser for her and her husband to adopt their second baby! Beyond good, simple recipes she is a great writer and has a wonderful story about life not turning out quite how she thought it would. Another podcaster/food author I just found was Stacy Billis who co-hosts the Didn’t I Just Feed You? podcast and just came out with a new recipe book all about chicken (it is called Winner! Winner! Chicken Dinner, how cute!). I am a big fan of recipes that are practical and easy because that is what I am cooking and eating 95% of the time!

It has definitely been challenging to meal plan during COVID-19. I keep buying way too much of one thing and then running out of another. For a while, there were shortages on meat and I kept getting substitutes that didn’t fit with the recipes I had planned. I have been acknowledging that this is frustrating while also being grateful that I have plenty of food in general. This time period really is about feeling all the feelings!

A few months ago, Matt decided to switch to a keto diet. This means eating very few (less than 40 or so) carbs each day. So far he loves it. He feels like he has more energy, better workouts, less sugar crashes, and can eat mostly as much as he wants while sticking to his target weight. He can explain it better than I can, but it has to do with his body switching from burning carbs to burning fats. I am still eating how I was before but for our special weekend meals I want to make something we can both eat.

I love a good cooking challenge, and it has been fun trying out different keto recipes. The best thing about a keto diet is that it involves lots of fats. Cheese, cream, and bacon are prevalent in all of the recipes! Below I will share the recipes I have made and how they turned out. Some were great successes, others I would not try again, and some might be good with some tweaks or practice on my part. Feel free to share some of your favorite recipes!

Bacon Jalapeno Poppers– OMG people, this is the best recipe! Matt even requested these for his birthday meal (in August). They are SO DELICIOUS. The cream cheese is sweet, the bacon is salty, the jalapenos are spicy, and together they are incredible. It took a bit of time to clean out the inside of the peppers and stuff them with cream cheese then wrap them with bacon, but then they just cook for 20 minutes and are done! These are perfect for a crowd pleasing appetizer but we also just ate a bunch of them and called it a meal. So good.

Instant Pot Tuscan Soup– This recipe was also such a winner. It is super easy, affordable, and delicious. I made one important change to the recipe which was using canned coconut milk rather than cream. So good! The sweet and fatty coconut, acidic tomatoes, and spicy Italian sausage all combined for a delicious flavor. There is kale in it for added nutrients and we sprinkled Parmesan cheese on top to serve.

Hawaiian Chicken Salad– This recipe was also so tasty and unique! It is chicken salad with mayonnaise and celery, but also coconut milk, nuts (I used walnuts), pineapple, and grapes. It also includes a whole tablespoon of curry powder and lime juice so it has a Polynesian taste!

This is not a very photogenic recipe but it tastes delicious!

Old-Fashioned Roast Beef– Okay this is not really a recipe but I have been trying to get better at cooking meat. I sometimes ignore directions in recipes because I hate having to do specific and overly complicated things, but I really can’t afford to do this while I am still getting better at cooking meat. I followed this post and actually got out the meat thermometer (we like it rare and I cooked it to an internal temperature of 125) and the roast turned out perfectly!

Avocado Eggs– Matt made these for brunch and they were so good! Simply stuff avocados with eggs, bacon, cheese, and top with sour cream. Simple and tasty!

Cream Cheese & Spinach Stuffed Chicken– This recipe is also delicious and super easy! You just stuff chicken breasts with cream cheese, chopped spinach, garlic, and Parmesan, and bake. Who could not love that?!

I promise I will try to get better at photographing food… It was good though!

Smoked Salmon Sliders- So this is where I started getting experimental. I did not use a recipe but had some smoked salmon I wanted to use up I combined it with cream cheese, capers, and dill on slices of cucumber. I figured it would taste similar to bagel and lox but the problem was the cucumber was cold and slippery and didn’t keep the salmon on. They looked pretty but I wouldn’t make them again!

Keto Everything Bagels– I had high hopes for this recipe because Matt used to love bagels. It was easy enough, and just involves baking egg and cheese with everything seasoning on top. The thing was, that is exactly what it tasted like: baked egg and cheese. We did not think it tasted like bagels and I would much rather egg and cheese scrambled so it doesn’t dry out.

Keto Carrot Cake– This was my first attempt at Keto baking. I am not all that good at baking. It always feels like a lot of work and then when you finish you still have to come up with something to make for your actual meals! My cake came out lumpy because I didn’t realize you have to cut parchment paper to the shape of the pan first, whoops! The recipe used almond and coconut flour which was more dense than regular flour but tasted okay. However, it called for an artificial sweetener and I tried Stevia which we had on hand. However, I realized I don’t like the taste of Stevia and can definitely taste the difference from sugar. In the future I might try Swerve or Monk fruit as sweeteners to see if I like those better.

Just a little lumpy, my baking skills are a work in progress!

Making a House (or Apartment) a Home

One thing I was always so excited about was having a space of my own to decorate. Yet when it came to actually decorating our two-story apartment in VA Beach, I realized just how unrealistic it was to expect it would look exactly like something on Pinterest. Most of those homes are coordinated by designers and cost way more than I was willing to spend on the contents. Even just outfitting a whole house with matching products from Target would cost hundreds of dollars.

Pinterest homes are also unrealistic because it doesn’t show them being lived in. There aren’t things like appliances, shoes, and work bags that are used daily. There is a beautiful lodge the company I work for has in Georgia that has been decorated by a designer and featured in magazines. There is also a full-time employee that takes care of the house. She decorates it beautifully for each season and of course it is always immaculate. One time I was looking for something and I realized that cabinets, drawers, and closets were either empty or full of house supplies and decorations because nobody lives there. There doesn’t have to be places for clothes, toiletries, and all the other items you need just for day to day life. This atmosphere is what makes the lodge so special to visit but it isn’t attainable for somebody’s actual house.

Finally, I realized that the images I saw on Pinterest were not me. I am not made of neutral colors and everything matching just right. I like fuzzy, comfy blankets in different patterns, bright wall hangings, pictures of loved ones, and artifacts from places we have been. I can’t wait until we own a place so I can paint the walls whichever color I want; I am planning on painting each room a different color so my house will be a rainbow. I want my house to support our lifestyle, not the other way around. There should be places to easily put shoes, bags, and keys at the end of a long day, appliances we use daily easily accessible, and toys and cat trees for the enjoyment of our pets.

I had to figure all of this out when creating our wedding registry. For me this was one of the most challenging and overwhelming parts of the wedding. I wanted to ask for gifts that brought me joy and would be used but there were so many options. The guides on the internet were completely ridiculous: 50-piece dining sets we would never use, $400 gravy boats, “must haves” that I didn’t even want to use up space to store. Eventually, I set up both a Macy’s and Amazon registry. We also got a decent amount of cash and gift cards. Between everything, I felt like we got everything we needed for a home and items that we would truly use. I had been worried about being overwhelmed with “stuff” and we did end up unwrapping and putting away everything as it came because we didn’t have space for a whole pile of boxes. But I was truly so overjoyed at each of the gifts I got and love remembering who sent them to us. I like to think the variety of options we gave were fun to pick out too. We also got gifts that were not on the registry, and I loved those as well. They were things we wouldn’t pick out on our own, like a cocktail making set that has challenged us to learn different drink recipes and attend a cocktail making class on our honeymoon.

Now that we have everything we need; I am remembering to be grateful and content. There will always be some changes: items getting added while others are given away, yet it is so easy to fall into always searching for (and buying) new home décor. I have been reading more about hedonistic adaptation and how easy it is to keep wanting more and more. You must very intentionally recognize that even if your home isn’t perfect, you have enough. Matt and I have also been exploring used goods for when we move into a bigger place. We found a beautiful table on Offer Up that we now use as our dining room table. Used goods take a little more effort to find but are both frugal, better for the environment, and can give so much satisfaction when you find a good fit! It doesn’t always work to buy used, but we are trying to get into the habit of checking thrift stores or apps such as Offer Up, Thred Up, and Let Go first. We are also interested in joining a local buy nothing group where people often trade or give unneeded items to each other.

 I still look at Pinterest for future ideas. Matt and I have grand plans to make a DIY industrial farmhouse style light fixture, a cat jungle gym built into the wall, a creative work/craft space, and down the line a jungle-themed nursery. But I know when I add these things the room won’t look like it does on Pinterest. It will look like some version of that that is imperfect, uniquely me, and most importantly, real.


Our Favorite Financial Tools

Lately, Matt and I have been focusing on our finances. We have always made pretty good financial decisions, living within our means and saving for retirement, but we didn’t have a clear knowledge of exactly what we were spending money on or what our financial goals were. When we got married and combined our finances, understanding our money became even more important. We started thinking about buying a house in the future, what kind of lifestyle we want to live, and places we want to travel. All of these things require knowing and adjusting how we are handling money right now.

For our budget we use the app, Mint by Intuit, which I think is the coolest technology (and it’s free!). With Mint you can link up each your accounts and credit cards, even 401k accounts, and set up a monthly budget with different categories (food, rent, shopping, etc.) When you make a transaction on any account or credit card it automatically feeds into the app and is sorted into a category. You can go in and check to make sure the category is correct and quickly change it if necessary. Then you can see how much you are over or under your budget in total and by category every month.

Mint gives you awesome charts and graphs, perfect for fellow nerds!

For many people, starting a budget is the hardest part. Logistically, even though keeping up with Mint is super easy, getting all the accounts set up takes a while. It took some time to track down the login information for everything we needed and set up the budget categories. There were a few things we weren’t sure how we wanted to categorize, usually costs that come in annually rather than monthly. We decided the most important thing was that everything was being tracked. Writing off an expense as “one time” skews the data and hides what is really being spent. For now we have a pretty big miscellaneous category for those one time expenses, as well as some categories that are zero for most of the year and then all spent in one month (one example is gifts where the majority of the annual budget is spent in December). Over time, it won’t matter which category costs are placed in and we can always adjust them as necessary.

Starting a budget is also emotionally hard. I think this is because we are afraid, we will find something we really don’t like. What if I have been losing money all this time? What if I look back on this data and regret how much money I have thrown away? What if I turn into someone who only cares about money and doesn’t enjoy life right now? What if I disagree with my partner on how to spend money? So far, these things have not happened, or at least not to a large degree. What has happened is feeling security in knowing that I can always check where my money is going and make informed decisions around it.

Visually pleasing chart showing we spend all of our money on food…

We started just by tracking our spending . Then after a few months of watching this, we started making decisions and weighing what things were worth for us. Sometimes we still choose a more expensive option, but we know it is something we value. For us this is often money spent on experiences, our health, or to save time. We have had fun coming up with creative ways to save money and are now getting excited about our future goals and learning about investing.

Two resources I have found very enlightening and inspiring are the Frugalwoods blog and Afford Anything podcast. Mrs. Frugalwoods is an awesome author and blogger who became financially independent in her thirties and now lives on a homestead in Vermont. Her blog is super approachable and has money-saving tips on a variety of topics. She also talks about her philosophy which, like ours, is about living intentionally and choice rather than always saving as much money as possible. She talks about the emotional side of money and the ways that gratitude can eliminate the need to spend on short-term indulgences. Her blog also includes reader case studies where people write in with their spending, assets, and goals and get advice. This is super interesting to get a glimpse into other peoples’ lives and financial goals.

Afford Anything is a podcast Matt and I just started listening to and to me it is the next level of financial learning. Listeners call in to ask the host, Paula Pant, for advice on certain decisions. It is much more technical and often discusses investing options, real estate, and business ownership. I don’t always understand all of it, but I feel like the more I listen the more I learn which I want to do sooner rather than later! I am excited to see how finances develop over time for us and would love to hear what others are doing and learning to meet their goals. It might not always be appropriate to discuss money but the more people discuss and share, the greater the chance of learning something that could really make a positive impact.