Sunday roundup, two

You guys, I had an epiphany this week. Most of my friends have heard me say that I have named my thirties my “decade of epiphanies”. So many things, big and small, are clicking for me in a way they never did before and I love it. I’m probably the last person on earth to know about this but in case I’m not, I have to share: Mason jar beans. Here’s the deal, I’ve been blogging for all of two weeks and I have learned so much already. This past week was the first time I ever legitimately attempted meal planning. Some of my favorite bloggers have raved about it and I really liked the idea of meal planning but it always seemed like such a hassle to me.

I think part of my “pre-healthy” eating thought process was echoing in my mind: that I didn’t know enough recipes to be able to plan a week’s worth of meals and that I needed more flexibility than a meal plan offered, I don’t live a regimented life and some days I just want an apple and a handful of almonds for dinner. But once I started this blog I realized that at least partial meal planning would be required.

Last weekend when I sat down to find some meals I wanted to make for the week, I wasn’t sure how to even start. The Cheshire cat popped into my head and I heard him advising Alice “if you don’t much care where you want to go, then it doesn’t matter which way you go.” So I decided I wanted to end up spending the least amount of money at the grocery store and using up the perishables in my fridge. I knew I had to use up the chicken so that was good for a couple of meals plus a few pieces chopped into a lunch salad through the week, and I always incorporate whichever veggies are on rotation in my CSA box so that was my starting point. I had a couple of limes and lemons which gave me the inspiration for the chili lime tacos which led to the idea of the Mexican rice side dish (using both the rice and tortillas I had in the pantry). The cucumber in the fridge led to the cucumber soup, the lemon led to the scrumptious cookies, and the peaches to the oatmeal (which let me finish off the last of the steel oats in the cupboard).

Not every meal was planned but I don’t have a regular schedule and I don’t always eat the same number of times per day. I did make sure I had at least one meal per day planned (dessert can count as a meal, right?) and I knew if the dishes were tasty enough I would be happy to have leftovers! I realized that meal planning doesn’t mean you have to plan 3 meals + 3 snacks per day, but having one meal planned per day is immensely helpful.

Ok, that whole long rant was to get to the epiphany about beans: so among my pantry items was also a bag of dried black beans. I knew I was going to make the zucchini, black bean, and chicken stir fry during the week so Monday morning I dumped the beans in a pot of cold water and let it sit for 24 hours on the back (unlit) burner of the stove. The first thing I did when I started cooking on Tuesday was to drain and rinse the soaked beans then cook them at a simmer with two cloves of garlic (peeled but not chopped) for about ninety minutes. Once they softened, I drained them in a colander and split them among two small 8oz mason jars and voilà I had the equivalent of canned beans ready to go whenever I decided to make the stir fry. This coupled with the awesomeness that is meal planning means be prepared for many more happy bean bites in the future!

Recipe I most wanted to try last week: Spaghetti Squash + Garlic + Parmesan at Salt Pepper Skillet.

Best dessert recipe I found last week: Banana Pudding Bites with Dark Chocolate and Sea Salt at Maebelles.

Best book I read last week: A Man Came Out of a Door in the Mountain by Adrianne Harun. Such a fantastically Gaiman-esque story with a shimmering layer of Stephen King influence. Filled with meandering sentences that build a mesmerizing world, Harun guides your senses so you can hear the crackle of the forest fires, taste the smoke on the back of your throat and feel the shiver from the devil’s cool, smooth hand on your shoulder. This isn’t a quick read but I found myself eagerly anticipating the end of each day so I could devour a few more chapters.

Best thing I saw on Netflix last week: Narco Cultura, a gorgeous but heartbreaking film looking at both the people fighting the drug war in Juarez and those who have embraced the music of the drug culture as the “new American dream”.

Album most repeated on ipod last week:  My Head is an Animal by Of Monsters and Men

I can’t go back to yesterday because I was a different person then.

-Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland #1

Peach oatmeal

peach oatmeal | happyfoodbites

I mentioned the other day that my bullet blender which I use to make breakfast smoothies had died. I had a couple of peaches that normally I would have thrown into a smoothie but since that option is temporarily unavailable, I thought I’d give this peach oatmeal a try. As I was perusing recipes, I came across theoatmealartist. Not someone who makes pictures out of oatmeal, but rather a girl who turns oatmeal into her flavor canvas and I was inspired.

cutting peach | happyfoodbitesPeaches are pitted fruits so you can’t just slice through the middle of them. As you slide your knife into the peach, about a third of the way down you’ll meet the hard seed. Drag your knife all the way around the pit. Then just like how we cut the zucchini yesterday, turn the fruit 90 degrees and make the same type of cut.

quartered peaches | happyfoodbites

You now have 4 pieces that will easily pull away from the pit and then chop each slice into small bite-sized pieces.

oats and peaches | happyfoodbites

Bring water (or milk) to a boil and add chopped peaches and 1/2 cup of steel cut oats. Cook over medium heat for fifteen minutes, stirring occasionally.

While you are leisurely stirring, I wanted to tell you about an article in the New Yorker from last week about a new study by Peter Gibson. Who is Peter Gibson you may ask (as did I), well it turns out he is the author of a study done in 2011 that was upheld by those cheer-leading the gluten-free craze. Gibson tested his hypothesis again and found people blindly given a completely gluten-free diet still presented with the same “gluten intolerance” symptoms.1 One of the great things about science is that it invites scrutiny and requires repetition. This new study does not mean you have to go back to gluten, nor should it give anyone a reason to chastise people who eat gluten-free by choice or necessity. Celiac disease is a real, although rare, genetic condition that causes the body’s immune system to attack itself when gluten is ingested. Only about 1 percent of the U.S. population has celiac disease2 and I am grateful I don’t have it but it does run in my immediate family. If you feel better not eating gluten, by all means skip the dinner rolls and don’t feel the least bit guilty about it! I feel better when I cut back on my sugar intake and more days than not choose to go without it. But this study should also remind us that like all science, nutrition science is ever-changing and being mindful of how your body feels should play a bigger part in what you eat than the latest fad. A lot of people don’t feel good eating the “Standard American Diet” of food wrapped in plastic and from a box, even if they don’t have an immune response to it. Pizza piled high with six kinds of cheese and four greasy meats isn’t healthy just because it’s on a gluten-free crust. Ok off my soapbox now and back to this yummy (and gluten-free) breakfast!

crystallized ginger | happyfoodbites

Right here is the secret ingredient in this oatmeal: crystallized ginger. It’s one of those splurge spices but adds such a great flavor! If you don’t have any, that’s ok, the oatmeal will still taste great with the vanilla, allspice, and cloves.

cooking oatmeal | happyfoodbites

After the oatmeal and peaches have cooked for fifteen minutes, stir in vanilla, minced crystallized ginger, allspice, cloves and a pinch of salt. Stir and continue cooking until oatmeal reaches desired consistency, about 5 to 10 minutes more. Serve immediately and store leftovers for easy reheating in the microwave or oven tomorrow.

peach oatmeal | happyfoodbites

Below is your printable version of the recipe with nutrition information included.

Peach oatmeal
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Serves: 2
  • 2 cups water (or milk)
  • ½ cup steel cut oats
  • 2 peaches
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • ½ teaspoon allspice
  • ½ teaspoon cloves
  • 1 tablespoon minced crystallized ginger
  • pinch of salt
  1. Add water (or milk) to a large pot and place over medium heat.
  2. While liquid comes to a boil, dice peaches as small as possible.
  3. Add oats and diced peaches to pot. Cook over medium heat, stirring every few minutes.
  4. After 15 minutes, add vanilla, allspice, cloves, crystallized ginger and salt. Stir and continue cooking until oatmeal reaches desired consistency, about 5-10 minutes more.
  5. Serve immediately.
Nutrition Information
Serving size: 1 cup Calories: 156 Fat: 2 Saturated fat: 0 Unsaturated fat: 2 Trans fat: 0 Carbohydrates: 33 Sugar: 16 Sodium: 80 Fiber: 6 Protein: 5 Cholesterol: 0

inspired by Apple Pie Steel Cut Oatmeal at theoatmealartist.

Joy is the simplest form of gratitude.

-Karl Barth, Swiss theologian

  1. Read the full text study for free at the Gastroenterology Journal 

  2. For an in-depth look at celiac disease, check out the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness 

Zucchini, black bean, & chicken stir fry

zucchini black bean and chicken stir fry | happyfoodbites

I have one more dish to share with you that came from the last of the simple roast chicken: I present to you zucchini, black bean, and chicken stir fry. The only kind of beans I ever saw as a kid were baked beans from a copper can. I used to love the tangy sweetness of the brown sugar liquid they were cloaked in; the bean was a mere afterthought, simply the vehicle for the sauce. These days I don’t know if I’ve ever put any kind of sauce on my beans. I’m more of a spice girl now!

all ze spices | happyfoodbites

(See I told you!) I knew none of the main ingredients were going to pop on their own so I started looking for a blend of spices that would really shine. I put together the list: basil, crushed rosemary, garlic powder, onion powder, smoked paprika, thyme, and turmeric (plus the ever faithful salt and pepper). Don’t be intimidated by how many there are, just use as many as you have available or mix and match your favorites. Spices can be a little pricey sometimes, but dried spices can last six months to one year when stored properly which means keeping them away from light, heat, air, and humidity.1 And because I eat less now than I used to, I spend a lot less money on food overall so spices are a splurge I allow for in my budget.

mix all spices together | happyfoodbites

Start by mixing all the spices together in a small bowl. We’ll want to sprinkle a bit into each layer of the stir fry and then mix the rest in at the end.

diced onion and garlic | happyfoodbites

The two recurring supportive characters in most of my dinner dishes: onion and garlic. Dice half an onion and 4 cloves of garlic.

cooking onion | happyfoodbites

Heat 1/2 tablespoon of olive oil in skillet and cook onion over medium high heat for 2-3 minutes until soft, don’t forget to put a dash of seasoning in each layer! Add garlic and cook 1-2 minutes more.

zuchinni rounds | happyfoodbites

While the onions and garlic cook, chop the zucchini into bite sized pieces by chopping into half-inch rounds and stack them together in groups of three or four.

2 cuts on each stack of zuchinni | happyfoodbites

Make a vertical cut halfway through the stack, rotate ninety degrees and make another vertical cut. Voila, similar sized pieces.

spiced zuchinni | happyfoodbites

Toss with olive oil, sprinkle with spices, then toss again.

cooking zuchinni | happyfoodbites

Add the zucchini to the skillet and cook over medium-high heat for 6-8 minutes, stirring once or twice, until beginning to brown.

add chicken | happyfoodbites

Meanwhile, toss the chicken with the spices and add to skillet.

adding beans | happyfoodbites

Followed by the beans and the rest of the remaining spice mixture. Stir to combine. (Canned beans are totally fine to use but if you cook your own dried beans you can store them in the fridge for up to four days2). Reduce heat to medium-low and cook uncovered 6-8 minutes until chicken and beans are heated through. Finish with a squeeze of lemon and serve immediately.

Below is your printable version of this recipe with nutritional information included.

Zucchini, black bean, & chicken stir fry
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Serves: 3
  • 1 teaspoon basil
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • ½ teaspoon onion powder
  • ½ teaspoon rosemary
  • ½ teaspoon thyme
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • ½ teaspoon pepper
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ tablespoon olive oil
  • ½ onion, diced
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 2 small zucchinis
  • ½ cup dried black beans, cooked and drained (or 1 can of bean rinsed and drained)
  • 6 oz cooked chicken, cubed
  • Lemon wedges for serving.
  1. Heat olive oil in skillet over medium-high heat.
  2. Add diced onion, sprinkle with a dash of spice mixture and cook 2-3 minutes until soft. Add garlic and cook 1-2 minutes more without burning garlic.
  3. Add zucchini and cook 6-8 minutes until starting to brown. Add chicken, beans and remaining spice mixture. Stir to combine. Reduce heat to medium and cook 6-8 minutes, stirring every few minutes until chicken and beans are warmed through. Finish with a squeeze of lemon.
  4. Serve immediately.
Nutrition Information
Serving size: 1 cup Calories: 222 Fat: 5 Saturated fat: 1 Unsaturated fat: 4 Trans fat: 0 Carbohydrates: 21 Sugar: 3 Sodium: 249 Fiber: 7 Protein: 24 Cholesterol: 48

The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.

– Dr. Seuss, I Can Read With My Eyes Shut!

  1. Check out this great Serious Eats article for more about spices. 

  2. What’s Cooking America