Wednesday, January 29, 2014

One Pot Meal: Wild Rice and Vegetables

I am a girl who can appreciate easy. I like furniture that is easy to assemble. I like electronics that are easy to use. I like places that are easy to find. It should come as no surprise, then, that I also like meals that are easy to cook. This one pot wild rice and vegetable meal is most definitely easy.

If you want to add meat to this dish, you can. I cooked some chicken tenders separately and added them at the end, but you can omit the meat entirely or use a different protein. Just note that if you are using protein and your protein isn't already cooked, now would be a good time to put it in the oven so that it is ready at roughly the same time as the rice and vegetables. 

I used a rice cooker for this recipe, but if you usually make your rice on the stove, you can probably achieve the same result with your usual method. I used wild rice here, but any type of rice will work. Just make sure you follow the rice to liquid ratio on the package instructions. 

To make this meal, you measure out the amount of rice you wish to use and rinse it. Add your rinsed rice to your rice cooker. Next, add your favorite vegetables. I added fresh mushrooms, baby spinach, frozen white onion and frozen carrot shreds.

Next, add liquid according to the instructions on the back of your rice. I used Trader Joe's wild rice and it said to use 4 parts liquid to 1 part rice. I cooked my rice in beef broth for added flavor, but you could use vegetable broth or water instead for a vegetarian-friendly alternative. 

If you want, you can add your favorite seasoning blend to the pot at this time. I added a general tso's stir fry seasoning mix, two splenda packets, and a little bit of soy sauce because I was craving stir fry but didn't want to babysit a wok. I'm guessing that there are a lot of powdered soup mixes and other spice blends that would be equally delicious. Do some experimenting and figure out what you like. Once everything is in the rice cooker, put the lid on top and turn it on. Cook until all the liquid is absorbed. My rice cooker automatically switches to warming mode when it senses that the liquid has been absorbed, but your rice cooker may be different.

If you put chicken or another protein in the oven, don't forget to check it periodically while the rice is cooking. Wild rice takes a while to cook, so my chicken was cooked through about ten minutes before my rice was done. When the rice finished, I shredded a few of the chicken tenders and stirred it into the rice and vegetable mixture. I stored the leftover chicken for later meals and sat down to a healthy dinner. 

I make some variation of the recipe a few times per month. Sometimes I substitute quinoa for the rice, and I just use whatever vegetables I have on hand. I have Crohn's Disease and I need my vegetables, including greens, to be extremely well-cooked to avoid digestive issues. If you prefer, you can add the spinach at the end after everything else is finished cooking to keep it from wilting down to nothing. Or you can use a heartier green than baby spinach. Or no greens at all. Maybe you would rather have sweet peas. Or edamame. Or something else. This recipe is super versatile. Don't you love choosing your own adventure?

Monday, January 27, 2014

Life Lessons With Ashley

Gather around, kids. Today, I would like to impart a few pearls of wisdom that might come in useful at some point in your life. It turns out that when an old man in a big white van cuts you off in traffic and rips the front bumper off your car, drags it a few dozen yards, and finally pulls over and carries it back to where you're waiting, horrified, you learn a great many life lessons in a short period of time. 

1) After the old man in the white van carries your bumper back to your car, you will need to call the police. Not 911. Just the police. If you call 911, they will ask if you are hurt and when you say no, they will tell you to hang up and call the police at their non-emergency number. You will find this remarkably unhelpful.

2) If you are going to get into an accident, it's best not to do it on one of the most miserably cold days of the year, particularly if you are not wearing socks at the time. When you have an accident, you have to do things like get out of the car and take pictures of the damage. If it is a very cold day and you are not wearing socks, your toes will practically freeze and it will be ages before they start to thaw out again.

3) Related to number one, you will most likely forget that your grandmother put a blanket in your trunk for just such an occasion. Follow my advice, not my example, and remember the blanket.

4) If you are going to get in an accident, it's best not to do it when you are on your way to the store to buy oatmeal and cookie butter for breakfast. No one but you will care that you are wasting away from hunger while you wait for the police. Before every accident, you should have a snack.

5) Phone a friend. Or your mom. Do this after you call the police. Your friend, or your mom, will help keep you calm. Because if you are talking to your mom, you will not shriek at the person who hit you like a rabid banshee (even though you may really want to.)

6) Normally, you will see multiple police cars when you go out, but when you actually need one to show up, they all disappear like so many farts in the wind. After you call the non-emergency number, you may as well have a seat somewhere, because you could probably read the whole Harry Potter series before the cops actually turn up.

6) While you are waiting for the police to show up, you can take pictures of the damage to your vehicle and the general lack of damage to the other vehicle, because isn't that always how it works out when they're the one that hits you? Not only will these images be useful in the event of a lawsuit, but you can also share them with all your followers on social media. After all, the motto of the Instagram generation is "Pictures or it didn't happen." Bonus: You might notice a confederate flag on the other guy's license plate while you're on the phone with his insurance company. You can then feel doubly violated because not only was your bumper ripped off, but the person who did it might be a bigot.

7) In the aftermath of your accident, you may feel the need to stress eat. In the event that this happens, the internet does not get to judge you for your choices because you have spent the day on the struggle bus and it was a bumpy ride.
8) Crying is an acceptable activity in the aftermath of your accident, but writing sarcastic blog posts about the experience is equally cathartic. Choose your own adventure, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for reading and do come back soon for more Life Lessons With Ashley.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Queen of the Messy Bun

Have you ever heard the saying the higher the hair the closer to God? Well, if there's any truth in it, I can assure you I've been positively holy all week. I signed up for a short course in Corporate Governance that has met everyday since Tuesday in addition to my usual classes and activities, and it was a beast. As is typical when I am stressed out, my hair rose to the heavens in the messiest of messy buns like a prayer for mercy sent up in desperation to whatever powers may be.

The last meeting for the short course was today, and all I want now that it's over is to spend the remainder of my afternoon with a hot cup of tea and the illustrious characters of City of Glass.

There is a small chance that I will do mildly important things like a load of laundry and the dishes since I'm out of clean bowls, but at this point I wouldn't hold my breath.

The publishers of Tamara Grand's Ultimate Booty Workouts was nice enough to send me a copy to review! I'm looking forward to flipping through the book in the next few weeks and picking out a few of the exercises to help me tone up back there.

Since I've had to stay off my ankle for the better part of a month, I've noticed a little bit of weight gain. It's not entirely unexpected since I couldn't run, but maybe I can ease my way back into working out with some of the exercises that don't involve my ankle.

Speaking of my ankle, it is doing better.  I'm still wearing a brace when I'm out and about, but I'm walking a little more normally everyday. You know what else? I did ten minutes on the elliptical yesterday!

I made sure to wear my brace and I stopped as soon as I felt a twinge of discomfort, but ten minutes is better than nothing. I also made an appointment with a sports medicine doctor for next week to follow up after my ER visit and the clinic visit before that. I want to make sure that there's nothing else I should be doing to make the sprain heal more quickly. After all, I would like this to be a running blog again sometime soon.

I have learned some important lessons about how difficult life can be with limited mobility and appreciating the good things in my life. For the past month, everything has been a thousand times harder than it was when I had two healthy ankles. Getting around the grocery store and getting your groceries out of the car when you get home? Huge struggle fest. Walking to class because it's faster than driving in traffic? Not happening. Taking public transportation to a part of town with no free parking? Super hard. Giving up working out while your sprained ankle heals? Something I hope I won't have to do again.

I used to worry that one day I would get tired of running and going to the gym and that I would slide back into the habits I had before I lost weight. After this experience, I don't think that's going to happen anymore. I've learned in the past month that I don't like the way my body feels when I'm sedentary. I feel puffy and lethargic and I miss the sense of satisfaction I get when I conquer a distance I didn't think I could run or I run one of my favorite routes faster than I have before. In the future when I'm feeling lazy and don't want to drag myself out of bed for my morning run, I'm going to remind myself of this experience because being active is a part of who I am now and I don't want to give that up, even temporarily, ever again.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

The Alphabet

There's this Andrew Jackson quote that goes "I was born for the storm, and a calm does not suit me." I have no idea what the original context of the statement was, but the longer I am out of the gym convalescing, the more I find that the quote resonates with me. For the last two years, working out has been a constant in my life. There is something deeply satisfying about going for a run and coming home in clothes that look like this:

Since spraining my ankle, I haven't even been able to go for walks or use the elliptical and I feel a little lost spending so much time not moving. I'm realistic. I can see that my foot is still swollen. I know that I'm still limping and that I still don't have full range of motion in my ankle yet. If walking the short distance to my car is still painful I certainly can't go out for a run, but knowing I'm injured doesn't make me miss activity any less. I was born for the storm and a calm does not suit me.

Don't get me wrong. I've been staying plenty busy. This is my last semester of law school and I have 14 credits worth of classes to keep my mind occupied. I also discovered that the local library lets you check out ebooks and audiobooks and I've been making time where there is none to do some recreational reading. My younger cousin recommended The Mortal Instruments series so I patiently waited my turn to borrow City of Bones and read it on my iPad last week. My cousin was right--it was a good book, and I will be moving on to the next book in the series soon. 

I've also been piddling around in the kitchen. It turns out that when I'm not spending four or five hours per week on my running exploits, I suddenly have time to try new recipes. Who knew?

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I've been walking past the cans of light coconut milk in Trader Joe's for a while now thinking that I should buy one and see what comes of it. As I was hobbling through TJ's a couple of weeks ago, I tossed a can in my cart. My foot was bothering me so I was taking a short break in arm's reach of the stuff and I thought, why not? I wound up using it in a quinoa stir fry. I had a bunch of vegetables and some leftover quinoa that I wanted to use up. I wound up adding around half a can of the light coconut milk, a small palmful of turmeric,  some curry powder, honey, and a little garlic. The recipe was by no means perfect, but considering I know absolutely nothing about coconut milk or curry or coconut curry, I was happy with how it turned out. I think I'll experiment more with those flavors in the future to see if I can get the ratio of the seasonings locked down.

I also got it in my head that I had to try kale chips.  I'm not a big leafy greens kind of girl. I've made peace with baby spinach and use it a lot in stir fries and on the rare occasion that I eat a salad, but other than that me and leafy greens have an uneasy truce--they can stay in their corner of the grocery store and I'll make a concerted effort not to bother them. 

I kept hearing about how good kale is for you and I periodically considered buying a bag instead of my usual baby spinach, but I never have until now. There was a recipe on the back of Trader Joe's organic kale for kale chips and I followed it pretty closely. I pre-heated the oven to 200 F, made sure the kale was super dry, and coated it lightly in extra virgin olive oil before laying the leaves in an a single layer on my baking sheet. The recipe said you should line the baking sheet with parchment paper, which I didn't do and I added salt before baking which I shouldn't have done. I would change both of these things if I make this recipe again (which I might since I still have most of a bag of kale to use up). 

I always line baking pans with aluminum foil because they don't really get dirty when I do it that way. I think parchment paper would be better for this recipe, though, because I think parchment paper allows moisture to evaporate more readily than foil. I also think salting the chips before baking might have been a bad idea because more salt stuck to the olive oil than I would have liked. I left the chips in the oven for around 30 minutes, but they probably could have stayed 5-10 minutes more. Some of the chips were fairly crispy, but not all of them were. I served the chips with Trader Joe's Reduced Guilt Chunky Guacamole. 

I'm not normally a huge fan of guacamole, but that stuff is incredibly addictive. The "reduced guilt" part is that it's made with Greek yogurt, which makes it a little less fattening than traditional guacamole. I believe traditional guacamole relies solely on the avocado to give it its creamy texture. The fat in avocado is really healthy, but Greek yogurt is pretty good for you too because protein. If Trader Joe's wants to give guacamole a lower fat makeover by cutting the traditional stuff with an ingredient like Greek yogurt, fine by me. I also like that this particular guacamole isn't crazy spicy. I'm a bit of a spice wimp. Don't judge me like that. 

I know the beginning of this post was kind of whiny and melancholy, so I'll leave you on a more hopeful note. The doctor showed me a few exercises to help my ankle, including a deceptively difficult one that involves writing the alphabet with the big toe of my injured foot. The exercise is supposed to help, so I've been trying to do it at least once a day.

In the first few days after I sprained my ankle, writing the alphabet with my toe felt really hard. Almost impossible. I was sitting on the couch doing the exercise this morning and I realized that I was making a bigger circle with my ankle on the O than I could at first and that the exercise was nowhere near as uncomfortable as it used to be. I don't want to jinx anything, but there might be light at the end of the rehab tunnel. I haven't used my crutches for the last three days and my foot is looking a little less swollen. It's going to take time and patience, but I'm hoping I'll be chasing those miles again soon.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

The Plague Carrier

My university cancelled classes Monday, so technically yesterday was the first day of class for the semester. Since I normally walk to school, it was also the first day I truly put my ankle to the test since I sprained it. The doctor didn't really want me to wear an ankle brace because she wanted the muscles in my foot to stay strong and support the injured tendon, but I noticed a few days ago that my foot looked more swollen than it did the day after I hurt it. I decided to dust off an old pair of crutches from my grandmother's house and try to walk to class with their assistance. Don't look at me like that, internet. Parking passes at my school are expensive and normally the walk doesn't take me that long. How hard could walking to class on crutches be? Let's just say it was a very long walk.  By the time I got home my foot was definitely more swollen than it was, and while it didn't hurt exactly, it felt stiff and uncomfortable and wrong. The first doctor I saw never actually x-rayed it so I decided to do the cautious thing and take an unplanned trip to the ER.

I've read that the best time to go to the emergency room is in the morning and I think that is sound advice. I was expecting to be at the hospital for 5 hours minimum so being there for 3 seemed incredibly efficient. Since I could sort of walk, they took me back to a room with a row of recliners. For about the first two hours, I was the only person in the room and it was fine. They took me to the x-ray room in a wheel chair then took shots of my foot in various poses. The x-ray tech kept trying to make me bend my ankle backwards which was extra crazy of her because if I could bend my ankle normally I wouldn't be getting it x-rayed. After that they took me back to my recliner to wait for the results. I was hanging out and waiting for the doctor to come back when they put a woman in the recliner beside mine. Now, there was a sign in the room that said they had taken special measures to ensure that your neighbors wouldn't overhear what was going on at your recliner, but it definitely wasn't working because I could hear every word she was telling the doctor and none of it was good.

Let's recap, shall we? She had been really nauseous lately and at first she thought she was pregnant, but the test was negative, so it must be something else! She also had a sore throat that might be strep, and oh yeah. She had a fever. Basically, I was sitting beside Patient Zero and I have seen this movie so I know what's up. The viewer doesn't know it yet, but Patient Zero was bitten by a tropical animal and now has a nasty infection that looks fairly straightforward at first, but is going to wipe out most of the human population before the credits roll. My character is one of the unlucky ones who comes into contact with Patient Zero before the quarantine portion of events starts. My character spreads the infection to a whole bunch of other characters, eventually a hero doctor figures out how to cure the disease, maybe I live through the movie if my character is important enough, but I'll be so sick that I might start wishing I was dead before the final scene. My character does not fare well in that script. That's why I had no problem quietly asking the nurse to bring me one of these:

The nurses and doctors were wearing them every time they went near her chair and they were only over there for a few minutes. I had to be a few feet from her in a tiny room for over half an hour! I was happy when the doctor finally came back. Apparently nothing is broken, but my ankle is sprained. This time the doctor told me I could wrap it for comfort and that I should stay off of it for a while. 


In other news, I found a few new to me Trader Joe's products I like. The first one is their Indian Fare Madras Lentil.

The first time I tried this, I just heated it up according to the instructions on the box and served it over brown rice. The flavor wasn't bad by any means, but it also wasn't very exciting. I decided to try one more time and I'm really glad I did. I added some turkey sausage crumbles and a little bit of hot sauce before serving it over brown rice and it was a definite winner. Adding a little meat and heat made it taste sort of like chili. I'll be buying more.

The second winner was the cookie butter with a cocoa swirl. I am in love with the original Trader Joe's Cookie Butter. The original product basically tastes like gingerbread except creamy and magnificent and perfect. The Cookie Butter and Cocoa Swirl still has some of that gingerbready deliciousness, but it also has chocolate. Chocolate is good. I've been putting it in my oatmeal in the mornings. Breakfast has become a thing of beauty.

Do you shop at Trader Joe's? What are some of your TJ's favorites?

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

The Ankle Sprain Spot

Happy New Year! I thought about posting one of those end of year wrap up type posts that other bloggers have been doing, but my heart was not in it. I told you in my last post about rolling my foot a few miles into my long run. I didn't go to the doctor immediately after the fact because I was hoping that an evening of R.I.C.E (rest, ice, compression, elevation) would take care of the tiny pain in my foot. Unfortunately, I was still having trouble putting weight on my ankle the next day. If you follow me on Twitter, you know that I hobbled into the doctor's office bright and early the next morning.

I explained to the doctor what I told you in my last post. The pain wasn't really coming from my ankle. It was a spot just under my ankle that only hurt when I put my weight on it. I pointed out the spot that was hurting and she explained that the area I was pointing to was the "ankle sprain spot." Great, I thought. That's just great. The good news is that the sprain is pretty mild since there is minimal swelling and no bruising around my ankle. The bad news is, well, that I have a sprained ankle. The doctor said that most sprains take 5-8 weeks to heal fully, but that I can start back using the elliptical and doing other light forms of exercise as my ankle permitted. I'm not sure yet if I will be able to do the marathon I had originally planned on, which is a bummer since I already registered and it's non-refundable. It has been a really depressing few days around here since New Year's is supposed to be a happy time full of possibility and potential but all I can think about is not meeting a goal I've been working so hard to achieve. Anyway, I have been getting in my workouts, just not quite the way I'm used to.

For the past couple of days I've been hitting the gym and spending time on the stationary bike. I haven't thought of a good name for my friend the stationary bike just yet, but I'll keep working on it. So far, I've discovered that the seat on that thing is miserably uncomfortable and that you just don't burn as many calories on that thing as you do with a good run. 

I've also been doing upper body strength training, and by doing upper body strength training I mean that I set the equipment at an embarrassingly low weight and hope that no one else decides to come workout while I curse my way through my reps. I know that I really need to start weight training and this is a golden opportunity for me to start working on my Michelle Obama arms, but I feel like a complete poser every time I venture over to that side of the fitness center. I wonder how long it will take to build up some sweet guns...