stuff i love: food i make edition

Hey guys!  We’re in a deep freeze that just won’t quit here in DSM.  That means when the sun goes down I’m at home, in my pajamas, looking for something to eat for dinner.  I recently realized that I’ve been eating out a lot.  When I’m not eating out, I’m eating something “made” for me by the frozen food gods.  The result is lethargy, weight gain and poor sleep that lead to me doing silly things like cleanses in an attempt to feel more balanced.

I come from a long line of cooks.  I used to cook all.the.time (I think I may have mentioned that before).  My mom cooks dinner every night, my sister cooks dinner most nights, my dad is always cooking… I know it’s in me to do it, I just can’t muster up the energy after a long day.  On days like today, after I’ve overdone it on the weekend and I want to feel better, I take to my tiny kitchen (and my even tinier stove) to make my favorite go-to meal.  I’m not sure what else to call it but the meat bowl.  I could fancy it up and call it a taco-less salad but let’s just call it what it is—we’re all grown ups here: it’s a meat bowl.

The easiest part of this meal for me is that I get veggies and protein and I get to exercise a bit of my creativity.  I’ve done this before with ground bison and ground pork and you just change the seasoning and the vegetables.

Step 1: Brown minced garlic and onion, add mushrooms and sauté till soft.

Step 1: Sauté minced garlic and onion, add mushrooms and sauté till soft.

Step 2: Move mushroom mixture to a bowl (unless you have a large skillet—I do not). Brown ground meat of choice. Prep lettuce base and fresh herb seasoning.

Step 2: Move mushroom mixture to a bowl (unless you have a large skillet—I do not). Brown ground meat of choice. Prep lettuce base and fresh herb seasoning.

Step 3: Everything back in the skillet to mix with the fresh herb (basil, in this case).

Step 3: Everything back in the skillet to mix with the fresh herb (basil, in this case).

Step 4: I like to top it with fresh tomatoes and half an avocado. There's also this delicious artichoke pesto from Trader Joe's which tastes good on pretty much everything.

Step 4: I like to top it with fresh tomatoes and half an avocado. There’s also this delicious artichoke pesto from Trader Joe’s which tastes good on pretty much everything.

Voila. Lettuce base, meat mix on top, veggies = dinner.

Voila. Lettuce base, meat mix on top, veggies = dinner.

I’m hoping this year I can cook a little more and continue my effort in being a healthier me.  I recently heard an interview with Michael Pollan where he advocates not-so-much a particular diet (I realize he’s not encouraging the Paleo lifestyle here) but that we cook for ourselves.  He says: “the food industry has done a great job of convincing eaters that corporations can cook better than we can. The problem is, it’s not true. And the food that others cook is nearly always less healthful than that which we cook ourselves.”  Be a healthier me by cooking?  Now that is an idea I can get behind.

 

 

 

2014

Hey guys!  Hard to believe I haven’t said a peep since before Christmas.  Let’s do a recap post, shall we?

Christmas

I rented a car this year and went home for Christmas!  Unlike last year, it wasn’t Christmas Eve, I wasn’t sick as a dog, and I didn’t have to stop in Chicago to sleep off my inability to stay awake—this year was crazy pleasant.  Other than the torrential downpour from Illinois to Ohio and Indiana’s lack of highway lighting, it was relatively uneventful.

First stop: Christmas Ale

First stop: Christmas Ale

Rachel's tree is so festive

Rachel’s tree is so festive

Christmas morning and everyone's awake

Christmas morning and everyone’s awake—even the cat.

Best.wrapjob.ever. Yes, that's a Zeppe's menu.

Best.wrapjob.ever. Yes, that’s a Zeppe’s menu.

Reba Christmas in the background - the aftermath of present time.

Reba Christmas in the background – the aftermath of present time.

The dessert table… which I hit pretty hard this year.

The dessert table at mom’s… which I hit pretty hard this year. Why yes, that *is* queso.  And my pregnant sister.

 

Other stuff whilst at home

I tried really hard this trip home to make sure I saw everyone.  I love my home time and I wanted it to feel like the vacation that it is.  I was able to see my family, some great friends (though I missed you Jess and Rusty!), and in true Ryan fashion it revolved mostly around food.  If you guys have the time (you know, next time you’re in Cleveland) do yourself a favor and go to B Spot.  It’s a place I really miss being away and usually a lunch or dinner spot when I’m home.

Apple Pie Bacon Shake.  That's a chunk of apple pie crust. In the background is my sister's banana chocolate marshmallow shake.  Oh yeah.

Apple Pie Bacon Shake. That’s a chunk of apple pie crust. Legit. In the background is my sister’s banana chocolate marshmallow shake. Oh yes.

 

Christmas tradition

Turns out I didn’t outrun the Christmas cold this year, guys.  It hit me right when I turned off the car after arriving safely home in Des Moines.  It was pretty quick to take me down from there.  That leads me to NYE.

New Year’s stuff

This is how I spent my NYE:

Flu central.

Flu central.

And that’s pretty much how New Year’s Day looked as well.

Speaking of New Year’s, a lot of people make resolutions.  I’ve made resolutions in the past but always end up really hard on myself for making lofty goals that I can’t keep to.  I prefer the idea of “themes” for the New Year.  Last year was ‘the year of me’ and I think it was pretty darn successful.  I’m going to continue that into 2014 and also christen it ‘the year of travel.’  I’ve enjoyed traveling to Chicago, Branson, Omaha, and Minneapolis  in the past year and I want to continue, and even expound on, that pattern.  I’ve traveled more in the last two years than I have in my entire 20’s combined, which is awesome.

I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas and a Happy New Year filled with family, fun, food, drink, football and happy memories.

 

 

 

 

lucky.

I’ve been thinking the same thing for two weeks now.

I can’t believe I get paid to do what I do.

I mean—I make a living doing something I truly love.  Every day for the last two weeks, I get my day started with a little coffee and head out to rural Iowa to meet people and do my job.  I get to drive a car furnished by my employer (who I’ll be deliberately vague about since they’re a rather *known* company) and while most people wouldn’t be too thrilled driving around a billboard, I’m not one of them.  I couldn’t be happier driving it around, letting everyone know who I represent.  I hold doors at gas stations, I smile at strangers, I shake hands, I make small talk, I set my cruise-control and I rock out to my Windshield Time playlist on Spotify.

Iowa never fails to be a magical place for me and I’m really lucky to get to explore as an added bonus to my job.  For example, the last two weeks, I’ve gone down at least one dirt road to get to someone’s house.  I’ve visited two legit farms.  I’ve seen countless windmills and I’m becoming very familiar with the route from Des Moines to Omaha.

Today… and I’m going to do this an injustice—I was driving down a county road where I saw no one for 15 miles.  It was corn as far as the eye could see.  And beyond that, everything was painted white with snow: the trees were skeletons covered in white, the power lines were all coated white, the corn fields were white rolling hills.  The world felt quiet and beautiful and I was lucky enough to be a part of that.

The point of all this, guys?  I’m insanely lucky.  Blessed, even.  It’s been a long road getting here and it’s not lost on me that I’ve been well taken care of along the way.  Every day, I’m thankful.  Every day, I know I’m doing the right thing.  I’m not planning my next move, I’m enjoying exactly where I am in this moment.

things dad says

The following are some real things my dad has said since coming to Des Moines:

“It’s so tiny!” (regarding my apartment)

“I’m going to put her in my suitcase and take her home.” (regarding Lily the cat)

“I can see why you love it here.” (regarding DSM)

“So on Paleo you can’t have cereal?” (same question twice regarding the Paleo diet)

“Everybody is good looking.” (overheard during a phone conversation regarding people in DSM)

“So apparently tall boots are in?” (that one’s pretty clear)

DSM to CLE and back

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This would be a great time for a catch-up post. It’s been almost two weeks (goodness!) since I took some time off work, jumped in a rental and drove the ten hours home to visit my family. (Shout out to books on CD for keeping me awake!) It was a bit of a whirlwind trip. Despite it usually feeling rushed, I like to keep some degree of regularity when it comes to seeing my family; time with them is always a bit of a recharge for me. This time was especially important (but more on that soon!!!).

It felt so good to jump back into the life I left as though I never did. As it always has been, staying with my mom, time is filled with laughter, home-cooked meals, coffee talk and I usually sleep like a baby. When I stay with my sister, there is always laughter (a common theme for our family: we love to laugh), deep talks about things that really matter and we’ll usually follow one another around the house just because. So this trip home, I stayed a bit with my mom, a bit with my sister, had breakfast and catch-up time with my lovely step-mother; had meals, shopping and time with some of my favorite friends; I packed as much as I could into the little time I had. I hit my bff’s sister’s wedding reception on Saturday as soon as I got in. On Sunday, after the usual Kate/Ryan ritual of Mexican food, I hit the road to go to my mom’s. She took the time I was home off work so we got to spend a good 2.5 days together. Saying goodbye (albeit temporarily) to my mom is never something that gets easier. I got the expected “the house is so quiet” phone call and it tugged at my heart.

I ended my CLE trip by staying two nights with my sister and her husband, then I packed up shop and headed to Chicago where I’d meet some Iowa friends for one day of Lollapalooza! I’ve never experienced anything quite like Lollapalooza. It was organized very well and I was only really disappointed with one show – everyone else brought it down. We started the day with The Neighbourhood, meandered over to Smith-Westerns from there, checked out Houndmouth (huge surprise! They’re amazing live!), cut that a little short to make it to Band of Horses (I desperately wanted to see them and they didn’t disappoint.), caught a private show by Frightened Rabbit, skipped Imagine Dragons because the crowd was so intense, saw the official show for Frightened Rabbit and then had it in mind to see some Lana Del Rey. Saying the Lana fans were out of control would be an under-statement. I was tired at that point, my feet hurt and I was getting pushed around by teenage girls clamoring to get up close to Lana. So I took it to the back and what I heard of Lana was really impressive. She sounded even better live.

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(Chicago)

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(Band of Horses!)

I wish I could bottle up the feeling of being home with my family; I know my words don’t paint near enough of a picture. The experience in the bottle would consist of waking up to the sound of country music and the smell of coffee that’s been on since 4 am when my mom wakes; seeing the sun come up and hearing the birds sing in the trees from the enclosed porch; walking in the grass with no shoes on, eating blueberries right from the bush; having heartfelt conversations with the ones I love fiercely and cooking recipes that my mom’s mom used to cook from (some of them literally taped to the inside of the kitchen cabinet doors). It was always a concern for me that my family lacks tradition. I went through a phase a few years ago where I felt like it was the most important thing. However, I realized being home that tradition is all around me. It may not be something as obvious as a family reunion every year but my family is warm, welcoming, refreshingly transparent and the things we do and the things we make are all in celebration of the time we get to spend together.

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(Homecooked meal = worth the 10 hour drive)

on spring

photo

Spring is here!

We have been enjoying some wonderful weather of late here in Des Moines.  It felt for a moment as though we’d never escape the grasp of winter—we were still receiving snow up to two weeks ago.  However that seems to have been relieved by this burst of 60 degree weather.

Spring is notoriously a time for renewal; a time when new life blooms on the ground and in the air; love of life and circumstance is all around.  People are out running, walking, taking their dogs out and babies out and that’s really easy to see here in such a walkable city.  Driving with the windows down, I am encouraged to see runners out hitting the pavement.  Maybe they’re shaking off their winter treadmill blues or maybe they’re energized into this new endeavor by the breath of fresh air accompanied with the change in weather.  Either way, it got me to thinking.  If there’s anything I’ve noticed, it’s that this life wraps people up in the pursuit of betterment.  It’s something I’ve felt so alone in at times but it’s striking to realize that it’s something most all of us share as a common bond.  We’re all seeking personal improvement—exercising, eating well, furthering education, attending church—it’s all in the noble pursuit of being better people.  It’s probably one of the reasons springtime is so magical.

So here’s to spring!  Here’s to new, healthier habits.  Here’s to breaking down old walls.  Here’s to new beginnings and falling in love with our surroundings.  Here’s to being happy right where we are instead of looking off into where we’re not.  Here’s to open windows, sunglasses, the smell of grilling, the song of birds and whatever else moves you to happiness, friends.

visiting

Laughing

 

Look who came to Des Moines!!!  I had an incredible visit with my amazing sister.  This is pretty much what we do when we’re together – take lots of pictures and laugh like fools.  (That’s my Scentsy car freshener in the center of Rachel’s forehead.)  I can’t wait to tell you about our time together or show you all the pictures of my week with Rach.  We went to Ikea, the Mall of America (hooray Minneapolis!) and pretty much ate our way from here to there.

changes

Breakfast2 FrenchPress

RedPepper

Charcuterie

 

 

 

 

 

 

I did it!  I made it 30 days on the Whole30.  I remember right after I started I marked 30 days out on my calendar at work and I thought to myself ‘there’s no way I can make it to the end of March – that’s so far away.’  Now here I am, done with 30 days, feeling good and ready to continue some of the better life choices I’ve been making.

A lot of things have been going on in my life and when I think about that, I consider that I started the Whole30 at just the right time.  While most everything in my personal life has been choppy waters lately, I managed to maintain total control over what I ate and how what I put in my body made me feel.  I planned, I prepared, I chopped, washed and cooked; I ate leftovers and veggies and meat in new ways; I ate less out of convenience and was happily inconvenienced to make everything homemade.

All in all, I’d recommend this to anyone.  I’ll definitely plan on doing it again and continuing to implement the Paleo way of eating (allowing room for occasional indulgences).  I’ve felt centered and energized.  It’s kind of been my anchor of sorts.  Moving to DSM, while exciting, has also been a bit different than I’d anticipated.  I’m writing this post from my brand new couch in my very first apartment.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had apartments before but I’ve always had roommates.  I’d scamper about those former living spaces, trying to stay out of the way and go unnoticed so I didn’t cause annoyance; essentially for the last 10 years or so I’ve been living in a space the size of a bedroom.  That would explain my lack of adult furniture and kitchen essentials.  I’ve carefully picked out each piece I’ve acquired thus far (with some helpful consulting here and there); each piece has purpose in this new space I’m building.  It’s helping me carve out who I am.  I’m discovering what makes me happy and (yes, family) I’m learning some responsibility for myself too.

I’m sure we’ll chat more about my new space.  Let me end on some super exciting news: MY SISTER IS COMING!  Next Tuesday she’ll arrive here in Des Moines!  She’ll spend the week with me shopping and being a tourist.  I’m so excited to show her around the city.  There will absolutely be some pics to come!  The photos above (not in an organized fashion in ANY way despite my trying) are of a few of the Whole30 meals lovingly prepared in the last 30 days.

dear foodies

You guys, let’s talk about one of my favorite things: food.

Since being here in DSM, I’ve found some great places to eat.  I’m compiling a list in my mind of the places I want to take my family and friends when they come here.  And maybe, just maybe, some of you out there in the blogosphere are planning a vacation to Des Moines (what? it could happen.) and are wondering what on earth to eat when you’re here.

Coming from Cleveland I was a bit spoiled.  You see, Cleveland has an amazing food scene.  We’ve got some up-and-coming wildly popular food trucks, some amazing chefs and some famous chefs and I managed to eat my way around my home and find the places that I’d return to again and again (mostly here and here).  I was worried when I made the move to Des Moines that I wouldn’t find places I’d love as much.  Food to me is all about the experience.  Whether eating in or out, I want to eat good things.  I’ve always had the food relationship a bit reversed… I live to eat, not eat to live (bad, Ryan!).

This list is, by no means, all-encompassing.  I know I’ve merely scratched the surface in four months but let’s get started.

The Royal Mile

I have to start with this place.  You guys, it has everything I love.  There is more beer than you’d be able to get through in a dozen visits, they have liquor, a roaring fire, soccer/football is on TV and (bonus!) it’s a sort of gastropub.  Their Steak & Guinness Pie is seriously in the top five best things I’ve ever eaten.  Can we just take a moment and think about that.  … Alright.  I digress.  The best part about The Royal Mile is that it’s so unexpected.  It’s an amazing bar hidden behind a small door and a small sign.  The decor is a bunch of wooden (are they wood?) tables, old pictures of people on St. Patty’s Day and football flags (as in Manchester United not Chicago Bears).  It all comes together to be my favorite place to grab a pint in Des Moines.

Fong’s

There was one place the people of Des Moines overwhelmingly advised me to go when I first got here and it was Fong’s.  Fong’s is located across the street from my number one but it’s clearly number one for the fine folks who live here.  It’s the place where people line up out the door for a pizza.  Pizza, people.  However, I do have to confess… their Crab Rangoon Pizza is out of this world.  Apparently their drinks are nothing to sniff at either but I can’t comment on that first-hand.

Court Avenue Brewing Company

You’d think that with my love for craft beer (oh, maybe I haven’t made that clear), dim lighting, lively conversation, sports on TV and delicious food that Brew Co’s would be my raison d’être but sadly, that’s not been my experience.  I’ve never found a place where the food is awesome but the beer is awesomer (it’s a word) till CABCo.

For breakfast, it’s Star Bar all the way.  In fact, I’ve never been there outside breakfast hours.  Everything that comes out of the kitchen is amazing.  It’s always mimosas and omlettes or mimosas and steak and mushroom hash or mimosas and Cuban sandwiches.

And I couldn’t leave a French place off my list: Django

The decor is fabulous.  Their wine selection is fabulous.  This is a place where you could go, park yourself at the bar (and get a birds eye view of the charcuterie-making action), get a drink and mange on the ratatouille with goat cheese appetizer.  I am a foooool for ratatouille.  Django’s take includes goat cheese that’s more like a cloud and adds such a zing to their traditional tomato-infused roasted veggies.

If you don’t want a sit down experience, here’s a shout out to my favorite on-the-go places: Planet Sub, Panchero’s, Orange Leaf