One year later…

I started my weight loss journey last year at this time.

Had you told me then that a year later I would only be 30 pounds down I would have not been even remotely encouraged to even start.  I did honestly feel that I would be at goal weight by now.  I am not even remotely close to my goal but I really feel I have achieved so much more than just a number on a scale this year.

This year certainly has not been a waste by any means and I don’t think I could have done anything different.  I feel for once I am doing this right!  The only thing I could have done different would be work myself to death and eat lettuce and cross my fingers that the scale goes down.  This year was so full of ah-ha moments that I needed to experience to know what being healthy for life is going to mean for me.

What I have learned this year

  • I learned how to eat like a human being.  Meat, veggies, fruit..learning that things from boxes & bags with 1,000 ingredients isn’t a good choice.  Even Especially when it says  “low fat!” “fat free!”
  • Meal prep and planning is vital
  • It is okay to sweat.  It will not make me melt.
  • My comfort zone really wasn’t very comfortable at all
  • I love lifting.  Let me say it again….I love lifting!
  • Training goals are so much more rewarding than weight loss goals
  • Scales don’t cooperate when you start lifting.  I had to learn to be okay with that.  It took a while but I am finally getting that!
  • Morning workouts are possible!
  • Coffee makes above statement more true
  • There is life beyond Diet Cherry Dr Pepper
  • I can survive without daily chocolate (really!)
  • Auto-immune disease can’t and won’t stop me
  • Whenever I tell myself I can’t – I rebel…and then I do!
  • I am my best support system, coach and cheerleader

There is so much more but I think that list is something to be very proud of!

My goals for this year:

  • Focus on training & fitness goals over weight loss goals
  • Learn to eat like an athlete

 

My newest adventure – CrossFit!

I am on my third week of CrossFit and I am beyond happy with my choice of starting at Crossfit AMRAP.  I have never felt more accepted in a fitness program or met a nicer group of people.  In a normal gym you’re lucky to get a head nod of an acknowledgement.  I haven’t been able to cross anyone’s path without them introducing themselves and having nothing but encouraging things to say!  Beyond the community the training has pushed me beyond where I felt I could go.  Nothing that I have done at AMRAP I feel I could have pushed myself to do on my own.  Once I hit that uncomfortable edge I would always stop.  That race against the clock or race to get a workout done is addicting and it becomes such a mind game to push yourself to finish.  I don’t do it because I feel I have to..I do it because I want to prove myself that I can.

burpees handstand pullups pullupssuck

This is the year of I can..and I will!

It’s hard to say Goodbye. . .

As followers of my facebook know, I had to put down my 10 year old family dog.  She was a gorgeous Australian Shepherd who was diagnosed with cancer only last week and only made it until yesterday.  She was still wagging her tail and loving us, but she was in pain.  It would have been selfish for us to keep her on earth with us when she could have had a better pain free life in Heaven.  I wanted to do a tribute to her because I feel like I can’t do enough to show how grateful we were for the precious gift she was to us.  This was Cali’s story.

I still remember the day like it was yesterday.  I was 14 years old, homeschooled at the time, so I was home when my mom came home from lunch that day.

“Danielle!  Kenny! (brother) come here! I have a surprise….”.  We both looked at each other and could not imagine what it could be.  My first thought was she got us a kitten.  We looked at my mom at the front door, with a dog at her side looking very homely.  We looked to my moms face and the grin she had made us feel like we should have been jumping for joy.  It was a young dog, not as small as a puppy but certainly not full grown yet.  She was every single color a dog could be, she even had two different colored eyes! She was dirty and quite skinny and walked with a limp.  My brother and I asked hesitantly, “Is she ours?”  My mom excitedly answered back “Yes!”.  We respond back, “Forever……? Shes…..shes a little strange looking mom…”.  My mom being an animal loving freak was not enthused by our lack of enthusiasm.  It was not that we weren’t excited to have a new dog…but we already had a dog.  She was in bad shape and we were in fear we were going to lose her soon, and the other catch – she didn’t like dogs.  We felt it was going to be unfair to our other dog to bring this new dog into the mix.  We did welcome her in after a few minutes.  After giving her ‘welcome to the family pets’ we had to take her to the vet, she didn’t look good.

We found out that this poor little puppy was rescued from a dog fighting ring.  She was what they considered to be a ‘bait dog’, which means she was meant to be killed in the fight, she wasn’t to even have a chance.  She was left behind my moms office at work with 3 pit bulls, who were not in nearly as bad shape as she was.  The limp she had was because she was left on black top which literally burnt off the pads of her paws.  The vet concluded she was healthy otherwise, and to take her home and enjoy her.  And we did.

Our other dog Holly was not doing so well.  She was 14 years old and appeared to be on her last leg.  Once Cali joined our family, she brought Holly back to life.  She lived to be 17 years old which we totally feel Cali had a doing with keeping our precious family pet with us longer than we expected.

She had her quirks due to what happened to her early in life.  She was afraid of young males, anything being around her neck, belts, brooms etc.  But we dealt with everything.   She obviously never liked other dogs, which sometimes made it hard to go on walks or take her to events but this did not change the fact that she was an amazing family pet.  She gave us the protection we needed while my dad was out of town and the companionship we all crave from out pets. She was a complete sweetheart.  She had a very mothering nature to her.  Most dogs tear apart their stuffed toys, Cali would carry hers around as her babies.  Her favorite were beanie babies.  As fragile as beanie babies are, she never tore them open, she only carried them with her and loved them.

When my niece was born we were concerned about how she would be with kids.  She became her mama bear.  A few years after my niece, my nephew was born who ended up being her best buddy towards the end of her life.  They would eat their breakfast together while Logan fed her bits of his pancakes and sausage, and by lunch they were ready to share a grilled cheese sandwich.  He did get a chance to wave goodbye to her the day she was put down, one could only wish that Logan is not old enough at 1 year to feel the same pain we do for this loss.

In May Cali was diagnosed with Diabetes.  We were very concerned it was going to be an even worse diagnosis at that time.  We were relieved to hear it was something that we would treat.  She needed a diet change and 2 shots a day, which we gladly did in hopes to keep her longer.   We had gotten used to this routine and had the highest of hopes.  That is, until while on a camping trip we found a large lump on her neck.  It had been a smaller lump before, but with all older dogs we figured it was just a fatty tumor.  It had definitely tripled in size in a very short period of time.  We tried to continue our trip without worry, but it definitely put a damper on the trip, I knew it wasn’t good.  We took her to the vet that Friday.  That is when we found out she had cancer.  The vet refused to give us any idea of how long she had, we knew it wouldn’t be long.

That was only last Friday.  We spent the entire week frantic wondering if she would be there when we woke up.  We gave her as much love as we possibly could, and said our goodbyes the entire week.  She was still happy, still eating, still chasing the cats, still eating her bones.  We sort of were in denial, there’s no way shes going.  Yesterday her breathing became very labored, she threw up, her leg swelled twice its size and she just looked very unhappy.  We had to make the terrible decision to end her suffering.  It was certainly not fair to her to be in the pain she was.  Even though we knew how much pain we would be in emotionally to do this, we had to.  Words cannot express how much she will be missed.  She was without a doubt a part of the family, much more than just a pet.  She was not just a companion, or something to greet us when we got home.  She was our sister, our child, our family.

Cali, you will be missed dearly.

Thank you so much for reading and all the support i’ve been given this week after I found out the news.  Without everyone’s kind words and support I don’t know how I could manage to get through this loss.

Vacations are too short!

Well, i’m back from vacation!   I would ask if you all missed me but from what I’ve heard foodbuzz was having some technical difficulties so I suppose there wasn’t the opportunity to even miss me! Oh well..

I had an absolutely amazing time up at Lake Geneva, WI with my family from Pennsylvania.  We only meet up about once a year, and usually at this same camp ground every time.  I had full intentions of having tons of blogging material during this trip.  Unfortunately, I somehow lost nearly all food pics I took during this trip.  My camera decided to lose most of my pictures.  I did cook breakfast, lunch and dinner every day.  The only proof I have is this picture of potatoes :

It’s pretty rock star, I know!

I had the opportunity to borrow an incredible table-top gas grill from work.  Oh the joys of working for a BBQ company.   We had amazing dishes, definitely not your crispy wieners toasted over a camp-fire type food.  This is how neurotic I was about camping . . . .

Yes, I took a traveling spice kit camping.  You never know when you need Chinese Five Spice.

My boyfriend was nice enough to stop at World Market for me to pick this up.  I had seen it before but never had a purpose for it.  Yay! I finally got to use it..and it was so useful.  I believe I used up about 8 of those little guys.  I used up the Italian Spice for making Chicago Style Beef Sammiches (complete with slow roasted peppers and onions and au jus) paired with my Pesto Pasta Salad from a previous post.  I was able to use the kosher salt and pepper for most dishes without having to lug up big shakers.  The BBQ spice was used up the day I made pulled pork and ribs.  I slow smoked them at home and wrapped them up for the evening where my entire family was up to enjoy the day with us.  I will admit, I did have a blonde moment.  I wondered to myself – “What do I do when these are empty?”  Hmm…Maybe refill them with the hundreds of spices I have at home. *Face palm*

Anyhoo, if you are traveling I definitely suggest picking up the traveling spice kit from World Market, it was very useful and made me feel fancy.  Since I failed at keeping my foodie photos safe from this trip, here’s a picture show from my trip:

 

Pffft…im not a proud aunt at all…..

I must say, the ice cream ball works quite well rolling at rapid speeds down hills.  (Kid not attached of course) My lovely Aunt Sandy and adorable cousin Connor.

Well, that was my trip! Sorry for the lack of food…I’ll take care of my pictures better next time!

Mise En Place: How I Became a Chef

Oh blog how I have missed you!  I have had a series of bad luck this week that caused me to have to step away from the computer.  First off, on Sunday when I made that absolutely delicious Smoked Mac and Cheese, I had a bit of an accident.  I learned the valuable lesson of NOT wearing flip flops while grilling.  I had my charcoals ready, burning red hot in my chimney.  As I went to go transfer those coals to my smoker, one little lump of coal slipped out of the bottom and landed right on my bare foot.  Of course it stuck to my foot from how flippin’ hot it was but I couldn’t reach down and grab it because I still had a full chimney in my hand! It was bad.  I haven’t been able to cook since i’ve been hobbling around pathetically!  I hope to be back into the kitchen very soon, if not tomorrow!  Injured foot aside, I also got hit by a nasty storm that decided to knock out power and internets leaving me blogless.

 

Well I am back now!  I decided that since It seems i’m starting to gather an audience (someone’s reading this right?) I figured I wanted to let you as the reader know about me, not just the food I make.  My main goal in creating this blog was to continue learning something new.  I was hoping this would build some strong friendships and would allow me to feel comfortable enough to chat with my fellow foodies and keep learning!  So this will be my official introduction!  I am going to tell a story that is very special to me, and is the core as to why I became a chef.  It all starts with a tattoo. . . .

This is my chef tattoo located on the back of my right arm.  It started out as just the chef, the banner at the bottom reads “Mise En Place”, which is a cooking term meaning “Everything in it’s place” got added later, which is the key to my story.

As most sob stories start out, I had a rough child hood.  I was loved, I had a wonderful family, got along with my brothers great, lived middle-class, problem was – my mom was very sick.  She had an unknown disease that she fought for answers from as early as I could remember and all throughout my teen years.  She was always there for us, but us siblings needed to sort of form our own bond and responsibilities.  My duty I loved to do was cooking.  I would never turn down making after school snacks or even dinner.  It wasn’t something I had to do all the time, my mom was still there, but if she was sick it would be the duty I would take over.  My mom had her ups and downs, some months were really bad, some were really good.  As a kid I saw too much, the fear of losing your mom not just once, but repeatedly through childhood certainly did a number on me.  This caused me to have post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, social anxiety, separation anxiety, and agoraphobia.  I was able to function, until high school.  My emotions got the best of me and the normal stresses of the average high schooler was just too much to handle.  I went home schooled.

Fast forward to 18.  I had to unfortunately go through a sinus surgery.  It was supposed to be routine and simple out-patient deal.  Unfortunately thats never the case for my family!  There were some complications and I was left lounging on the couch recovering for quite a while.  This is when I fell into the wonderful world of Food Network.  I could only watch so much Judge Judy and Jerry Springer.  I fell in love with Paula Deen.  I loved her welcoming personality, her dishes were so comforting and her family dynamics were something to be jealous of.  I loved her!  At the time of my recovery, it was a Paula Deen Marathon that would end in the Biography of her at the end of the week.  Naturally, I had to watch it.  I was all excited to hear all about her life and how she became the wonderful woman she is on the show.  As I watched, I expected the usual “I loved cooking, I became a famous chef – taadaa!”.  I was absolutely amazed when the show started off by her admitting something huge “I was Agoraphobic”.  My jaw dropped.  Here I am, struck with the same disorder so badly that I couldn’t even go to school, and here she is, my idol and a recovered agoraphobic.  I watched the whole thing, nearly in tears, wondering why I can’t do the same things she is.  I have always loved cooking, but I never felt I could amount to anything.  After I watched the entire episode, I was inspired beyond belief.

I waited patiently for my mom to get home.  Once she did, I was bouncy and giddy and excited.  I managed to gather myself and squeal with joy, “Mom, I want to go to college and become a chef”.  My mom, slightly stunned, went “Ok Danielle….you can go to college and become a chef”.  Of course, I know what she was thinking, I have been out of school for 5 years now because I wasn’t emotionally able to be mainstreamed, and now I want to head to college and become a chef.  I understand that she must have thought this would be a passing phase, I would realize I couldn’t do it, and continue to live life as a hermit.  This was not a phase at all, I was determined.

I had looked up colleges, went to open-houses, and worked with my mom to see what we could afford.  I fell in love with the Art Institute of Chicago.  It was a bit out of our price range, but my mom was so happy to hear I was finally ready to move on and heal that we were just going to make it work.  Unfortunately, another road block in my life.  My gall-bladder went out, and I needed another surgery.  This was right at the time of my entry to go to Art Institute.  This also set me back a bit emotionally, I lost a bit of my momentum, and was worried I would have to wait another year to enroll at the Art Institute.  I kept hearing the suggestion to attend my local community college.  I kept turning my nose at it, feeling like I wouldn’t get a “real” education from a community college.  I wanted to go to the biggest and the best.  In time, my mom said she feels this would be the best option.  All things considered, she was right.  I haven’t been to school in 5 years, how do we even know I can handle it?  I enrolled in the College of DuPage in their culinary program, I was still bummed about this.

I bought all my knives, uniforms, new clothes for regular classes, new book bags and ready to take on this new chapter.  I sat down at my first class, cooking 1101.  I was still unhappy to be sitting at a community college, I had my mind set that I just wouldn’t like it.  My chef instructor walked in and greeted us.  “Hello class, I am a full time instructor for the Art Institute but I will be working here part time”  Art Institute?  You mean, the same exact place that was thousands of dollars more than this one?  And I will be learning from you?  I knew from that moment I was home.  I stayed at the College of DuPage for 3 years.  I got my Associates Degree in Food Service Administration and Culinary Arts, with honors.  I was president of the Culinary & Hospitality Club, and earned the title of Market Chef at the college.  I did have my ups and downs, It was by no means smooth sailing.  I did have to drop out of a class strictly because I was not ready to serve the public in our class-run restaurant, I did go back and take the class when I was ready though.

In my second year at the college, I got my chef tattoo seen above.  I had asked my tattoo artist to put the banner “Mise En Place” under it.  He disagreed, he didn’t like words and felt it wouldn’t look right.  I agreed, and let him have his way.  I’m thinking it was just a sign that It just wasn’t the right time for it.  After I graduated I had all this emotion in me and I had a change of heart with my tattoo.  Mise en place, everything in it’s place.  This meant a lot more to me than just having my meat prepped, water boiling, spices set out in front of me.  I finally had my life together.  I overcame Agoraphobia and all my other emotional problems, strictly because I wanted to be a chef.  I felt I had made an incredible change in my life, and I got Mise En Place added to my chef tattoo.

Everything was finally in it’s place.

I have returned for the season!

Ahhh Fall..My favorite time of the year.  Fall brings the most comfortable weather, the prettiest foliage, and of course is the season for the best ingredients!  I have been away for some time and I apologize for that.  I started a new job working for Sweet Baby Rays and True Cuisine.  It has kept me so busy that there wasn’t time for anything let alone my poor blog.  Now that Fall has arrived I will be trying my hardest to post recipes.   My mind has been racing thinking of all the things I want to make.  I love cooking with squashes, apples, pumpkin, and soups! Omigosh I LOVE soups!  I learned that I have a knack for soup and people have been begging me for it – well here it comes!  The first things I plan on making are –

Sweet Potato Soup with Apples

Butternut Squash with Sausage, Sage and Penne

Yellow Split Pea Soup with Curry

The only challenge with wanting to cook my comfort foods so badly is that I just started ‘The Biggest Loser’ contest at work.  So I will have to make health conscious comfort food (ugh!)

What are your fall cooking plans?

I may not be pro – but I got the passion

I came to the realization that the reason I haven’t been posting so much lately is that I feel my posts aren’t as “pro” as some of the other culinary blogs i’ve been reading.  I feel like all these other bloggers make incredible things, visit incredible places, and work with rare and unusual items.  Then there is me – I love sausage and chocolate.  I felt like my blogs were not nearly as interesting.  I kept thinking of unique topics to write about – but then I didn’t have the time to execute them.  I would make dinners and feel like posting but think nobody wants to hear about the usual panini i just made.  I decided that the thing that makes me stand out is how passionate I feel about cooking.  I’m not passionate about cooking because I want to get ahead, or because I want to be the next big thing.  I’m passionate about cooking because I want my Grandma’s legacy to live on.  She was my inspiration for my love of being in the kitchen.

When I was just a little kid I used to envy the praise my Grandma would get every holiday after a big meal.  People would be fighting over the leftover pierogis or the last bacon bun left on the tray.  Family members would beg her to make her famous fudge or heath bar cake.  Even though at the time I didn’t have the palette to respect sauerkraut and smoked sausages – I still understood that to other people this was the meal they looked forward to for months.  Nobody in the family had the respect for what she did.  They enjoyed her cooking no doubt, but nobody wanted to learn how to do it.  They just wanted it to appear on the dinner table.  I remember sitting with my grandma and being only seven or eight and she would be explaining all the ingredients and how she prepared it and always ended it with the same line “Oh Danielle – WAS IT GOOOOOOD!”.  Being so young I didn’t understand how she could be so enthusiastic about food.  At that age I felt it was a great day if I got a Lunchable and some Oreos.

In time I started to understand what good food was.  When I was about 10 my Grandma started to be more worn out and started to get arthritis and didn’t have that passion for cooking anymore.  She enjoyed food a lot but she didn’t have the energy to cook as much.  She would still make her meals but she would complain about how her knees and hands were sore and there were rarely leftovers because she only made enough to get through dinner.  This is when I realized she wouldn’t make these meals forever and nobody else had the interest to learn her recipes.   I asked her to teach me her pierogi – she seemed thrilled that someone else wanted to help and she said “once you learn this Danielle, it’s all you! I’m done!”.  She handed me little Christmas decorated glasses and told me “This makes the best shaped pierogi!”  Since then I still use that Christmas cup to make pierogi.  I still remember when I perfected her pierogi.  My Grandpa tested one out and said “I think hers are better than yours Minnie”  She snapped back “How can they be better!? I taught her how to make them!”  He said “its the dough – she does something with this dough” her loving response – “Oh shut up Chester its the same”.  I smiled – I knew she meant it with love.  My Grandma was a “rough around the edges” kind of person, held immense grudges and maybe wasn’t always the most friendly.  But our passion for cooking brought us together.  She never treated me with any disrespect – she was always the most loving person to me.  I feel that my interest in her hard work made me something special in her eyes.

In time she passed me all of her prized recipes.  I took over a majority of the cooking for holidays.  Unfortunately a few summers ago my Grandma did pass away.  Cancer had consumed nearly all of her body and it was a short battle after it was found.  She wouldn’t eat much in the hospital so I even cooked her famous bacon buns in hopes she would eat it.  She did.  However, on her death bed she managed to mutter out “needs more sugar”.  I didn’t take offense to it.  My Grandma was the best cook and I know she didn’t want anyone else to be in the kitchen spotlight.  Even though I do care to have my family see me succeed as a chef – my Grandma is the only one I wanted to see at the grand opening of a restaurant of mine.  I did end up getting a tattoo in my Grandmas honor (a red rose – she loved roses) so that she can still be with me – especially when I open my own restaurant with all her favorite recipes.

I may not want to become an executive chef of some big hotel or restaurant but I do want to cook amazing things even if its just a simple potato salad – but it’ll be the best gosh darn potato salad you’ll ever eat!   My passion for food comes from being with family and friends who will enjoy it.  My dishes may not be the most impressive or unique but they are all made with passion.  I live to cook – I LOVE to cook.  I just wanted all my readers to understand where I’m coming from.  What I write about may not “Wow” you – but I hope you feel something by reading it.