9 Things for a great work from home space.

Despite having been around since the 70s working from home, telecommute, e-commute, or whatever term is used didn’t gain popularity until the mid 90s. As technology advanced workers took advantage of this non-traditional work day/week. Soon it was praised for things like saving energy and reducing fossil fuel consumption. Enticing to businesses because with part of their work force at home they could operate in smaller spaces, reducing overhead costs. For workers that needed a scenery change – coffee shops where the mecca, and lets not forget those kitschy co-op spaces. Of course not every profession could make use of the flexibility. Before I fell into software development I was an analytical chemist, definitely not something I could do from home.

With the appearance of Covid-19 the work from home initiative has excelled. Some are appreciative of the opportunity while others struggle with the change. Imagine trying to attend a zoom call and instead of a quiet cubical there was a herd of enthusiastic children conducting a science experiment. Or while you’re discussing last months figures your dog makes unwavering eye contact then shats on the new rug (I’m looking at you Slater).

Regardless of the reason or situation there are ways to build a work from home space that will thrive. Using my 5+ years of work from home experience I have curated a list of what has helped me to succeed in creating a useful and purposeful work space.

1. A Door

Okay so it doesn’t literally need to be a space that can be closed off from the rest of the house (although it doesn’t hurt) but it does need to be a sanctified specific ‘this is where the work happens’ space. Early in the pandemic my husband was working from home too, he took the office and I was at dinning room table; total distraction to be looking at last nights dishes in the kitchen. My recommendation – select a space where the distraction of home life and work won’t inter mangle. No that’s not a typo, mangle.

Photo by eelias on Unsplash

2. Workstation that works

So this sounds like a no brainer and I could probably write a 20 page post on the subject but just a few pointers. My recommendation – Figure out what the minimum processing power is for the software that will be utilized, then use that as a baseline for requirements. See what falls into the budget and go from there. One time I narrowed my choices down to two laptops comparable in respect to price point, performance, and reliability. The deciding factor – which keyboard felt the best to me. Other things that can help build a better workstation – a second monitor, a mouse that feels comfortable and possibly an external keyboard. Myself I have never opted for the later.

Photo by Domenico Loia on Unsplash

3. Notebooks

I’ve tried to go completely paperless and it just doesn’t always work. Even if the meeting notes and support tickets get added after the call it’s always nice to have a written (okay short hand scribbled) account. I prefer a flat bound composition notebook (think high school chemistry class), skip the rings that get tangled, smooshed and take up extra space. By writing the date and client name on the top of the page I can easy to flip through the history of a project. My recommendation – a non fussy college lined notebook, my favorite brand is Pretty Simple Composition notebooks, made in the USA.

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4. Sticky Tabs

As I mentioned above going completely paperless didn’t really work for me. So I needed other fussy bits of paper to track and organize the paper. I’ve tried all kinds of tabs, paper clip tabs, sticky plastic tabs, and some adorable magnetic tabs. My recommendation – these tabs that look like paint swatches. The soothing colors are organized on these little cards so they don’t end up scattered all over my desk.

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5. Headset

I probably spend about 15% of my time in meetings, those little nubbies that come with phones are okay but I wasn’t always able to clearly hear or be heard. My recommendation – this head set. The sound is always clear, and the squishy ear cups block out lots of the ambient room noise (like the dog howling for snacks). The mic picks up everything being said (like the dog howling for snacks) so I might not be ‘heard’ but I know they can hear me! The price is reasonable and they come in all kinds of colors. For travel there is even a selection of hard case in coordinating colors. My favorite feature; they stay charged for what seems like forever. Definitely one of many things that makes my work space flexible and still fun.

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6. Comfort

This one is kinda boring but it makes me happy. I’m short so my legs seem to always be dangling. Sometimes I flipped a box upside down, or stacked reference books under the desk. My recommendation – a foot stool made for under the desk, I like this one with the bumps since I enjoy being barefoot. Also creates a feeling of being grounded instead of flailing about in space.

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7. Desk Organization

By not being completely paperless I do have some ‘clutter’ that needs corralled. I have found this brand to be comparable to the fancy stuff but at a third of the price. It’s heavy enough to not flip over when I’m rummaging, and comes in multiple styles to suit all needs. My recommendation – the pen cup, I have several and they are a perfect fit for those tab stickies, a collection of pens, calculator, and I even use them in my makeup drawer for brushes, liners – whatever. At $3 each, they are easy.

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8. Pens

Sometimes I wonder if this is why I really refused to go completely paperless. I adore pens and markers, all the colors all the sizes I want them. Time to fill up that pen cup! My recommendation – these fine line pens are the greatest. Just look at all those vibrant colors for under $10. My to do lists never looked so pretty.

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9. Self Care Items

Last but honestly most important, I keep a few small selfcare items at my desk. I don’t think there is some hard fast rule about what is a selfcare item, anything that just brings me back when feeling anxious or creates joy; cube toys, small candle, lip gloss, or cup of tea in a favorite mug. My recommendation (to myself) – I keep a little tube of hand lotion for using only at my desk. Simple but specific.

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Well there it is, 9 things I use to make my work space work for me and a brief history lesson about working from home. I hope you found some part of all this useful.




Notes and Resources

I was not asked to endorse any products, any credit can be found by following the links as indicated.

Additional resources and interesting reads
– “The History of Remote Work: How It Came to Be and What It Is Today“, by Aakash Gupta found on Sorry I was on Mute.
– “Remote Work“, by various, found on Wiki.
– “No, remote work isn’t a “new” perk – it’s been around for about 1.4 million years“, by Lydia Dishman, found on Fast Company.

GISHy Meal Plan.

GISH, what is GISH? Simply put for the newcomer it’s a week long international scavenger hunt. For a full fledged GISHer its a whole week wrapped in weirdness and chaos but above all; fun. So much fun that many of us go through withdrawals afterward because we aren’t doing/planning something weird.

In the weeks leading up to the hunt the burning question from the newbies is always; what do I do to get prepared? The typical response is to gather supplies. A prepared GISHer needs dryer lint, googly eyes, yarn, cardboard, paint, hot glue and a stormtrooper costume if you have one (I told you it was weird). Myself I prepare by gathering art supplies, setting out the first aid kit and making a meal plan. GISH brain usually sets in on day two, meaning I have to remind myself to stay hydrated, get some rest and eat. Meal planning and prepping assures that I eat but also gives me a sense of control in the mayhem which keeps my mental state in good standing. This post is only about the meal plan, the prep work and cooking for hunt week can be found here. Don’t worry I’ll repeat the link at the end.

That time Misha asked me to learn something new.

Alrighty – That’s why I meal plan, so now lets talk about how I meal plan. I try to pick meals and ingredients that can be prepared ahead of time without sacrificing quality. These meals don’t require any fancy skills or baby sitting, unless of course there is a GISH item to make a five course meal – I don’t see the need. Additionally these meals don’t rely heavily on processed foods, those can be great time savers it’s just not something I like to do.

Here is my meal plan for this years hunt ( I usually don’t plan this far in advance but I wanted to share) . Feel free to follow it to the letter, or use it as a rough guide adding and subtracting meals in a way that suits your needs. I also understand that not everyone has the same finances, some have likely already poured their monthly food budget into googly eyes. Again – this is what works for me and how I like to get ready for GISH.

Other meals I have done in the past; sheet pan chicken fried rice, Vietnamese noodle bowls, hot dogs with store bought sides, mushrooms steak with gravy, spaghetti and cobb salad.

To save time when I’m at the store, and to ensure I don’t overlook anything, I write my list in the same order as the grocery store. I typically shop the day before the list drops.

Veggies

  • Cherry tomatoes
  • Stir fry veggies, I usually get a bag from fresh produce but feel free to get frozen veggies
  • Cilantro
  • Head of romaine (or already shredded lettuce)
  • 2 Large white onions
  • Couple of shallots but a small sweet onion works too
  • Jalapenos
  • Limes
  • Any taco topping preferences like avocado, or pico
  • Depending on what looks good I’ll grab some fruit and veggies for snacks.

Meat

  • 3 lbs of boneless skinless chicken breast
  • 2, 1lb each, flank steaks
  • 1lb ground beef

Dairy

  • 8oz shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 16oz Mexican cheese blend
  • 16oz Ricotta cheese
  • Sour cream for tacos

Non-perishables

Obviously these can be picked up whenever, many of which might already be in the pantry.

  • 1 large can of Enchilada sauce
  • Stir fry sauce (I like to make my own)
  • Marinade for carne asada (I make my own, but I’ll tell you how to doctor store bought)
  • Corn or flour tortillas (enough for tacos, enchiladas, and carne asada)
  • Linguini (fresh or dry, fresh will cook faster so sometimes I spring for that )
  • Lasagna noodles (fresh or dry)
  • Big jar of marinara
  • Italian seasoning
  • Taco rub, not a seasoning packet cause gross
  • Instant rice
  • 2 cups of chicken stock/broth, unsalted is best
  • From the freezer section I will also pick up a few frozen burritos, a pizza and Klondike bars. Cause you know ice cream.

If it’s not already obvious I am a planner at heart. At this point you might have a pretty good idea of where I am going with meal prep. If you are still curious, and as I mentioned above, the post with all the prep work can be found here. Otherwise I hope this was helpful with preGish preparations, even if you just said “oh snap I gotta get googly eyes”.

Bonus Content
If you feel like you just need a little help getting organized, I have a meal plan and grocery list printables in my Etsy Shop.

That time Misha invited me to high noon tea.

GISHy Meal Prep

Still with me cause here is where it gets crazy? Just joining catch up by taking a look at my GISHy meal plan. Alrighty – I am gonna walk you through each day and what I do.

Saturday – Pizza night

It’s the first night, my head is usually spinning as I try to get a grasp on all the Damnit Mishas the next week has in store for me. Pizza night, whether it’s frozen or delivery, it’s a simple way to kick off the hunt.

Prep

I know it’s nuts to take a chunk of time away from the hunt but I usually do the prep Sunday morning. Saturday is out of the way with a pizza night and it gives me time to think about the items I’ve claimed. There of course is some wiggle room in the timeline this is just what works best for me. Starting Sunday morning also makes sure the meals will be fresh for the week ahead. I worked very hard to put this in the order that I think will flow best, it’s obviously not iron clad so yeah – do whatever you want.

I like to start with the vegetable prep first.

  • Shred the head of lettuce and store in the fridge.
  • Chop the cilantro (about a cup and a half). Store about 1/2 cup of it in the fridge for later, and place the remainder in a gallon ziplock bag.
  • Slice the lime into wedges for squeezing over tacos or putting into gin and tonics, store in the fridge.
  • Before moving on to the messy stuff this is a good time to slice up any fruit or veggies you may have gotten for a snack. Orange slices are always nice.
  • Slice the tomatoes in half lengthwise and put them into a container with a lid.
  • Finely chop the shallots, place in a small ziplock, then tuck them in with the tomatoes. Toss em in the fridge.
  • Chop both of the white onions. Put half in with the cilantro and set the other half aside.
  • Remove the seeds from the jalapeno, chop and add it to the bag with the onions and cilantro.

Next I like to move on to the sauces and marinades.

  • Make the stir fry sauce if you are doing so. I like to use lime juice, soy sauce, toasted sesame oil, ginger, garlic and a little brown sugar. A container with a tight lid makes it easy to shake the sauce and mix it.
  • If making your own enchilada sauce now is the time. My husband prefers the canned stuff so that is what I do.
  • Next I make the carne asada marinade. I typically use all kids of citrus juice, soy sauce, brown sugar, lots of spices and then pour it over the onions, cilantro and jalapenos. If you got premade, be sure to doctor the sauce by incorporating the onions and what not.

Finally I move on to the meat.

  • Cook and shred 2lbs of the chicken. Add Italian seasoning to half of the shredded chicken and store it in the fridge.
  • Using the other half of the shredded chicken assemble the chicken and cheese enchiladas. Save some of the Mexican cheese for tomorrows tacos. These can be stored in the fridge or freezer, just be sure to pull them out mid week so they can thaw.
  • Finally rub the remaining chicken breasts really well with the taco seasoning and a little oil. These can be grilled, sliced and stored now or cooked off tomorrow.
  • Slice one flank steak for stir fry. I usually season it with salt and pepper before tossing it into the fridge to chill before dinner time.
  • Put the other flank steak in the carne asada marinade. Smush it around real good and place it in the fridge. This is always best if marinated two days.
  • Remember that second onion that got chopped? Brown the ground beef in a skillet with the onion. Break the meat up with a wooden spoon. While it cools cook the lasagna noodles and, yep, assemble that lasagna with the mozzarella and .ricotta and giant jar of marinara. This can also go in the freezer getting pulled out mid week.

I can usually do all of this start to finish (including clean up) in less than 3 hours. This gets all the heavy lifting out of the way before the hunt gets into full swing.

That time Misha asked me to fish for a compliment.

Sunday – Stir Fry Beef and Veggies

Stir fry the sliced flank steak with the sauce and veggies of your choice. Serve over white rice and call it done!

Monday – Chicken Tacos

It’s chicken taco night! I know it’s not Tuesday but it’s also not a normal week. If you haven’t already done so, cook the chicken and slice it. Assemble the tacos with the shredded lettuce, tortillas and whatever other toppings you may have scored. Squeeze of lime and your done.

Tuesday – Carne Asada

By now your brain is getting really GISHy but that’s okay cause that flank steak is gonna be so tender. Reserve the marinade and toss that steak on the grill. While that is happening bring the marinade to a light simmer. This makes the most fabulous sloppy sauce, sometimes after we slice the steak we will dip in in the sauce real quick. Assemble those tacos with sliced steak, lettuce (I know it’s not traditional but it holds the sloppy sauce), cilantro, s and whatever else.

Wednesday – Chicken Pasta in light sauce

Pasta is a comfort food anytime, but it’s especially nice mid hunt week. Start a pot of water for the pasta, don’t forget to season it. In a heavy dutch oven heat a generous tablespoon of oil over medium heat. Once the olive oil is shimmery add the tomatoes and shallot. Stir until the tomatoes start to break down and get wrinkly, this happens pretty quick since they were sliced in half. Add the chicken broth and cook until the sauce reduces by half. Toss in the shredded Italian seasoned chicken to reheat it. Meanwhile cook the pasta and add that in with the chicken. Toss in a splash of pasta water if the sauce isn’t lose enough to coat everything, it’s not gonna be a heavy or thick sauce. Taste and season as needed. This is also a prime opportunity to use up fresh basil that has been growing like a weed all summer.

Psst – pull the meals in the freezer out.

Thursday – Chicken and Cheese Enchilada

Bake it at 350C until it’s heated all the way through, cover them with foil if they look to be getting to dry. This is the home stretch, lets not burn dinner or complicate things now.

Friday – Lasagna

Rinse and repeat from Thursday. Bake at 350C until it’s heated all the way through. If the edges start to brown cover the pan lightly with foil.

Saturday

You have made it to the last day – it’s Saturday. Saturday is usually leftovers or take out or a nervous breakdown; one time it was a pizza made to look like the celling of the Sistine Chapel.

I’m always exhausted, pushing that last bit out, but at the same time so immensely proud of myself and my team. There will be no doubt that we made a difference, infused the world with a little more kindness and did a lot of weird stuff. Well the first week of August, not only do you know what I’ll be doing but you now know what I’ll be eating.

Want to know more about GISH? Have a GISH story to tell? Try my meal plan and love/hate it? Let me know in the comments.

Bonus Content
Something else I do that I find immensely helpful. I set out all the containers I’m gonna need with sticky notes that say what goes in what. Then I use the notes to label the shelves in the fridge. I’m super short and it helps me to find what I might not be able to see shoved to the back.

5 things to make with Zucchini

Here in southeastern NC we are starting to see spring weather; the trees are blooming, robins are frolicking and allergy meds are being dispensed. It’s also time for me to start planning my spring plantings, most importantly the garden. With the backyard getting more shade these days I don’t have as much space as I used to, so I stick with a small herb garden and some tomatoes.

However one year I recall making a dreadful mistake of planting to much zucchini. My garden looked like a submarine flotilla and for whatever reason the only technique of consumption I had was to sauté them with onions, that got old.

Although I’m not gonna be planting zucchini again anytime soon, I don’t want y’all to get stuck in the same position as me. So here are my 5 favorite things to make with zucchini, and it’s not bread cause that stuff is just gross.

Zucchini fries are the absolute bomb. There are a zillion variations, but I like them rolled in parmesan cheese and herbs, then baked or broiled. Crispy cheesy on the outside and juicy on the inside – what’s not to love about that?

Roasted veggie primavera is a great comfort food. I prefer to roast squash, red onion, red peppers and asparagus in addition to the zucchini. Bring it all together by tossing the vegetables with a short pasta like penne and velvety sauce. Finish that with parmesan cheese and fresh parsley. It’s a delicious weeknight meal or phenomenal side to a grill chicken breast.

One word – fritters. Preparation takes some time and patience but it’s worth it in the end. The secret is to get as much of the moisture out of the shredded zucchini as possible. After salting and allowing some of the moisture to draw out I will pile it in the middle of a big flour sack towel, gather and twist, using the leverage to squeeze out nearly all of the water. Fluffy crispy fritters every time.

I’ll admit to not actually fixing this next one myself but spiralized zucchini noodles with a good tomato sauce and garlic bread is terrifically simple, and everything is better with garlic bread. Pre-spiralized veggies can be purchased at the grocery store frozen and often fresh, making this speedy week night meal to bring together. Oh and don’t forget the parmesan cheese, since that seems to be theme here.

Although these are all good ideas, vegetable tian is hand down my favorite way to use summer vegetables. Olive oil, fresh herbs, zucchini, red onions, eggplant and tomatoes baked at a low temp until it’s sweet like a vegetable jam. Serve this with slices of crusty bread for scooping it right out of the baking dish.

There you have it my overzealous zucchini planting readers, stuff to do with zucchini that isn’t gross (zucchini bread) or boring (sautéed with onions).

Photo by Louis Hansel @shotsoflouis on Unsplash

MixTape!

With both of us working from home I moved my desk out to the dinning room table. Being in the main part of the house during work hours is distracting, but not with out it’s rewards. Like my record collection!

Here is what I’ve been listening to lately.

2001 A Space Odyssey soundtrack; I know that’s an odd choice but with it’s eerie haunting sounds it can be big pre-coffee mood.

In keeping with soundtracks, currently spinning is James Bond Greatest Hits, circa 1982.  That’s right Goldfingaaaahhhhh at max volume with accompaniment by yours truly.

I have quite a bit of my parents collection and they were hippies, with a capital long hair and patchouli.  Into the fold that brings the Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, Crosby Stills and Nash, and who doesn’t love some Elton and his yellow brick road.

I started my jazz/blues collection by buying a lot off ebay, 30 records for $30 and free shipping.  Some artists I knew some I came to really enjoy.  Recently on the table Artie Shaw and Benny Goodman.  I have so many of their records and honestly love each of them.

Occasionally I do pick up newer artists that have started to reembrace the vinyl age.  I’m obsessed with Honey, Honey’s sound.  I have “3” on vinyl and listen to it often.

So that’s what I have been listening to in the last week or so.  I’ve also slowly started adding my collection to DiscoG so you can find me there, username ElizaN,  if you want to see more.  Happy Listening.

5 Things to Early Spring Clean

The post holiday season always puts me in the mindset for early spring cleaning. Typically I make a huge list of everything that needs a deep clean, refresh, or good purging. Completing the list is a huge endeavor and going into this new year I seem to be busier than I expected. So I narrowed it down to my top five efforts. Much of this is done and the post probably would have been more significant two weeks ago, but don’t judge – just enjoy.

I might be projecting a bit but – Clean out your nasty fridge! At this point, I have either adopted a healthier new year’s lifestyle resolution or forfeited back to sweatpants. There is either kale languishing in the crisper or freezer burnt ice cream next to the corn. Either way, it likely could use a good cleaning. I take everything out of the fridge, wipe down all the surfaces and reorganize it. Compost anything that has left the building and recycle empty containers.

Winter clothes. As I sit here clutching hot tea and wondering if the heat is gonna shut off anytime soon, it seems like the wrong time of year to get rid of winter clothes. It’s not, and here are two reasons why. First; by now I know if I’m going to wear something. My rule is, knowing how it fits now and looks would I buy it again. If the answer is no – out it goes. Second; Consignment shops are still taking cool weather items. Sell that lovely sweater that hugs the muffin top a little wrong.

The makeup horde drawer. There was no reason I made this an early spring cleaning priority other than it needed to be done. Much like the fridge I took everything out, wiped all the surfaces clean, and organized my stash, tossing old stuff or colors I didn’t care for. I also found an interesting deposit of a pink shimmery gold powder in the corner of the drawer that I have no idea where it came from.

Ceiling fan. This is another one of those for no reason other than it really needs to be done. We use our ceiling fans in the main part of the house year-round. I think when I’m not looking the dog floats up there and lives his fluff on them. So so so gross. Vacuuming the dust helps with my allergies so I try to tackle the fans before hay fever season (okay so I guess I do have a reason to do them for early spring cleaning).

The last thing I tackled – digital storage. Even with the pandemic minimizing events and gatherings I still seemed to take a ton of pictures this last year. (that’s code for my dog is cute). I also have a terrible habit of taking screenshots to remind me of something, forgetting anyway and not deleting the screenshot. Deleted unwanted useless screenshots, memes, and blurry photos. Then I make a copy (or move depends on my mood) everything over to my external drive after making sure they have made it to the googly cloud.

So that’s it. That’s my master plan to take over the world by dusting one ceiling fan at a time.

Picture of the dog for attention and to demonstrate the truth behind how I mange to fill my phone up so quick.

Spoiler Alert – I’m a terrible introvert.

North Carolina has moved to Phase 2. This means, for those of us that are ready, self isolation can start coming to an end gently making way for social activities. Before self isolation I thought I was a perfectly good introvert. I was going to clean closets, detail my car, learn the accordion, brush up on my very remedial Japanese, make fancy dinners and the list went on. Being someone that worked from home and didn’t tend to go ‘out and about’ it felt like an introvert paradise.

Spoiler alert – I’m a terrible introvert.

It was novel at first. I straightened up a closet, tackled a yard project even started that book languishing on my night stand. Then work slowed down so I lost some structure there, the husband was home everyday continuing to blur the lines between days. Meal planning brought no joy because the stores were struggling to keep their supplies consistent. My muscle memory wasn’t capable of assimilating anything new so the accordion became confusing. Things that brought me joy just didn’t, not anymore.

I sat down at my sewing machine on a Saturday, one of my most favorite things to do; play in my fabric stash and create something new. We needed fabric masks, I found a pattern that I liked, spent time selecting and cutting fabric. I was gonna make something and it was gonna be awesome, surely this would cheer me up and add purpose to my day. I finished, proudly looked at my new fabric masks in polka dots, stripes and peacock feathers – I felt worse, so much worse. I was frustrated I didn’t feel better, frustrated I had to spend time sewing for a pandemic. I didn’t want to sew because of a pandemic, I wanted to sew because I wanted to sew. I was devastated and felt lost.

I don’t even know how to explain the weeks that followed, I was just kinda going through the motions feeling like a terrible introvert. I’m very thankful for the relationship with my therapist. We talked about integrating the new normal, being okay with going with the flow and (what turned out to be most important) being kind with myself. I jokingly called it being mindful to be mindful. Mostly just oodles of conscience reminders that I’m resilient, flexible and can do hard things (cause this is hard).

I’ve not perfected it, and I’m sure I’ll wreck it a few more times – otherwise it wouldn’t be a process. I’ve been enjoying time with the neighbor ladies, we sit outside keeping a social distance appreciating each others company. Giggled myself into hysterics over some really strange but informative scientific research about bats. Amused myself with puzzles, new cookbooks from different regions and reading my first graphic novel.

For the first time in a while I feel content.

6 best things I’ve cooked during “quarantine”

There are a few weeks left until we are gonna be allowed to roam about freely, but here is south eastern North Carolina we have at least had a gorgeous spring. Even with warm temperatures and sun shinny days I’m still getting tired of being stuck at home in self isolation.

I always find joy cooking with fresh flavors and bright colors, it’s become even more therapeutic over the, what’s the count, 55 days? There is something about a delicious fresh meal that just lifts my spirits, and recently has created a feeling of structure and accomplishment. So please enjoy the best things I have cooked while keeping myself squirreled away at home.

(Disclaimer: the photos are subpar, I didn’t really expect to be blogging about eating during a pandemic. Thanks for being understanding. )

Vietnamese Noodle Bowls. The first place I ever had Bun Thit Nuong is a local Thai/Vietnamese restaurant, they have an garden with little private pagodas open during dinner hours. Cold noodles and fresh veggies make the Vietnamese bowls perfect for out door summer dinning. Partly reminiscent for summer and partly because they are delicious, creating these bowls at home always makes me happy. I prefer mine with lemongrass pork and a health pile of chopped peanuts.

Steak and Nectarine Salad. This one came pretty much straight out of the new cookbook Half Bakes Harvest: Super Simple, which you can find on her blog. I ditched the sauteed peppers and skipped to the steak and nectarines. All on a bed of arugula with lots of sliced cucumbers and basil. This is another bright cheery meal that makes me think of summer and not being stuck at home.

Indian Butter Chicken. I love Indian food, and was excited that this was simple to make and didn’t require a special skill or anything I couldn’t find in the grocery store. I fiddled around on the interweb googles, mushed together a few recipes, bought some naan and went for it. Its a nice warm but not spicy flavor, so very popular with the husband.

Lemon Something Chicken. Typically called Chicken Francese or French or Rochester, it’s all the same; breaded chicken cutlets in a lemony butter sauce that is delicious over pasta. I’ve made this allot during self isolation. Bright citrus and buttery sauce plated over angle hair pasta, it’s fabulous comfort food.

Avocado Toast. I honestly never thought I would warm up to the thought, but now I can’t get enough of it. My favorite accompaniment is sliced cherry tomatoes and everything bagel seasoning, with sourdough being the popular toast choice. It’s crunchy and creamy, hot and cold with a salty garlicy flavor sending it right over the top. Best part; being home all the time I can catch the avocados in that 1 hour window where they are perfectly ripe.

Street Meat, or at least that is what we have come to call it. Using recipes modeled after the sidewalk vendors in NYC, which I’ve actually never had myself so I’m not sure how it compares, it still manages to be delicious. The hot chicken and rice mixed with cold crispy lettuce topped with tangy white sauce vanquishes hunger. It’s also made me love tolerate chicken thighs.

So that’s the list. I’m sure there is more that captivated me but it’s been a long couple of weeks and my brain has taken several days off. Cooking and exploring new cultures through cookbooks and food blogs alike has been a staple for keeping me occupied these past weeks. Self care comes in many embodiments. Stay safe everyone.

Bow ties, chicken thighs and a tradition dies.

This dog! Who would have thought he would look so cute in his bow tie. Okay so I never doubted it. He needs a red plaid one for Christmas.

Newest revelation in the kitchen; chicken thighs. No seriously, I’ve never been a fan until recently. Now I’m nearly obsessed with them and finding the perfect way to cook them. I have done BBQ sauce on the grill, lemon buttery BBQ baked, skillet sweet and sour, and a few other disasters, I mean experiments. So far my favorite is cooking them in a skillet with a honey lime sauce. It’s sweet, tangy and juicy. Totally perfect. Once I feel like I’ve nailed it, I’m gonna share!

Speaking of changing things up and trying something new, we have always done a Thanksgiving dinner at our house. In recent years this has become more difficult to coordinate and, if we are being honest, personal reasons to much to endure. This year we are joining a local church body to deliver Thanksgiving meals rather than eating one! Not looking for any validation just encouraging others that’s it’s okay to break tradition once in a while, they can always be revisited later.

Italian Stuffed Flank Steak

Flank steak is inexpensive and versatile, it makes great fajitas, stir fries or even cheese steak. It picks up flavors from a marinade easily, and can be grilled, pan seared, baked or broiled. Although, my favorite is a stuffed flank steak, by pulling together whatever sounds good from the fridge and pantry, there really isn’t a wrong way to “stuff” the steak.

I’ve used leftover sauteed mushrooms, caramelized onions, asparagus, tomato paste, sliced ham, various cheeses the list just goes on. However, my personal favorite is mushrooms, sauteed spinach and sun dried tomatoes. It’s savory and a little sweet, add in provolone or mozzarella coupled with a balsamic glaze- perfect.

I promise next time flank steak is on sale you will want to try this.

Print Recipe
Stuffed Flank Steak with Balsamic Glaze
Stuffed flank steak is probably the most flexible recipe I have right now, and it's simple. The glaze is optional, but it's delicious, I like to make it ahead of time so I can be attentive while it cooks down.
Course Main Dish
Prep Time 25 min
Cook Time 15 min total
Servings
8 pinwheels
Ingredients
Stuffed Flank Stead
Balsamic Glaze (optional)
Course Main Dish
Prep Time 25 min
Cook Time 15 min total
Servings
8 pinwheels
Ingredients
Stuffed Flank Stead
Balsamic Glaze (optional)
Instructions
The filling
  1. In a skillet with a lid, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the mushrooms and saute until they are golden, about 5 minutes.
  2. Add the shallots and cook for an additional 2 min while string.
  3. Reduce the heat to low and add the spinach, a little more olive oil if you need to and the garlic salt. Stir to mix and put the lid on allowing the spinach to wilt. Pull this off the heat, stir in the sun dried tomatoes and move on to stuffing the steaks (see notes).
Steak Pinwheels
  1. Preheat the oven to 350C
  2. Place the steak on a cutting board with the grain of the meat parallel to the edge of the counter. Pound the meat thinner to make it easier to roll, or if it's really thick/uneven butterfly it and then pound it flat.
  3. Starting with the edge closest to you begin to plop the filling on the meat. Evenly spread it out avoiding the top third of the steak.
  4. Starting with the edge closes to you roll the steak like a big meaty jelly roll.
  5. Secure with toothpicks and slice into 2 inch thick pinwheels.
  6. Heat an oven proof (I like cast iron for this) skillet over medium heat with a drizzle of olive oil.
  7. Lay the pinwheels cut side down and sprinkle with half the herb seasoning, then place them seasoning side down in the hot skillet. Sprinkle the rest of the seasoning over the pinwheels while they sear.
  8. Once they are nice and brown on the bottom (about 1 min) flip the pinwheels over and sear the other side for about two minutes.
  9. Sprinkle the Parmesan cheese over the steaks.
  10. Place them in the oven for 7-10 min until the desired doneness is reached. If the cheese hasn't browned I like to give them a min under the broiler before I pull them out.
  11. Allow the steaks to rest for a few min before plating them and drizzling the glaze across the tops (if using it which you really should).
Balsamic Glaze
  1. While the pinwheels are in the oven and resting it's time to make the glaze, if you are using it that is. In a small sauce pan mix the balsamic and brown sugar.
  2. Bring to a gentle simmer while stirring. Reduce the heat slightly and allow it to reduce by half. It's really that simple. Drizzle over the finished pinwheels. Sometimes I make a double batch the day before and use it on other stuff too.
Recipe Notes

This can stand alone with a very simple side like rice to catch the extra juices.  Myself, I'm a veggie lover and so I make a simple side salad or steamed carrots.

Note about the balsamic vinegar, you don't have to break the bank but do pick one that has a nice well rounded flavor.  In making the glaze those flavors will be concentrated and made a little sweet, so it's best to start out with a decent quality vinegar.  

Note about the filling, this can be made up to two days ahead of time.  Just store in the fridge in a airtight container until you are ready to stuff the steak.  Any longer than two days and I find it loses it's bright flavor and color.