Cooking When You Just Can’t Even

IMG_1821It just won’t stop snowing in Boston. We’ve seen record breaking snowfall (over 70 inches in the last 14 days) and there’s no sign of it stopping anytime soon. The snow is literally taller than me. Even as I write this, it’s still snowing.

This weather is utterly exhausting. Trudging through the unshoveled sidewalks, navigating shoulder-high snow banks, schlepping in oversized, fleece-lined, waterproof boots. It takes forever to get anywhere, both due to the added obstacle of the snow and the gridlocked traffic.

When I get home, I just want to climb into my bed, wrap myself in a fleece blanket, and attempt to warm up. I’ve watched an unprecendented amount of Netflix because it’s just about all I can do. At the end of the day, the last thing I want to do is cook dinner. I just can’t even.

So, there’s been a lot less cooking, especially during the week, in my kitchen these days. But a girl’s gotta eat. So I’ve put together my go-tos for this snowy, tiring season.

  • Soup – this is when my soup season hoarding comes in handy. Just heat up a frozen serving of soup and serve with some crusty bread or topped with a sprinkle of cheese.
  • Scrambled eggs – a go-to in the morning but also for an easy weeknight dinner. Lately I’ve had them taco style served in warmed up flour tortillas with sriracha.
  • Oatmeal – just a couple minutes in the microwave and dinner is served. Even better with milk and sliced banana.

Stay warm, Boston!

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Settling In to Fall

DSC_0693Although the official first day of fall is still a week away, there’s no denying that it’s already here. That autumn chill is in the air, leaves are just starting to turn, and it’s darker and darker each morning when I wake up. It’s sad to see summer go, but part of this transition is comforting. Fall is about beginnings – for many (and me this year) it’s time to go back to school, which is a natural transition time. We’ll all take fewer vacations in the next 3 months, meaning we all settle in where we are at home. It’s rather nice when you think of it that way.

As a friend recently put it – summer is about family and fall is about friends. We probably all spend more time with our friends in the fall than in the summer. Summer is full of family reunions and vacations, and fall is more community focused, through watching sports events, going apple picking, dressing up for Halloween. It’s a great time to connect with your larger family in the community around you.

So, in honor of everything fall has to offer (such as apple picking, corn mazes, pumpkin carving, pumpkin spice lattes, pumpkin flavored everything, boots, sweaters – do I sound cliche yet?), I’m sharing three previous posts that remind me why this season is so great.

  1. 4 Tips for Soup Season – how to make the most of the cooler weather and fall vegetables
  2. Butternut squash soup – put those tips to good use (plus a story about that time Evan read my diary)
  3. Will Run for Pie – a reflection on one of my favorite fall traditions, the NMH Pie Race (bonus: my simple apple pie recipe)

What are you excited about this fall?

The Big Five-Oh

I can’t believe I’m writing this, but…. this is my 50th post on Cook Like Kayla.

It’s been just over 6 months since CLK launched, but over 2 years since the idea first rooted. Writing and sharing my recipes has been an extremely rewarding experience. I don’t know what else to say but thank you for reading and following CLK!

In honor of my 50th post, I’ve pulled my top 5 favorite CLK posts (so far). Here’s to the next 50!

1. Chicken Fried Quinoa

The most frequently recreated recipe from CLK – i.e., fan favorite!

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2. Shrimp, Watermelon & Cucumber Salad

The first dish I photographed and thought, “damn, that looks good.”

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3. Cape Code Vacation Round-Up

A week of good food, family, and great weather – what else could a girl ask for?

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4. Baked Eggs with Kale and Sausage

Good for breakfast, lunch, brunch, or dinner. 

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5. Caprese Salad Two Ways

A second chance for leftovers!

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Puerto Rico Vacation

I have been meaning to write about my vacation to Puerto Rico back in December and due to the snow and cold we’re experiencing here in New England, it is now an appropriate time to reminisce.

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In December I spent four days in Puerto Rico with two of my coworkers after a conference we held in Orlando. We did a little bit of everything – sun, adventure, and culture. We sat at the pool, the beach, the swim up bar, and the hot tub. We rented a car and hiked in the rainforest, stopping to dip our feet into a waterfall. We kayaked into the ocean in the dark, through a tunnel made by mangrove trees, to see bioluminescence in a secluded lagoon. We traversed a fort in Old San Juan and walked the narrow painted streets while rain showers passed overhead. Like I said, a little bit of everything.

We naturally ate a lot of Puerto Rican food, including mofongo, the local specialty. Mofongo is mashed plantains, which look like bananas but are savory and very starchy in comparison. Every place we went served mofongo a little differently – with sauce and shrimp on top, next to a pile of rice, beans, and shredded chicken, or with pulled pork.

A highlight of the trip was a nighttime kayaking tour to a secluded bioluminescent bay. We rented a car on our third day in PR and drove out to Fajardo on the east coast of the island. After visiting the rainforest, we drove to the edge of the beach for our tour. It was scheduled to depart at 8:00 PM, and we arrived while the sun was setting. The darker it got, the more terrified we became – we were going to be kayaking out into the ocean! After grabbing dinner and trying to talk ourselves down, we changed into our kayaking gear and went to find our tour group.

I was slightly put at ease after meeting our tour guide who happened to have gone to school in Boston and once upon a time lived just down the road from me. (Side note: we were all surprised by how many people we met had lived or visited Boston! It made us feel at home). I felt like if we ended up in a bad situation out there in the ocean he’d show some allegiance to Boston and at least save us first. We were lucky to be the only group of three, so I got to ride with the tour guide to even everything out – which meant I basically didn’t have to do any work and got the inside scoop on the tour, Puerto Rico, and the best places to eat.

When it came time to depart, we hopped in our kayaks and started paddling out along the shoreline. Each kayak was tagged at the front and the back with a glow stick so that we could see each other in the dark and stay together in a single file line. We kayaked through the marina and our guide led us to an opening in a tunnel made by mangrove trees. We kayaked into the tunnel, which blocked the light of the moon making it very dark. Even though I was with the tour guide I was a little scared because that put me at the front of the line, kayaking out into the darkness.

When the tunnel ended we were in a huge lagoon. The water was perfectly calm, no waves at all. The moon was almost full (which was bad for the bioluminescence but good for my peace of mind). Our guide pulled everyone together and talked about the science of the bioluminescence in the bay. Essentially, a combination of a lot of things (plankton, mangrove trees, and other chemical things in the water) makes the bay glow in the dark. Unfortunately the bright moonlight made it hard to see, but our guide had a tarp that you could put over your kayak to block the light. It was amazing – the water glowed and sparkled in the dark. It was by far the most amazing part of the trip and I can’t wait to go back (during a new moon so the conditions are better for seeing the glow!).

I won’t write too much more, but let the pictures speak for themselves. I highly recommend vacation in Puerto Rico for anyone looking for a relaxing vacation that’s a little more than just sitting on the beach with a cocktail.

Puerto Rican Vacation by Pictures

Day 1 – We arrived at the hotel with just enough time to find dinner down the street and take a late night dip in the hot tub. After 6 days of nonstop work and standing on our feet, we were ready for bed pretty early.

Day 2 – Again, after 6 straights days of standing, we were ready for some relaxation. First stop: beach. Second stop: pool. Third stop: swim up bar. Fourth stop: dinner in Old San Juan (shrimp and garlic mofongo).

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Day 3 – We were ready to mix it up a bit after a day in the sun, so we embarked on a day of adventure. We rented a car and drove to the east cost of the island to the rainforest. After a pit stop to pick up a new bathing suit top for Carolyn (hers flew off the balcony while air drying the day before) and a few wrong turns, we arrived at the El Yunque Rainforest. I had never been to a rainforest before and was shocked by how greenery!  By the time we arrived we were pretty hungry. Our guidebook directed us to a cheap little shack on the side of the road where we had our favorite meal of the trip.

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Then we parked to see La Coca Falls, an 80 foot waterfall.

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Then we hiked to a tower that overlooked the luscious green rainforest.

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Then we hiked to another waterfall – one that you could swim in! The water was freezing and we didn’t bring our bathing suits, but we dipped our toes in.

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After the rainforest we drove to Fajardo for our kayaking tour. We don’t have any pictures since it was dark and we left our cameras in the car.

Day 4: We embarked on a historical day in Old San Juan. One of the oldest cities in North America, it is rich with history and culture. We went to the Fort San Felipe del Morro, and I was amazed! The fort is enormous and you and explore every nook and cranny. I’m not usually big on history but this was amazing.

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For our last night in Puerto Rico, we went to a beautiful dinner down the street – definitely our favorite!

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Day 5: Our flight departed in the early evening, so we had enough time to visit the beach, hot tub, and pool again and enjoy a few last Pina Coladas.

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Just a few weeks ago, my fellow travelers/coworkers reunited for a Puerto Rican night. We recreated mofongo, the classic Puerto Rican dish I mentioned before. The recipe came out well enough that we (almost) felt we were on the beach again, with a pina colada in hand!

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December Updates

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As I’m sure it has been for all of you, December has been a crazy month for me. Here’s what I’ve been up to for the past few weeks:

  • I went to Orlando to work at my organization’s largest conference. I spent 6 days straight with my amazing, goofy, inspiring colleagues that I am lucky to call my friends. Although it was hard work and long days, we managed tons of fun. (That’s us in the blue polo shirts above.)
  • After the conference, I spent a long weekend in Puerto Rico for a tropical getaway. It was hands down the best vacation of my life. I swam in a waterfall, kayaked into the ocean at night, saw a rainbow in the rainforest. The most fruit I ate was in my twice daily pina colada.
  • As if there isn’t enough going on already, I’m applying to grad school! I have been for a few months now, but my applications are due in January so all of my extra writing brain power has been put towards putting the final touches on my application.
  • I’ve been in a serious food funk. All of this travelling, working, vacationing, holiday-ing and my general abnormal schedule has me eating out more and cooking at home less. I’m hoping the New Year will bring new inspiration (and a regular schedule).

Since I’ve already fallen behind on posting this month, Cook Like Kayla is officially going on a holiday vacation. We’ll be back to regularly scheduled programming in January when life turns (sort of) back to normal. In the meantime, here are few things to look forward to in 2014:

  • A post about my trip to Puerto Rico, with a corresponding recipe for mofongo (a traditional Puerto Rican dish with plantains).
  • Guest posts from a few of my friends – they’ll inspire you to get creative!
  • More about meal planning, exercising, and general wellness in addition to easy-to-make, inexpensive recipes.

Have a wonderful, healthy holiday season and I’ll see you in 2014!

PRnight

New Weather, New Workout

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I know this is a cooking blog, but I can diversify a bit, right? A big part of a healthy lifestyle is staying active, so I hope you don’t mind if every now and then I post about exercise.

About 10 weeks ago I started training for a 10k (6.2 mile) race, the longest distance I’ve ever run. Prior to this, the longest race I participated in was 4.5 miles. That was in 2007 and when I finished I vowed to never run that far again. And here I am.

I started training in July, right in the middle of summer. My training plan consisted of running three times a week (one timed, one distance, and one intervals), lifting twice a week, and cross-training (like yoga, spinning, or hiking) once a week. If you do the math, that comes to 6 workouts per week. I was being ambitious.

When I started training, it actually wasn’t so bad. To my surprise, I kept up with my plan for a solid 5 weeks – even over vacation! But then September rolled around, and I hit a wall. Somehow I’d lost my motivation and just couldn’t keep up.

My reasoning: it’s much easier to exercise over the summer. The sun rises earlier and sets later, allowing more time for an early morning visit to the gym or a late evening run. We’re all a little more motivated, for different reasons, by the pressure to be seen anywhere in a bathing suit.

Over the course of 10 weeks, more than just the weather has changed – my priorities have changed too. Sleeping in until closer to sunrise has become more important (and more valuable to my overall happiness) than hitting the gym. What I do after work has changed too. I’m spending more time with friends or relaxing at home and less time exercising. And I’m okay with that.

So I didn’t complete the training plan I committed myself to 10 weeks ago. To compensate, I’ve started training harder, fewer times per week. Hopefully when the 10k comes around, I’ll make it through feeling strong. I’m looking forward to doing more yoga and spin classes over the winter months, and hanging up my running shoes for a little while.

How does your workout change season to season?

Fall in Vermont

I had the pleasure of going home to Vermont last weekend to partake in almost all of my favorite fall activities. I say almost because we didn’t make it to a corn maze – between picking up my mom’s farm share, visiting family, apple picking, and baking there just wasn’t enough time. There’s still time, however, to get to one in the Boston area (hint to all my Boston friends!) before the season is over.

Although the weather wasn’t great for apple picking (overcast and starting to sprinkle), it was still beautiful. We hiked to the top of the orchard for our favorite Honey Crisps, filled the rest of the bag up with Macs, and rewarded ourselves with warm cider donuts. There are many apple recipes to come, but for now, enjoy these pictures of beautiful Vermont in the fall.

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From left to right, starting at the top: 1) kale share at Piccadilly Farm, 2) picking husk cherries, 3) apple harvesting at Green Mountain Orchard, 4) New England scenery, 5) Macintosh apple tree, 6) pick your own pumpkins, 7) Rosie’s first cider donut of the season, 8) delicious cider donuts that didn’t last long!