Sunday, 29 April 2012

Bitchin' in the Kitchen - Quinoa Stuffed Peppers

Each month, my girlfriends and I get together and hold an event that we call "Bitchin' in the Kitchen". Basically, the host chooses a theme and each girl brings a dish according to the theme.  We've done Mediterranean, Italian, Appies and Wine, Comfort Food, Breakfast-for-Dinner and many more.  It's a lot of fun and a great way to share recipes.  Last night, we had an early Cinco de Mayo celebration with a Mexican theme.  My goal was to bring something clean and delicious.

I started with this base recipe and Mexican-ized it from there.  Here's what I came up with:


Mexican Quinoa Stuffed Peppers

(Gluten Free + Vegetarian)


3/4 cup black quinoa, rinsed and drained (can use regular as well, black has a nuttier taste)
1 1/2 cup low sodium broth
5 red bell peppers
1 T olive oil
1/2 yellow onion, diced
2/3 cup black beans, rinsed (about half of the can)
2/3 cup corn kernels
1 T salt-free taco seasoning (or low sodium)
1 t chili powder
1/2 t chili flakes
1/2 cup part-skim mozzarella



Preheat oven to 350°F.

Be sure to check the quinoa package to see if it is pre-rinsed.  If not, soak it for 10 mins and rinse under cold water to remove the bitter coating.  Place broth and quinoa in a saucepan and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat, cover and simmer until all liquid has disappeared (about 15-30 min, depending on the type of quinoa you use). Keep covered; set aside.

Remove pepper tops, stems, and seeds. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add peppers, boil for 5 minutes, and drain.

Heat oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion; saute for 5 minutes until browned. Stir in corn and beans. Remove from heat and mix in quinoa, taco seasoning, chili powder and chili flakes.

Fill peppers with quinoa mixture and place upright in a baking dish. Sprinkle with cheese. Add just enough water to form a very thin layer in the bottom of the dish. Bake for 20 minutes or until tops are lightly browned. Serve immediately.

Finished product
The spread

Friday, 27 April 2012

Stairs for Lunch

Looking out my office window, not only do I see a beautiful view of the Bow River, I also stare straight at the "McHugh Bluff" (also known as the Memorial Stairs).  This well known Calgarian landmark is a series of 11 flights of stairs that will kick your ass, regardless of what shape you're in.  To make it even more painful, it's accompanied by a big hill, several trails and - little known fact - a pull up bar mounted on the bottom of one of the platforms.  Year round, hundreds of 9-to-5-ers flock to the Memorial stairs at lunchtime to take a sweaty reprieve from the daily grind.

Memorial Stairs, Calgary

Today was a particularly warm spring day and as such, the stairs were packed.  I had been looking forward to getting out all morning and had committed to doing intervals as part of my 10K training.  My training schedule called for speed intervals, but I modified it to suit the stairs.

Here's what I set out to accomplish (and when I say "ON", I really mean "UP"!):

5 min warm up (jogging or speed walking)

4 x 3 min ON (with 30-45 second rest in between each)
4 x 1 min 30 sec ON (with 30-45 second rest in between)
8 x 1 min ON (with 30 second rest in between)

5 min cool down (jogging or what ever you can manage!)

During the start I jogged during the breaks but near the end it was more of a walk.

I always check myself during my workout by asking "am I uncomfortable?", and aim to get as uncomfortable as possible for as long as I can stand it.  It's a simple philosophy and it works!

This workout was tough (read: very uncomfortable).  It took me about 40 minutes, as I extended some of the breaks so that I could get all the way back down the stairs. 

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Happiness is Hard Work

It's a beautiful Saturday afternoon and I just finished re-organzing my pantry.  Eventhough it's just me who lives here, I do a lot of cooking and baking so things tend to accumulate.  I hauled out almost two full garbage bags of expired and never-going-to-use-again items.  

Recently it dawned on me that happiness isn't necessarily easy.  Maybe it's just me, but I had been going about my life thinking that keeping a clean house, getting up extra early to get to the office by 7 AM and consistently eating clean were, like, such a drag.

Have you ever said or heard someone say "I'd love to be that organized/healthy/productive, but I just can't be bothered to put in the effort"?  That was me, spending hours doing housework just wasn't my style, I'd let things pile up until I could no longer stand it.  I hated waking up early for work and thought the people who came in before 7 o'clock were keeners who had nothing better to do with their time.  I didn't like to let healthy eating get in the way of fun.  I avoided all of the things I loathed in the name of happiness.  I went with what felt right at the time.  And then I realized, while I did experience instant gratification, that amazing feeling of drifting back into sleep after pressing snooze for the third time, the after-effects were starting to make me anxious. 

How could doing what I thought made me "happy" make me feel so shitty?

First, I had to figure out what doesn't make me happy.  For example, coming home to a disaster of a house makes me miserable.  Sleeping in during the week causes me to rush and makes me paranoid that my coworkers are going to think I'm lazy.  Binging on unhealthy food not only makes me feel like a complete failure, it negates my hard work, messes with my system and takes me days to recover.

Success is the sum of small efforts repeated day in and day out.  Knowing that the "effort" is contributing to your overall life satisfaction makes it a little bit less of an effort.  At least it does for me.

My freshly organized pantry

To haul my sleepy ass out of bed at 6 am, to spend a Saturday afternoon organizing my pantry, to NOT eat that nanaimo bar sitting out in the office kitchen... now that's happiness.

Fashionalysis - The Hi/Lo Skirt

When I see a new "trend" strolling down the runway, my left-brained self quickly starts rationalizing and files it into one of my mental boxes.  Hate it, want it or "meh".  I sometimes wish I could just absorb a trend, appreciate the excitement of seeing something new and novel...  but for me it's impossible.  I must analyze it.

I've broken it down into a few simple questions to assist one in determining if a trend is 'the shit' or just plain shit.  It also helps me choose between a serious splurge and the budget friendly option.

Take the hi/lo skirt, for instance. I'm avoiding the temptation to call it a mullet skirt (but please know I really want to). 

1.  Functionality

Q: Is it appropriate for day and night (i.e. work and weekend)?

A: I don't consider the hi/lo skirt to be office appropriate by my standards.

2.  Seasonality

Q: Can it be worn year round? (i.e. Does it work with a pair of black tights or a long sleeve underneath?)

A: Sure, if the right color or print is selected, a hi/lo skirt can definitely be worn through the seasons.  I would style it with booties and black tights in the winter, and and open-toed ankle straps with bare legs in summer.

3.  Wardrobe Assimilation

Q: Does it work with pieces that I already own?  (i.e. I don't have to buy something else in order to wear this.)

A: Yup.  I have a simple silk racerback tank that could be tucked in.  I can also see it paired with a fabulous menswear inspired blazer.

4.  Classicality

Q: Will I still wear this 5 years from now?  Okay, 5 years is a stretch, but you get me, right?

A: I'm not convinced that this trend will still be considered fashionable years from now.  In fact, I can imagine the hi/lo skirt falling the way of stirrup pants and puffy vests.  Wait... were puffy vests ever considered fashionable?

Verdict: 2/4.  Like it... but not splurge-worthy.   Essentially, the hi/lo is a trend, not a closet staple.

I found a fantastic version at Zara for around $40 that fits oh so perfectly into my going-out wardrobe.

Zara hi/lo skirt paired with black tights and booties.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Why 'Atlas Grace'?

Bronze Statue of Atlas,
New York City

I have always been intrigued by the significance behind the names of people and things.  I will admit that I have spent many hours obsessing over what I will call my future children, what I will name my imaginary cafe/boutique/restaurant, and, more recently, what I will name my blog.  One name that has stuck with me is 'Atlas'.  Atlas was a character in Greek mythology who, upon defeat, was condemned to hold the heavens on his shoulders.  To me, it signifies an enduring individual who contributes significantly to society, and therefore "holds up the world" in a metaphorical sense.  I aspire to one day be described by words such as those.

A quote that I live by is this:

"Hold yourself to a standard of grace, not perfection." 

I'm not sure who said it, but it sounds like something that came from Audrey Hepburn or Grace Kelly.  Just saying the word "grace" in my head is calming and serves as a reminder of the person I aspire to be.  It's not the situations that we are faced with in our every day lives, it's how we react to them.  Every day I try to react to situations in the most gracious way possible.  (Note: some days are harder than others.)

The two together, Atlas Grace, just fits for me.  Like something I've heard before.  It clicked, it spoke to me, the heavens opened up.  Kind of like when you come upon the most perfect pair of shoes.  You just know.