Chicken Noodle Soup with Homemade Broth

I spent this spring on maternity leave.  Which meant I had all day to prep for dinner.  And for the first couple of weeks, I had sincere plans to make elaborate meals, fancy desserts, and snacks.  But then I didn’t. Because I have three kids. So sure, I may have had the time to tackle a multiple step recipe but yeah, I have three kids.  I have no hands. I am constantly breastfeeding.  Someone needs a glass of water or milk.  Someone is screaming that a toy is no longer in his grasp. While I may have all day to cook, life is anything but simple.  Dinner recipes need to be as uncomplicated as possible.

That’s where soup comes in.  The idea of tossing all the ingredients into a pot, letting it simmer (maybe checking on it periodically to stir, but maybe not)–yeah, I can handle that and breastfeed a baby while wiping a toddler’s butt (yeah, that happened. Sorry, Ellie!)

a substantially more relaxing nursing session.

And when making soup, why not stick with a classic: chicken noodle.  I am all for making as much of your recipe from scratch when you can–especially when it’s not super complicated.  Making your own chicken broth is stupid easy.  Literally, you throw full chicken in a pot of hot water. Leave the chicken in hot water.  Come back later and take out the chicken.  And wah lah, you have chicken broth.  Even with three young children, this is manageable.

So anytime we get a rotisserie chicken, there’s a good chance homemade chicken noodle soup is on the horizon.  Here’s some unsolicited advice that you do the same.

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Fully Loaded Veggie and Chicken Hotdish

Gah, I am in love with my maternity leave! Every morning, around 7:15, I am woken up by JR and Max very loudly demanding breakfast or that I hold them.  They roll around in our bed, driving Matt insane (as he wants to keep sleeping). Many times, I am nursing Ellie so I lay in bed feeding her while Matt makes the boys oatmeal.  Eventually, we make our way out of bed. We slowly get ready for the day.  I wash my face, brush my teeth, put in contacts.  There is no rush. We have no deadlines.

Eloise and I spend our mornings checking emails, listening to podcasts, drinking coffee, watching the boys play.  Our afternoons are spent grocery shopping, taking short walks, running errands. And of course, lots and lots of nursing, burping, changing diapers, cleaning off spit up.

Some days are more stressful than others.  Taking care of a newborn and two toddlers is not always easy.  Max and JR are still learning the nuances of sharing.  Maxwell still nurses at night (but he would love to nurse all day). But without having work on my plate and knowing that my workless days will come to an end, the toddler tantrums are easier to stomach. After all, I get to spend my days with my children.  These little people I created with the person I love the most.  These little people who love me so much.  These little people who have so assignments or deadlines for me to accomplish anything.

And each afternoon, instead of fretting on whether I have had a productive morning full of billable hours, I get to start planning what home cooked meal I’ll be making my family that night.  Gone are the days of planning a meal around the fact that I get home from work at 7:00 p.m. No recipe is off limits.  If our pantry is missing an ingredient, I can go to the grocery store.  If the recipe takes several hours, that’s ok.  I can start cooking early.

The slow, mostly relaxing days bring me so much comfort.

Minnesotans express love with warm casseroles we call hot dishes.  So this meal reminds me of family.  It is full of hearty veggies and cheese that remind you of a dinner you ate sitting at your grandmother’s kitchen table with your siblings. Or a meal you’d share with friends in the church basement at a pot luck.

Typically hot dishes call for canned soups, which are full of salt and aren’t that healthy.  But this hot dish subs the typical cream of mushroom condensed soup for Greek yogurt, eggs, and milk.  Honestly, you can’t taste the difference but your waist line will.  All over, this is a great hot dish.

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Avocado Chicken Salad

When I am pregnant, I never get too worried about my weight gain.  I don’t eat too terribly.  I don’t eat as if I am eating for two.  I work out 5 days a week.  I try to stay active.  Each time, I gained 45 pounds.  Sure, this technically is more than what is recommended (35 lbs is the top) but I see no reason to lose sleep over the weight gain.  I feel healthy.

Of course, now starts the hard part: losing the baby weight.  For me, the first 15 lbs drops off right after the baby is born.  Another 10 falls away shortly thereafter thanks to breastfeeding.  But those last 20 lbs don’t leave without a fight.  And honestly, after JR’s and Max’s births, I didn’t lose all 20 lbs before I got pregnant again.  This time I am hoping it will be different.  And not only because it is likely that we won’t have a fourth baby (never say never because who knows).

One week postpartum
three weeks postpartum. no considerable change from week one.

I’ve read that getting back into shape is 20% working out and 80% diet.  No idea how accurate that is but it feels right. I have always been great about working out and relatively crappy about keeping a clean diet.  It’s not that I don’t eat healthy.  It is just that every day I also eat something arguably too sugary, processed, or salty.  Right before I wrote this, I shoved three gummy worms and three pieces of chocolate into my mouth.  Despite the fact that I ate healthy the rest of the day. I ruined my healthy day in less than three minutes.  Clearly, I need to strengthen my willpower. So, what should I be eating instead of my children’s treats for going potty on the potty?

My new go-to lunch meal has been this avocado chicken salad.  I’ve made this salad twice since Eloise was born, and she is only three weeks old. It is a heartier salad than most so I stay full longer.  You can easily add more ingredients to the salad or keep it simple. The salad does call for bacon, which you can sub for turkey bacon, use just a strip or two, or get rid of all together, depending on how healthy you want to be.

So now starts my journey into losing the 20 lbs. Cross your fingers and toes for me.  My sweet tooth will not be kind to me. I need all the help I can get.

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Lemon and Garlic Whole Chicken

It’s no secret that I am a working mom.  It is something I am deeply proud of.  I love being a lawyer, just as I love being a mom.  But most nights, I do not get home until 7:00.  If I start making a full dinner from scratch once I get home, we typically don’t sit down to eat until after 8:00.  As much I’d love to tell you that I pre-plan our weekday meals, that would be a lie.  There are weeks where I am great.  There are lots of weeks where I am not.

I am not a fan of take-out or even eating out in general.  It’s expensive.  It’s not as healthy.  And I usually end up feeling disappointed for overindulging or because of the quality of the food for the price.  Plus two little boys in a restaurant can be exhausting. We try to avoid it whenever possible.

So on nights when we haven’t planned dinner, our go-to meal is a rotisserie chicken.  The boys love it.  It’s not ridiculously overpriced. It’s not wholly unhealthy. But like most things, I’d prefer to make it myself than buy a premade meal.  Of course, there is no way I’d have time to roast a whole chicken on a weekday.  But I still wanted to try out a homemade version.  So last weekend, Maxie and I picked up a raw chicken and decided to make our own rotisserie chicken of sorts.

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Moroccan Chicken with Chickpeas

Ok, so yesterday I came to a realization.  I’m chubby.  I might even be fat.  Ugh, fat.  It hurts writing that.  As if putting it down in words somehow materializes something that otherwise would not exist.  Unfortunately, that isn’t how it works.  My body is squishy regardless if I acknowledge it on this blog.

Now for someone who has seen me since I’ve pushed out my babies, this shouldn’t be news.  If anything, confusing on how I have gone for over a year since the birth of my youngest son and I am only now just realizing that I am a chubby girl.  But honestly, for the last year I am lived completely oblivious to this reality.  My lack of awareness of my own body size is the result of many factors.  But really, it can be boiled down to one single truth.

I suffer from a high self-esteem.  Much like my mother, I live my life with complete confidence in myself.  For the majority of my life, I have been blindly self-assured of who I am as an individual, appearance and all.  And frankly, it has served me well.  As a whole, I am almost always happy with my life because I am largely confident in my life choices.  I’ve gotten job offers, made friends, found stylish clothes that fit.  When I was single, I never had an issue getting a date.  Overall, if I really wanted it, I would will it to happen.

So after having my baby boys, sure, many of my clothes still didn’t fit.  But that didn’t mean I was chubby.  My hips have shifted.  Or I am not that far off from where I was (oh I am).  Because in my head, I wasn’t overweight (oh I am).  I was in complete denial.

This isn’t the first time my body imagine has not matched reality.  When I went to college, as a quintessential overachiever, I gained 30 pounds.

Yet, I remained as confident as ever.  I went through three full years of undergrad before I actually realized that I was chubby and needed to rethink my habits. I won’t forget the day it hit me.  I was sitting in a class, talking to a girl who lived in my dorm who was friends with my roommate.  She was telling me a story about someone.  Or trying to see if I knew someone.  That part of the story has faded.  But the rest of our conversation, I can close my eyes and find myself sitting in that classroom.  There were no desks, and the plastic chairs made a giant circle outlining the room.  It was right before class as we made what I had amounted to nothing more than small talk.  She began describing this girl she was talking about to me.

“She is a little bit of a bigger girl. You know, like you.”

Those words stung.  In that moment, I wanted to cry and run out of the classroom.   I replayed her words over and over in my head on my walk back to my room after class.  I had to get them out of my head.  So I joined Weight Watchers. lost the weight, and got myself down to 128 pounds.  I was fit, healthy, and happy.

This time, she hasn’t been around to bring me back to reality.  So I am not sure what happened to snap me out of it.  But yesterday, I realized that maybe I was a bit farther away from my pre-baby weight than I’d like, and I need to kick it into gear if I want to feel confident in my skin by summer (and more importantly, my Italian vacation with my husband).

So I am embarking on the 8 week total body challenge on the Strive with Megan app.  It includes a daily 22-28 minute workout and a meal plan.  It’ll be tough.  Mostly because Matt loves snacking and I love to be part of the party 😉 But I’ve done it before.  So it’ll happen again.

We tried one of the meals from the 8 week meal plan, and it was delicious! I tweaked it a bit to make it our own, including adding rice because otherwise Matt would have claimed there was just not enough food.  It was simple to make, and the ingredients are mostly items that you would find in your kitchen on any day.  Matt put this on his: make again list.

[ps: I don’t plan to share other variations of the meals from the Strive app but I encourage you to get the app yourself!]

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Stuffed Buffalo Chicken Breasts

Christmas time is here! Wow, that was fast.  Wasn’t I just picking out costumes for Halloween and picking fresh veggies from our garden? Gah, life has a way of catching up with me!  So I spent the past weekend going to Kohl’s and stocking up on new Christmas decorations.  My living room, kitchen, and tv room are slowly becoming decked with jiggle bells and mistletoe.

Christmas Dining Room.

And in that spirit of giving, my husband bought me a new purse, wallet, and clutch for winter.  I’m a big believer in having a summer purse, a fall purse, a spring purse, and a winter purse.  I blame my mother.  Her purses were always inspired by the weather.

so spoiled.

I wanted to show my gratitude by making something special for Matt.  Matt loves wings.  Whenever I find a recipe that has some spin on buffalo wings, I bookmark it. Of course, I also have a wing tooth–I love the salty, spicy flavor of a good batch of wings.  Unfortunately, so do my thighs.  Hence, looking for the same tasty flavors minus the hefty calories.  This stuffed chicken is exactly that! A low-calorie option to deep fried wings.

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Sesame Encrusted Baked Chicken

I finally have joined the rest of the world–I own a smart phone!  After years of free phones that can hardly text, my phone is fully functional, complete with GPS and Words with Friends.  But the best part of having a smartphone is the camera!  For the past couple of years, I’ve had to bug Matt for his phone whenever the urge for a photoshoot struck.  Now I can whip out my own phone without the hassle of convincing Matt to fork over his.

My last recipe required so much prep work and cooking time.  This recipe is much more worker-friendly.  The ingredients are all ones that you can normally find in your cupboard.  It was a simple, yummy meal that I recommend on those busy nights.

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Slow Cooker Buffalo Chicken Lasagna

Do not let the slow cooker part confuse you.  This recipe is not a quick toss everything into the slow cooker and enjoy sort of recipe.  It’s a bit more labor intensive but oh so worth it!

Now that I have been cooking regularly for several months, I have been trying to modify and create my own recipes.  Many Italian recipes I have been finding online requires a jar of spaghetti sauce.  That is the first thing I eliminate from every recipe I try.  Instead, I substitute a can of tomato sauce.

I do this for two reasons.  First, with tomato sauce, I can control the level of salt and spices.  Spaghetti sauce generally is full of salt.  I can just add a pinch of salt instead of being subjected to the already mixed salty sauce.  Plus, my herb garden allows me to add fresh spices instead of the dried ones.  Second, a can of tomato sauce is far cheaper.  So with health and my wallet on my side, I haven’t missed the jar of spaghetti sauce in my recipes.

True to form, I have modified this recipe slightly.  Subbing out the spaghetti sauce and modifying some ingredients and prep.  This recipe was a huge hit.  It allowed us to enjoy the delicious taste of wings without the deep fried fat.

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Crock Pot Chicken Cacciatore

The dreaded bar exam is lurking around the corner.  In 16 days, I’ll be sitting down in a crowded, stuffy classroom, surrounded by over-stressed, nerve-ridden students waiting to take a two day-12 hour exam that will decide whether or not we are fit to practice law in Minnesota.  Sounds great huh?  Bring on the fun!

While I wait in anticipation of this joyous event, I have been cramming every single piece of law I can into my over-sized head.  It’s gotten to the point that when I have conversations, they consist of me telling someone about a certain area of law.  “Hey! So you’re never gonna believe this crazy piece of information! You can use prior inconsistent statements to impeach a witness. AND it can come in as substantive evidence.” Yeah, I know. Crazy. But it’s true!!

So since I can only speak in legal jargon, I’ve decided to stick to crock pot recipes for the next two weeks.  Anything that takes more than 20 minutes to cook makes me feel guilty for reading something that isn’t cluttered with italic, Latin phrases. My poor summer fun reading list has been set aside (sorry Jessi Witkins!) And this recipe only calls for ingredients that most people have on hand at all times.  No need for a grocery run.

The heat index in Minneapolis has started to decline (we live in house without air conditioning. the last couple days were less than pleasant) so using the crock pot isn’t completely unreasonable.   Plus, after a full day of studying, a warm meal sure feels great! And hell, who doesn’t love chicky catch with some long ass rice (much love to my boy Tom Haverford).

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Feta Crumble Chicken Salad with Citrus Vinaigrette

Hot summer afternoons means gardening.  My garden has doubled from last season.  I have a special herb garden filled with cilantro, basil, mint, orange mint, rosemary, hot and spicy oregano, chives, and parsley.  Plus two huge planter boxes my husband made me stuffed with red, yellow, orange, and green peppers, serrano peppers, jalapeno peppers, green beans, carrots, several types of tomatoes, garden salsa peppers, okra, sugar peas, potatoes, and cucumbers.  I know—it’s a lot of plants!  (I have 15 basil plants! My backyard smells heavenly). But my goal is to be self-sufficient this summer and autumn, and I think I’m right on track.  With all these fresh vegetables and herbs, salads are a must!

One of the planter boxes my husband made for all my pepper plants

 

my patio and porch are filled with potted plants. my favorite.

Two of my friends started CrunchTime Fitness, a website focused on helping individuals attain their physical fitness and nutritional goals.  Thanks to them, I started and finished one round of p90x (next round to be started soon) and rejuvenated the way I look at food.  This salad has been modified from their recipe box.  The dressing was delicious! I plan to mix up this dressing with different salad variations throughout the summer.  It’s the perfect way to meet your veggie requirements on a hot, sunny day.

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