Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The P Word(s).

Positively Pregnant.
Lately this dietitian has been anywhere but in the kitchen. Yep, we have a kid on our hands (well, in the womb to be exact). Hence, the lack of blog posts. We are beyond excited about this new addition to our family (!!!! YAY!! WOHOO!! SO HAPPY!!), although I can say with all honesty I wouldn't mind fast-forwarding past the first trimester. I always envisioned myself with the constant pregnancy "glow" while happily enduring any minor pregnancy symptom because of the little miracle growing inside me.
Have I been all aglow with my pregnancy bliss? Nope- no glow. 
Have I been doing a lot of mouth-breathing to avoid any potential threatening aroma? Yep, sure have.
Have I been a big drama queen for the past 12 weeks? Well, I don't think so but you'd have to ask my chef  errand-runner house-cleaner husband.  

This was my first real encounter with pregnancy weirdness: Parmesan cheese. We had known we were pregnant for about a week and I wanted to celebrate by making one of our favorite meals, Risotto. However when adding the last (and crucial) ingredient, I realized our Parmesan was "rotten."  Why?- Chris asked. 
Because it's not supposed to smell like this.- me
It's Parmesan cheese- it's supposed to smell like Parmesan cheese. -Chris
But this is BAD BAD BAD Parmesan cheese. I think something is wrong with it.-me
I think something is wrong with your nose.- Chris
And Chris enjoyed 4 servings of Risotto while I ate cold cereal. 

Is it possible to develop new phobias during pregnancy? I think I have acquired a phobia of my spice cabinet. And oven. And kitchen drains and trash can and any odorous compartment. But especially the spice cabinet- darn curry powder. It was all I could smell in our kitchen for a month (why didn't I throw it away, you ask? Great question...)  I have conditioned myself to only mouth-breath in the kitchen. 

Oh, the irony. Folks, this is a sad season in one respect. Pumpkin has literally become the "P" word in our house. We don't really speak of it. It was a struggle to even write it! We had a momentary mourning when we realized we would be going through the entire Fall/Winter season without a single pumpkin recipe. I can't recall when I first realized I had zero desire (and automatic gag reflex) to the thought of pumpkin, but it was solidified when one of my dear sweet girlfriends (who didn't yet know I was pregnant) brought me some pumpkin soup. In clear Tupperware. I don't think I ate lunch that day.

This has become dangerous territory. It could possibly go under "phobias" as a sub-category. I'll be happily sorting through my "create the perfect nursery" pins, when BAM- someone goes and pins something like pumpkin cheesecake or French Onion soup or "top 100 sweet potato recipes." (I should mention I have an aversion to all orange foods, in addition to onions, garlic, chicken broth, etc) I've had to temporarily "unfollow" several people who went a little overboard with the pumpkin this year. 

No explanation needed, really, Let's just say the line between daytime and nighttime attire has become very blurry.  

I haven't spent a particularly increased amount of time on my porch, but my crock-pot has. Semi solves the cooking dilemma, as long Chris helps me clean!

Of the two brilliant purchases I've made so far, Popsicle molds were one of them. Have I mentioned my temperature preference? Well, it's somewhere between cold and ice cold. And yes, it's the middle of winter. I did ice cream for about a week, which I justified by my increased need for calcium- but then the dietitian within me (she's still in there somewhere) said "this would at least be semi-nutritious if you made smoothies!" Great in theory, but in practice, FAR too much work. To pull out the Magic Bullet, decide on ingredients, and press a button every single time I want a smoothie?! You can see how that would be exhausting. But to blenderize a big batch of 2 ingredient Popsicles one time and freeze ahead? Sign me up. (The other brilliant purchase I made was  multiple pairs of leggings, but those don't start with "P" so couldn't be included in this post).

Not to leave you all on a negative note, thinking this pregnancy has been purely miserable- it has not! It's been quite amazing as it seems we are learning something new everyday. And there are some really great side effects! For example, I'm sleeping like a baby. It is so great. I hope it never stops. Another awesome benefit? Seeing Chris so willing to serve me. He hasn't complained once when I say "I can't make dinner tonight," or "I'm really sorry, but if I take out the trash I will have to sniff a Christmas tree-scented candle for the next hour- so can you do it?" He has been absolutely wonderful- I'm thinking of keeping this gig going after my symptoms disappear (just kidding Chris- I won't take advantage!). And another cool thing- I never thought a day would come wear I'd be HAPPY that my pants are almost too tight to wear comfortably. I mean, my body is doing all this work, I kinda want something to show for it! 

Post Script.  January 16, 2013
For the record, the above blog post was originally written over a month ago in the height of my first trimester woes. I wanted to record my actual feelings so that when it all passed I wouldn't look back and say "oh it really wasn't that bad!"  Granted, it is worth every second of it, but let's not sugarcoat it, people.(Even right now I am re-reading what I wrote and thinking "what a WIMP!") Well I'm now at 17 weeks and things are gradually improving- meaning room temperature and lukewarm foods are being incorporated back in, and I've cooked several meals in the past few weeks. I ate chicken for the first time in a month last week, and energy-wise, I feel great!

So, bottom line: I wouldn't trade any of it. Fast forward, maybe (ok definitely), but certainly not trade it. The less desirable parts are reminders that my body is working overtime creating something (someone) wonderful! It is actually helping to keep me in a near-constant state of thankfulness that God saw fit to make us parents. It is bringing a whole new dimension to our marriage- and we are cherishing 99% percent of it! (The really large 1% just happens to include pumpkin and my spice cabinet).

Chris assures me that I now have the pregnancy "glow." However, we aren't entirely sure whether it is pregnancy related or due to the expensive moisturizer I just bought. Worth every penny. 

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Pantry Clean-Out Week = Bring on the Pumpkin

My Christmas gift/ yearly supply of Pumpkin
There are really 3 reasons we have "Pantry-clean-out" weeks in this house:    

1) I spent a ridiculous amount of money on groceries that month and I'm determined to use up what we have before buying more. (These usually occur at the end of the month)

2) I'm trying to rid the pantry of JUNK that has accumulated due to either a) having an especially busy month and therefore buying stuff I wouldn't normally buy; or b) Chris has laid the guilt on THICK and somehow we end up with ice cream, golden Oreos, Nutella, and other unidentifiable processed goods. 

3) Or- and this is the fun reason: Summer is fading and I'm getting ready for Pumpkin Season!!- I mean, Fall. In case you weren't aware, I do have about 28 lbs of pumpkin remaining from the previous year. And it's been waiting oh-so patiently to make it's debut. I only hope there isn't a pumpkin drought this year or I'm really going to have be wise about how I ration these 28 lbs!

So, here is my pantry and fridge at the end of this week: 

More than enough condiments, coffee, 1.5 measly carrots and cream soda (<--the Mr's)

And here it is now- after some minor redecorating :)

12 lbs minimum in pantry at all times. Just kidding. Kind of.

And I was so excited to make my yearly batch of pumpkin spice mix. This year I went with the recipe from Pumpkin Nook's Cookbook

Now, lest you think I've gone too far, let me tell you about a REAL issue. Chris and I had a semi-legitimate "tiff"- not an argument- about when the Christmas tree should go up. It's August 31st people!! My dear sweet hubby wants to put up the Christmas tree on Halloween. (!!). Yes, you read that right, Halloween. I mean, that is in the prime of Pumpkin Season, and he's trying to overshadow all the Thanksgiving delightfulness by putting up our 2.5 foot tree. Eyebrows were raised and threatening remarks may or may not have been made... but alas, I will probably give in. After his 28 years on earth, the man has mastered the puppy dog eyes and I gotta be honest, he's darn cute.  Those same puppy dog eyes are how we end up with "ice cream, golden Oreos, Nutella and other unidentifiable processed goods" in the house.

Pumpkin Collage:
Pumpkin Cupcakes- Birthday 2010

Pumpkin Cookbook Christmas 2011
The gift that gives all year.

P.S. Did anyone notice how I used both "lest" and "alas"? I've been reading too many 18th century novels.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Healthy Happy Summer: Thai Chicken Lettuce Wraps

One of the many fun things about working in the food world (even when on temporary hiatus) is the unofficial job duty of taste-tester. After counseling hundreds of clients on a very wide variety of nutrition needs, I can say with confidence that people undeniably want a dietitian who can tell them the "real deal" in addition to all the textbook stuff; especially when it comes to current diet trends. They want to talk to someone who isn't going to just tell them it's a bad idea and they should stick to a "healthy balanced diet." I get this- I would want this too! However, as Registered Dietitians we are trained and obligated to critically examine fad diets and look for any potential deficiencies, and even potentially harmful components. And it took me a while, but I finally came to accept that regardless of sound advice, people are going to do what they are going to do, so I had to learn to roll with the punches and help them figure out how their diet of choice can work for them, despite any shortcomings it may have (with the exception of long-term cleansing/detox diets, which I do not support for safety reasons!).

One of the more recent diet trends that only crossed my path one time while working at my previous job is the Paleo (Caveman) diet, which supports eating a simple unprocessed diet comprised of meat, seafood, fruits, vegetables, & tree nuts- but no dairy or grains. I have several friends and acquaintances who swear by it, and several have shared some wonderful recipes! I was initially skeptical because strict adherence to the diet requires one to avoid entire food groups- something I would have a hard time recommending to anyone; especially when those food groups include healthy whole grains and high fiber beans and legumes. It is also deficient in calcium and Vitamin D if followed strictly, so these would need to be supplemented. However, like most diets, there are several very commendable aspects to this eating plan: it mandates whole, unprocessed foods, is low in sugar and sodium, and encourages lots of fruits and vegetables (all of which dietitians have been urging for many years!) So while I do wonder about its long-term sustainability, I recognize that those who follow it love it, many experience improved health, and the recipes aren't bad! (For a more in-depth review, visit

Which brings me to the fun part of this blog post- the recipe! A friend recommended this recipe for Thai Chicken Lettuce Wraps from the Paleo Plan that she said I had to try. I did, and they were absolutely delicious! I did modify them a bit to use ingredients I had on hand and to suit our tastes. Plus, I cooked a side of rice (big Paleo no-no) for my carbohydrate-burning hubby who needs more fuel than the average joe! But all in all, I stuck to the recipe pretty closely. According to Chris- this one makes it into the Munoz Recipe Hall of Fame- he loved them that much.

His & Hers: one with rice, one without
Thai Chicken Lettuce Wraps
Serves 4


12 large Bibb lettuce leaves (at least!)
3-4 large red cabbage leaves, very thinly sliced
1/2 cup grated carrot
1 cup finely chopped raw broccoli
3 green onions, thinly sliced
1/3 cup cilantro leaves
1 lb skinless boneless chicken breast
1 Tbs coconut oil
salt & pepper

For Thai Peanut Sauce:

1/4 cup natural peanut butter
1/4 cup water
2 Tbs low sodium soy sauce (use gluten free if needed)
Juice from 1 small lime (about 2 Tbs)
2 garlic cloves, minced

Cooking Instructions:

1. Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees F
2. Season chicken on both sides with salt & pepper. Heat coconut oil in oven-proof skillet on the stove over medium-high heat. Add chicken and cook 3-5 minutes on each side. They should be nice and browned on the outside. Transfer skillet to the oven to finish cooking (about 15-20 minutes).
3. Meanwhile, mix all ingredients together for the Thai peanut sauce. (I used the Magic Bullet- worked like a charm!)
4. In a separate bowl, mix cabbage, carrot, broccoli & green onion together. Toss with a few tablespoons of the peanut sauce.
5. Once the chicken is finished, cut into 1/2 inch pieces.
6. Assemble lettuce wraps- fill each lettuce leaf with a scoop of the vegetable mixture, chicken, cilantro and top with a few teaspoons of peanut sauce.
7. Everyone say "YUMMMM"!

*Chris added the white rice to the wrap also; I ate it on the side. If serving rice, make 3/4 cup rice according to package directions, substituting 1/3 cup of the water for coconut milk. Season with salt and pepper and toss in some cilantro when done cooking.

Did I mention it makes delicious leftovers? This is Chris' Rice Bowl
Adapted from The Paleo Plan Recipe database at

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Quinoa for breakfast- with cherries on top!

Feeling the need to switch it up for breakfast lately. I usually rotate between eggs & wheat toast and oatmeal & yogurt. Love 'em both, but needing some more variety! I've had this recipe saved for months and figured I'd give it a whirl. Plus, it's cherry season, so I've got to take advantage! (2 lbs of cherries for 3 Euro!) At first I thought the ricotta might be a little weird on quinoa (and for breakfast) but turns out it was just the right touch! A Greek yogurt (or other thick yogurt) would probably work just as well, too.

I ended up changing it significantly so I could use what I already had- feel free to change it yourself! I'd love to hear what kind of combos you all come up with. Here's what I did:

Breakfast Quinoa with Ricotta and Cherries
Serves 4

  • 1 cup uncooked quinoa
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 Tbs oil ( I used coconut; any could be used)
  • 1/4 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 cup dried dates, or other dried fruit (such as raisins or chopped apricots)
  • 2 Tbs pure maple syrup
  • 1/2 tsp orange zest
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon, plus more for sprinkling
  • 1/4 cup ricotta cheese (full fat recommended!)
  • 1 cup fresh cherries, pitted and halved (you could also use other berries, but then you'd have to change the name of the recipe ;)

1. Cook quinoa according to package directions. Fluff with a fork then set aside.

2. In a large skillet, heat the oil. Add  walnuts and cook over low heat for about 2 minutes, being careful not to burn them. Add the dates, maple syrup, orange zest and cinnamon and stir until heated through.

3. Add the quinoa to the skillet and gently stir to make sure the nut/fruit mixture is well distributed.

4. Each serving is one generous cup of quinoa mixture, topped with 1 Tbs ricotta and 1/4 cup cherries.  Sprinkle with more cinnamon if desired.

*I made this ahead of time and topped with ricotta and cherries just before serving. Each serving is approx. 350 calories (and worth every one!)

**Recipe adapted from Food & Wine. Check it out here.

Friday, June 15, 2012

It's the little things...

I commented to Chris the other night that I haven't been enjoying cooking as much lately. I haven't had the urge to spend the whole day in our kitchen trying new recipes or attempting to recreate something we ate somewhere. He started to get worried that the novelty of living in a foreign country was wearing off on me. I assured him it wasn't. But as I thought about it more, I realized that because our lives have been a little busier lately our meal experience has changed. We were eating the same stuff as usual but often separately due to him working late or me having plans. To me, this changed the whole way I perceived "enjoying" a meal. The Italians got it right in that sense- you won't often see them eating alone, or in 20 minutes or less like we do. This new insight rang true last night as Chris and I sat down to eat Gnocchi alla Sorrentina, which I have been wanting to recreate after our trip to Sorrento last month. Our evening plans fell through, so instead of rushing through it (like we had intended to) we opened a bottle of wine, set the table, and lingered over our meal. It was so much fun to recount the day we spent in Sorrento, recalling what we did and what we ate. We kind of experienced it all over again!
Impromptu date night!

Chai Latte ala Emily at the beach house

We started talking about other examples of meals we really enjoyed. Often, we couldn't even recall exactly what we ate, but what we did remember was who we were with and the sentiment attached to the occasion. For example, I love drinking tea in the afternoon.  Chai tea, to be exact, with milk and honey, like my old roommate Emily taught me. When I went to Florida to visit in April, we made it a point to do this together. And you know what? That was the best-tasting chai latte I've had in months. It's the little things.

The whole crew sharing a meal in Capri

Also recently, my parents and their friends came to Italy. One of my best friends and her husband happened to be in town the same weekend and we got to share a meal all together. 8 people sitting around the table eating a 3 hour Italian meal. Sharing meals with family and friends has become one of my favorite things. I have always loved them, but being so far apart has caused me to treasure them even more- especially when we only get to do it a few times a year!

Last example, Chris and I have a favorite meal that I make once every other month or so. It's a Muñoz family fave- NOT because of it's extravagance (which it is not at all), but because of the sentiment. It was the first meal we made together in our home as a married couple. At the time I was only trying to rid his bachelor-pad-pantry of high sodium canned goods. But it turned out delicious and was so easy that it has made it into the regular rotation of dinner meals. And every time I make it- I say "do you know why this meal is special?" And Chris gets the frantic look that says "I should know why this meal is special but I don't, so please let her tell me before I have to make up an answer!"  (Which is part of the reason I ask in the first place- ha!). But we get to share a little moment of "aww, the first dinner!" And then we move on with a little piece of happy remembrance on our minds. Thank God I married a sentimental guy!

Muñoz Family Fave- Stewed Chicken & Tomatoes Over Rice (with artichokes)
Serves 4

  • 1 cup long grain white rice
  • 2 cans stewed tomatoes
  •  12oz skinless chicken breast or thighs, sliced into strips or chunks of equal size
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 2-3 large cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 1/4c olive oil
  • 1can green beans OR 1 can quartered artichoke hearts, rinsed and drained
  • Parmesan cheese (optional)
1. Cook rice according to package directions
2. Heat olive oil in large skillet. Add onion and cook until softened (2-3 mins).
3. Season chicken with salt and pepper. Add chicken and garlic to pan and cook until chicken appears cooked on the outside.
4. Add stewed tomatoes. Bring to a boil and then simmer for about 10 mins, or until chicken is cooked through.
5. Add canned green beans or artichokes and cook 1-2 more minutes until heated through.
6. Serve chicken mixture over rice and top with Parmesan cheese.

Making this meal for the first time in 2011!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Sorrento is for...Lemons

Marina Grande in Sorrento
After nearly a month in America, I'm back in Italia! It's been a busy few weeks since being back, as I have taken on some volunteer responsibilities on base with a women's ministry group (ok- I've taken on a lot!). As a result, our meal creativity at home has suffered a little bit due to less available brain cells for meal planning. I broke down and bought my first frozen meal since we've been married. We almost made it a whole year without one. Of course, I saw this as a complete failure, while my husband saw it as complete success. He's so supportive! (I think he just secretly really liked it and is hoping they will come around more often...)

But the good news is, there's always the simplicity of an Italian meal. Although my own kitchen isn't seeing much magic these days- there's no shortage at the many trattorias and pizzerias. And now that spring has sprung, maybe I'll be re-inspired by the abundance of zucchini, tomatoes and garlic. This weekend, Chris and I headed down the coast to Sorrento. It was such an easy drive, we couldn't believe we've waited a whole year to go. But it was a beautiful day and we were glad to experience it on such day. We like to find places off the beaten path, and usually this happens either by accident or word of mouth. For this one, we have Rick Steves to thank. Trattoria di Emilia was  tucked in a quiet little nook on the shore of Marina Grande in Sorrento. This is a ways from the bustling tourist streets, away from the main port, and was right on the water. We couldn't have asked for a better view- or meal!

 We both opted for meatless meals, and of course, a local wine. I had Gnocchi alla Sorrentina and Chris had Ravioli alla Sorrentina (we still aren't sold on the seafood around here, which I'm pretty sure is mind boggling to the Italians). Sorrentina Sauce is pretty much just a tomato sauce with red pepper, basil, and buffalo mozzarella cheese, from what I've gathered. One could probably duplicate this at home- except your tomatoes aren't grown in the soil of Mt. Vesuvius, and your buffalo mozzarella isn't the same-sorry! (Do I sound like a snob yet?) But I'm sure it would still be pretty good. I did find a recipe on Food Network that looks very similar to what I had- except I would buy the fresh already-made gnocchi.

Gnocchi alla Sorrentina

Ravioli alla Sorrentina

And you can't have a trip to Sorrento without trying something lemon-flavored. We both sampled some limoncello. And then I had some citrus gelato called "the scent of Sorrento" in  English. It had candied orange and lemon peel in eat. Very refreshing. Everywhere we turned we saw lemons the size of footballs- how we left without buying any is a mystery. 
Chris demonstrating a "medium-sized" lemon

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Welcome to America: Bombarded with Variety

Today is day 2 of my three and a half week trip to the Motherland. My younger sister's wedding later this month provided opportunity for me to make a much desired trip to my original home. Ironically, I was last here for my own wedding. I had been counting down the days to see my family and friends and told everyone I knew that I wouldn't be seeing them for a month. I got the usual questions "what are you going home for?" and, "when are you coming back?" But the most common question was "what are you going to EAT?" Of course I had thought about it, but I think about food more than the average person. Yet I still find it humorous that anyone who has lived in Italy for any period of time recognizes the lack of variety compared to the good 'ole USA. And while I appreciate being able to get sushi or Mexican (or Starbucks or Chik-fil-a and the list goes on...) at any hour of the day, I have really grown to love the simplicity of minimal choices (have I mentioned I'm a poor decision maker?). I forgot how overwhelming an abundance of choices could be!

This was exhibited by my various airport exploits on my way home. Lunchtime in Naples airport consisted of- what else?- a panini. The only choice I had to make was between a Caprese panini or a prosciutto panini (and that was hard enough). Several hours later, I stepped foot in the Atlanta airport and was greeted by no less than 25 food options- in just my terminal! The scents were overwhelmingly inviting, despite the fact that I had already had 2 dinners that day (both on the trans-Atlantic flight; one for European-time dinner and another for the East Coast dinner time to help us get acclimated to the new time zone). So despite eating 4 meals that day (or more, I lost count) I was almost deceived into thinking I was hungry again. I knew this to be physically impossible, but my brain kept saying "no- you ARE hungry and that giant soft pretzel with butter will do the trick!" Rationality won this time, and I abstained, but just barely. And although there is plenty I miss (food-wise) about America, I'll take a delicious home-made meal made with lots of love any day :)

The picture below is of me and my first "love" meal in the states- made by my good friend and former roommate Jenny who cooked me PUMPKIN PANCAKES and mini quiches. The best restaurant in the world can't beat that!
Nothing says love like pumpkin!