20 Minutes to Incredible Dinners

Most of us know how difficult it is to come home from work, make dinner, and complete all the tasks we want to before relaxing and watching TV before bed. My commitment to going to a gym class every night made me a super dinner maker. I was able to plan ahead and have dinner ready in 20 minutes after returning from gym. Here are some of the recipes I put together:

Grouper In Parchment Paper

Use one large parchment paper for each fillet of grouper. Place fillet in center. Season with chopped garlic (I buy this in a jar), onion powder, dill and drizzle with olive oil. Wrap fillet carefully and fold over to cook completely through. You can add in sliced tomatoes or zucchini, some olives and sprinkle some lemon juice as well. Cook at 400 for 20 minutes,

Serve with spinach or broccoli you can make and season while grouper is cooking.

Vegetable Pasta One Pot Healthy Dinner

You can try Ronzoni Vegetable Pasta Spaghetti for a delicious pasta dinner without the guilt. While boiling the pasta according to directions I put the following in a skillet and simmer in olive oil and garlic:

. Shrimp

. Peas

. Sliced grape tomatoes

. Chick peas

Once pasta is cooked and drained, I add this to pasta and garnish with Parmesan cheese. Fantastic!

Some variations of pasta dinners I have made using Banzo Chick Pea Pasta.

While pasta is cooking I sauté spinach and add with Parmesan cheese. In other case I cook lentils on side with onions and garlic and add to the cooked pasta.

In this dish, I used chick pea rotini pasta and added zucchini and tomatoes which I sautéed while pasta was cooking.

When I do my food shopping I often buy pre-sliced veggies as a time saver and also buy zoodles and butternut squash in frozen section. I cook zoodles in a sauté pan with just alittle bit of olive oil and garlic and add vegetables and Parmesan cheese.

Some variations of the zoodles recipes above include shrimp, tomatoes and even a zoodles lasagna with tomato sauce and melted mozzarella cheese. After cooking the zoodles I put together in a baking dish and put in oven for 10 minutes for mozzarella to melt. (You can use microwave in a pinch but I always prefer oven cooking).

Cauliflower Gnocchi with Broccoli

I love Cauliflower Gnocchi available right now only at Trader Joe’s. I do not boil according to directions because they come out too watery. I cook for about 5 minutes in a skillet with olive oil and garlic. Then I add cooked broccoli and continue cooking together another 5 minutes or until desired tenderness. Serve with Parmesan cheese.

Dover Sole

I never tried Dover sole before this but used recipe for filet of sole and searched Pinterest for some seasoning ideas. I usually use garlic powder, onion powder, dill, olive oil and top with some bread crumbs before I bake at 400 for 15-20 minutes. It is a delicious tasting fish.

Butternut Squash Enchiladas

This is one of my favorite dishes. I use frozen butternut squash or precut from produce section. I cook in large sauté pan with olive oil and garlic (of course). I add a can of baked beans after cooking squash about 5 minutes. I continue to cook for an additional 5 minutes. Finally, I add cheddar cheese (or whatever you prefer) to finish off my enchiladas. You can add some salsa for extra enchilada pizzazz. When done I serve with tortillas or chips (if that’s all I have). A delicious fun meal.

Other quick meals you can make in 20 minutes:

Broiled lamb chops with a vegetable on side is a quick meal with very little preparation. I usually season my lamb chops with olive oil, garlic and rosemary. The best side dish is always spinach or a salad.

Lamb Burgers are absolutely delicious and mouth watering. I buy chopped lamb meat whenever I see it. You can make patties ahead of time seasoning with garlic powder, onion powder, cumin, rosemary and a hint of mustard. Grill to your liking and serve with tzatziki (store bought is fine) and a side of spinach or broccoli.

Chicken Marsala with mushrooms

I buy very thin sliced chicken cutlets. You will need butter, flour, Marsala wine and mushrooms (sliced). In a skillet melt butter. Dip each cutlet in flour and cook on each side in butter. When lightly browned add mushrooms and Marsala wine. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes. Deliciousa!!!

Stuffed Peppers

I love colorful peppers. I clean out pepper and boil in water for 5 minutes. While cooking peppers I take some chopped beef or turkey with olive oil and garlic and sauté. After peppers are boiled I place upright in a dish. I stuff with cooked chopped meat, tomato sauce and top with mozzarella and Parmesan cheese. Bake in oven for about 20 minutes.

Honestly, I can go on and on. I love creating my own quick delicious dinners. Also, I enjoy eating light at night while maintaining my healthy lifestyle. Once you try some of these recipes you too will come up with your own variations. I would love to hear how they turn out and please comment with pictures.

Happy Cooking!!!!

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Visiting Dublin……

Enjoy the Streets of Dublin

After a long seven hour flight the adventure began.  No time for sleep.  The point was to get on Ireland time as soon as possible.  So after the landing and hotel check in, the pubs await.

Our first day in Dublin was busy, hectic and full of culture. Of course, we had to go to our first Irish pub and I tried my first Irish beer, which had the number 13 in it – my wedding anniversary date. I was intrigued by the bathroom labeling in our first pub.

Next was the Dublin Castle and more sites of this beautiful, fun city.  All along the streets we saw people rushing to and from work.  It was just a typical city with people speaking a weird kind of English. There were tourists running in an out of bars.  We tried a few more bars and took pictures of all the busy, historic sites.  We walked most of the time and saw all the nooks and crannies of Dublin Castle, all the pubs on the main strip and we enjoyed the Irish singing and dancing in many of the bars and street corners. 

In Dublin and throughout Ireland, I enjoyed sand art that was spectacular to say the least. These artists portrayed their subject in actual size (if not bigger) and with exceptional detail. The chess set was one of my favorites. Details in the pieces were incredible and a central point in Dublin Castle.

The Temple Bar is one of the most talked about bars in Dublin. It is part of the Temple Bar district which is a tourist trap but a must go to place if you are in Dublin. It is very difficult to get into so we quickly got a beer and fought the crowds while taking in the sounds and scents of Ireland. Dublin, a busy city like any other big city, has a distinct flavor of happy residents, busy workers, and interested tourists. There were many beers to explore in our visits to various bars throughout our stay in Ireland. My favorite of all was called Galway Hooker.

I recommend Ireland for a vacation unlike any other. If you plan on visiting read my other article covering many different counties and the Bars of Ireland at https://www.avacato.co/blog/bars-in-ireland

We visited many cities in Ireland but my heart belongs to Dublin. The electricity in the city is beyond words. I can’t wait for my next trip.

So Many Fitness Choices…How Do You Choose?

We can all agree that between finding a diet that you can be successful with, as well as picking the best fitness plan for yourself, the choices are overwhelming. Often people are soo overwhelmed with the choices they chose to not try anything. Diet choices are individual and so is fitness, What is your comfort zone? What do you want to achieve? Do you prefer individual or group fitness, or a combination of both? Serious considerations of your feelings and preferences will make your final choices more lasting.

Let’s look at some of our options:

Fitness Classes:

There are so many types of classes to choose from where does one begin! When I decided to dedicate myself to my health and fitness, I examined all the options available. I checked out all the local fitness centers and whenever possible took a free class (or inexpensive one) to see which club was the perfect fit and which classes were available at each.

I always loved Zumba so my first attempt at each place was always a Zumba class. I now that I am not always completely coordinated but I enjoyed the steps in Zumba and felt able to keep up while I was burning calories. When I found the fitness club I enjoyed the most I also checked out their other classes. So besides Zumba I enjoy:

. PlyCombo: This is a combination of Pilates and Yoga. It involves stretching and toning which are both important for overall strength and agility. Each time you take this class you feel more confident and can see the difference as you stretch further. You will soon see definition in legs, arms and glut areas as well as feeler a leaner overall feeling. In this class, you use a mat, resistance bands, light weights and a balancing ball for certain Pilates moves. This was a class I resisted trying for a long time and once I did I can certainly feel the difference.

. Piloxing Barre: This class combines both Piloxing and Barre technique. It has a bit more cardio (Piloxing) with many Pilates moves using the Barre.. This class tones you and helps you balance. This has become one of my favorite classes. You can do the piloxing with nothing or use light Piloxing gloves which give you some weight with the boxing moves and arm toning exercises.

. Piloxing: Without the barre, this class is heavy cardio with strength training for legs, arms and abs. It is fast-paced and an unbelievable workout. I often feel as if this class is like a “tow-in-one” workout and last me for a day or two.

. The Mix by Zumba: This is a high intense cardio workout based on 80s/90 dance steps. It uses some of the steps of Zumba while incorporating some hip hop and 80s dance styles. This is a fun way to burn calories without realizing that you are because you are having so much fun.

Other classes I have taken which work on specific body sculpting areas are Triple Fit (abs, gluts and legs), Abs and Gluts, and Zumba Infused, which is Zumba with light weights..

So if you think classes are for you, try a few out with either a free class or a week membership to make sure it’s something you want.

Traditional Gym:

Choosing a traditional gym can be just as confusing. Prices can go from $10 a month to over $200 a month depending on what the gym has to offer. My personal opinion is go to the cheapest one to start and make sure you are committed to your workouts before you spend that kind of money. I have been a member of Planet Fitness ($10 a month) for almost 3 years now. I try to visit the gym at least once a week while doing my fitness classes elsewhere. This can be a good addition to your plan with specific machines geared towards body parts you want to tone, as well as more cardio using treadmills, elliptical and step training machines. This type of gym can work on its own or compliment your other fitness activities!

Walking:

When all else fails taking a long walk will help you both mentally and physically. After a long day at work, taking a nice brisk walk will ease your mind and help you reach your steps goal for the day if you can’t make the gym. This is a fun alternative to do with a friend to catch up and get fit together.

Personal Training:

Personal Training can be a costly endeavor. I have done this on 3 different occasions. It is a wonderful way to get started to work with someone who can personally analyze your body type, set goals for you nutritionally as well as fitness goals, and motivate you on a one-to-one basis. To this day when I cannot go to either of my gyms, I will work out at home using techniques learned through my various personal training experiences.

Making fitness goals involves commitment and more commitment. It is not the end of the world if you miss the gym for a week, just go back. Or have a back-up plan to walk or put in a DVD or YouTube an exercise class in the comfort of your living room. The only excuse is you allowing yourself to have an excuse. Take your time making decisions about your physical endeavors and don’t take on too much at once. Also remember its okay to change your mind and go with a different plan.

Good luck in your fitness goals. I would love to hear your stories and comments.

Mindfulness

Mindfulness is a moment by moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, experiences and environment without judgement. Often we live but are not present in our living. Practice mindfulness lets us become more aware of our everyday living.

Mindfulness can be practiced anytime and anywhere. It allows you to bring your awareness to the present moment. The practice of mindfulness helps us to nourish and reinforce our own ability to restore our well-being. Resilience to stress is a key benefit of mindfulness. It is an art of accessing energy that helps you recognize the happiness in your life.

Mindfulness helps you silence your mind, calm your nerves and examine your inner voice because even during free time are are seldom doing nothing. We will text friends, check social media, turn the TV on, look at mail and so on.. We are always thinking about our next activity and not trying to take everything out of our minds.

Mindfulness can be traced back to Buddhism. Buddha believed that there were three overarching purposes of mindfulness:

1. Knowing your mind – what makes you tick and understanding your inner motivation. Self discovery without judgement and to observe feelings, thoughts, and reactions without criticism.

2. Training the mind – to help it function in a beneficial way. When you fail to train your mind in a conscious manner it becomes vulnerable to external forces. Meditation is extremely effective practice that trains the mind to live in the present moment with awareness.

3. Freeing the Mind – this is a freedom from negative thoughts. When we stop clinging to opinions, judgements, people and possessions our minds gradually become free.

In the 21st century, mindfulness is an effective intervention and is taught by professionals and leaders from different fields. Mindfulness based interventions (MBI) are seen as potentially beneficial in many fields. It is being taught with the help of several additional aids, using research, best practices, secular language and computer-aided interventions. MBI is used as an effective adjunct to cognitive and other therapies.

Meditation is a practiced tool with which one can observe inner/outer experiences with compassion, acceptance and neutrality. It disentangles ourselves from daily ebb and flow of emotions, anxiety and stress. It connects to our lives in a deeper, more profound way.

We can meditate while sitting, walking, drawing, and even jogging. The main objective is to help you focus on the present using physical sensations, feeling and mental state to develop our consciousness in this non-distracted state. Meditation practice helps tune into your inner self. It trains the mind to live in the present moment. The main concept is to avoid thinking about your next activity, errand or job while you are meditating. As you continue to practice, you will learn to slip more easily into this state of restful awareness. Because stress has a strong link to overall health and well-being, meditation is a suggested ritual to overcome stress in our daily lives.

It is also know that meditation promotes better sleep. Relaxation response helps mind and body relax, therefore, it is easier to fall asleep. Stimulation of TV, internet and electronic devices can increase restlessness. Mindfulness meditation helps you stay in the present moments including moments that happened a few minutes ago so it is suggested that this is last thing you do before bedtime.

Meditation also reduces hypertension which is a silent killer. Hypertension can lead to stroke or brain hemorrhages. Hypertension caused by late nights, overwork, overheating and prolonged stress are dangerous to your health and well-being. Meditation improves breathing, skin health and help chemotherapy patients as well.

The simple act of being present can make a significant difference to the way we approach our work, our relationships, our society and our challenges. There are many established therapies which help people deal with stress, depression and other physical and mental health conditions.

Mindfulness helps us manifest positive, empowering results due to purposeful deliberation and helps make us conscious and deliberate in our choices. The main objective is to direct our attention while silencing the internal chatter that continues in our hearts day and night. It helps nourish and heal us. Mindfulness enhances clarity and focus while paving the way for improved decision making skills. By learning to be in the present moment we improve the quality of our lives and transforms our relationship with our thoughts. Mindfulness helps you reconnect with yourself.

I became so interested in mindfulness that I took a course in it at New Skills Academy. I am happy to share my certification in mindfulness received today. I hope that you think about making this journey in your life as well. It helps you deal with the day to day anxiety that controls your life. Happy meditating.

Conversations While You Grieve

 

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As we go through life, losing a loved one is so incredibly devastating and people chose different ways to go on.  In my experience, after losing both my parents and one of my closest friends, I find myself thinking of them often and  while including them in my daily life as often as I can.  Often I find myself having a conversation out loud to share something happening, a feeling I have, or even just to say I miss that you won’t be with me at a specific event.  Recently, I just celebrated a special milestone birthday.  This made me think about my parents and other loved ones who were not there to share this special day with me.  When my husband and I returned from my party and I was emptying the trunk of endless presents and balloons, two balloons cut loose and went straight up to the sky.  I want to think that they were sent to my parents so they could be a part of my celebration.  No celebration is ever the same without them.

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My father passed away over 25 years ago and I always feel grief and sadness when I think about my own children and how they did not get to know this wonderful man whom I adored.  How different their lives would have been if they could have grown up with him as their grandfather who would always give them endless love and encouragement.  I feel him at all of our special times, I see his face and personality through my children’s eyes and I miss him so very much.  More recently I lost my mom and I have yet to have an hour of my life go by where I do not feel like communicating with her.  I communicate with her in my dreams, with my words and even in my thoughts as I sit here writing or doing an everyday task.  Many times a family event or crisis will erupt and I find myself having long conversations with mom about what is happening.  It comforts me to speak with her and I can feel her gentle touch telling me it will be fine.

Some people feel frightened when they think of people who have passed away.  I feel deep sadness yet I feel as if they are always with me.  When situations arise that are out of my control, I often think about what my mother would think or say.  I often find myself pointing out to her someone’s shortcomings that I once pointed out to her when she was alive.  My mother only saw the good in people.  I try so very hard to be the same way, but with age comes wisdom. Wisdom to let go of those who betray you, lie to you and are not faithful to you as they were before.  Many tears later you become stronger and realize that life is too short to worry about these incidentals.  When you can sit back and know with all your heart that you did the very best you could, you need to let go and just go on.

My life is not the same without my parents.  As I approached this milestone and just finished celebrating it, I realize that life is a journey or even like a train ride.  You get on board and people get on and off your train.  Certain people get off your journey train to go their eternal resting place. This is a tough bump on the track and is hard to repair. We never forget those stops along the journey. Some people get off and return again at a later date, because we all know how busy life can be and how time surely does fly.  That has been a recent part of my life as I have reconnected with high school and college friends that I had not seen for a long time.  We lived far apart and life got too busy.  Now they are on my train again and we are having the ride of our lives.  On the other hand, others get off and you are not looking for them at the next stop or ever again.  Accepting that is the only way to go on to lead a peaceful life.

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How have I grown as a person?  How am I ready to embrace the next part of my life?  With strength and courage I am ready to forge full steam ahead and make my own decisions about who will be on my train and who has gotten off, never to rejoin me on my journey.  Instead of anger I have chosen the feelings of indifference and peacefulness with my self.  I am practicing mindfulness, taking better care of my body and soul and giving love to those who deserve to have my love.  My love is selfless and without end.  But now that I go along my journey into the next phase, that love will not be given to those undeserving of it.  I would never have the urge to hurt anyone but I can go on without them.  I will pray for their salvation and their finding of the truth but they will no longer be in my  life.  Because deep in my heart I have lost the two most important people in my life, my parents, and my conversations with them will continue until we meet again…….

 

The Road Ahead

Did you ever sit and ask yourself “What next?”  It is often a scary and very difficult question to answer.  As I am nearing my retirement from teaching (the next few years), I often spend time contemplating what I will do next.  I try to get a realistic idea of life as a retired person when we have our extended week vacations, but know that this is not a true view as we often try to squeeze everything in that has to get done into a short time period.  So what if your time is unlimited?  What if it doesn’t matter if you do it today or tomorrow or next week?  How do you stay focused and live life to the fullest?

Big questions like these need real thought and exploration. I often try to picture my life on a daily basis and when I put the activities in each day, I know that it will take motivation, energy and consistency to help achieve a healthy, fulfilled retirement. Having a plan and sticking to it is so important to avoid being home in retirement and saying “what now?”.

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Do I see myself sitting on a beach, volunteering in the community or getting a part time job?  Perhaps for some of the time.  Do I see myself going to the gym every single day instead of trying to squeeze it in after a long day of working with children?  These are all visions that focus me to decide what I want to do next.  Mapping out a typical day in my mind makes it more of a realistic goal.

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I have many friends that have retired and their advice is to plan ahead.  Write a list of all the things you want to do, places you want to go and imagine your typical day.  Think about what you wanted to do in your life that you didn’t because it wouldn’t pay the bills.  Now that you have planned for your retirement and have a good idea of the money coming in and going out every month, what is it that you want to really do to feel complete in your life?

As I ponder and plan for this upcoming change in my life in the next few years, I am always making lists in my mind, in my phone and even in my plan book.  Always reading, I am always making note of something that catches my eye that I want to look into at a later date.  Just this weekend I wrote down two courses at my local BOCES that I may be interested in taking — maybe some computer based learning (programs I am not fluent in) and a cooking class  (a type of food I would like to try to cook but never had time with a work schedule) and maybe a new language

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What is on your bucket list?  If someone told you that you can do anything for one year, no questions asked, what would be on your list?  My list includes going to Italy and Greece, traveling within the U.S. to places like Arizona, Tennessee and South Carolina, and at home minimizing collections that are taking up space and organizing my living space.  These are just a few items from my list.  No matter how old you are, you should always write down your dreams and goals.  That makes them more attainable.

Most importantly I look forward to being more mindful of activities I am pursuing as I will be rushing around less and taking in all that I dreamed of doing since working.   So what is it that you think about every day when you are working? What would you rather be doing?  Start keeping track of your thoughts, save them for the future and you will always be busy in your retirement.  Happy dreaming!

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The Simplicity of Eating

I recently had some sinus and dental surgery that left me having difficulty eating even the softest of foods for many days. The first day should not count at all since all I consumed was jello and protein shakes.

We take so much for granted when we just eat whatever we want. So I’m told I can eat soup but it has to be room temperature. An interesting concept. So you heat up your soup and then have to make it cool down. And the soup can’t have any crunchy components, so soup of choice would be cream soups or broths. My personal preference on these days was Cream of Broccoli and Lobster Bisque.

Even though I always try to eat healthy I was eager to add puddings and cheesecake to my eating. I just figured that before long I will be back to eating those salads for lunch. So I am going to enjoy this pudding while I can. So many to choose from–chocolate, vanilla and chocolate mixed, rice pudding, tapioca and flan.

Well after a few days I tried hard to stick with my healthy diet. My vitamins came back into my daily routine and I tried to plan each meal with more care and thinking of course about limited chewing capability. So dinner plans revolved around salmon and sweet potato, served at room temperature of course.

I am now figuring that I have to continue this type of eating for a little more of a week. So my meal plan expands to include overnight oats with peanut butter protein powder and cinnamon for breakfast. Lunch is still a kind of soup or muffin, no nuts of course. As I start to consider dinner I decide to have good old Mac and Cheese– something I never eat anymore but love, love, love. So I just have to have it because you know I don’t have many choices now (just can eat so much soup and eggs) so I will take the plunge. I make myself the creamiest mac and cheese I can find and eat it very, very slowly. I know this is probably one of the last times I will eat this I will enjoy every morsel.

I have to confess that after eating this I felt full, bloated and sorry. My body is not used to eating like this anymore and I felt uncomfortable for hours. Yes, I did enjoy it but I reassured myself that I gave up these kinds of foods for a reason.

My goal is to get back on track to my healthy eating as soon as possible. In recovery I have missed the gym the most and hope to go back in the next few days. I can say that we all need to binge every once in awhile but make it our business to get back on track to take care of our bodies with the food we eat. Remember, we are not eating only for the enjoyment but to make our bodies healthy, strong and lively. Of course, enjoyment is necessary whenever possible. That is why I always try new recipes with my new air fryer and InstaPot. I hope to share some of those with you soon. In the meantime, I will stick to my soft foods for a few more days while making better choices.

Happy Eating!!