Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Roasted apple and butternut squash soup

The recent cool mornings are making me re-evaluate summer as my favorite season, fall is quickly gaining momentum and I am loving it. In addition to cooler weather and beautiful foliage, fall also brings apple season. Apples happen to be one of my favorite fruits to cook with, in the past I’ve featured apple crisp and my first apple pie on the blog. Walmart is featuring all different types of apples now and I have my choice of varieties ranging from lady, to honey crisp (love them) and of course granny smith and delicious. 

I decided to try a new recipe with apples and found the perfect one - roasted apple and winter squash soup. Nothing makes me happier than a nice warm bowl of soup on a cool day. It makes a great meal and the recipe I chose is non-dairy so I don’t have to worry about my lactose intolerance. The thing I really like about this soup is that it only has a few vegetables. The most labor intensive aspect is the peeling and chopping with took about an hour.

A few simple ingredients make one incredible soup! 

For this recipe I decided to use two types of apples, lady and granny smith. They are great for baking and I thought they’d  be great in a savory yet sweet soup. I paired the apples with butternut squash (you can make this recipe with choice of squash) it is my favorite and pretty easy to peel which is a consideration for me when cooking.  I also like acorn squash but they generally are harder to peel and you need more than one. I personally didn’t want the headache!

To peel the squash I cut it into quarters, cleaned out the seeds and then peeled it. I used an oxo peeler and it was simple to do, just like peeling an apple! I then cut it into 1 inch pieces. I then cut the apples, peeled the garlic, cut the onion into fourths,  minced the fresh rosemary and gathered the thyme. 

Pause. I absolutely LOVE rosemary and thyme. These herbs remind of the holidays, I always use them to season turkey and this year I will be eating my Thanksgiving for the very first time! Although I cook turkey almost annually, I have never tasted my bird because I stopped eating poultry as a teenager before I started cooking. But this year, I am looking forward to tasting my turkey. Okay, back to the recipe.

I placed all of the fruit and veggies in a bowl, topped with olive oil and added the fresh herbs, allspice and salt. Next, I baked everything on parchment paper at 400 degrees for 40 minutes.
I removed it from the oven and placed it directly in my blender with unsalted vegetable broth and pureed. I don’t have a food processor but the blender worked just fine. I think my next purchase will be an immersion blender because I’ll be able to puree my soups right in the pan.

I placed the soup in a large pan and warmed it up just a little, it is thick which I personally like but if  you want a thinner soup you can add more broth or water. Now the most important part, how does it taste? Absolutely DELICIOUS! Unlike my usual recipe making, this time I pretty much totally followed the recipe. However, I did add an extra half apple because my squash was over the 3 pounds that was called for in the recipe. This soup caused a taste explosion in my mouth. The herbs, vegetables, squash and of course the apples came together perfectly! This is one soup I will be making over and over again. I might even make it for Thanksgiving.

Roasted apple and winter squash soup

3 pounds winter squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1-inch piece
2 medium sweet-tart apples, peeled, cored, and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and quartered
2 large cloves garlic, peeled
1/4 cup olive oil
2 teaspoons Kosher salt
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
4 cups unsalted vegetable broth
1 medium sweet-tart apple
Preheat oven to 400°F.
In a large bowl, combine the squash, apples, onion, garlic, olive oil, salt, rosemary, thyme, and allspice. Spread the vegetables/fruit on two parchment-lined baking sheets. Roast, turning once, until tender, about 40 minutes.
Puree the roasted vegetables/fruit with the vegetable broth. If using an immersion blender, this may be done in a large pot. If using a food processor, this may be done in batches, transferring the puree to a large pot as you go along.
Place the pot over medium heat and simmer until warmed through. If a thinner consistency is desired, add water or more broth. Taste and adjust seasonings.
To serve, garnish with thinly sliced or diced apples. (Sliced apples may be pan-fried in a little butter or olive oil until golden.)

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

My experience with Domestic Violence and Hope

My smiling face belied being a victim of domestic violence

The recent release of the video of Ray Rice and Jenay Palmer in the elevator has increased discussion about domestic violence in popular culture. It was difficult to watch and many question how his girlfriend, now wife stayed and married Ray after the assault. As a survivor of domestic violence, I know firsthand how complex this type of relationship can be. I’ve written about my experience here but I think this line from my post can provide some insight.

“There was less danger in the possibility of his wrath than the guarantee”

You see, I knew if I tried to leave, he would stalk me fervently, he’d threaten me, he’d beat me and eventually he may have killed me. When he told me he’d go to prison “for me” but before he left, he’d kill me I believed him. Did you know that 75% of women who are killed by their batterers are murdered when they attempt to leave or after they have left the relationship? When I made up my mind to leave and he saw me with another man, my batterer attempted to murder him and he was incarcerated.

At the time I was only 17 years old. I tried to leave numerous times and returned to him. I can only image the difficulty associated with leaving as an adult woman reliant on an abusive partner financially, emotionally and perhaps the father of her children.  Unless you live it, this is difficult to understand but I was happy the conversation about domestic violence was taking place nationally after the Ray Rice controversy. It has died down but domestic violence continues to be a reality for so many in this country even when it isn’t being talked about. According to the National Coalition against Domestic Violence, 1 in 4 women, 1 in seven men and 3 million children will experience domestic violence during their lifetime. Annually 1.3 million women are victims of physical assault by an intimate partner and most cases are not reported to the police. That is why I have always been committed to fight against domestic violence. By sharing my story here, participating on a speakers bureau, being a member of the board for Violence Unsilenced I hope I can make a small difference in the lives of others.

As a Verizon life ambassador I want to share a way that you too can make a difference. I first heard of Verizon’s Hope Line at BlogHer 2012, long before I had any association with the company. Hope Line collects no longer used phones and accessories and turns them into support for Domestic violence agencies nationwide. When a victim/survivor receives a refurbished phone from Hope Line it has 3,000 anytime minutes and free text messaging. Since 2001,  Hope Line has collected 10.8 Million phones, provided $21.4 million in cash grants to domestic violence organizations and 180,000 phones have been donated to victims and survivors.

How can you help?
  • You can turn in your unused phone in store or by mail - they will even pay your postage!
  • Purchase a Verizon purple Hope Line accessory in September and October and $3.00 will be donated to Hope Line.

This month with the frenzy about the new iPhone and a special that Verizon was running I was able to make out like a bandit and support HopeLine. I traded in my old iPhone 5s for my new Samsung s5. As luck would have it, because of promotions, I received a giftcard for $395! I got my Samsung and purchased accessories- including my purple Hope Line Otterbox and even paid part of my bill. I am beyond thrilled. As an ambassador this month I received the purple LG Tone Pro an around the neck handsfree device for my phone. I am still learning how to use it but so far I like it.

October is Domestic violence awareness month and if you are in the market for new phone accessories, I suggest looking at the HopeLine merchandise. And remember, at any time during the year you can donate your old unused cell phones and make a difference with Hope Line!

If you are a victim of Domestic Violence call the National Domestic Violence Hotline for help:
1-800-799-SAFE (7233)

Disclosure: I am a Verizon Life ambassador and occasionally receive Verizon products to share my experience with you. No other compensation is received.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Unique Style with Motions

If you know me, you know that my health and fitness are very important to me. One of the things that has not been a hinderance to staying healthy is my hair. I know it can be a concern for many women of color with relaxers or other styles that they fear "messing up" by sweating but I know that where there is a will there is a way and hair should not stand between you and getting (or staying) healthy! I fortunately have worn my hair natural for just about all of my life and it has never hindered my workouts (although I will admit to having a curly perm aka jerry curl at one point! Ha!). One of the things that is important with natural hair is finding the right products. I was introduced to Motions when I attended a Black Girls Run conference and samples were distributed. I was a little skeptical because I thought Motions was geared toward women wearing relaxed or straightened hair but I was more than pleasantly surprised when I learned that not only were the products great but my hair was moisturized like nobodies business! No matter if you have relaxed or natural hair, Motions has a product for you.

I highly recommend Motions and if you'd like to try the products you are in luck because Walgreen's is currently having a special offering 25% off of kits and select products are only $3.49. If you are a naturalista like me, check out this how to video by celebrity stylist Ursula. She is demonstrating a twist out upsweep, utilizing Motions products. I really like my hair in a twist out and once I tire of my current braids, I will be sure to try this style too!

This is a sponsored post for Motions through The bLink Marketing Network and Lunchbox, all opinions are 100% my own.

Quick and Easy Yogurt Breakfast

I really like breakfast. French toast, a bagel with lox (longing for NY again), pancakes and bacon. Mmm mmm good! But I don’t have these this type of breakfast very often. As a matter of fact, I probably only eat like that every few months or so. There are a couple of reasons - first of all, I don’t like eating a lot of carbs and secondly I just don’t have time to cook a hot breakfast! My go to breakfast options include smoothies, yogurt and sometimes a few pieces of bacon. Speaking of bacon, I’m missing my BLT breakfasts....I might have to reconsider that. But I digress! Seriously, breakfast is a quick and healthy meal for me and generally Greek yogurt fits the bill because it is high and protein and I can grab and go.

When I visited Walmart headquarters earlier this year, I was given some breakfast ideas with yogurt that made me say “why didn’t I think of that?” My favorite option was adding some protein to Dannon Greek yogurt and serving it with pears. So, simple and oh so good! I am a fan of natural peanut butter and with 9 grams of protein it is a great addition to Dannon’s light and Fit Greek yogurt. This yogurt has 12 grams of protein and the combination packs a whopping 21 grams of protein!

This is important for several reasons. Breakfast is the first and most important meal of the day. It is literally breaking your fast after a night of sleep and it also can jump start your metabolism. Protein keeps you full and breaks that early morning hunger. To make a quick breakfast, I simply add a tablespoon of peanut butter to my vanilla yogurt, cut up some pears, add them to the mix and I’m on my way. Quick, easy and portable. I usually just mix everything in the yogurt container if I am on the run. But mornings when I don’t have to leave the house and want to feel a little “fancy” I’ll serve it to myself in a nice martini glass.

Breakfast is so important and I love having simple options for my most important meal of the day!

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Allergy Season

Fall is officially in full swing and for me that means it is also allergy season. Although I am not an Atlanta native, I’ve lived here on and off for 13 years. When I was in school I would hear stories about the high pollen count - especially in the spring and it would have no effect on me whatsoever. Allergies were not something I grappled with or so I thought. For most of my life I have had various respiratory issues and I think it just became the norm - sniffles and congestion were just a part of my everyday experience. Until I had a true respiratory infection and I was told that it was a result of allergies that were untreated. Now that I know I have allergies, even if my symptoms seem mild, I do everything I can to keep them at bay because if I don’t, an infection is not far away.

For me this means treating my allergies at the first sign of them and using preventative measures to keep them from progressing to an infection. To do this I take a trip to Walmart and stock up on the essentials for allergy season. Walmart has a variety of products available. Over the years I’ve discovered that finding what works is trial and error, products that work for friends may not always work effectively for me. My personal favorite is Advil allergy sinus. This helps prevent congestion and running nose for me. Left untreated I can experience terrible sinus headaches and I am not interested in suffering through that misery!

I’ve also found that when I travel by plane, my allergies kick up so I take some preventative measures when I travel. Spending hours in recirculated air with people who may be sick and spreading germs, I keep Airborne with me and take it before, during and after I travel. On my last trip I was sitting next to a man who clearing had some type of respiratory thing going on. It was kind of funny because I was leaning far away from him trying to keep the germs from reaching me! I am so thankful that I didn’t get sick and I’m convinced that Airborne helped prevent it!

I also keep tissues on hand for myself and my son. 

He goes to school and if you don’t know, that place is a hotbed for infection! Luckily we have dodged sickness so far this school year but I want to be ready just in case. And with my allergies randomly acting up, I need tissues to keep my runny nose under control until my medication kicks in!

Although I have allergies, by taking over the counter medication, I keep them under control and prevent them from becoming an infection. This is something I’ve learned over time because for the longest I’d just deal with all of the symptoms thinking they’d just pass and inevitably they’d just become worse. As they say “an ounce of prevention of prevention is worth a pound of cure” and Walmart has everything I need during allergy season!  

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