Roasted Red Pepper (Everything) Sauce

Growing up in my family, we each had a “special sauce” that went on everything. For my one brother it was teriyaki, for my other brother, ketchup, and for me, Newman’s Own Creamy Ceasar was the JAM. Clearly I can lay claim to the most refined pallet, nevermind the most added fat. We’re not alone, though. One of my girlfriends recently explained that her mother would throw together fake hollandaise sauce in an effort to make broccoli more enticing. Sure, the hollandaise consisted of mayonnaise and mustard, but I dunked my tenderloin in salad dressing, so you’ll get no judgement from me. Thankfully, like most habits of our younger years, we’ve outgrown the need to drown our food and instead enjoy the natural flavors. That was until I discovered my latest obsession: Roasted Red Pepper Sauce.

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As most obsessions do, this one started out innocently enough. After a lunch date at Cava Grill (aka Mediterranean Chipotle), I was inspired to make a Mediterranean pita/quinoa salad bar at work. Good ‘ole Pinterest helped put some zing on this lunch by inspiring the perfect topping. Admittedly, I expected it to be good, but I didn’t expect the need to triple the recipe. The sauce turned into an ongoing request: on eggs, on pork loin, on salads, rice, chicken, as a veggie dip, with crackers….until it was gone.

Luckily for both of us, this sauce is seriously simple to throw together. You’ll need a food processor (we used the Vita-mix) and just a few pantry staples to whip this up in a matter of minutes. Make it tonight to serve with dinner (no matter what you’re planning) and enjoy it all week long the entire next day.

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Roasted Red Pepper Sauce (c/o  Pinch of Yum)

  • 1, 16 ounce jar roasted red peppers, drained (or overachieve and roast your own)
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 2 fresh basil leaves
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper (or red pepper flakes for zing)
  • juice of one lemon
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • ½ cup almonds

Instructions: Place all ingredients in a food processor and blend until smooth but still textured. That’s it!

Pro tip: Enjoy with a bib, red pepper stains are no joke.

 

On Leaving

“You’ve walked around this mountain long enough. Turn northward” -Deuteronomy 2:3

This scripture verse kept returning to me at a time where I was asking for direction with my life. I was about to celebrate four years (on a mountain, no less) with an organization I deepy cared about, but at the same time, Tyler and I had been discussing a big move to satisfy our need for growth and yearning for adventure.

The decision wasn’t going to be an easy one. There were a lot of wonderful things that unfolded in the last four years while at my job; the opportunity to stay close to home had given me stability while I discovered more about myself and the life I wanted to live. I made friends, paid off my student loans and became financially responsible, made my faith a priority in my life through a church I came to love, and learned the importance of acceptance, both toward those close to me and toward myself. The work itself had also taught me much; building a business, working in the non-profit sector, becoming a leader and balancing that with friendship, developing the courage to stand up for my values, learning the importance of personal integrity, finding my voice among people twice my age and displaying empathy through deep connection with others. I learned invaluable lessons about dealing with conflict both within and without, which weren’t always easy to come by.

Further complicating the decision, this verse begged the question “is my mountain a literal one, or a figurative one?”. That’s the challenge with interpreting scripture: discernment. I was sitting on some figurative mountains as well, “mountains” I would have to move off of even if I stayed right where I was. So I prayed, I wrote, I worried and I stressed. Looking back, I should have kept to the first two. Long nights, even longer conversations, some tears, and a few bouts of stress eating later, I made the hard decision to leave this job I had grown to love. It was surreal to look around the property on my last day and think about how much had unfolded there.

“There are times when the actual experience of leaving something makes you wish desperately that you could stay, and then there are times when the leaving reminds you a hundred times over why exactly you had to leave in the first place.” 

― Shauna Niequist, Bittersweet: Thoughts on Change, Grace, and Learning the Hard Way

The idea of moving and starting over somewhere new is scary, unpredictable, uncertain and exciting. This is the first time in a long time that I don’t have a plan, and to be completely honest, I’m surprisingly comfortable with that. The next month will be one giant exhale after a VERY full four years. As for the next chapter, a friend told me that when God is working in your life, the doors open in front of you without the need for force. The more I considered this advice, the more I began to trust the process ahead.

What are the mountains in your life? For me, it was uncertainty and fear, but I’m up for the challenge. 

Still Alive, Still Paleo-ish

The first week back on paleo was cake (minus the cake, of course). The first week was also the hardest, but by week two I was feeling great. After six weeks, I’m ready to take a break and re-evaluate if a grainless diet would work in my favor for the long haul. To be honest, I don’t crave grains. I’m fuller faster and I enjoy the flavors of vegetables and herbs much more than the texture of a bagel. Legumes are definitely back on the menu for variety, and for the sake of chipotle and peanut butter. As for meals, my plate was as colorful and delicious as usual.

As you can see, meals were anything but boring. While I cook regularly already, limiting ingredients gave me the opportunity to branch out and explore recipe ideas and ingredients I wouldn’t have otherwise touched.

Of note:

  • Eating grain free will seem much easier if your weekend self takes the time to meal plan and shop accordingly. Most Sundays I prepared a big batch of soup, stew or chili (a quick meal to grab and go), baked grain-free bread and chopped veggies for breakfasts. Preparation is key, especially when you can’t eat out of your pantry.
  • You’re likely to experience a dip in energy. Give yourself plenty of time to rest and let your body get used to its lack of energy from sugar. I did not work out as long or as hard as I typically do, but let myself have the week to focus on the new eating routine and gauge how I felt energetically. When I weighed myself Saturday morning, I had lost two pounds during the first week. This is a lot for me, considering I wasn’t taking part in my normal gym routine.
  • Cauliflower rice is a lifesaver. Even if you still eat grains, it’s a terrific alternative to get more veggies into your diet. I’d never tried it until I started restricting grains the first week, when I enjoyed it three times, three different ways: prepared with sautéed onions as a side with chicken and salad, cooked together with turkey sausage, garlic and kale for a quick and healthy lunch, and with chimichurri sauce and salmon for a flavorful dinner.

Overall, this was a great way to kick-start myself into healthier choices for the year. Especially after the long winter months of choosing warm comfort foods over cold salads and staying under blankets instead of lacing up sneakers for a morning run. And speaking of running, it’s about time to start the next health challenge (hint).