Thursday, October 13, 2011

Breast Cancer Awareness Month

This week continues to kick my butt. It's Homecoming week at the high school where I teach, and my cheer coach duties have kept me out late every night. Tonight my cheer squad practiced, painted posters, and attended a dinner with the football players, for which they each baked a dessert. Coaching cheer takes far more work than I expected, but my girls really do make the job worth the effort. I am most proud of being a part of these young ladies' lives and taking part (however small) in helping them become responsible, mature adults. Since tomorrow is our Homecoming game, we've put in at least 13 hours of work already this week, and that's in addition to regular classes PLUS a major heat wave in Southern California. I cannot wait to see these gorgeous ladies cheer on their team tomorrow, and I feel very proud to be a part of their success.

However, all this hard work means I stay at school late each day this week. I live in LA, and I work about 25 miles from my house. If you've never been to LA, I can't possibly describe the traffic we experience on a regular basis - without accidents, without construction, we still find ways to create traffic at 1:00 in the afternoon on a Wednesday. It's truly astounding. So my commute to work at 6:45 in the morning is a breeze (exactly 30 minutes 95% of the time), but the afternoon challenges my patience. If I leave immediately after school, I'm looking at 40 minutes on a great day (I drive through downtown, so expecting zero traffic would make me a fool). If I leave between 3:30 and 4:30, it'll be 45-50 minutes. Between 4:30 and 6:45, it's easily an hour. The best traffic is after 8 or 9 (oh yes, I experience this more often than you might think).

Tonight, it was 75 minutes. Ouch.

Like I said yesterday, it would have been a great day to stop off for a quick bite instead of cooking. But thanks to our challenge, I had already planned out our meals and purchased our groceries for the week. Tonight was...shepherd's pie! Lucky for me, my husband is awesome and had already started the meal by the time I arrived home. (He also did the laundry and cleaned up our living room - did I mention we're newlyweds?) I am so grateful that on a night like this I can count on Terry to get things started, and when I get home I just step in to help as needed.

So tonight we made shepherd's pie, one of Terry's absolute favorite meals (if you ask him to name three favorite homemade meals, he'll say shepherd's pie, caprese burgers, and lasagna, not necessarily in that order). Terry and I went to London on our honeymoon, and, even though we've been making this recipe for years, we pretend we're back there when we make it. Tonight's was especially delicious because we used grass-fed organic beef instead of our usual turkey!

Shepherd's Pie

  • 1 1/2 pounds of potatoes (we used fingerling potatoes, because that's what came in our CSA box, but we've also used Yukon Gold, Russet, even sweet potatoes)
  • 1/2 C. milk
  • 1 tbsp. butter
  • 1 lb. ground beef (turkey and lamb are excellent substitutes)
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3 oz. tomato paste (tomato sauce also works, but then omit the water)
  • 1/3 C. water
  • 1/4 C. cheese (we love Havarti with this meal but have tried all sorts and never gone wrong)
  • 1 yellow onion, sliced
  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 red bell pepper, sliced
  • 2-3 zucchini OR 1 medium eggplant, sliced into strips (skin on or off is your choice!)
  • Additional paprika for topping
Potatoes: Boil the potatoes (it's best to start the potatoes in cold water and bring them to a boil so as not to shock them) until "fork-soft" - if you insert a fork, it goes in an out easily. Note: If you want to make things move faster, cube the potatoes before boiling. Drain, then add butter and milk and mash to desired consistency.

Meat: Brown meat over medium heat while potatoes are boiling. Then season with salt, pepper, and paprika, and add tomato paste and water. Stir and simmer for a few minutes, then transfer to greased baking dish (depending on how many vegetables we're adding, we use either an 11 x 7 or 13 x 9). Spread the meat out into an even layer. Meanwhile, shred the cheese and sprinkle on top of the meat.

The meat layer - yum...

Vegetables: Add the onions to the meat pan and cook for about 10 minutes over medium heat. Add the olive oil to scrape the bottom of the pan. When the onions are translucent, add the bell pepper and zucchini/eggplant and cook for another - 8 minutes, until the vegetables are tender.

Tonight we skipped the zucchini, but we missed it!

Assembly: Heat the oven to 350. On top of the cheese, add the vegetables in an even layer, and then spread the potatoes on top. Sprinkle the potatoes with another dash of paprika. Pop the casserole into the oven for 20-25 minutes, until the juices are bubbly and the potatoes have browned ever so slightly. Allow to cool for 5+ minutes before serving, and enjoy with a yummy Stella (the beer I fell in love with in London) or Fat Tire (New Belgium Brewing Company, Fort Collins, Colorado).

One great thing about this meal is that we actually have leftovers! Usually I have to limit Terry's helpings so that I'll have lunch the following day, but even he can't finish a whole shepherd's pie. So I'm already looking forward to tomorrow's lunch!

Other reasons I'm excited for tomorrow:
  • It's Friday, and I get to hear my amazing ELD students say, "Happy Friday!"
  • It's Homecoming, and my cheerleaders will be super pumped about the big game.
  • Terry is coming to work with me tomorrow to help out with all the Homecoming madness! (He gets every other Friday off - lucky guy!)
More Important than Homecoming and Shepherd's Pie
October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, and I heard an awesome story on the news during my crazy commute that piqued my interest. From Eating Well magazine, foods that research shows improve breast health:
  1. Plums and peaches
  2. Walnuts
  3. Broccoli
  4. Salmon or other oily fish
  5. Olive oil
  6. Parsley
  7. Coffee
  8. Beans
Check out the whole article here. I love that every item on this list is a natural, whole food. You'll notice there's no mention of power bars, "whole grain" cereal, or other processed foods. Generally, I believe that eating whole, unprocessed foods leads to better health. As Michael Pollan suggests, people have been eating things like strawberries for thousands and thousands of years without major consequences. Yet with the industrial revolution came the introduction of processed, unnatural foods - and now we face health problems completely unknown to our ancestors. Coincidence?

Regardless, one of the most important points the article makes is that maintaining a healthy body weight reduces risk of cancer. What better way to maintain a healthy weight than to eat delicious, natural foods and get some exercise?

To that point, tonight was a night off, but tomorrow's agenda includes waking up early for a pre-work run. Wish us luck!


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