Squash, Manchego and Balsamic-Onion Grilled Cheese

I have one comment on this sandwich: ABSOLUTELY DELICIOUS! I watched a lot of TV while on maternity leave. Another series that I picked up on was Food Network Star.  The show is all about food, and allowing each contestant to compete to share why they should be the next hot star. Jeff Mauro, the "Sandwich King" won. The idea for his show surrounded sandwiches. Basically - he loves them, and he makes EVERYTHING a sandwich. Everything that he made INTO a sandwich looked amazing, but it was pretty meat heavy. You can only imagine how ELATED I was to see that his first feature in the Food Network Magazine was not only vegetarian, but also delicious. This is a must-try!

Squash, Manchego and Balsamic-Onion Grilled Cheese
Source: Adapted from Food Network Magazine, October 2011 Issue


5 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for the bread SS: I made this twice, and the recipe works just as well subbing the butter for the onions and squash with EVOO - 1tbs for the squash and 2 tbs for the onion for more healthy fats
½ butternut squash, peeled, seeded and sliced ¼ inch thick
2 tablespoons maple syrup
½ teaspoon chili powder
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1 Maui or other sweet onion, thinly sliced
¼ cup balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
8 slices country white bread
1 pound manchego cheese, thinly sliced
1 cup sliced almonds, toasted SS: I didn't used sliced almonds because I always have whole almonds at home


1. Preheat the oven to 425°. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Melt 2 tablespoons butter. Toss the squash with the melted butter, maple syrup, chili powder, and salt and pepper to taste on the prepared baking sheet. Roast until golden and soft, about 20 minutes. Set aside and let cool.
2. Meanwhile, melt 1 tablespoon butter in a medium skillet over medium-low heat. Add the onion and toss to coat. Cook, without stirring, until the onion begins to develop a deep brown color, 10 to 15 minutes. Stir and add the balsamic vinegar, sugar, and salt and pepper to taste. Cook, stirring, until the onion mixture thickens and develops an intense sweetness, about 15 more minutes.
3. Sandwich build! Butter 1 slice of bread. On the unbuttered side, add the ingredients in this order from the ground up: manchego, squash, caramelized onion, sliced almonds and more manchego. Close with another buttered bread slice, buttered side up. Repeat with the remaining ingredients to make 3 more sandwiches.
4. Heat a heavy griddle or flat pan over medium heat. Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons butter in the pan. Lightly cook each sandwich, in batches if necessary, until the cheese starts to melt, 3 to 4 minutes per side. Low and slow is the key here so you don't kill your bread before the delicious innards get gooey.

This sandwich was amazing. I made it for friends that came to visit, and they agreed...so you should go make it...NOW! :)

As good as it gets

Top, Skirt, Shoes - Anthro

Date: Monday, September 26, 2011

Here you have it folks - an actual idea of what I wear to work. This picture was taken at home right as the sun was setting. I only managed to get one halfway decent picture. Thus, this is as good as it gets for today!

So you think you can dance...

Top - Fcuk; Skirt - American Apparel; Sneakers - BCBG for Keds; Hat - Anthro

Date: Saturday, September 24, 2011

I'm back, and this outfit is nothing spectacular. However, Saturday was a day of errands, and Naja + mommy + errands means comfort! I honestly don't love the way it turned out, but I figured what the heck - just go ahead and post it anyway...

It just so happens that I started watching So You Think You Can Dance during my official maternity leave. The dancers on the show are AMAZING! I love watching people display pure talent and dedication to their craft. Watching the show inspired me to try dancing more! Note: I am not a trained dancer, and I have never taken any dance lessons. I have rhythm, but I'm not a "dancer." I was playing around with some "hip-hop" moves in the first picture. Not my best work, but it was fun nonetheless!

Zucchini Goat Cheese Pizza

I love fresh veggies. A family friend had some extra zucchini from their garden and offered some to our family. I happily obliged to add yet another zucchini recipe to the blog. Simply put, the ingredients are simple, and the flavor is fresh and spot on. This tomato sauce was thick and tangy. For my vegan friends - this pizza can definitely go without the cheese, I would just add more zucchini!

Zucchini Goat Cheese Pizza
Source: Adapted from Vegetarian Times, June 2011 Issue
Serves 2

2 Tbs. olive oil, divided
8 oz. (½ pkg.) prepared refrigerated pizza dough SS: I used pre-made dough
1 3.5-oz. log goat cheese, thinly sliced or roughly chopped
1 zucchini, peeled into thin strips
1 small red bell pepper, cut into rings
1 6-oz. can no-salt-added tomato paste
2 Tbs. finely minced onion
2 cloves garlic, minced (2 tsp.)
2 tsp. dried oregano
2 tsp. olive oil
½ tsp. red wine or red wine vinegar

To make Pizza: Preheat oven to 450°F. Brush large baking sheet or pizza pan with 1 Tbs. oil. Spread pizza dough in prepared pan.

To make Sauce: stir together all ingredients with fork in small bowl.
Spread Sauce on dough. Top with half of goat cheese. Spread zucchini strips over goat cheese, top with bell pepper rings, then remaining goat cheese. Drizzle with remaining 1 Tbs. oil. Bake 10 to 15 minutes, or until cheese is melted and bubbly. Cool 10 minutes, then cut into 6 slices.

I'm still working on perfecting a quick homemade dough recipe to save money. For now, store bought works just  fine.

Sugar and spice

I got my hair straightened on Friday, and I love it. It got frizzy pretty quickly, but I like the look of "big hair" so i'm all for it. I think this will be my look for the fall and winter...I will be attempting to teach myself how to do it once every week, or maybe every two weeks. I'm not worried about heat damage, and here are a couple of reasons why:

  1. There are naturals who straighten regularly and experience no visible curl loosening.
  2. Yes, I know it will be added "damage" to my hair, but we "damage" our hair whenever we detangle, style, or touch it right? Yes, it may be too much for some, however I got my hair straightened regularly in middle school and NEVER experience heat damage. This was for 2 years of bi-weekly hair pressing. Thus, I know my hair can handle this, when done properly.
  3. Loo's recent post totally gave me some validation for it, and I really appreciated it.
  4. I'm really happy with my hair's current length. I'm content with MAINTAINING this length.
  5. Long hair is no longer my holy grail, however I am still aiming for healthy hair. I believe you can have healthy hair, and have it straightened regularly.

Sorry for the poor picture quality - I used my phone. A picture is better than no picture, right?

I Still Wear Clothes

This picture was taken two weeks ago when I went to Founding Farmers with a couple of friends. My camera was dead so this is the only pic. A lovely blood orange housemade soda. FYI, It's totally unrelated to the post, but it was DELICIOUS!

This new job marks the first time in the past three years where I have had to get dressed every day. Not that I walked around naked before, but in my former job, I visited industrial plants. Thus, I typically wore the same khakis, jeans, steel toe boots, and button ups every day. Now that I'm in an office setting, I don't know what to do with myself! It's exciting because I really get to utilize my wardrobe. At the same time, it's challenging - putting five distinct outfits together every week is WORK! It's much easier when you only have to get dressed 2-3 times a week, for fun. Now, I HAVE to get dressed! Thankfully, my office dress code is business casual, and we can wear jeans on Friday. So, 90% of my wardrobe is appropriate for work. These facts make for a much more interesting personal style part of this blog. The only dilemma is the fact that it's pitch black when I leave for work, and when I return home.

Should I bring my camera with me to work and take shots on my lunch break? What would you do?

Nursing as a Working Mom

As promised, here's my update on nursing as a working mom. So, what's it like nursing your child as a working mom? Well, you basically pump as much as you nurse. I pump at least three times a day. Right now I pump around 8:45 am, 12:30 pm, and 4:15 pm. I pump every time Naja would eat. I try to pump close to the time that I leave work for home so that I'm moderately "full" when I get home. However sometimes Naja needs another bottle right before I get home, so I pump an additional time in the evening. I also *try* to pump once on the weekends, in the morning, an hour after I nurse (when my milk supply is at its greatest). This is great because I can freeze this milk, and save it when I travel for work.

My employer is very accommodating to nursing moms. They have a Mother's Room equipped with a phone, internet hook up, electrical outlet, table, chair, and mini fridge. This is great because it allows me to work while I pump. It's also great because it's a relaxing environment. I've pumped in a public bathroom, and on the train - neither of which were relaxing. I definitely think your comfort level affects your milk supply!

So, she really knows how to put on a show...

A couple of tips for the working/nursing mom:
1. Be mindful of your attire. Those hard to get on dresses probably aren't your best option while you're pumping.
2. Be open and honest with your employer about your desire to give your child your milk. Work things out to benefit both parties. Just because you're pumping doesn't mean you can't work. You can easily send emails, read material, and make phone calls while you pump.
3. Nurse your baby every opportunity you have! This means in the evenings, at night, and on the weekends. This will help your milk supply tremendously.
4. Have one pump for the home, and another for the office. This is costly if you have to buy both pumps. Although, I received both pumps that I have from friends. You can definitely make things work with one pump. However if you have a tough commute, it can really help you save time and effort to keep one at work, and one at home.
5. Understand your daycares rules with breast milk. Ask questions like: What do you do with milk that you have warmed up that's left over? How do you warm up the milk?
Her face two seconds after the previous picture...smh

Finally, I promised to tell one shenanigan story regarding nursing at work, here goes... Last week, I got out of training a little early. I excitedly left work at 5, with the hopes to catch a 5:20 bus back home. I began my usual commute home: walk to the metro station, hop on the metro, ride one stop up to where I catch the bus, then get off the metro. While getting off the metro, a little voice said, "You're feeling quite light today Monique." I looked down and recognized that I LEFT MY PUMP AND MY MILK AT THE OFFICE! Now, I would have continued on my trek home if the milk was in the fridge, but I put the milk in my bag because I planned on taking it home with me. There was no way I was wasting 12 ounces of milk. Thus, I hopped back on the metro, rode one stop back to work, walked back to the office, picked up the bag, and headed back on my trek home. I got home at 7:20. Womp, womp womp.

Naja is wearing: Jacket - Baby Zara; Shirt - Baby H&M; Leggings - Baby Gap; Shoes - Gift *All clothes except the jacket were hand me downs :)

Crispy Quinoa Cakes with Roasted Red Pepper Sauce

I know I have about 20 different version of quinoa cakes, but that's because quinoa is my chicken. Most people eat chicken every week in a different variety, so I do the same with quinoa. These cakes were so good, and the sauce really sets them off! What's even better is the fact that this is a quick meal. The downside is that it has a lot of random ingredients. Ironically, I had most of them in my fridge/pantry, so this was a win-win for me!

Crispy Quinoa Cakes with Roasted Red Pepper Sauce
Source: Vegetarian Times, September 2011 Issue
Makes about 7 cakes, serving 2 cakes/person

1 large egg
2 tbs. all-purpose flour
1-1/2 tbs. tahini or nut butter SS: I used peanut butter
1-1/2 tsp. red or white wine vinegar
3/4 cup dried quinoa (to make 1-1/2 cup cooked quinoa)
1/2 cup finely grated sweet potato SS: That's about half of one large sweet potato
1/2 10-oz package frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
1/4 cup chopped sun-dried tomatoes
1/4 cup chopped nuts, optional SS: I didn't use these
2 oz. crumbled feta cheese, optional
2 tbs. finely diced onoin
1 tbs. fesh parsley or cilantro SS: I used parsley
1 clove garlic
1/2 tsp. salt

Preheat oven to 400F. Coat baking sheet with cooking spray. Combine egg, flour, tahini (or nut butter), and vinegar in bowl. Stir in remaining ingredients, then mash together until mixture is firm enough to shape into cakes. Shape mixture into 1/4-cup patties with wet hands. Bake on prepared baking sheet 25 minutes, turning once, or until cakes are browned.

1-1/2 cups roasted red peppers, drained SS: Equivalent to 1 16 oz. jar
1/2 cup toasted almonds
1 clove garlic
2 tsp. red wine vinegar

Puree all ingredients in food processor.

So, there you have it! I only needed to purchase a sweet potato, feta cheese and parsley for the cakes, and the roasted red peppers for the sauce. This recipe makes quite a bit of sauce. I found that the sauce was great for veggies - try celery or snow peas!

8 Weeks

Ok guys, time really flies when you have a kid. She grows so much over a single day, she makes me feel like I should really be working on something EPIC! LOL. Seriously, I look at her now, and I don't even know who she is!

This past weekend, one of Naja's "aunties" came to visit for the first time. We had a blast catching up on things. We lounged outside on the deck, with Naja in her bouncer (pictured). This past week my mom and I started giving Naja a pacifier, and it's a lifesaver! Originally I didn't want to give her a binky, but it is very soothing for her, and keeps her quiet in car rides. For example, she normally won't fuss for about 20 minutes in the car without binky, and with binky, I can easily get another 20 minutes of a happy baby riding in the car! I tried it out this weekend, running some last minute errands before my return to work and things worked out great. Naja was a true camper the entire car ride.

This is my first week back at work full time. Thus far, I get up at 6 AM, and leave the house at 7 AM to be at work by 8:45 AM. I get home around 6:30 PM. I catch a commuter bus into DC, and then hop on the metro, and walk to my office. It's been tough being away from her for so long because I feel like a bad mother. However I steadily remind myself that I work to provide for her, and I'm still spending time with her in the mornings, evenings, and nights! Also, I'm enjoying work, which definitely helps a lot. I'm still nursing Naja, and things are going well, but I am very busy! I'm going to do another post next week on nursing as a working mother. The post will include some of the shenanigans I've run into, which should be both comical and informative for inquiring minds.

Naja is staying at home with my mom during the day. Some days she wakes up pleasant, other days she wakes up fussy. Babies are still human with good and bad days. I think her personality is starting to show and I think she's going to be a talker like her momma! Whenever she's around people talking, she makes these noises like she's trying to join in. I love it! Finally, yesterday, Naja smiled for the first time while she wasn't sleeping. I was SO EXCITED.

Spiced Chickpeas

Want a healthy snack? Try these spiced chickpeas! Chickpeas are obviously my favorite bean. I have a couple cans of them in my pantry at all times, because I love how they taste. I mean I used them in banana bread - clearly, I love them. These spiced chickpeas are a great, healthy snack. The recipe calls for you to remove the skins on the beans, but I don't think it's REALLY necessary. Try them out!

Spiced Chickpeas
Source: Adapted from weelicious.com

1 15 oz can chickpeas
1 tsp cinnamon
2 tbs canola oil
1 tbs honey

1. Preheat the oven to 400 F. Peel the skins from the chickpeas.
2. Whisk cinnamon and oil in a bowl. Toss the chickpeas in the oil and cinnamon. Cover a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Place the chickpeas on the cookie sheet. Roast for 40 minutes, turning every 15 minutes.
3. Toss the chickpeas in the honey, and bake for another 7 minutes.


New Hairstyle

I can't remember the last time I did a post about hair. This is due to many reasons. One of which can be easily attributed to my indecision when it comes to me and my hair.  Another is my recent lack of inspiration with my hair, in general. I seriously consider chopping it all off once a week. WELL, I recently was *inspired* by one of the style icons of at BGLH. Lurie is a beautiful woman with GORGEOUS hair! I wanted to style my hair to look exactly like one of the styles she displayed in her interview. Well, my style did not turn out to look like Lurie's, but it's a nice version of a that style, so it's "new."

I don't know when/if I'll have time to do a tutorial (considering I barely want to do my hair). However, I'll try to explain how I did this style. I created a side part. Did flat twists on the side with the least amount of hair. I did medium-sized two-strand twists on the side with more hair. Then, I folded and pinned the two-strand twists to my liking, and used bobby pins to secure them. The entire style took me about one hour. I'm not sure that the tutorial makes sense. I tried to take enough pictures so that you could see the style from every angle.

I think this style is a really elegant natural style, and is great for a special occasion, or a professional, office setting. If you try this style, let me know!!!

Spaghetti and Veg Meatballs

Fall is here! I had to wear a JACKET yesterday because it was so cool! With fall weather comes warm, comfort food. Spaghetti and meatballs is a great way to kick things off.

Spaghetti and Veg Meatballs
Source: Vegetarian Times, September 2011 Issue
Serves 12

3 8-oz pkg. plain seitan, rinsed and rained
1 8-oz. pkg. low-fat cottage cheese or ricotta
1 cup unseasoned breadcrumbs
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 large egg, lightly beaten
3 tbs lemon juice (About 1 lemon)
2 tbs finely chopped fresh dill
2 tbs. finely chopped fresh min and/or parsley SS: I omitted this because I forgot to get it
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp allspice
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tbs olive oil
1 25-oz jar tomato sauce SS: Feel free to use your favorite tomato-based pasta sauce also
1 cup crumbled feta cheese, optional

1. Pulse setian in food processor until finely ground. SS: Go ahead and pulse the onion too to save yourself some time chopping it. It's all going in the same bowl! Transfer to bowl, and add all ingredients except oil, tomato sauce, and feta. Mash mixture with hands or potato masher until mixture comes together. Season with salt and pepper. Chill 30 minutes.
2. Preheat oven to 350 F. Coat baking dish with oil. Scoop seitan mixture into golf ball-size meatballs, and place prepared baking dish. Bake 20 minutes.
3. Pour tomato sauce over meatballs, and sprinkle with feat (if using). Bake 30 minutes, or until sauce is bubbly.

I think the ricotta addition gave them a unique flavor I normally don't experience. I will definitely fix the meatballs again. I will say I think I made my meatballs too big, and they were not tight, they fell apart somewhat, so I may also adjust the oven cook time, or make them smaller.

Chinese Tofu and Rice Soup

Eating is a necessity for me (hopefully you too), and I like to vary my meals, so I try to fix one new dish per week. In my free time, I read food magazines and blogs to help me scope out new, fresh recipes, and I love it! Food Network Magazine is one of the few food magazines I subscribe to. Most of the recipes there are meat-based, however I'm getting courageous by adapting the recipes to fit my dietary choices. This recipe originally calls for 1 cup of rotisserie chicken (and chicken stock), which I simply substituted with extra firm tofu cubes (and vegetable stock). This was tasty and filling! Everyone in my family liked it - brother and dad included!

Chinese Tofu and Rice Soup
Source: Adapted from Food Network Magazine, September 2011 Issue
Serves 6

4 Large Eggs
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1 pack (200 grams) Extra-Firm Tofu, Cubed
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 large tomatoes, halved and thinly sliced
4 cups low-sodium vegetable broth
1 bunch scallions, sliced
2 tablespoons sesame oil
3 teaspoons low-sodium soy sauce
4 cups baby spinach
1-1/2 cups cooked rice (white, brown or wild) SS: I used white basmati rice

1. Whisk the eggs with a pinch each of salt and pepper in a small bowl. Heat the peanut oil in a wok or large saucepan over high heat. SS: With all the broth that this dish calls for, I would suggest using a soup pan. Add the eggs and cook, undisturbed, until bubbles form on the surface and the bottom is set, about 1 minute.
2. Add the tomatoes and cook, stirring gently to break up the eggs, until the tomatoes begin to soften, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the tofu, broth, 3 cups water, the scallions, sesame oil, soy sauce and 1 teaspoon salt. Partially cover and simmer 5 minutes.
3. Stir in the spinach and rice and warm through. SS: If using chicken, add it at this step. Season the soup with salt and pepper.

I will definitely make this again, it's a one pot dish with all of the nutrients you need - protein, starch, and veggies! This also required minimal prep, aside from slicing the tomatoes and scallions, and beating the eggs - this was a dump and simmer cook job. Everyone needs that, especially during the week!

Make this vegan by leaving out the eggs - I think it would taste just fine without them!

Quarter-Life Changes

A couple of weeks ago, I hinted that I would have some serious updates some time soon. Now is the time to deliver those updates!!! NOTE: The pictures have absolutely NOTHING to do with this post, but everyone likes to see baby pics! I'm using pictures from a "photo shoot" I shot for Naja's birth announcements.

The main update is that I have moved to the DC/MD/VA (aka DMV) area!!! As you may remember, my parents live in Northern VA, and living in the area increases my support network for Naja. This is really a blessing, my mom is a TREMENDOUS help. She even encourages me to get out the house by myself while she watches Naja.

With this move also comes...a new job!!! C'mon guys...I wouldn't leave a well-paid job and move to a new city with a new baby without another comparable offer in hand. That's why I didn't respond to some of the comments regarding returning back to work and daycare - my apologies but your answer is here today! My new job is in the sales/commercial field, with a company in the healthcare industry in DC. My first day is next Monday, 9/12!

Proud uncle with his niece

Naja and I are staying with my parents for a bit, getting adjusted to everything. My mom has graciously offered to watch Naja during the day for a little bit. We're not sure exactly how long for now. I will most likely put her in daycare part-time when she starts moving around more. So, that's all for me - new city, new job, new baby...talk about quarter-life changes!