Whole30 Food Favorites

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Yesterday, I shared about our Whole30 experience. Today, let’s talk FOOD FAVORITES!! I am happy to share some of my favorite recipes later, but for now, here are some of the staples we wouldn’t want to have done without these 30 days.

  1. COFFEE. I love coffee. Even black coffee. In fact, especially black coffee. Prior to this challenge, I always put a tsp of real maple syrup and some half & half in my home brewed coffee before, and I opted for lattes at the coffee shops, but now, I can’t get enough of a good cup of high quality organic brewed beans in my aeropress. Thank you, whole30, for letting me keep my daily joe.
  2. Ghee. It was nice to be able to make clarified butter from my Kerrygold and use it as a cooking fat.
  3. Fried Plantains. We didn’t discover these until the last week of the program, but we LOVE THEM. Seriously, we are obsessed with salted plantains pan fried in coconut oil. Amazing snack.
  4. Almond butter. Yes, please.
  5. Toasted Coconut Chips. These are delicious and divine.
  6. La Croix. We didn’t drink soda before, so we weren’t replacing other carbonated beverages, but when you can’t have any treats, there is something so refreshing and exciting about getting to have a flavored sparkling water.
  7. Lara Bars. Not for everyday use, but when you’re in a pinch and need some food STAT, we loved having a few of these on hand. (Not all flavors are whole30 approved. Check for added sugars).
  8. Epic Bars. These were especially appealing when we were traveling. A little protein/meat boost is the perfect thing for a hungry traveler.
  9. GT’s Kombucha. As if I didn’t already love this stuff already. Every once in a while we treated ourselves to a GT’s Kombucha because they don’t add sugar to their brews. Our favorite flavors are Gingerade, Trilogy, and Gingerberry. Yum!
  10. Aidell’s Chicken Apple Sausage. This is the only flavor I could find that was whole30 compliant, but it was a breakfast staple for us.
  11. Eggs. We have never gone through cartons of eggs as quickly as we did this month. We found that we were eating full breakfasts every morning, and eggs were a staple of that.
  12. Sweet Potatoes. In soup, as a side, for breakfast. Sweet potatoes all the time.
  13. Avocado. The yummiest of healthy fats.
  14. Spices. I am certain that eating lots of meats and vegetables does not mean it can’t be full of flavor! Thanks to lots of garlic powder, salt, pepper, cayenne pepper, Bragg’s seasonings, allspice, etc.
  15. Nuts. Almond butter. Raw Almonds. Pecans. Cashews. Almond milk. Thank the Lord for nuts!

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Over the next few weeks, I will share a few more recipes that we have loved! If you are planning on trying the Whole30, be sure to follow @whole30recipes on Instagram! That was a really helpful resource for me.

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Things I Learned On My First Whole30

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As of tomorrow, Jeremy & I will have completed our very first Whole30. The re-introduction process is slow, but today is our final day of super strict, read-every-label-or-start-over eating. Woo!

If you have never heard of the Whole30, it’s a 30 day eating challenge that is “designed to change your life in 30 days.” Basically, for the last 30 days we have eaten meat, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and eggs. And that’s about it. No grains, dairy, legumes, or sugar of any kind (except fruit). As you are reading this, you likely have one of two responses. Either:
1. You’ve done this before or thought about doing it before and you are nodding your head in solidarity.
2.  You think we are crazy.

I have considered myself a healthy eater for many years, and over the past few years of marriage, I have learned so much about how to eat and feed my family well with whole, real, delicious food. We hardly eat any processed food, limit our grains, and eat lots of produce and fresh foods. I have developed a serious interest in and affinity for cooking and spending time in the kitchen. But, I have always been really skeptical of the Whole30. I thought, “I already eat healthy enough. Why deprive myself of all of those things for 30 days?”

But I am really glad I did it.

I am writing this post mostly for my own benefit and the benefit of others who are planning to try the Whole30 program. I want to recap our adventure and share some of the tricks I learned along the way. (I’m sure I will have even more thoughts and reflections after we complete the re-introduction phase of this process. I will keep you posted!) 

Let’s start with the positive. Here are some of the benefits we experienced from doing the Whole30.
1. Energy and motivation. After I got past a few early days of exhaustion, I found that I had increased energy and alertness. I was accomplishing more and feeling overall more energetic and focused in my tasks. This is a huge benefit! While I can’t say that I was never tired in the 30 days, I didn’t get the draining afternoon lulls that follow grain and sugar filled meals.

2. My sugar cravings decreased. I may not eat bakery cakes, oreos, or Blue Bell ice cream very often, but I had become very dependent on the “healthier” versions of such treats. Almond flour cookies, coconut milk ice cream, and gluten free chocolate chip pancakes were regular treats in my weekly (ahem, daily) diet. My sweet tooth was the hardest to kick in the early days of Whole30, and I rolled my eyes that I couldn’t even put honey in my wellness tea or have uncured bacon if it contained any maple syrup or cane sugar. But I’m happy to say that I don’t have those same seemingly insatiable desires for just a bite of banana oat cookies that I once did. Although, I can guarantee, I will be making some coconut milk ice cream as soon as this is over.

3. We both slimmed down. I haven’t weighed myself since the end of Whole30, but whether or not I’ve lost weight is not of huge significance to me. I look slimmer and I feel better. Jeremy’s change was more noticeable than mine (isn’t that always the way, though?), and he has definitely dropped a few pounds. Also, despite the fact that I have been inconsistent in working out this month, my muscle tone is more defined.

4. Overall feeling better. In addition to more energy, I just felt better overall. Better PMS symptoms (sorry, guys), fewer stomach aches. Also, I have been less stressed and overall just a little peppier.

5. I feel a sense of accomplishment. I didn’t know if I could deprive myself of so many delicious things for 30 days…especially in the midst of business travel and appointments, but I did it! And I feel better for it! And I realized that food doesn’t have as much power over me as it once did. I can say no…even to a fresh crab cake staring me in the face on the Florida coast that wouldn’t have been that bad but still broke the rules. Yes, I did that. And I survived. If anything, this was a really good test of willpower. I feel like I won the game.

6. I learned new skills and developed new habits. I tried recipes I never would have tried. I learned to use ingredients I didn’t usually use. I started cooking a big, healthy breakfast every single morning.

Now let’s talk hard stuff. Here were the most challenging/frustrating things about the 30 days.

  1. Eating out and having to be that person. On week 2 of the challenge, I went on a work trip and I had to eat out every meal for 5 days straight…often at greasy spoon restaurants that I did not choose. I made it work, but there was some frustration at the hassle. Also, you know that person across from you at the restaurant who asks for every single thing to be customized? The “is there butter on that salmon? What oil do you use to cook the broccoli? Can I have that without soy?” girl. I was that girl.
  2. Having to carefully avoid things I know don’t bother me. I haven’t done whole30 before, but I have done similar, less strict versions of the paleo diet. I know that a little bit of grass fed butter or some honey in my tea or soybean oil on my Chipotle veggies isn’t a big deal. So I had to curb the eye rolling and just suck it up and avoid those little, not such a big deal things. For the sake of the cause. It is also quite annoying to have to read every single label looking for small amounts of added sugar.
  3. My skin didn’t really improve. I have struggled with not-awesome skin lately, and I was hoping 30 days of the cleanest possible eating would leave me with a glowing, blemish free complexion. Unfortunately, it seems, clean eating wasn’t the ultimate solution to everything.
  4. HUNGRY. I feel like eating this way increases my metabolism almost too much. We found ourselves so hungry before meals…like we could barely wait to scarf down those vegetables and meat.
  5. Cost of food. We are budget people, and this month definitely stretched our budget. Partly because I was so concerned with feeding us well that I didn’t pay as close of attention to money, but it’s expensive when all you can eat is produce, meat, and nuts. Also, winter is a tough time of year because not very much produce is actually in season.

The truth is, I am so glad I finished the 30 days…despite the things listed above! Are our lives changed? I’m not sure about that, but they are certainly enhanced. I think this program really could change your life if you were starting from a more unhealthy place. But even as “healthy” eaters already, this program is definitely something I would recommend!

Tomorrow, I’ll be back to talk about my food favorites from the month and share a few recipes.

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The Books You Read…2015

I wrote a blog post earlier this year about my affinity for travel, and I shared a favorite quote:

You will be the same person you are now in five years except for the places you go, the people you meet, and the books you read. 

One of my new years resolutions at the beginning of 2015 was to read a book a month for a total of 12 books this year. As I closed the year out, I am proud to say that I saw that goal and raised it. I finished 28 books in 2015 (not including books of the Bible), thanks in part to my recent addiction to audiobooks. There’s nothing like sitting down to physically read a book cover to cover, but in the craziness of life, sometimes an audiobook is just the thing! This year, I have kept two books going at once: one in print and one in audio format.

I have found that I prefer fiction on tape because it doesn’t require as much active processing. I can simply listen and enjoy the story. I prefer to visually read non-fiction books for the sake of my own comprehension as a visual learner.

I have borrowed all of my audiobooks for free thanks to my local Nashville library and both the Overdrive app and Hoopla app on my phone.

So, for those of you that have any interest in a booklist and recommendations, and for my own documentation, here is my reading list of 2015 as well as my rating (on a scale of 1 to 5) (* = audiobook).

First off, my top 3 recommendations from the year:
1. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. Historical fiction. Takes place in France during WWII. So beautifully written and a wonderful story.
2. Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull. Memoir and business book by one of the men who runs Pixar and now Disney Animation Studios. Great for creatives, but good for everyone!
3. The Circle Maker by Mark Batterson. I read this at the top of the year, and it really shaped and grew my prayer life. 
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     NON-FICTION

  1. The Circle Maker by Mark Batterson – 5
  2. For The Right Reasons by Sean Lowe (Don’t judge) – 3
  3. Create: Stop Making Excuses and Start Making Stuff by Stephen Altrogge – 4
  4. Bread & Wine by Shauna Niequist – 3
  5. Scary Close by Donald Miller – 2 (I know this book is wildly popular; it just didn’t click with me.)
  6. When God Doesn’t Fix It by Laura Story – 4
  7. The War of Art: Break Through The Blocks & Win Your Inner Creative Battles by Steven Pressfield – 3 (First 2 sections were definitely a 4/5, but the last section took the rating down significantly for me).
  8. Shattered Perspectives by AJ Luck – 3
  9. Call The Midwife: Shadows of the Workhouse by Jennifer Worth* – 4
  10. Call The Midwife: Farewell To The East End by Jennifer Worth* – 4
  11. Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull – 5
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    FICTION
  13. Voice in the Wind by Francine Rivers – 5
  14. Echo in the Darkness by Francine Rivers – 5
  15. As Sure As The Dawn by Francine Rivers – 5
  16. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak – 4
  17. The Help by Kathryn Stockett* – 5
  18. Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers – 5
  19. The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley* – 4
  20. Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter* – 2
  21. The Prince by Francine Rivers* – 4
  22. All The Light We Cannot See* by Anthony Doerr – 5
  23. To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee* – 5
  24. Anne of Avonlea by Lucy Maud Montgomery* – 4
  25. Anne of the Island by Lucy Maud Montgomery* – 4
  26. Anne’s House of Dreams by Lucy Maud Montgomery* – 4
  27. Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee* – 3 (As a long time lover of To Kill a Mockingbird, I was disappointed by this long-awaited followup!)
  28. The Christmas Angel by Jane Maas* – 5

I’ve only finished one book so far in 2016! I guess I better get to work!

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2015 Life In Review

This year took me by surprise. I didn’t have particularly grand expectations for 2015, but as I look back, I realize that it was one of my favorite years yet. I feel like I have grown a lot in my understanding of myself this year. Our marriage is richer and fuller. I feel more confident, more humbled, and more assured in who I am in Christ than I have before.

We did a lot of major projects around the house, and all of a sudden our home feels a lot more like “us.”

We traveled a lot. We took a trip to Italy around our third anniversary which was at the very top of my bucket list. It was the trip of a lifetime and some of my favorite days of my life. This year I also found myself in Portland, northern California, South Florida, Chattanooga, New York City, Orlando, New Orleans, Minneapolis, Texas and a handful of other places.

I started a new position in a new department at my record label job in January. That has brought with it more travel and a large learning curve, but it has been an exciting and great change.

This year, we left a church we loved and joined a new one, joined a new Bible study, and started leading 7th graders on Wednesday nights. It’s been a year of spiritual growth for us as a couple and individually.

Perhaps the most personally significant for me is the recording of my second musical project, The Color EP, which will release at the top of 2016. I’ve been thinking of releasing new music for several years as I have struggled with a lot of fear and insecurity, but music was one of the biggest parts of my life for most of my life, and it has felt like a re-awakening as I have been reminded of the joy of following my God-given passion and recorded music once again.

This year has been full of big life events and little moments.
Births of sweet babies to two of my best friends.
Saying goodbye to the house that raised me.
Visits with family near and far.
Memories made with my husband as we continue to grow into adulthood together.
Quiet moments on snowy days.
Colorful trips around the world.

2015, you were absolutely exactly what I needed. I greet you, 2016, with open arms.
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2015 Home in Review

Every year, it feels so improbable that yet another year has come and gone. The hours feel so long and the years so short.

I am enjoying the end of this year because I think 2015 might be one of my favorite years yet on a personal level, and it has been the most trans-formative year for our little red brick ranch house.

We have a new master bedroom and closet, an updated and renovated basement, a fresh white kitchen and repainted living space, and a new sitting area/patio outside in the carport. Let me jog your memory about some transformations and renovations from the year.

Garage to Master Bedroom Transformation.
Our old garage went from this…
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To this…
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For more information on this big renovation:
Mid-Century Dresser 
Vintage File Cabinet with Annie Sloan Paint
Vintage Night Stands
DIY Upholstered Headboard
Painting the room
Construction update

We transformed our kitchen by painting all the cabinets and adding hardware
Before (Was it ever that ORANGE?)
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After (We are so enjoying our new kitchen)
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Oh and then Magnolia Market (Joanna Gaines of Fixer Upper) shared a photo of my kitchen on social media and I felt famous for a day! 

 I did my first “client” project by helping a friend with design for their home renovation.
BEFORE
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AFTER
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We created a mudroom in our basement and hung shiplap...

  
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Our basement went from this 

  
To this 

  
  
We created a cozy seating area in our existing carport
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We finished off the year with a Christmas home tour to recap it all…
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It’s been a lovely year of updating for the Quarles home! Tomorrow I will recap our life adventures from the year!

 

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Christmas Home Tour 2015

One of my favorite Christmas traditions is spending time alone at home making wreaths, hanging ornaments and decorating every corner of our home while I watch corny Hallmark movies and listen to Christmas music. I love the stillness of the empty house and the time alone with my thoughts as I reflect on the year and put my hands to work crafting and being creative.

I was reflecting today on all of the Christmas-y things that I so love to do and enjoy. The lights, the shopping, the events, the parties. Yesterday, after a day of celebratory events, I ended the evening thinking about how I didn’t feel as much of the “Christmas magic” as I should have.

The reason is that no matter how many beautiful decorations I hang, cups of hot chocolate I drink, or movies I watch, I will still be left with an emptiness if not for one thing.

Jesus.

I have kept such a busy schedule that I have cut down time with the One person we are celebrating. Today I sat down and just spent some time with my Savior, and that “magic” I was looking for came not from lights and scheduled activities but from the richness of His word and time with Him.

He truly is the reason for the season, and he shines much brighter than the lights on my tree.

But I love that I get to decorate in celebration of that :-) That said, welcome to my Christmas home. (You can also check out my 2013 Tour and 2014 Tour).

We got a new Christmas tree this year from Home Depot. The little pencil tree is exactly what we need in our living room.
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I used a lot of accents of black and white this year.
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Come on into the eat-in kitchen. Our newly renovated white kitchen is such a great backdrop for the traditional red and green.
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Now come on into the reading room where I’ve decorated my antique mantel with metallics and greenery.

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Now I wanna take you to the basement (which underwent some major renovation in the last year), but I want you to come in through the carport door, so let’s walk around back of the house.

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I filled this vintage box (an early Christmas box from my mom) with some twinkle lights, free greenery, and sticks from the yard.
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Come on in. This mudroom is new this year too!
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I made the little wreaths from boxwood clippings and free greenery from the tree lot on a simple wire hanger base.
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I found those cute vintage cards at a local boutique. They were selling the whole set for a dollar!
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We have been spending a lot of time in this basement space lately. It’s fun to have such a cozy spot!
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This is the blog debut for our new organ that Jeremy got for FREE.
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No house tour is complete without my shadow, Jack the Cat.
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Thank you so much for stopping by!

 

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But God.

 The blog has been quiet lately.

Life is busy, and I haven’t quite known what to say here. I’m recording a 5 song EP and fundraising for that. I’ve been traveling for both work and pleasure. I’ve been preparing for hosting my family for a few days at Thanksgiving. In the midst of activities, plans, and duties, I have been wrestling with emotions and worries about my own life and the world at large. Yesterday, Jeremy and I tucked under the covers for our standard Sunday afternoon nap. While he slept peacefully and the kitties purred beside me, I lay there for an hour–physically tensing with fear and unrest.

Life is unsafe. It is ever shifting. It is scary. Terrorists have death wishes, politics is complicated, and people are hurting. Innocent people get cancer. Children, husbands, and wives die unexpectedly.

Meanwhile, I live comfortably in my little ranch house in bustling Nashville and show you pictures of my decorations and DIY projects. I sing songs and record music. I put on a clean outfit every day and drive to work in my climate controlled SUV and sit at my desk and make phone calls and answer emails. I hang out with my two cats and my sweet husband. I tell Jeremy how much I love him and he tells me the same. We invite our friends over and laugh over home cooked meals. We go to the store and buy everything we need and many things we don’t need. I put up my Christmas trees and deck the halls and listen to Nat King Cole and slide around the floor in my fuzzy socks.

All of those things are so good, and I am so grateful for the everyday joys. I treasure the community, hobbies, and comforts. God delights in us and desires for us to experience happiness. But there is another side to the story of life.

Outside my red brick walls, some of the world is in agony. At any moment, my comfortable little world could be shattered by any number of things. Meanwhile, many others have already experienced the shattering.

I feel helpless, and, at times, hopeless.

BUT, the Gospel. BUT GOD.

I love the book of Ephesians, and chapter 2 is especially great.

The passage starts out in doom and gloom. Paul, the author, talks about the weight of sin on the world.

Once you were dead because of your disobedience and your many sins. You used to live in sin, just like the rest of the world, obeying the devil—the commander of the powers in the unseen world. He is the spirit at work in the hearts of those who refuse to obey God. All of us used to live that way, following the passionate desires and inclinations of our sinful nature. By our very nature we were subject to God’s anger, just like everyone else.” (Eph 2:1-3. NLT)

Ok, Paul. We get it. We are sinful, the devil is bad. Then, just when everything seems at its bleakest, Paul inserts two crucial and defining words: BUT GOD.

But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much,  that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!)…God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God.  Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.  For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.”  (Eph 2:4-5, 8-10. NLT)

Our church just finished a series on the Gospel. That is a word that evangelical Christians throw around frequently, and sometimes it becomes watered down by cavalier exchange. However, the GOSPEL in and of itself is a powerful, transformative thing that gives us HOPE in all circumstances. The Gospel means that despite my sin and mistakes, and despite the horrible things in the world around me, GOD IS STILL GOOD. His grace covers every sin, his comforting arms are outstretched to every hurting soul, and he promises ETERNAL LIFE that is free of the fear, pain, and trial that we know to be so real on this planet. He has a plan for this world that far outstretches our understanding. As the children’s song so plainly states, “He’s got the whole world in his hands.”

Sickness is real. BUT GOD is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much.

Terrorism is a threat. BUT GOD is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much.

Poverty is rampant. BUT GOD is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much.

I can’t control my own life. BUT GOD is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much.

I easily hold tight to this truth and to the hope of Grace at a time in my life when things are going pretty darn well. It is my prayer that I will continue to hold tightly when trials come my way. That is a prayer that I have been afraid to pray lest I somehow invite those trials; however, the Lord has been trying to teach me that I have nothing of eternal significance to fear, despite the emotions I feel in the moment. I still haven’t learned that lesson, but God…

This doesn’t negate the difficulty of this world. This doesn’t always make it easy to discern truth in every situation. Life will have trials, and uncertainty is certain.

BUT GOD. 

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