Wednesday, August 28, 2013

My Comfort Food

Vacations are over, August draws to a close and the kids are all back at school.  The winds have begun to change, days are still warm but nights are getting cooler.  The leaves will soon change.  Farm stands are chuck full with local harvests and local food is at it's finest.  I can smell the coming season as it begins to change and I'm excited for my favorite time of year to arrive.  Fall is fantastic!!  The food of the season is such a joy to cook and with Labor Day just around the corner I thought I'd get my Fall on by starting with a cozy and comforting soup that will satisfy the whole family. 

I'm nutty over soup.  I make all kinds of soup all year long but it's a frequent flyer in my house during the cooler months.  My chicken soup recipe is a culmination of pieces and parts of the many different recipes I've tried over the years.  I'd try a certain recipe and then I'd "fix" it the next time I tried it, or maybe utilize a technique from another recipe and add the two together and so on and so on and so on.   What I've come up with is a base recipe.  From here you can do anything and make anything to suit your taste.  I've estimated measurements because I rarely measure anything when I cook.  You should taste things as you go and adjust to your liking.

I have yet to have anyone who has tried this in my home turn down a second bowl!  I hope you enjoy it!!

Here's what you will need:

1 rotisserie chicken, deboned, skin removed, chopped
3 boxes of chicken broth (I use fat free, low sodium)
1 large onion, chopped
3 stalks of celery, chopped
3 large carrots, chopped
1 tablespoon of dried oregano
1 tablespoon of dried basil
1/2-1 cup of Acini de Pepe or Pastina
salt & pepper to taste
olive oil for the pan

Here's what you do....

Add some olive oil to a large soup pot and set on the stove to heat up.  Two or three turns around the pan should do.  While the pan is heating up, chop your onions, carrots and celery.  

Add your vegetables to the pan and cook on medium heat until softened up a bit, 10 minutes or so. 

Add the oregano and basil to the pan and stir to combine.  


Add the chicken broth to the pan, one box at a time, stir. Raise heat to high and allow the soup to reach a boil..

Add the pasta and stir.  Allow to simmer for 10-15 minutes.  

While I prefer to use Acini de Pepe, sometimes it isn't available.  Pastina will do.  If you prefer a larger pasta presence in your soup, use the pasta of your choice.  However, keep in mind that larger pasta will soak up your broth and become mushy over time.  If using a larger sized pasta, it's best to cook the pasta separately and add to individual bowls of soup as needed.

Add the chicken, salt and pepper to taste and your done!!




+Michelle Morrissette Cucchiaro
+My Baked Stuffed Life

Friday, August 23, 2013

Hampton: Some Things Change, Some Things Remain the Same

I battled end of summer behavior from a car load of restless kids who are just tired of the air their siblings breath to get here this morning but I finally made it. We arrived later than I had wanted to so it was no big surprise that the parking lot I like to use was full.  We had no choice but to park close to a mile away from where I like to plant myself on the beach.  When you have kids in tow there are a few key establishments that need to be a stone's throw away from where you set up shop--Hampton Beach Waterslide, McDonalds and Playland!  With the hot sun beating down on us we trekked down the boardwalk and finally chose the perfect spot.  Off to the water they go.  Perfect!  Now I can sit in relative peace and do a little people watching.

In recent years Hampton Beach has undergone a bit of a revitalization..  They've done a beautiful job and I believe it's still a work in progress.  Although changes have been made, the shops and food shacks appear to have been untouched and all the fan favorites are still here. Some things change, some things remain the same.  It's all good.  One thing that hasn't changed is that it's still the best place around to just sit there and watch people.  The things you see here!  It's a melting pot of cultural diversity and social class.  You see lot's of class and no class at all.  Expect a whole lot of "will ya just look at that" swirling around in your head!

To describe Hampton as peaceful at even the best of times would be a stretch.  If you are looking for "peaceful" you definitely want to go somewhere else.  Peaceful or not I like Hampton Beach.  I grew up coming here in the summers and so did most of my childhood friends.  My parents had a red station wagon back in the day and they'd pack it full of all the necessary gear--chairs, coolers, food and drink and off we would go.  Back then it wasn't common for the family car to have AC so you could count on all the windows being rolled down.  As we neared the shore I can remember the excitement I would feel the moment I smelled the salt in the air! It wasn't long before the boardwalk would come into view and that's when the real excitement would begin!  It was a simpler time back then. There were no waterslides, penny candy really cost a penny, and a day at the beach was a HUGE treat!

I like thinking of those times.  I like sitting on the beach, breathing in the salt and letting my mind wander to thoughts of the way things used to be. They were special times and I have special memories of this place.  My mother would say that I "blossomed" here.  I was just 14 and my family was staying in a cottage for two weeks.  We had family visiting and my cousins were up for a few days.  We did what teenagers do--we went on the prowl to find other teenagers and it wasn't hard to do. The place was, and still is, crawling with them.  Before long we had quite a posse going of girls and guys and we were just running around the place having a whole lot of fun.  It was our kingdom.  It was that summer that I had my first crush and met my very first boyfriend.  Big SIGH!!  Those were the days my friends!!  I can still picture him with his wavy hair and beautiful smile.  He was a bit older, 17, and lived in Massachusetts.  I could go on with stories about him but that's material for a different post!  I'll have to tell you about it some time.....

As I got older I would still come here but the things I would enjoy and the special times I would have included entirely different activities--adult fun you might say.  Nights or weekends away with friends, concerts at the Casino, restaurants and, of course, the bar scene.  Hampton can really be a hotbed of activity and we had one heck of a good time!  Those certainly were the days my friends!

Time passes, things change.  It's time to pass the baton so-to-speak.  Now I take my children here and it's time for them to have their special times and make their special memories.  While I enjoy watching it all unfold, I still spend a great deal of time just sitting and thinking while I'm here.  My thoughts drift back and it always brings a smile to my face.  It sure was fun while it lasted....


+Michelle Morrissette Cucchiaro
+My Baked Stuffed Life

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Getting Real With A Big Reveal!!

I've been at this for just about 3 1/2 months now.  I hit the halfway point in early July and I was pretty proud of myself.  I made the promise that I would lose 20 lbs and by July I had lost 10 lbs., gained lots of lean muscle and dropped almost two sizes!!  Whatever that "thing" is that clicks on in your head--you know, that mechanism that engages and makes you feel guilty when you even think about skipping the gym, that thing where you no longer crave the bad food and all you care about is fueling up on anything that screams "I'm healthy--pick me! pick me!"-- it was here to stay. I was on a roll!  I looked back on my before pictures and I was so pumped that I didn't look like that anymore.  More importantly, I didn't feel like I did when those pictures were taken.  

I shared the idea of writing a blog about reaching the halfway point in my weight loss journey with several friends.  While most were supportive, one friend in particular was somewhat horrified that I'd put myself "out there".  I explained that a big part of this journey is an exercise in accountability.  Accountability coupled with the fact that I'm the type of person who "needs the shame" to carry out the second half of this battle.  It's not easy to show all your weaknesses but at the same time I know in my heart that I'm not alone.  So many people struggle with this stuff. Overeating is the American way.  We live in a culture of super sized everything and you have to consciously choose healthy living and healthy eating every single day.  I just hope that my journey and my struggles will help just one other person.

While I view what I've accomplished so far as a success, it hasn't come without pitfalls.  I've shared the good, the bad and the ugly with you along the way.  I'm completely on track with the exercise portion of this transformation and for that I am eternally grateful to my trainer, Chris Engel.  She's in this with me.  She's been a coach and a mentor and my lifeline on the days when I just couldn't get out of bed.  She ROCKS and I tell her so all the time!  

With the diet portion of this journey I'm on my own and I've been struggling.  I hit the ground running right out of the gate but when I hit that 10lb mark I got tired of it.  I loosely kept to the eating plan and started to stray every once in a while.  Ice cream reappeared on my daily menu.  I'd eat well and stay on plan all day but when the sun went down I raced for the freezer.  I made excuses to myself about it, joked about it, promised myself I'd knock it off before I got myself into trouble.  Truth be told I had a bowl before sitting down to write this.  It haunts me.  I'm fine all day and it haunts me at night.  That's not the only thing, I struggle with potato chips too.  I don't have them every day but I do have them.  Other than that, I stay on plan.  If this is the big reveal then let's talk about water.  I'm supposed to drink 3 litres a day.  For the last two weeks I've barely had 1 litre a day and I can feel the difference.  I need a swift kick in the backside.  I've got to stay on plan.

I haven't lost any weight since I hit that 10lb mark.  I'm not done, I still have so much work to do.  I talked to Chris this morning about whether I've hit a plateau.  She offered me information about it, referred me to several articles on the topic and said we could talk about it at length, perhaps tweak things a bit.  We discussed keeping a food diary......uh oh.  Busted.  Is this a plateau?  No, not in my mind.  Time to get real.  I recapped in my head--5 meals a day, a protein, a carb and a fat.  Three litres of water, daily exercise, one meal off a week, one day off a week.  Am I doing all that?  No, I'm not, it's more like 3 meals a day, 1 litre of water if I'm lucky and daily ice cream binges.  The only thing working in my favor here is the exercise and I'm damn lucky that I haven't really screwed things up at this point.  I've worked so hard!  I've got to get back on plan!!

My struggle will continue and I'll reach that mark and be better for it.  With that said, here, as promised is the BIG REVEAL!  I'm halfway there and I'm proud of myself so far.  Stay with me, work with me and don't give up! I sure won't!!



See you at the finish line for the FINAL reveal!


+Michelle Morrissette Cucchiaro
+My Baked Stuffed Life

Sunday, August 18, 2013

You Want To Fool Around?

So, you want to fool around?   Let's head to the playground!!!

I really like the idea of no excuses when it comes to working out.  It's way too easy to fall back on "I don't have time" or "I'm tired" and let's not forget that real winning excuse "I can't...the kids....I don't have a sitter".  No more!  No more excuses!!!  Just DO it!! Where?  Anywhere!!  And I do mean anywhere.

This morning I was at a Bootcamp at 6am.  Bootcamp is awesome!!  It's never the same class twice and Chris does a great job of being creative and keeping workouts interesting.  This morning our entire workout was done on the playground!!  While she brought a few props, most of the exercises made use of our own body weight or the playground equipment.  What a great idea for parents who find themselves at the playground on a daily basis with their little ones.  

Push-ups, hands wide

This workout doesn't require a gym or any equipment outside of what you'd find at the playground. It's perfect for busy people because although the workout is done on a playground in this example, it easily transfers anywhere you happen to be.  Look around, you can do push ups anywhere--against a wall, against a counter--anywhere!  Squats are portable too!  Be creative, get moving and keep moving! 

I had one heck of a workout this morning so I just had to share it here.
Bootcamp lasts an hour and you can get a thorough workout in within that time frame.  If you don't have a full hour to put in, do what you can.  

Push-ups, hands close

I workout all day long in addition to my formal workouts with Chris.  Push-ups against the counter while waiting for the microwave, tricep dips on the coffee table while watching my favorite television show or calf raises just about anywhere!! Just work it in whenever you can. The more you do, the stronger you get.  

So get up and get started!!  Go fool around!!!

Single Leg Squats, Crunches, Pull-ups


+Michelle Morrissette Cucchiaro
+My Baked Stuffed Life

Friday, August 16, 2013

Pre-Season Is Here!! Get Your Game Food On!

The days are warm but the nights are getting cooler.  The wind has shifted and natives know what's coming.  FOOTBALL!!!  While I'll hate to see summer go, I'm a die hard football fan and I'm anxious for the season to be in full swing.  If I plan it right, Sundays will be mine to kick back with some good friends, a cocktail or two and some awesome game food!!

Fall is the best time of year for cooking AND eating.  The stores and road side stands are chuck full with the harvest and fresh, local ingredients are plentiful.  While I love to cook, with 3 kids and a busy family the time I have to invest in the task is short so quick and easy recipes that taste great is key.  I'm constantly on the hunt for recipes that fit the bill and I think I found one to add to my go-to list of fun fare.
Many of you may have seen this recipe or something similar (I "fixed" it) on Pinterest.  I saw the Pinterest recipe and I also found one almost like it in Taste of Home magazine.  One called for refrigerator biscuits and the other called for bread dough.  The bread dough recipe required time to let the dough rise, etc.  I just didn't have time for that and, in addition, I thought that the ratio of bread to meatball would be too high.  The other one called for a particular brand of refrigerator biscuit that probably would have tasted good but I wasn't sure about the texture.  I chose the small Pillsbury biscuits and rolled them out with a rolling pin so that the crust would be thin and it was perfect.  Both recipes called for frozen meatballs and prepared jar marinara sauce.  I chose to make my own meatballs and my own sauce.  It's just personal preference.



First, preheat your oven to 350 degrees and assemble your ingredients.  You'll need one tube of refrigerator biscuits, 10 meatballs, shredded mozzarella cheese, olive oil, dried basil and marinara sauce for dipping.

Using a rolling pin, roll out your biscuit.....

Place a small amount of cheese in the center of your dough..........

Place one meatball on top of the cheese............

Fold up the edges of your dough so that it completely covers the cheese and the meatball.  Place seam side down on an ungreased baking sheet and bake until golden brown.  The package directions on the biscuits said 12-15 minutes but it actually took closer to 17 minutes.  

Brush the individual biscuit balls with olive oil and sprinkle with basil.  Serve with marinara for dipping. 

I added a salad and served these to my kids for dinner.  They were a big hit!!  Enjoy!!


+My Baked Stuffed Life
+Michelle Morrissette Cucchiaro

Monday, August 12, 2013

Going Home

I pulled into what I expected to be an almost vacant parking lot.  Much to my surprise the area was brimming with activity.  Things had changed.  The marquee at the stadium entrance announced upcoming activities.  Situated just behind the sign was an enormous inflatable knight-- apparently a mascot to the Silver Knights, a semi-professional ball club that calls Holman Stadium home now.  While I'm pleased that Nashua has a decent ball club to entertain the townies all summer, I'm not a big fan of the giant knight.  It's a bit much but I'm sure the kids just love it.

I parked, grabbed my camera and got out.  I expected to either have to search for the hole in the fence that used to be to the left of the entrance or peer through the chain link to get a good view of the field and stands but again  I was pleasantly surprised.  The enormous gate that had been erected at the old entrance was actually wide open.  I walked right in and it became abundantly clear that I was not supposed to be there.  I did what I normally do, I just kept going and acted like I was supposed to be there.  I went everywhere and snapped pictures along the way.  There are sky boxes now so I went up to check them out.  What luck!  The doors to the suites were  conveniently unlocked so I did what anyone would do, I went in.  The view was awesome!!

I went out into the stands and took pictures from every angle.  The field was so well-kept and it was so GREEN!!  I had to go down there, and I did.  First I went to home plate, then to the pitchers mound, then first, second and third base.  The view from the field is really cool.  All the while workers were milling about, doing their jobs.  They cleaned this and that, swept here and there.  Every once in a while they'd look at me and try to figure out what the heck I was doing.  I said hello and kept going.  I get this a lot when I'm taking pictures, especially when I'm in places I shouldn't be in and I just keep going.  Its a system that works out pretty well for me.

It wasn't long before the thrill of getting away with it wore off and I took a seat high up in the stands. The field was dressed for baseball but when I looked down from my perch my memory saw a football field.  I wondered for a moment if Nashua High still played their games here or if they built a fancy new field to go along with that fancy new high school?  I guess it doesn't matter, in that moment it was just comforting to think that maybe they still played here.  That the kids today are still making memories at Friday night games under the lights and that Holman was still home to the Panthers.

As I look down at the football field my mind drifts back.  Things are different now, the fields are a bit greener, the stands and sky boxes are new, they even sell beer at the concession stand!!  It doesn't matter, when I close my eyes I can still hear the game, I can still hear the crackled PA and the announcer calling every play.  No one missed the Friday night football games back then.   I could swear the temperature just dropped so that my breath makes it's escape as the crisp vapor that fall nights at football games can bring.  The seats are full of fans and groups of kids are packed in all cozy in there cliques.  I can hear their conversations -- "what's going on after?", "did he call you?", "are they still going out?", "oh my god, you'll never guess in a million years.......".  In my minds eye I can see my classmates here.  The boys are on the field--Gary and Tim and Kevin and Steve... they are all here.  I can see so many of my friends.  I see combs in the back pockets of Levi's red tagged jeans, collars starched and standing at attention, girls with perms and bangs thick with Aqua Net and boys in their Timberland boots--untied of course.  I see my old crush and I feel the familiar butterflies.  He's standing a few rows down from me and he turns and looks up.  Maybe he was looking at me or maybe he wasn't, I'll never know for sure but I am sure that I wanted to think so at the time. 

I smile.  It seems like only yesterday but so much time has passed.  Things have changed, people have changed.  They are all scattered now.  Where have they all gone?

I open my eyes and the field is empty, there is no game, the air is not crisp, and the stands sit ominously vacant.  The sun burns hot up above and I guess it's time to go.  It sure was nice while it lasted.


+Michelle Morrissette Cucchiaro
+My Baked Stuffed Life

Friday, August 9, 2013

A Little Piece of Huff Post.....

Rachel Macy Stafford


The Day I Stopped Saying 'Hurry Up'

Posted: 08/06/2013 5:44 pm

When you're living a distracted life, every minute must be accounted for. You feel like you must be checking something off the list, staring at a screen, or rushing off to the next destination. And no matter how many ways you divide your time and attention, no matter how many duties you try and multi-task, there's never enough time in a day to ever catch up.
That was my life for two frantic years. My thoughts and actions were controlled by electronic notifications, ring tones, and jam-packed agendas. And although every fiber of my inner drill sergeant wanted to be on time to every activity on my overcommitted schedule, I wasn't.
You see, six years ago I was blessed with a laid-back, carefree, stop-and-smell-the roses type of child.
When I needed to be out the door, she was taking her sweet time picking out a purse and a glittery crown.
When I needed to be somewhere five minutes ago, she insisted on buckling her stuffed animal into a car seat.
When I needed to grab a quick lunch at Subway, she'd stop to speak to the elderly woman who looked like her grandma.
When I had 30 minutes to get in a run, she wanted me to stop the stroller and pet every dog we passed.

When I had a full agenda that started at 6:00 a.m., she asked to crack the eggs and stir them ever so gently.
rachel macy stafford 2
My carefree child was a gift to my Type A, task-driven nature --but I didn't see it. Oh no, when you live life distracted, you have tunnel vision -- only looking ahead to what's next on the agenda. And anything that cannot be checked off the list is a waste of time.
Whenever my child caused me to deviate from my master schedule, I thought to myself, "We don't have time for this." Consequently, the two words I most commonly spoke to my little lover of life were: "Hurry up."
I started my sentences with it.
Hurry up, we're gonna be late.
I ended sentences with it.
We're going to miss everything if you don't hurry up.
I started my day with it.
Hurry up and eat your breakfast.
Hurry up and get dressed.
I ended my day with it.
Hurry up and brush your teeth.
Hurry up and get in bed.
And although the words "hurry up" did little if nothing to increase my child's speed, I said them anyway. Maybe even more than the words, "I love you."
The truth hurts, but the truth heals... and brings me closer to the parent I want to be.
Then one fateful day, things changed. We'd just picked my older daughter up from kindergarten and were getting out of the car. Not going fast enough for her liking, my older daughter said to her little sister, "You are so slow." And when she crossed her arms and let out an exasperated sigh, I saw myself -- and it was a gut-wrenching sight.
I was a bully who pushed and pressured and hurried a small child who simply wanted to enjoy life.
My eyes were opened; I saw with clarity the damage my hurried existence was doing to both of my children.
Although my voice trembled, I looked into my small child's eyes and said, "I am so sorry I have been making you hurry. I love that you take your time, and I want to be more like you."
Both my daughters looked equally surprised by my painful admission, but my younger daughter's face held the unmistakable glow of validation and acceptance.
"I promise to be more patient from now on," I said as I hugged my curly-haired child who was now beaming at her mother's newfound promise.
It was pretty easy to banish "hurry up" from my vocabulary. What was not so easy was acquiring the patience to wait on my leisurely child. To help us both, I began giving her a little more time to prepare if we had to go somewhere. And sometimes, even then, we were still late. Those were the times I assured myself that I will be late only for a few years, if that, while she is young.
When my daughter and I took walks or went to the store, I allowed her to set the pace. And when she stopped to admire something, I would push thoughts of my agenda out of my head and simply observe her. I witnessed expressions on her face that I'd never seen before. I studied dimples on her hands and the way her eyes crinkled up when she smiled. I saw the way other people responded to her stopping to take time to talk to them. I saw the way she spotted the interesting bugs and pretty flowers. She was a Noticer, and I quickly learned that The Noticers of the world are rare and beautiful gifts. That's when I finally realized she was a gift to my frenzied soul.
rachel macy stafford 3

My promise to slow down was made almost three years ago, at the same time I began myjourney to let go of daily distraction and grasp what matters in life. And living at a slower pace still takes a concerted effort. My younger daughter is my living reminder of why I must keep trying. In fact, the other day, she reminded me once again.
The two of us had taken a bike ride to a sno-cone shack while on vacation. After purchasing a cool treat for my daughter, she sat down at a picnic table delightedly admiring the icy tower she held in her hand.
Suddenly a look of worry came across her face. "Do I have to rush, Mama?"
I could have cried. Perhaps the scars of a hurried life don't ever completely disappear, I thought sadly.
As my child looked up at me waiting to know if she could take her time, I knew I had a choice. I could sit there in sorrow thinking about the number of times I rushed my child through life... or I could celebrate the fact that today I'm trying to do thing differently.
I chose to live in today.
rachel macy stafford 4

"You don't have to rush. Just take your time," I said gently. Her whole face instantly brightened and her shoulders relaxed.
And so we sat side-by-side talking about things that ukulele-playing-6-year-olds talk about. There were even moments when we sat in silence just smiling at each other and admiring the sights and sounds around us.
I thought my child was going to eat the whole darn thing -- but when she got to the last bite, she held out a spoonful of ice crystals and sweet juice for me. "I saved the last bite for you, Mama," my daughter said proudly.
As I let the icy goodness quench my thirst, I realized I just got the deal of a lifetime.
I gave my child a little time... and in return, she gave me her last bite and reminded me that things taste sweeter and love comes easier when you stop rushing through life.
rachel macy stafford 5

Whether it's ...
Sno-cone eating
Flower picking
Seatbelt buckling
Egg cracking
Seashell finding
Ladybug watching
Sidewalk strolling
I will not say, "We don't have time for this." Because that is basically saying, "We don't have time to live."
Pausing to delight in the simple joys of everyday life is the only way to truly live.
(Trust me, I learned from the world's leading expert on joyful living.)

This entire post was taken from the August 9th issue of Huff Post.  It's contents was reprinted here as it is pertinent to the message I wish to convey.  I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.