Quebec, again.

This post is long overdue and will do not justice to the beauty that was our trip to Quebec, but I will try! We had been longing to go back to Quebec since our initial pilgrimage in 2013, but there just hasn’t been an ideal time until now. We lovelovelove Canada and try to go once a year (last year we went for our honeymoon). We were unsure if this trip was going to happen because finances are a bit tight, but we felt at peace with going and ta-daaaaa the Lord provided in many ways this month. God is good.

We started the drive up Friday evening and stopped for the night in Stowe, VT (stayed at the Stowe Inn with a groupon – so charming!). It broke up the long drive which was great, and we had a very relaxing trip up Saturday morning through the wonderful greenery and mountains of Northern New England. We crossed the border with no issues (not that there would be…it just always makes me nervous) and there we were!

The weekend was on and off with the weather – rainy then sunny then cool then rainy. But it didn’t really matter to us. We spent good quality time at St. Joseph’s Oratory – and gosh, the second we stepped foot back in there it was a wave of peace. Walking through the Votive Chapel is an experience. It just feels filled with grace (which it is!). There are several different statues of St. Joseph above different stations of votive candles – each with a different title of his (Protector of our Church, Consoler of the Afflicted, Pure in Heart, Patron of Families, Patron of the Sick & Dying, Terror of Demons, Model of Workers). Needless to say, there were many prayers to be prayed and many offerings to be made.  We spent much time off and on in this Chapel.

We also were able to spend some beautiful time in prayer in Brother Andre’s Chapel. Brother Andre (now Saint Andre) was the one who had the Oratory built in honor of Saint Joseph; a very humble man and being in his chapel (alone, nonetheless) was a moving experience. It’s probably where I received the most consolation of the weekend.

There’s so much that could be said about the Oratory, but…just go. Just go and see it for yourself. This trip we were fortunate enough to also visit the Shrine of St. Anne de Beaupre just outside Quebec City. I had been wanting to visit this shrine for quite some time, but even I had no clue what was in store for me. Driving along the St. Lawrence river (delightful!), we pulled into the town of Ste. Anne-de-Beapre and soon saw what had to be the Shrine. It’s amazing – just off the main road being all stunning and what not!

This Church took my breath away. Everything about it. Whoever built this Church had a true devotion to St. Anne. There is just so much detail, so much complexity, and it all is weaved together so effortlessly in this magnificent structure. The whole thing was a treat, but I was especially fond of the little side chapel holding a RELIC OF ST. ANNE (bone of her arm!). I mean, no big deal. After Mass (which we understood very little of, but being Catholic and all it’s usually fine since it’s all the same), the Priest came over to give us more details about the Shrine. He talked of the miracles he’s been present for that have occurred in front of the relic, and my goodness…it’s unbelievable (but also believable!). We were so grateful for our conversation with him; it helped us to appreciate even more about the Shrine that would have gone unnoticed by little old me!

There was also the outside areas which were so simple yet so incredible. There is one particular chapel that is host to a number of relics of the holy land – it has 28 stairs which pilgrims are meant to climb on their knees – each step in reparation for Christ’s passion (and many of the steps have the relics built into them)…uhhhhh-mazing. To sum it up, the short time we had at St. Anne’s was powerful. We were able to pray at the foot of her statue (said to be the place of many miracles) with the petitions weighing most on our hearts.

The rest of the trip was more exploring Montreal and Quebec City. We had already seen most of Montreal that we enjoy – there are lovely parts (like Old Montreal, ohhhhh I love it), but there are also typical city parts…that I don’t particularly care for. Quebec City, though. Lurv it. Such charm. Such cuteness. The old city is huge and it is a feast for the eyes! Unfortunately, it was super rainy when we were there, but I still fell in love. And the Chateau Frontenac – ahhhhh the famous hotel that I read about in high school french class! It was a joy seeing it in person. Kevin and I decided that the next time we visit (which we will), we will reverse our itinerary and stay in Quebec City with a day trip to Montreal & the Oratory.

I hope to put together a mini Catholic Canadian travel guide soon (Kevin’s very encouraging of doing that) for all those dyyyyyying to visit. I hope I’ve sold everyone enough on this delightful province!

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Twenty-six.

It seems ridiculous to me that I’m turning 26. I often forget and think I’m 24. I feel much younger (and people usually mistake me for muuuuucchh younger). 26 sounds like I’m on a downward slope to 30…yikes! Not that 30 is old, it just seems like things are flying by! And while I’m still so young with so much ahead of me, there’s so much that I would have loved to accomplish and have in my life by now! But at the same time…I’m still so young, and I’ve done a whole lot. So I’ll get over whatever anxieties I have about aging one more year.

The most remarkable thing about 25 was…getting married! To Kevin! The love of my life! He has made this year a delight and I can say with certainty that this has been my best year yet. I also am confident that 26 will be even better. Every year seems to have something distinct about it – it brings new challenges, new surprise, new crosses, new joys. There is always so much I cannot predict. I have many hopes for this year. Many many hopes. I’m doing my best to trust God and His divine providence. I want to entrust this year to Mary and Joseph. What will come will come! But for now, I have much to be grateful for. An incredible husband, loving family, amazing friends, a stable job, a homey apartment, a balcony that plays host to my little garden, and a God that loves me unconditionally. I’d say that’s pretty good!

Kevin and I will celebrate the evening with some Sushi (or as we refer to it as sruuuushi) and a movie (a picnic was in the cards, but alas spring has gone away again!). Then I get to have some of my favorite people join us for brunch on Saturday. How could 26 not be great with such wonderful people to start it off with?!

Peace out, 25. Onto the next one.

 

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Back to the Oratory

A little over two years ago, when Kevin and I had been dating for 7ish months, we took a pilgrimage to Montreal together. We stayed at the retreat house on the grounds of St. Joseph’s Oratory, and a truly special trip it was. There were highs and lows to the weekend, and in a lot of ways, I really felt afterwards that this was it. I would be with this man forever. It’s kind of funny to say that now since there really were some rough patches over those four days. But it was the first time we openly spoke about marriage with one another…and children…and baby names. (That was as emotionally unchaste as we’d get until engagement.) 

 Montreal is a really special place to us (and really just Canada in general). And spending so much time at the Oratory was a truly spectacular experience. St. Joseph has always been a great intercessor in our relationship (hello 30 day novena that ended with a first date), so praying to him throughout that weekend also aided greatly in preparing us for our future. And there is something about the Oratory itself: it’s majestic, but humble. If you’ve been there and stood in the great shrine on top (with no one else around), you’d understand what I mean. For all of it’s simplicity, I could sense my unworthiness in a very real way.   

 There were other great aspects of Montreal that we got to explore outside of the Oratory grounds, and I was continuously stunned with beauty (could have also been the fresh snow). We spent an evening at Notre Dame in Old Montreal and that.church.is.beauty. Anddddd Celine Dion was married there, nobigdealthatdoesntinfluencemyopinionatall

 Anyway, we are going back this weekend and we are so excited. We’re at such a different stage in our life, and since it’s not January spontaneousblizzardseason, we’re hopeful that we won’t get snowed in like last time when we tried to visit the Shrine of St. Anne in Quebec City. That’s another place that we’re so looking forward to visiting. St. Anne is my patron Saint, and we’ve been praying to her in particular for some special intercession in these recent months. I so look forward to bringing our petitions and our love to that beautiful, sacred shrine. 

 And! I just can’t wait to be in French-speaking Canada again! The beauty! The elegance! The romance! The cheese! And the spring time!

Au revoir!

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April: all sorts of amazing

Did I once write that October was my favorite month? If so…that may still be the case…but April is a close second. Not that it’s really putting its best foot forward here…spring in Boston tends to be about 5 days and it always comes later than you think, leaving earlier than it should. But I take what I can get.

April, in and of itself, though, is just a delight. With the timing of Easter, the sun making itself known, flowers starting to blossom, gardening projects at the ready, anddd my birthday – it’s a time of renewed hope. Our lord makes all things new, and I love that the celebration of His resurrection happens at this time of the year. The Church, in all her wisdom, knows best. There is so much goodness happening and coming…

Container Gardening // We are trying our hand at balcony/container gardening for the second year (though, last year was a bit hectic since my move into the apartment didn’t happen until post-wedding in June), and we have high hopes. Last year was pretty successful for some herbs and a couple veggies. So this year we’re going to keep on with several herbs and branch out to something new (like blueberries!). Keep it simple.

Spring Cleaning // We also plan to do some serious de-cluttering. It’s tough living in a small space, because sometimes no matter how organized you are, it still feels like we own a million things (which we don’t). Still, though, we still find ourselves collecting things that need not be collected. So let the purging commence!

All the free things // For some reason, we’ve had a lot of free things thrown at us lately. The biggie – free Panera coffee for the month of April…ummm OKAY. I won’t ask questions. And there happens to be a Panera about a 12 minute walk away from our apartment. Then somehow we have four free drinks at Starbucks in addition to the gift card from my dad. Add that to a free meal from Blue Apron (a generous giveaway at Camp Patton), two restaurant gift cards, and we’re living the Easter season in a high and luxurious way.

Movement // Kevin and I recently began going on runs together about 3-4 times a week. It. Is. Lovely. Just getting fresh air and our heart rates up has been fantastic. We’ve also had the chance to get morning walks in together whilst the free coffee at Panera is a thing.

NOUS ALLONS QUEBEC // Yes, ladies & gents. We are going back to Quebec. This weekend. My heart can’t handle the excitement… 🙂

So much goodness. Lord, please magnify this time! What’s everyone else looking forward to this spring?

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Whole 30: Day 27

How I made it to day 27, I’ll never know. I literally thought about doing a whole 30 for MONTHS and could not bear the thought of a week without cheese, chocolate, lattes, and chips. Truly. But I was driven to do it for reasons that I could not ignore. And here I am almost done! And Imma be real with you – it’s not that hard! I mean, it is but it isn’t. I honestly haven’t even thought much about being on it in the past two weeks. We buy the food we can eat, and we prepare that food. We don’t eat out much anyway, and the times we have gone out, it’s been fine. I may have occasionally bent the rules by not being a stickler for hidden sugar in a few things (particularly at a restaurant), but other than that – golden.

How do I feel? Great. I mean, once I got over the nasty cold, things improved tremendously. I am not craving grains. I am not craving dairy. I don’t really get hungry between meals. I haven’t gotten sick of eggs & sweet potatoes. I’ve made some delicious meals that are twists on grainy/dairy-filled classics. It’s challenged me a bit in the realm of meal planning, but as long as we have enough food on hand, things go well.

Now typically when I tell people what I’m doing, their response is “so do you just not eat?” NOOOOOO! Everyone wants an explanation of what exactly I can eat (expecting it to be a list of 2 things). So what has filled my fridge & pantry this month?

Meats & Protein

  • Pastured, grass-fed beef
  • Organic, free-range chicken (of all types)
  • Wild caught fish (salmon, cod, tilapia, shrimp)
  • Canned tuna fish (in water)
  • Organic, free-range eggs (so many eggs!)

Produce

  • ALL THE SWEET POTATOES
  • Spaghetti squash
  • Butternut squash
  • Avocadoes
  • Organic kale
  • Organic arugula
  • Red cabbage
  • Carrots
  • Organic apples (honey crisp!)
  • Plantains (a newfound love!)
  • Oranges & clementines
  • Kiwi!
  • Bananananas

Extras

  • Organic coconut (milk and oil)
  • Dijon mustard (yummmmm!)
  • Almonds & pecans
  • Lara bars (because I can’t help myself)
  • Beef & chicken broth (organic, no added sugar)
  • Canned tomatoes & tomato paste (crucial!!)
  • Jars of roasted bell peppers
  • My unbelievable, homemade almond butter! (will share soon!)

There you have it. It’s a lot of foods. Not gonna lie, though…it’s pricey. I’ve gone all in and worked on buying more organic too. Why? If the goal of this is to seriously improve my health, and I continue eating meats with loaded hormones and produce with pesticides…then I won’t accomplish what I wanted. So while it’s more expensive in some ways, it’s worth it if I’m clearing out my system of anything harmful. There are still ways to save money and be smart about it, though. To be fair as well – I’m not buying junk like chips and salsa, I’m not buying expensive cheeses, I don’t really pick up any “treats” – and once I’ve eliminated all of that stuff, there’s more wiggle room than you’d think.

Would I recommend this? YES. SO MUCH YES. And I’d recommend it to anyone. Even if you’re the vision of health, you don’t have any obvious issues, and love your body. Why? It requires discipline, which I think is a virtue most of us could always strive to have more of. Think of all the times we indulge without realizing it – that mocha latte, cupcakes for a co-worker’s birthday, out to dinner with friends and family, an evening sweet on a snowy day, a treat for Sunday…I am the queen at finding all sorts of “reasons” to give in. And I don’t foresee myself giving up all tasty treats here on out, but just knowing that I can say no as much as I have…that’s a good feeling.

The Whole 30 has also changed the way I look at food and nutrition. Well, it’s actually been a long road and this cleanse is more so just confirming things I’ve already been thinking. But I am truly so much more aware at what goes into my body – the meats that most grocery stores sell, the 50,000 extra ingredients in so many products, the amount of sugar one could consume in a day without realizing it at all. Being aware and understanding that quality matters. And whether we have a food allergy/sensitivity or not, the government and food industries have certainly steered us wrong as to what we should be putting in our bodies.

So I plan on continuing a more paleo diet, with some added organic or raw dairy in certain forms (and maybe a bit of natural sugar here and there). I’m sure I’ll have slip-ups (April does bring with it Easter and my birthday, sooooo), but I’m so grateful I had the push to do this. Just a few more days!

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The Man, the Saint, the Patron of our Church

Happy solemnity of St. Joseph, Husband of Mary! What.a.guy. If you need any background on how me and Kevin met, do not fret, it is documented! Long story short, I prayed the 30-day novena to St. Joseph about marriage, and he responded quickly and powerfully! Kevin asked me out at the end of the novena and our first date was the day after it ended. And now we’re married. So I’d say St. Joseph was looking out for me. My relationship with Joseph blossomed shortly after my relationship with Mary, which makes sense. I was experiencing such beauty through my mama Mary, and she clearly wanted me to know the Holy Family in it’s fullness. And I was like, okay. (More enthusiasm.)

About 7 months into our relationship, Kevin and I took a pilgrimage to Montreal to see St. Joseph’s Oratory. I cannot begin to describe the role that this trip played in our relationship and my discernment. From the beginning, St. Joseph has had a hand in our lives, and I am so grateful for his powerful intercession. I know he’s still looking after us, and I need to continue to plea for his help because he does not disappoint.

So let this day be a beautiful one as we honor the strong, humble, gentle, and loving St. Joseph! And please please please read through the litany because it is one of the most beautiful novenas I have ever prayed.

St. Joseph's Oratory in Montreal

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Grain-free & Dairy-free Shepherd’s Pie

I hope everyone had a wonderful St. Patrick’s Day and remembered to honor the Saint who we celebrate! I didn’t have much time to do anything super special, but we woke up to Celtic music, had Irish Soda Bread, enjoyed shepherd’s pie (below) for lunch, and then Kevin was able to go the Cathedral for midday Mass and get our annual St. Patrick’s Day shamrock! I also listened to the Celtic Pandora station all day at work…so that was a little treat.

If you’re wondering why I was so determined to make Shepherd’s Pie while completing a Whole 30, please read here (where there is also a recipe for compliant Irish Soda Bread).

Bottom line: Shepherd’s Pie is delicious and comforting and, when using the right ingredients, moderately healthy and nutrient dense. So all the Irish and Irish-wannabes enjoy!

Shepherd's Pie

Grain-Free & Dairy-Free Irish Shepherd’s Pie

Filling

  • 1 lb. pastured, organic ground beef
  • 4 organic carrots (chopped 1/4 inch thin)
  • 2 organic celery stalks (chopped 1/4 inch thin)
  • 1 medium onion (diced)
  • 3/4 C organic beef broth
  • 3 Tbsp. organic tomato paste
  • 4 tsp. arrowroot powder (or just thicken to your liking)
  • 1 Tbsp. garlic powder
  • 1 Tbsp. paprika
  • 1 tsp. pepper
  • 1 tsp. salt

Topping

  • 1 cauliflower head
  • 1/4 C coconut milk (full fat)
  • 1 Tbsp. Ghee
  • 1 Tbsp. Garlic Powder

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees (F). For the filling, cook the ground beef in a large pan (very technical terms). Once the meat is cooked through and you’ve added your seasoning, add the chopped carrots, celery, and onions and sauté. Alternate adding the tomato paste, beef broth, and arrowroot powder until you get a nice and thick consistency. Put off to the side. Boil water and throw in the roughly chopped cauliflower (I did this part the night before so I didn’t have to worry about the topping). Once it is soft enough to mash, drain the cauliflower and mash it, mixing in the remaining ingredients. Pour the filling into a lovely 8X8ish dish, and then spread the cauliflower mixture on top. Bake for about 15 minutes and then if you’re feeling daring you can broil it for another 5 minutes to get a nice browned top.

This amount filled me and Kevin for three full meals (with a little side of cabbage and arugula). Super delicious and loaded with flavor, so I don’t feel like I’m missing the dairy that I love so much. So enjoy! And keep it on hand for a festive occasion!

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Kombucha what?!

My new favorite beverage…



I’ve been wanting to add more probiotics into my life without yogurt or additional supplements. And I’d heard of Kombucha and its benefits extensively, but the name really deterred me into thinking it was some ancient pagan herb. I’ve read so many people, though, of a similar school of thought when it comes to nutrition and health, who swear by this stuff. 

So I bought it…for $3.49 a bottle! At Whole Foods, of course. Which is just outrageous. But I did it. Because I was curious. 

I’m pretty sure it’s not whole 30 compliant, though, because there’s a bit of alcohol and its made with a bunch of sugar at the start of the brewing process. Eh. Can’t win ’em all. 

I brought it home to Kevin, who loved it as well (mind you we had the ginger flavor and I LOVE ginger). I think we’d like to brew our own! So we’ll add it to our list of DIY to-do’s, but if I can get all those benefits for the fraction of the cost – I’m all in!

Also, does anyone know of a cheaper brand in the meantime? :)

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Grain-Free & Dairy-Free Irish Soda Bread

While there really is never an “ideal” time to do complete a Whole 30, I figured Lent would be the easiest, since it’s really not much of a time to indulge anyway. And I’d say it’s worked out well, thus far. My one hesitation, though, was the few great feasts during this solemn time – St. Patrick’s Day, the solemnity of St. Joseph, and the solemnity of the Annunciation! As a Catholic who strives to live the liturgical year in a very real way, I am all on board with fasting, but I am just as much on board with feasting – all in the right time.

St. Patrick’s day is a big feast in the Gearns household. One of the first things I learned about Kevin back in the day was that St. Patrick is his favorite Saint. There are numerous reasons for Kevin’s love of this great man, and I’ve come to know him and appreciate him so much more over the years. I think too often people just associate him with this secularized holiday with parades, Guinness, and pubs. And by all means celebrate, but do not forget the man whom we honor!

Anyway, we dream about fun ways to celebrate this feast with our family, and this year being our first, is more of an intro year since I am so busy with two jobs, we don’t have access to a bonfire (yes, that’s one of our goals), annnnnd I’m doing this ridiculous diet where I can’t eat anything fun. So out the window went my grand plans of Irish Potato candies (a long tradition in my family), Guinness chili, bangers and mash, and the like. But I was determined to still make some festive food, even if I could not use the typical ingredients.

So project one: Grain-free Irish Soda Bread! I’ll admit, I was skeptical (as I always am when I start eliminating standard things like FLOUR), but this recipe held it’s own! Inspiration started here to help me get started with flour ratios (the world of non-grain flours is still a complex one to me). For me, less is more. I just get overwhelmed if I see an ingredient list of 15+ items. I abstained from any sugar or sweetener, and it still tastes great. So the following is what I settled on:

  • 1-1/4 C Almond Flour
  • 2 Tbsp. Coconut Flour
  • 1-1/2 tsp. Baking Soda
  • 1/2 tsp. Salt
  • 1 tsp. Cinnamon
  • 1 Tbsp. Apple Cider Vinegar
  • 2 Eggs
  • 2 Tbsp. Coconut Milk (full fat)
  • 1/2 C. Raisons

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees (F). Whisk all the dry ingredients, and then add in the vinegar, eggs, and coconut milk (almond milk works well too). I used my kitchenaid stand mixer on low (don’t beat it too, too much!) and then mix in the raisons. Lightly oil a cookie sheet, and place the dough in a ball shape on the sheet. And for the final touch, add that simple cross with a knife. Place in the oven and cook for 20-25 minutes!

When it is done, thoroughly enjoy with some Kerrygold Butter (that’s compliant, right?). I promise you’ll like it. 🙂

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Super Foods on a Small Budget

The world of food and nutrition is such an expansive one. I’ve been learning so much over the past couple of years, and it still seems like I’m only just scratching the surface. After Kevin and I had been dating for a bit, I decided to start cooking without grains, in an effort to accommodate him. That first step opened up an entirely new arena for me. Removing grains from meals initially gave me this great void – how was I supposed to fill it? Bread, pasta, rice, chips, oats, flour, cereal – everything! I’ve come a very long way since then, and while it’s not always easy, I find it much more rewarding.

So aside from the fact that I’m doing a Whole 30 right now and have eliminated much more than just grains, there are certain foods that we almost always stock up on. In order for a food to make itself into my regular routine, it must be nutrient dense, somewhat palatable, and cost effective. I will also only be mentioning products that are year round, for convenience sake. I do encourage everyone to eat seasonally, though! It’s healthier and cheaper!

Spaghetti Squash // this delightful piece of produce is one of my absolute favorite foods. Kevin and I have no need or desire to ever eat pasta after eating this. It’s relatively inexpensive and is a food that you can base an entire meal around. Examples of how I’ve cooked it up: a universal pasta replacement, as a large casserole, as a pizza crust replacement. It’s versatile, filling, and has good forms of carbohydrates and fiber (which many people do not get enough of!).

Avocadoes // this all year round treat has served me well. With only eating a few food groups, I need to make sure I’m filling myself with healthy fats. This is sort of my go to. To be honest, I can avoid a dairy craving (like cheese or sour cream) if I have an avocado with my eggs, chili, burger, etc. It’s nutrition stats are off the charts too – Vitamin K, Potassium, Folate, Vitamin C. The benefits of this “fruit” are just incomparable.

Grass-fed Beef // this is a relatively new one for me, but I am all on board. While sometimes a bit more pricey than I’d like, the benefits over regular beef are too many to ignore. Instead of filling us with loads of bad fats, this beef provides those special Omega-3’s. Grass-fed meat is naturally much leaner than other cuts as well. I’m still learning to incorporate this into my budget, so we probably consume 1-2 pounds of this a week, spread out over multiple meals.

Pastured & Organic Eggs // First things first: eggs are so much a part of my diet. Protein, Omega-3’s, Vitamins A-B-D-E-K. I include eggs in as many meals as possible. I switch it up in the mornings: poached, baked, scrambled, over easy. I add them to soups for extra protein. I cook them with spaghetti squash as a type of “sauce.” They are and have been for years one of my primary staples for a good day.

Sweet Potatoes // I have to have at least five sweet potatoes on hand at a time or else I feel like our kitchen is empty. Every week I peel and cut up several of these vegetables to have ready to go for various meals. Not only is this perhaps my favorite tasting health food that goes with everything, but it’s just got so much good stuff packed in it that a lot of our diets seem to lack. Beta-carotene, Vitamin C, fiber, and so much more.

This is just a very short list of what I consider to be essential. There are a number of other great fruits and vegetables, some that are season-dependent. But the further along in my Whole 30 I get, the more of a firm believer I become that nutrient dense is the way to go. While there are so many foods I love and crave often, I really only need a handful of powerful proteins, carbs, and fats to get me through the day feeling great.

What are your staples for staying full and keeping healthy? 🙂

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