graduation party

I’m still in the process of detoxing from my grad party ;).  It seems as if I have been going non-stop since last Friday, and I apologize for the lack of posting over the weekend.  I’m slipping back into a more normal routine now.  I actually biked to yoga this morning (I am without a car this week), and I feel so much better.  I haven’t practiced for a couple of weeks and I could definitely tell with how tight my back has been feeling!  Can’t go so long without going again!

I’ll start out by giving a little overview of my graduation party which was this past Sunday, and then go through the details throughout the week ;).  You can see some of the non-baking/cooking preparations here as well.

We started the party later in the evening, I knew I wanted to have a bonfire but did not want to entertain too long haha, so the party started at 6:30 which ended up being a really good time.  It gave us plenty of time during the day to make last minute preparations, clean and get everything set up.  It also helped avoid the dilemma of not knowing what to serve for dinner!

On the invitation, I put appetizers, cocktails and desserts and we mostly went along with that.  The main addition to the list was the PB&J Bar we put together – loved it.  We also had a variety of hummus (hummi for plural? 😉 ), salsa, guacamole and plenty of dippers.

And of course a party cannot be complete without a cake and other desserts!  I loved how the cake turned out!

And finally, what’s a campfire without S’mores?  These got put together and taken out to the bonfire.  Unfortunately not too many of these got eaten because of all of the wonderful cake!  But they will definitely keep for our next bonfire!

I don’t have any pictures of cocktails, it was mostly pre-bottles beverages but I also concocted a little sangria to serve which ended up being delicious and oh-so-easy.  I used white zinfandel (although I think a darker red wine would work great as well), and topped it with a little sparkling water and simply orange juice.  I just garnished with one orange sliced up and it was good to go – and perfect served over ice!

Stay tuned for more in-depth details on all the party components :).

the 80’s are here again

It was in the mid to upper 80’s today.  In my mind I have been waiting for it to finally warm up enough so that I’m not continually cold all the time, but once the heat finally hits I am just never ready for it!  Living in Wisconsin, we only have about 2 months of summer as it is, and this year it has been even worse so far.  I feel like we maybe have only had around 5 truly nice spring or summery days.  Well, summer did in fact hit today (curious as Memorial Day is the unofficial start of summer), and I have a nice little sunburn to go along with it.  At least I am no longer the color of paper…

One thing that is hard for me to do in the summer, especially when the air conditioning is not quite ready to be turned on, is to bake.  I tried out this recipe a little over a week ago (no baking involved!), and it turned out magnificent.  Definitely a keeper.

Decadent Date & Pecan Brownies

adapted from a recipe posted on Earth Balance 

  • 2 cups raw pecans
  • 2 cups chopped and pitted dates
  • 1/3 cup cocoa powder* (Trader Joe’s worked awesome in this)
  • 1/2T agave syrup
  • 1/4t sea salt
  • water

1. Put pecans in food processor and pulse until they’re in small pieces.  Add in the dates and pulse a few times, or until incorporated.

2. Add in the cocoa powder, agave, sea salt and about 2-4T of water (to hold mixture together).

3. Press into a 9×9 (or similar) baking dish.  Put in the fridge.

  • 1/4 cup(s) of agave syrup
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened vanilla almond milk
  • 1/2 cup cocoa powder
  • 1T natural peanut butter

4. In a blender, process agave, almond milk, cocoa powder and peanut butter until smooth.

5. Pour the topping over the brownies and set in the refrigerator.

Along with being a no-bake recipe, these are also raw, gluten-free and vegan, but I don’t think anyone could ever guess!  These are incredible rich brownies, so be sure to have a nice glass of unsweetened vanilla almond milk to go along side!

*In a repeat making of this recipe, I used Hershey’s Dark Chocolate Cocoa Powder.  I do not recommend using this cocoa powder in the recipe.  The recipe did not turn out like it did the first time and the whole batch ended up in the garbage :/.

muffins: cracker barrel style

I remember going to cracker barrel for breakfast quite a bit as a kid.  There was one close to our house at the time and for some reason I just loved going there.  Whether it be the little triangle golf-tee game at each table, playing checkers by their fire place or getting my own pot of hot chocolate “coffee”, there was nothing else quite like it.

I would typically gravitate toward one of their sweeter breakfasts (i.e. wild maine blueberry pancakes), but Kinley always stayed with one particular meal.  A trio of breakfast items featuring a bran muffin, hashbrown casserole and cinnamon apples.  We don’t go to cracker barrel so much anymore, as I don’t believe down-home cooking is that healthy…  But I was able to recreate a bran muffin which she says competes with theirs, albeit a much less greasy version.  I used this recipe as a base, but made quite a few changes to it based on what we were looking for.

These were perfect served next to a bowl of cooked oat bran, and with an additional topping of apple butter or honey apple butter :).

Apple Bran Muffins

  • 1/2 c oat bran
  • 1/2 c graham flour
  • 1/2 c whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1/4 c ground flaxseed (I ground up 1/4 cup whole flaxseed, and it made more than enough for this and the flax egg)
  • 1t baking soda
  • 1 1/2t baking powder
  • 1t cinnamon
  • 1t nutmeg
  • 1 flax egg (1T ground flax + 2T warm water, let sit for 5 minutes and whisk)
  • 1/4 c apple butter
  • 1/3 c applesauce
  • 1T molasses
  • 3/4 c water

1. Whisk all of the dry ingredients in a large bowl.

2. Whisk the wet ingredients together in a smaller bowl.

3. Add wet ingredients to the dry and mix until everything is incorporated.  The original recipe didn’t call for any water – but the batter was super dry so I added it last minute.

4. Scoop into 9 prepared muffin tins and top with a sprinkle of old-fashioned rolled oats.  Bake for 20-25 in a preheated 350* oven.

party planning

My graduation party is on Sunday!  I have been busy planning and starting decorations for it, and tomorrow starts some baking :).  I have ended up doing a few cost-conscious and environmentally friendly items that I thought might be nice to share, and also so that I will remember these things as well.

Invites can be completely customized and only cost 15 cents an invite.  I simply created an invite and printed it like a photo – nothing fancy but it looks very nice and is 100% customizable (depending on how creative you want to get 😉 ).  I kept mine pretty simple, but I loved how they turned out!

I ended up getting 16 mason jars to fill with various things to keep everything coordinated.  I also got ribbon to match the invites as well as the colors on the cake.

Here are the jars I used for the forks, spoons and knives.  They fit perfectly in them even with the cover on top (to make sure they don’t spill out before the party!).

Since I am using the mason jars to put different things in (rather than using the jars/containers they already come in), I needed to make some sort of label to let people know what everything was.  I just got a couple pieces of decorative paper, cut them the size of place-cards, and will print off what’s in the jar on white paper and put them on the place-cards along with a color-coordinated flower.

I’ll fill you in next week with what the jars will all be filled with!  Can’t wait to see how it will all look together with the plates and cake!  I’ll be baking two different things tomorrow, Kinley is in charge of a couple of dips on the menu and will be working on them this weekend.  We also have family coming into town tomorrow night to entertain so we will definitely be busy busy!

one “pot” wonder

Rice cookers are a wonderful thing.  I had never had one growing up, and was never the biggest fan of plain rice.  Well… I recently found out that rice cookers are not just for rice anymore.

A few mornings a week, rice cookers are used for steel-cut oats.

And a few nights a week rice cookers are used for various grains.  I have yet to make rice in it.  Although I do believe today is the day ;).

Going back to grains, dinner on Tuesday night was a random combination of stuff we had in the pantry and in the freezer, but it turned out really good.  It even makes delicious leftovers served cold!

I started by cooking millet in the rice cooker.  1 cup millet + 2 cups water, cooked for 25 minutes.  Let sit for another 20 or so minutes and then fluff with a fork.

Add in a mixture of your favorite beans and vegetables (I slightly warmed some kidney beans, chickpeas and lima beans from the freezer, and then added fresh spinach), and then tossed in with the millet in the rice cooker which was still on the warm setting.  Also add in 1/2 cup liquid (vegetable stock in this case).

Close the lid and keep warm in the rice cooker until you are ready to eat.  I think this got left for 45 minutes to an hour, the beans were still slightly frozen when I added them and they  heated up perfectly.

Once we were ready to eat – a simple vinaigrette was made to add to the rice cooker.  3/4T mustard + 1T honey + 1T vinegar +1T oil.  We also topped with hummus for an added protein punch.

Simple and delicious.  Only one pot to clean.  And infinite possibilities with variations of grains, vegetables and sauces.

what i ate wednesday #1

I noticed a few other bloggers were participating in “What I Ate Wednesday”, or WIAW.  I thought it would be fun to post everything that I ate today, just so I can compare how my foods and tastes change and develop over time.  So basically, the following is what I ate today – which is somewhat typical to what I eat every day! I did start out my day earlier than I have been – 5:15am… I had to drive to my parents to drop my little puppy, Crosby, off at the vet to get his teeth cleaned.
Breakfast:
Overnight Oats in a Jar
1/3c old-fashioned oats
1 banana, mashed
1T cocoa powder
1T chia seeds
1c unsweetened vanilla almond milk (I think next time I will either switch this to 3/4c or add an extra 1T chia to help it get thicker)
+topped with 1T natural peanut butter in the morning
Simply mix all ingredients together and let them thicken up in the fridge overnight (or at least 2 hours), such an easy grab-and-go breakfast in the morning!  I also had some coffee + soymilk for the drive!
Mid-Morning Snack:
Since I got up earlier than I have been used to, I needed a mid-morning snack to tide me over until lunch.  I accidentally ate almost all of my pineapple before a picture… whoops ;).
Lunch:
Leftover dinner from last night (recipe here!) + dollop of hummus.
Carrots & Sugar Snap Peas
Afternoon Snack:
Since I was home, I met up with a friend for coffee in the early afternoon. I got a small soy latte. I also had plantain chips & an apple later on.
Dinner:
Coconut Cashew Pancakes w/ an Egg
We don’t have breakfast for dinner very often… but breakfast is by far my favorite meal :). Crosby’s mouth was also a little sore from the dental and pancakes are one of his favorite meals so he got his own little coconut-less pancake. We used Bob’s Red Mill Pancake mix with toasted coconut added to the backside of the pancake, and then topped them with peanut butter, cashews, coconut butter & more toasted coconut – YUM!

you + social media

Social media’s a funny thing.  Ten years ago it didn’t exist, and now people make extremely decent livings off of it.  It’s great for socializing between friends as well as socializing between brands and their customers (or potential customers).  Social being the key word.

I was asked to help with a small marketing project (yay for more experience!) dealing heavily with social media.  Which got me to thinking… if I were not a marketing student would I know what I all know about social media?  In my previous internships and marketing classes, I have been mostly surrounded by people who can navigate their way through Tweets and Facebook status updates, as well as know that Foursquare is not just a playground game.  But does the population separated from the inner workings of the marketing industry realize all of the tactics their favorite brands are using to gain their attention?

Successful brands use a combination of the social media platforms that best suit their needs.  Some ill-advised companies have jumped on the social media bandwagon just a little too hard… and their message and presence on certain platforms is vague and confusing.  I just don’t quite understand sometimes… maybe I’m missing something.

The world of social media can be quite confusing for some people, take my grandparents for example.  They have a Facebook account.  My grandma didn’t realize posting on a wall was public domain, and almost (luckily did not) spilled the beans on my aunt’s surprise birthday party.  Brands can make similar mistakes if not fully prepared.  Brand presence on social media must be thoughtfully planned out in advance, and yet seem effortless.  Creating a dialogue with your fans or followers is what you want, building a relationship with them.  The message must be clear and concise, as well as be well suited and entertaining for the desired audience.

The world has been changed by social media… and in a big way.  Without Twitter, Charlie Sheen would not have been quite, hem, successful?  And the # symbol would just be a pound sign… not a hashtag.

Even with learning and growing up surrounded by social media, I get lost sometimes.  There are certain platforms that I do not use because I do not see the personal necessity in it.  However, I do see value in a majority of them for certain situations.  Finding the perfect mix between the platforms, having a congruent message throughout and maintaining their presence successfully is what each brand needs.

Although I believe brands should not enter into all social media at once just to be there, they also cannot show up too late in the game.  Choosing the perfect mix and earning their space there will keep their customers engaged and entertained.

definitely feels like summer

I definitely had summer fever this weekend.  Shorts were on, the sun was out (well, when it wasn’t foggy and/or lightning), but I still wanted to do something in the kitchen.  I turned to one of my favorite blogs, Clean Eating Chelsey, and found her recipe for Trail Mix Granola.

I made a few changes to her recipe, and it turned out phenomenal.  It’s got to be kept out of eyesight or it might disappear faster than it should… ;).

Trail Mix Granola

  • 2 1/4 cups old-fashioned oats
  • 1/4 cup raw pumpkin seeds, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 cups raw mixed nuts, roughly chopped
  • 1/4 cup raisins, roughly chopped
  • 1/4 cup Trader Joe’s chocolate sunflower seed drops (these are made with milk chocolate, so if you have a dairy issue use something coated with dark chocolate instead)
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1 tbsp. cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 1 1/2T maple syrup
  • 1 1/2T agave nectar
  • 2 tsp. vanilla
  1. Preheat your oven to 325*.  Spray a baking sheet with non-stick cooking spray.
  2. Combine oats, pumpkin seeds and mixed nuts in a large bowl.  By chopping everything, it helps to more evenly distribute all of the wonderful flavors throughout the granola!
  3. In a small bowl, combine the unsweetened applesauce, maple syrup, agave and vanilla and warm slightly to combine.
  4. Pour the liquid ingredients over the dry and mix until everything is combined.
  5. Spread the granola on the baking sheet and bake for 20-25 minutes, stirring every 8-10 minutes.
  6. Let the granola cool, and then add the raisins and chocolate sunflower seed drops.

This is my new favorite granola recipe.  It has such a nice coating, and the little candy drops of sunflower seeds are so cute and colorful!  Of course you can substitute any of the mix-in ingredients to suit your taste.  Yum!

run run run

As I mentioned in one of my intro posts, running is a relatively new passion in my life.  If you asked me a year ago if I would ever think of running even a 10k, I would have looked at you like you were crazy.  I have never been a runner.  I’ve wanted to be numerous times, but I thought that I was just never cut out for it.

When I was trying to get back in shape last summer, I joined a gym and spent my time there mostly on the elliptical.  I also went on a fair number of  walks outside.  I figured, as long as I am walking the same distance I would have run, it doesn’t really matter how fast it happens.  It’s basically the same workout, right?  Well, not so much.  I think one of the main reasons I didn’t like, even hated running is because I was not good at it.  I felt incredibly out of shape and always felt like I wasn’t able to breath properly and my legs were going to fall off…

In October of 2010, Kinley told me that I should give running another shot.  I’m not sure what made me say “okay” and actually start doing it.  I started by running approximately a 5k distance (walking part of it) with Kinley which motivated me to not stop.  Giving up is just way too easy when you have no one next to you.  So that’s how it started.  I was not good.  I tried my first 5k race in November of 2010 at my college, luckily it was free for me since I was still a student.  It was bad.  I was expecting a road race and instead it was a run on the cross country path, and the weather was unseasonably warm and I had overdressed.  I did make it by my “goal” time (of 35 minutes) but only by like 2 seconds, and I felt like crap.  And I was like the second to last person to finish.

I swore to myself that I would never compete in another race again.  They just weren’t for me.  My body wasn’t cut out to run like that.  For whatever reason, I still continued running… And you know what?  I have improved quite a bit!  I have not done another race yet, but I am signed up for a 10k on June 11th.  My current training 5k time is 3 minutes faster than I finished the race in November (a good 1minute/mile increase!), and I can actually run without Kinley now (and without stopping!).

I am still improving each week.  I hope that one day I can increase my distances because I really do enjoy running now.  I am up to running an entire 10k, and can actually run it in pretty good time (for me).  Kinley urged me to sign up for the DisneyWorld 1/2 marathon with her in January 2012, which will be her 5th official 1/2 marathon at that point, but only my first.  I still have time to train for that, but it definitely gives me motivation if I ever do feel like giving up and walking the rest of the way home!  I feel confident that I will be able to finish the 10k coming up, hopefully feeling better than I did after the 5k.  It will truly be a test to see how I can run in a location I am not familiar with and also with other runners alongside me.

It is remarkable that I am at the place where I am now with running.  I never thought I would see this day, and here I am looking to improve my speed and distance even more in the future.  Hopefully this is the beginning of a lifelong relationship with running, and that I have many more races to look forward to in the future!

morning, muffin

There are two things I love in the world. Millet and pumpkin. Okay, that’s a lie, but they do rank high on my list of favorite foods. Weird, right? I actually think the first time I had millet was only a couple of months ago, I was skeptical because I had only seen it before as a treat for a pet bird… and I hate birds. But that’s yet another post…

I found this recipe quite randomly, I have had a nature muffin at Stone Creek Coffee (a Milwaukee-area coffee shop) quite a few times in the past because it is delicious. It is filled with different seeds (no nuts) and I just love the crunch that the millet, in particular, gives it. I haven’t checked with Stone Creek for the ingredient list of the muffin… I assume it contains dairy but I still think I might rather not know and still splurge on it once in awhile :). Although after tasting these I am not so sure I’d need to…

I decided to search for a recipe that could possibly replicate the taste, or at least the texture of the nature muffin and found this recipe for Pumpkin and Millet Muffins from Whole Foods. I decided to healthify it more, as well as veganize it.

Pumpkin Millet Muffins

  • 1/2 cup millet
  • 1 flax egg (1T ground flax + 2T warm water, let sit for 5 minutes and whisk together. Can also sub a real egg)
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened vanilla almond milk (or non-dairy/dairy milk of your choice)
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened, natural applesauce
  • 1 cup pumpkin puree (NOT pumpkin pie filling)
  • 1/4 cup agave syrup (could also sub honey or maple syrup, or leave it out altogether)
  • 1 cup spelt flour (whole wheat pastry could also work, or flour of your choice)
  • 60g (~1/3c) oat bran*
  • 60g (~2/3c) oat flour (blend up 1/2c or so old-fashioned oats)*
  • 1t baking powder
  • 1/2t baking soda
  • 1/2t salt
  • 1/2t cinnamon
  • 1/4t ground nutmeg
  • 1/4t ground cloves

*I changed up the flour in this recipe quite a bit. It called for 1 cup white and 1 cup wheat. I decided to go with 1 cup spelt flour (good to use if you have a wheat intolerance), and then for the second cup, I weighed out oat bran and oat flour to equal the weight of what a cup of normal flour would be (I read this tip somewhere and it seemed to work really well!). If you want to simplify it, you can just use 2 cups of flour, but it was really tasty this way!

Preheat your oven to 400*. I used by NEW silicon baking cups from Crate & Barrel for this – love them!

Toast the millet. Heat a skillet to medium-high heat, add the millet and stir every once in awhile to toast the millet until they just start to pop (3-4 minutes). Transfer the millet somewhere to cool.

In a large bowl, mix together the flax egg, almond milk, applesauce, pumpkin and agave. In another bowl, whisk all of the dry ingredients together and add the cooled millet. Fold the dry ingredients into the wet mix until it’s all incorporated. Scoop the mix into 12 muffin cups (it fills them up quite a bit!) and bake for 25-30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the muffin comes out clean. These are very moist muffins because of the pumpkin and applesauce, but you don’t really have to worry about them being underbaked a little since there are no unpasteurized ingredients in the recipe.

I am a firm believer that pumpkin should be eaten year-round (it’s not just a fall food people), but I have heard hints of a pumpkin shortage, so if you cannot find it in your local store feel free to substitute mashed butternut squash, sweet potato, a mashed banana, those sorts of things.

These were INCREDIBLE. I was a little skeptical since I changed so much of the recipe, but they turned out perfectly! I loved the little crunch the millet gave them and they were not heavy at all since there was NO added fat! I might cut down or even eliminate the agave next time. I don’t think they really benefitted from the sweetness, and you could always drizzle some on the top after they are out of the oven if you like the sweetness. I smeared a little bit of earth balance vegan spread on mine – so good!

I had to keep a close eye on the birds when photographing these… didn’t want them to get any ideas :/.