Sweet Treats with a Pumpkin Twist

Well, my sweet readers, the time has come to an end. The time for pumpkin recipes that is. While I still plan to enjoy pumpkin throughout the year, the rest of the world seems to give pumpkin the heave-ho after Halloween. And then those who keep it around typically discard it after Thanksgiving as they put up their holiday decorations. And I do understand – this time of year brings out so many exciting once-a-year flavors like peppermint, candy cane, gingerbread, and eggnog.

But see, I’m a true pumpkin fan. I’ll have pumpkin all year round if you let me! I love this veggie so much, I host a party with a pumpkin-theme! That’s right – every fall, my friends and I gather together one weekend and bake all sorts of pumpkin-flavored goodies. This year was a bit smaller of a crowd, but we still got to try out some new recipes. This was my second year trying out Oatmeal Cream Pies and I was pretty tickled with this year’s results! You would think after all these pumpkin goodies, I would grow tired of the flavor…but I don’t.

So, seeing as it’s the end of November (seriously where has the time gone), I thought I would leave you with just a few of my favorites that we sampled this fall.


Paleo Pumpkin Bars

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Bars

2 cups almond flour
½ tsp salt
½ tsp baking soda
¼ tsp baking powder
2 tsp pumpkin pie spice
¼ cup almond butter
2 T coconut oil
¼ cup coconut sugar
2 T maple syrup
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 T almond milk
1 cup pumpkin puree

Maple Frosting

½ cup grass-fed butter, softened
⅓ cup maple syrup
¼ tsp cinnamon
1¼ T coconut flour
2½ T coconut milk
1 T coconut sugar

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease and line an 8×8″ baking dish with parchment paper. Set aside.
  2. In a small bowl, combine the first five ingredients. Mix well to combine and set aside.
  3. In a medium-size microwave-safe bowl, heat the coconut oil and almond butter on high for 30 seconds. Stir, then place back in the microwave to heat another 30 seconds.
  4. Once combined, remove from microwave and add coconut sugar, maple syrup, vanilla and almond milk. Stir until well-combined.
  5. Add the pumpkin puree and stir well.
  6. Carefully add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients. Stir until all ingredients are combined.
  7. Pour mixture into the prepared pan and bake for 30-35 minutes, until center is set. Bars will be slightly moist.
  8. Allow bars to cool in pan for 15 minutes, then place the entire pan in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.
  9. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, beat the butter until smooth and creamy (about 1 minute).
  10. Add in remaining frosting ingredients and beat until thoroughly combined.
  11. Once the bars are completely cool, cover them with the frosting. Chill for another 15 minutes before serving!

 

Pumpkin Cheesecake Bars (by Chelsea’s Messy Apron)

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Crust

1 1/2 cups cinnamon graham cracker crumbs
1/4 cup white sugar
1 T brown sugar
6 T butter, melted

Cheesecake

16 oz. cream cheese, room temperature (on counter for at least 1 hour)
1/2 cup + 2 T white sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs
1/2 cup + 2 T canned pumpkin
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp pumpkin pie spice

Streusel

1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup white flour
1/4 cup quick cooking oats
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 cup butter, softened (not melted)
1 tsp vanilla extract
Caramel ice cream topping (salted or plain)

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line an 8 x 8 baking pan with parchment paper (leave an overhang to be able to pull out these bars easily) and set aside.
  2. In a bowl, combine all crust ingredients and mix until a thick dough forms. Press into the bottom of the parchment lined baking pan.
  3. In another bowl, combine the cream cheese, sugar, and vanilla. Beat until completely smooth and creamy.
  4. Add in eggs one at a time, beating until completely combined.
  5. Carefully measure out 1 and 1/2 cups of the cheesecake mixture and pour on top of the prepared crust.
  6. To the remaining cheesecake mixture, add pumpkin, cinnamon, and pumpkin pie spice. Stir until completely combined and carefully pour on top of cheesecake layer.
  7. To make the streusel, stir together the dry ingredients in a bowl. Add in the butter and vanilla; mix until well combined.
  8. Sprinkle the streusel topping evenly over the pumpkin cheesecake layer.
  9. Bake for 50-55 minutes or until the cheesecake has set. Remove from the oven and cool for about an hour. Then place in the fridge for 1-2 hours.
  10. Before serving, drizzle caramel sauce over the bars or serve with your favorite vanilla ice cream!

Pumpkin Oatmeal Cream Pies

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Oatmeal Cookies

1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 egg, room temperature
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 2/3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1 cup all-purpose flour

Cream Filling

4 oz .cream cheese, softened to room temperature
2 T unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
1/4 cup pumpkin puree
1 tsp ground cinnamon
3/4 tsp pumpkin pie spice
2 – 2 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
Salt (if too sweet)

  1. Beat the softened butter and sugars together on medium-high speed until smooth. Add in egg and vanilla; mix well.
  2. In a separate bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients. Add these to the wet ingredients, then mix together until just combined. Do not over-mix!
  3. Put the dough in the refrigerator and chill for at least one hour.
  4. Preheat oven to 325°F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
  5. Roll 2 teaspoons of dough into a ball and place onto prepared cookie sheet. Repeat for remaining dough.
  6. Bake for 9 minute, then allow to cool on cookie sheet for 2-3 minutes before transferring them to a wire rack.
  7. Meanwhile, beat together cream cheese, butter, pumpkin, and spices on medium speed until creamy.
  8. Add 2 cups of sifted confectioners sugar and mix until combined. You can add more, depending on how sweet you like your filling. If it’s too sweet, add in a pinch of salt.
  9. If filling is much too thin, add in flour to thicken.  Add salt to cut the sweetness, if you prefer.
    Once the cookies are completely cooled, you can begin to assemble! Flip half of your cookies upside down so the flat surface if facing upwards. Spread a tablespoon (or more, depending on cookie size) of filling on the these cooled cookies. Place another cookie on top to form the cream pies.
  10. Chill until ready to serve.

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Pumpkin Lasagna

So, yes, I’m a total white girl who’s obsessed with pumpkin. I’ve made it my personal mission these past few months to find as many different ways to include pumpkin into as many dishes as possible. For a pumpkin-obsessed white girl, I really wasn’t educated in the many different ways pumpkin could be used! Before this experiment, I think the only time I had pumpkin was in my beloved PSL’s from Starbucks, pumpkin muffins, pumpkin pie, or pumpkin cheesecake. So let’s state the obvious – I only enjoyed pumpkin if it was sweet and coated in sugar.

 

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Well, that just wasn’t acceptable in my book. I knew if I could find some savory recipes, I would find how much I love pumpkin outside of the sweet stuff. So, of course, I went straight to Pinterest for ideas. I actually have a “Pumpkin Galore” board, so I perused that quickly to see if I had pinned some recipes. Alas, amongst the pumpkin pie snickerdoodles and the pumpkin banana bread pins, nothing savory was to be found. Oh, the tragedy! Thank goodness others on Pinterest didn’t have such a narow-minded approach to pumpkin. If you search “pumpkin entree”, your results almost appear with a heavenly white light illuminating from behind them! Everything from pumpkin pizza, to pumpkin stuffed shells, and even (brace yourselves) pumpkin beer chicken tacos.

I know – pure heaven.

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Below is the recipe for an amazing variation of a classic Italian dish – lasagna. It seems that pumpkin is a popular choice for dishes from this country. I saw everything from ziti, penne, spaghetti, and even ravioli. I personally am rather fond of lasagna, so I opted to try this recipe. I hope you enjoy!

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Pumpkin Lasagna

Lasagna

🔸12 lasagna noodles
🔸1 cup 21 Day Fix Alfredo sauce
🔸1, 15 oz. can pumpkin
🔸1 T brown sugar
🔸1 tsp pumpkin pie spice
🔸16 oz. fat free cottage cheese
🔸1/2 tsp garlic powder
🔸1/2 tsp Italian seasoning
🔸16 oz. mild Italian sausage
🔸1, 10 oz. frozen spinach, thawed and drained
🔸1/3 cup shredded mozzarella

Alfredo Sauce

🔸1 T olive oil
🔸1 T minced garlic or 1/2 tsp garlic powder
🔸3/4 cup Greek yogurt
🔸1/3 cup Parmesan cheese
🔸1 T parsley
🔸1/4 tsp salt
🔸1/4 tsp pepper
🔸1/8 tsp nutmeg

Preheat oven to 375.

In a saucepan over low heat, mix together Alfredo sauce ingredients. Add in a splash of milk if too thick. Mix in pumpkin, brown sugar, and pumpkin pie spice until thoroughly combined. Set aside.

In a skillet, heat oil and cook Italian sausage.

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In a bowl, mix the cottage cheese with garlic salt and Italian seasoning.

In a greased square casserole dish (I use 8×8″), spread about 1 cup of pumpkin mixture. Arrange three lasagna noodles across the pan.

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Proceed with the following layers: noodles, cottage cheese, pumpkin Alfredo, spinach, sausage. Repeat for two layers.

🔶Top with remaining 3 lasagna noodles and pumpkin Alfredo. Sprinkle mozzarella cheese on top.

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Bake for 40 minutes, uncovered. Be sure to let it cool before slicing. Serve with a side salad or your favorite veggies!

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The First Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is the holiday that so often gets the cold shoulder during the holiday season because there’s nothing too commercial about it. I guess you can’t really make money off a holiday that’s sole theme is to be thankful for what you have. No one ever promotes the holiday and far too often, people skip straight from Halloween to Christmas, as if Thanksgiving doesn’t even exist!

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This year in particular, I feel that I have so much to be thankful for. The past 3-4 months have reeked havoc on my world and completely flipped it upside down. In short, I all but lost the life that I knew and the future that I had planned for us. Although I did have the choice to stay and keep that life, I felt that I was no longer meant to be a part of that and that staying would only cause more problems.

So, instead of spending what would have been our first Thanksgiving at home (instead of with family as we’ve always done the past 4 years), I spent Thanksgiving with my family. Instead of cooking our first turkey together in our gorgeous and spacious kitchen, I monitored the turkey that my mom made in our slow cooker. And instead of happily watching the Macy’s Day on television as we’ve always done, I instead went for a run in an attempt to forget that I was alone. Alone on the one holiday that I should be celebrating how thankful I am for you.

But enough of that. I’ve already spent too much time re-hashing all that’s happened or how upsetting it is that I am not with my partner this year. Instead of dwelling on all that has gone wrong these past 3-4 months, I chose to focus on the positive. Was it easy? No way – not in the slightest. I had to consciously tell myself my affirmation for the day: “Love did not create this.” Thank goodness for Gabby Bernstein – I don’t think I would’ve made it through the holiday half as well without her words of positivity and encouragement. And as the minutes and hours slipped by, I found myself focusing less on what was absent and more on what was present. And that’s all that Thanksgiving is about, isn’t it? Giving thanks and gratitude for what is present in our lives – right now. And boy, do I have so much to be thankful for.

 Thankful for the phone call that I made that changed my life completely and allowed me to be here today.

 Thankful for the support system spread across the continental U.S. that’s kept me going – reminding me that this is for the best.

 Thankful for my job for understanding what I’m going through and allowing me to continue my role within the company.

 Thankful for my family for understanding and offering me a chance to break down and (ultimately) re-build my life.

 Thankful for my vehicle for carrying me all the way home.

 Thankful for my mind for sticking with me through this entire ordeal. Trust me – it felt like just throwing in the towel

 Thankful for my body for also sticking it out. At any point, it could’ve just collapsed from the amount of stress, anger, anxiety, pain, and lack of rest that I put myself through.

 And last, but certainly not least, thank you for this extra time with family.

So while this wasn’t the Thanksgiving that I had planned on having, I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world. I was able to spend the morning with my mom in the kitchen, preparing the family meal. We were able to try out at least 5 new recipes this year, which admittedly may not have happened had we not been together! We seized this opportunity to try healthier versions of some family classics, as well as meal prep so we didn’t have so much to do on Thanksgiving Day. At one point, we looked at each other and my mom said, “Well, I think we’re ahead of ourselves.”

And dinner was a success! I was able to enjoy time at dinner with my grandparents, who I only see once a year when I come home. Neither of them eat that much, but they both seemed to enjoy everything they put on their plates! Even my dad was impressed with the new dishes – the lightened up sweet potato casserole was his favorite and he couldn’t tell the difference from what we normally make! And the amount of vegetables served increased significantly, which we can never get enough of those, right?


Proteins

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Crockpot Turkey

1 boneless turkey breast (3 to 4 pounds), halved
1, 14 oz. whole-berry cranberry sauce
½ cup sugar
½ cup apple juice
1 T cider vinegar
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp ground mustard
½ tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp ground cloves
¼ tsp ground allspice
2 T all-purpose flour
¼ cup cold water

  1. Place the turkey, skin side up, in a 5-qt. slow cooker.
  2. Combine the cranberry sauce, sugar, apple juice, vinegar, garlic, mustard, cinnamon, cloves and allspice; pour over turkey.
  3. Cover and cook on low until a thermometer reads 170°, about 3-1/2 to 4-1/2- hours.
  4. Remove turkey to a cutting board and serve fresh!

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Roasted Brussels Sprouts & Butternut Squash with Cranberries

2 cups Brussels sprouts, ends trimmed, yellow leaves removed
2 T olive oil
Salt, to taste
1 pound butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cubed into 1-inch cubes 
4 T olive oil
3 T maple syrup
½ tsp ground cinnamon
½ cup fresh cranberries
½ cup roasted pumpkin seeds

  1. Preheat oven to 400 F. Line a baking sheet with foil and lightly grease.
  2. Make sure Brussels sprouts have trimmed ends and yellow leaves are removed.
  3. In a medium bowl, combine Brussels sprouts and 2 tablespoons of olive oil; toss to coat.
  4. Place onto baking sheet, cut side down, and sprinkle with salt.
  5. In a separate bowl, combine cubed butternut squash, remaining olive oil, maple syrup, and cinnamon. Toss to mix.
  6. Place butternut squash in a single layer on the baking sheet, next to Brussels sprouts.
  7. Roast in over for 30-35 minutes, turning once half-way through baking, until softened.
  8. Remove from oven and pour sprouts and squash into a greased casserole dish. Top with pumpkin seeds and cranberries, then return to over for 10-15 minutes.

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Roasted Broccoli with Panko Breadcrumbs

1 ½ lbs broccoli
2 T olive oil
½ tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
½ tsp garlic powder
½ cup panko breadcrumbs
2 T coconut spread

  1. Preheat the oven to 450F. Lightly coated a baking dish with cooking spray.
  2. Meanwhile, chop up broccoli into florets and place into baking dish.
  3. Toss broccoli with olive oil, salt, pepper, and garlic powder.
  4. Melt coconut spread and pour over the broccoli. Sprinkle with breadcrumbs and mix to coat evenly.
  5. Cook in the oven for 15-20 minutes, until the breadcrumbs are slightly toasted.
  6. Serve immediately with your favorite fall entree!

Fruits

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Last-Minute Cranberry Sauce

1, 16 oz. can of whole very cranberry sauce
1, 8 oz. can of crushed pineapple, drained
1/4 cup chopped pecans
1 tsp apple pie spice
Pinch of ground cloves

  1. In a small bowl, combine all ingredients. Refridgerate until ready to serve!

 

Starches

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Buttery Cornbread

⅔ cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
3 eggs
1⅔ cup milk
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup cornmeal
4½ tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees and grease an 8×8″ pan.
  2. In a mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar.
  3. In a small bowl, combine eggs and milk.
  4. In a medium bowl, combine all dry ingredients.
  5. Alternate adding the eggs/milk and dry ingredients to the butter-sugar mixture.
  6. Pour into prepared pan and bake for 22-27 minutes.
  7. Cut into squares and serve warm!

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Homemade Mashed Potatoes

4 Russet potatoes large, peeled and cubed
½ – 1 cup of reserved potato water
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Salt & pepper to taste

  1. Place potatoes in a pot and cover with water. Place on the stove and bring to a boil. Cook until fork tender, about 15-20 minutes.
  2. Strain potatoes, reserving 1 cup of potato water for mixing.
  3. Place the potatoes into a stand-up mixer and add 1/4 cup of potato water. Whip the potatoes until creamy, adding 1/4 cup additional water as needed.
  4. Once you’ve reached the desired consistency, you can add the butter and spices. Whip one last time and serve!

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Rosemary & Garlic Mashed Cauliflower

1 cauliflower, chopped into small florets
3 oz. low-fat cream cheese
2 T unsalted butter
1½ tsp minced garlic 
1 T fresh rosemary, chopped into small pieces

  1. Bring a medium pot of water to boil.
  2. Once boiling, pour in the cauliflower and cook until fork tender, 8-10 minutes.
  3. Drain cauliflower and place in stand-up mixer. Add remaining ingredients and whip until creamy.

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Gluten-Free Sweet Potato Casserole

2 sweet potatoes
½ cup light coconut milk
2 T pure maple syrup
2 T coconut oil, melted
½ T ground flaxseed
½ tsp vanilla
½ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp sea salt
¼ tsp ground nutmeg
¼ cup brown sugar or coconut sugar
¼ cup chopped pecans
¼ cup gluten-free old-fashioned oats
¼ cup almond flour
2 T coconut oil

  1. Peel and dice sweet potatoes into chunks.
  2. Place the chunks in a saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil, then reduce to simmer until fork tender, about 15 minutes. Once done, drain well and let cool.
  3. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 350° and coat 8×8″ casserole or pie dish.
  4. In a small bowl, combine the sugar, pecans, oats, and flour. Cut in coconut oil with a fork until the oil is distributed evenly and looks like crumb topping.
  5. In a stand mixer, whip the sweet potatoes with coconut milk, maple syrup, oil, flaxseed, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt. Beat until everything is just combined and the chunks of sweet potato have disappeared. Be careful not to over-process or the mixture will become more like a puree!
  6. Pour the sweet potato mixtures into the prepared dish and sprinkle with the crumb topping mixture.
  7. Bake uncovered for 25-30 minutes, until the top is golden brown.
  8. Serve warm with your favorite entree!

 

Dessert

Copycat Cheesecake Factory Pumpkin Cheesecake

12 T unsalted butter, melted
2 ½ cups graham cracker crumbs
2 ¾ cups sugar
1 tsp + 1 pinch salt
2 pounds cream cheese, room temperature
¼ cup sour cream
1, 15oz. can pure pumpkin
6 large eggs, room temperature and lightly beaten
1 T vanilla extract
2 ½ tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
¼ tsp ground cloves

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Lightly grease a 10-inch springform pan.
  2. In a bowl, mix the butter, graham cracker crumbs, 1/4 cup of the sugar and a pinch of salt.
  3. Press the crumb mixture into the bottom sides of the pan, being sure to pack it tightly.
  4. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until golden brown. Cool on a rack.
  5. After cooling on a rack, wrap the outside of the springform pan with aluminum foil. Place the wrapped pan into a roasting pan.
  6. Meanwhile, in a medium pot, bring water to a boil.
  7. Using a mixer, beat the cream cheese until smooth. Add remaining sugar and beat until just light. Scrape down bowl sides and beaters as needed.
  8. Whip in the sour cream. Add the pumpkin, eggs, vanilla, 1 teaspoon salt and the spices. Whip until just mixed; pour into the cooled crust.
  9. Place the springform pan in the roasting pan. Gently place the roasting pan in the oven.
  10. Pour the boiling water into the roasting pan until it comes about halfway up the side of the springform pan.
  11. Bake about 1 hour 45 minutes, or until the outside of the cheesecake is set, but the center is still loose.
  12. Turn off the oven and open the door briefly to let out some heat. Close the door and let cheesecake set for 1 more hour.
  13. After additional hour, remove the cheesecake from the oven. Carefully remove the springform pan from the roasting pan. Cool on a rack for at least an hour.
  14. Run a knife around the edges to loosen, then cover and place in refrigerator for at least 8 hours (I usually do mine overnight).
  15. Twenty minutes before serving, bring the cheesecake to room temperature.
  16. Once ready, unlock and remove the springform ring.
  17. Serve as is or with a dollop of whipped cream.

 

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Pecan Pie Cheesecake

For the Crust:

1¾ cups vanilla wafer crumbs
¼ cup brown sugar
⅓ cup unsalted butter, melted

For the Pecan Filling:

1 cup sugar
⅔ cup dark corn syrup
⅓ cup unsalted butter, melted
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1½ cups pecans, chopped
1 tsp vanilla extract

For the Cheesecake Filling:

24 oz. cream cheese, softened
1¼ cups light brown sugar
2 T all-purpose flour
4 large eggs
⅔ cup heavy whipping cream
1 tsp vanilla extract

For the Topping:

3.5 T unsalted butter, melted
½ cup brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
¼ cup heavy whipping cream
1 cup toasted pecans, chopped

Crust:

  1. Line the bottom of 9 inch springform pan with parchment paper and set aside.
  2. In a medium bowl, combine vanilla wafer crumbs and brown sugar. Stir in melted butter, then press the mixture evenly into bottom and up the sides of springform pan.
  3. Set in the fridge to firm the crust while making the filling.

Pecan Filling:

  1. In a medium saucepan combine all ingredients and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring constantly.
  2. Reduce heat and simmer stirring constantly until thickened, 5-7 minutes.
  3. Pour into prepared crust and set aside.

Cheesecake Filing:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Beat the cream cheese until creamy. Add brown sugar and flour; beat until fluffy.
  3. Add eggs, one at a time, beating just until combined after each addition. Do not overbeat!
  4. Stir in heavy cream and vanilla, then pour cheesecake mixture over pecan filling.
  5. Place springform pan on a cookie sheet, and place in the oven and reduce the heat to 325 F.
  6. Bake for 60-70 minutes (until toothpick inserted in the center comes out almost clean).
  7. Turn off the oven and leave cheesecake in with oven door closed for 1 hour.
  8. Once the hour is up, remove from oven. Run a knife around edges of cheesecake but don’t take out of the pan until completely cooled.

Topping:

  1. In a small saucepan, combine butter and brown sugar. Cook for 3-5 minutes, or until very bubbly.
  2. Stir in cinnamon, heavy whipping cream, and chopped pecans.
  3. Cool to room temperature.
  4. Release the sides of springform pan and spoon the topping over cooled cheesecake.
  5. Serve immediately and store leftovers in the fridge.

 

Thanksgiving Tips

The holidays can be a very stressful time of year. Depending on your family dynamics, you could be spending Thanksgiving alone, at your own home with immediate family, hosting this year’s holiday feast, or traveling elsewhere to celebrate the holidays with others. Any way you look at it, you’re going to run into stress. That’s why I think it’s imperative to know yourself well enough to identify what can help you stay calm. And that’s where the Holiday Survival Kit comes in! My friends and I shared ours here.

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 Strong coffee and a cute mug: because everyone needs a pick-me-up and caffeine will never let you down
 Chocolate: for when life gets just a bit too stressful and you need a moment to escape
 Candle: you’d be amazed; scents can do wonders for the mind and the soul
 Pumpkin: because really, what would Thanksgiving be without this?
 White wine: for toasting the fantastic food and time with family
 Shakeology: I’ve got to get my protein!
 Veggies: I can’t go a day without something green
 Cell phone: how else do you expect me to take pictures or to call my family?

In addition to keeping your favorite holiday-spirit items handy, there are always other hiccups to deal with. Every year, I tell myself the I need to be better about my eating and that I need to eat more greens and less starches. And sure enough, Thanksgiving is suddenly here and what a, I chowing down on? Oh that’ right – yeast rolls, pecan pie, and mashed potatoes with gravy. And every year, I wind up going home disgusted with myself! I just can’t seem to get it straight and I always end up overindulging and feeling  very bloated  afterwards. So, I’ve been researching tips on how to survive Thanksgiving without the lingering guilt and extra baggage (aka a few extra pounds). Let’s work together to make this the most successful  holiday yet – one where  we come out on Friday saying “yes!!! I did it” versus hiding from mirrors or attempting to cardio-crash ourselves into feeling better.


  1. The Reason for the Season

    First and foremost, let’s take a moment to remember why we’re here. Thanksgiving isn’t about football or a smorgasbord of food – it’s about being grateful for what we have. Remember to sit back and take the time to reflect on what you’re thankful for.

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  2. Apple Cider Vinegar – need I say more?

    Start your day off right with ACV. Our body is in constant search of equilibrium and ACV can help achieve it. By drinking it once a day, the vinegar helps the body maintain a healthy alkaline pH level. Research has shown that ACV worked just as well as diabetic drugs in reducing blood sugar surge and improving insulin sensitivity. Did you know that drinking a tablespoon of ACV before each meal has been shown to decrease fasting and post-meal blood sugar levels? My dad is pre-diabetic, so this is one of the first things I recommended to him!

  3. “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.”

    I love this quote by Benjamin Franklin because it rings true in so many areas of our lives. We all have an idea of what will be served at the various Thanksgiving events, so get a game plan together about how you’re going to survive. If you have a weakness for sweets because you don’t eat a lot at dinner, plan on eating more filling foods so you’ll be less inclined to overindulge your sweet tooth later. If possible, bring along a dish that meets your dietary needs so you can not only help out, but you’ll feel better knowing what’s gone into the dish (less guilt).

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  4. Breakfast

    Make sure your first meal of the day is well-rounded. Resist the urge to skip and splurge later on.  By skipping breakfast, you’re essentially starving your body and you’ll be more likely to inhale and overeat. At the same time, don’t eat a ton of bread or empty calories because you’ll just wind up hungry again in a few short hours. A great breakfast can be a simple as eggs, whole-grain toast, and some mixed greens or fruit.

  5. Be Realistic

    Get in the right frame of mind. The holidays is a time for family and celebration, not for stress and anxiety. Shift your mindset into weight maintenance instead of weight loss. Set realistic expectations for yourself and stick to them. By doing this, you’ll feel successful about sticking to your eating habits and you’ll cut the guilty conscious out of the picture. But remember – if you don’t meet your expectations and slip up, it’s just one meal. Forgive yourself and then move on with your day. Tomorrow is a brand new day!

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  6. Split it Up

    When it comes time for the big meal, think fractions: ¾ to ¼. Three quarters of your plate should consist of proteins and fresh veggies, while and the remaining quarter of the plate should be used for the side dishes.

  7. Color Does Matter

    Pay attention to your dishes! Research has shown that the more contract in color between your food and plates, the less like you’ll overeat! So avoid the white china (which turkey and potatoes blend into) and break out your most brightly-colored plates! Another trick is to use a smaller plate. This will force you to control your portion sizes and ensure you don’t offset them fractions rule! A smaller plate means less food consumed and therefore less damage!

     

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  8. Stay Sober

    Limit your alcohol. We all know that when we have a few drinks, we tend to get hungrier and that’s just a slippery slope. In fact, did you know that drinking too much alcohol is can increase your craving for salt? No wonder we crave French fries after a late night out! Bonus: If you plan to have more than one drink, make sure to stay hydrated by drinking a glass of water between alcoholic beverages. This will help to rehydrate your body and also fills up your stomach so you don’t overeat due to dehydration!

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  9. Get Movin!

    Even though you’re probably eating more than usual and you’ll be surrounded by family, it doesn’t give you an excuse to be complacent. After the big meal, offering to help clean up the kitchen will be a gracious act and burn some of the calories from dinner. You can also take advantage of the time together and recruit the whole family to go for a walk!

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  10. Enjoy Yourself!

    While it’s very important to remember portion controls, that’s not the sole purpose! As I’ve been saying all along, the holidays are for joy and celebration, not angst and stress. So give yourself a break and enjoy your favorites. One of my favorite things about Thanksgiving are the memories and traditions! So don’t deprive yourself from enjoying your favorite dishes. This is one day and one meal – it’s not the end of the world. Having a small scoop of your grandmother’s chocolate pecan pie or the homemade pumpkin cheesecake won’t kill you.

#TastyTuesday: The Taste of Fall

You know that feeling that you get after you’ve been on the road for awhile and you just can’t wait to be home? That feeling of unrest and almost uneasiness – the inability to fully relax because you’re not in your element. I didn’t realize it until the last few days, but that’s how I’ve been feeling. Don’t get me wrong – I loved where I was staying and the company was spectacular, but nothing is quite the same as “home”.

After what seems like forever (really only 2 months), I have made it to my next destination: home. I moved out of my home about a month ago and have been staying with one a my best friends. While I was still able to cook and do pretty much anything I wanted, I just never felt 100% at ease. I was still living out of boxes – spices and baking supplies in one box; extra Tupperware and mason jars for meal-prep in another; winter clothes stored in a suitcase. And although everything was calm at the house, I felt like I was riding a roller coaster on the inside due to the myriad of emotions that I was expereincing.  No wonder I felt unstable!

But the living out of boxes will soon be coming to an end, for over the weekend, I made the trek north to my hometown. Finally – home with most of my belongings, my sweet puppy, and my parents. I was so overcome with exhaustion and emotion that one of the first things I did was burst into tears. I couldn’t tell you what emotion that emitted this, but just to have that release made me feel a bit better. And oh, the home-cooked meals! Now, I may know how to cook, but my mom’s cooking blows mine out of the water any day. After eating out for a better part of a week, I was dying for something Southern and homey. And boy did my mom nail it – roasted chicken with “fried” cabbage and broccoli.

Today was the first full day at home and I’ll admit, it was quite the adjustment. I didn’t have to wake up early because I didn’t have an hour commute to work. I was actually able to read and meditate this morning, then cook breakfast as I set up to work for the day. I ate my hot breakfast (hash with eggs) while reading emails and sipping on coffee from a dancing Snoopy mug. It was delightful! Because it’s absolutely frigid in the mornings, I opted to run during my lunch break. Another perk of being home is I could eat my lunch at my desk, not skipping a beat.

All this cold weather got me in the mood for fall even more so than I already was. I had thawed pork loin on my drive home yesterday, but realized around lunch time that I had completely forgotten to start it in the crockpot! I panicked at first and then saw it for the opportunity it really was. I don’t think I’ve ever cooked pork loin just in the oven except maybe one in my life, so this was a chance to try out something new! I perused Pinterest and settled on a very fall-themed dish that was cooked all in one pan. A neighbor gave us sweet potatoes, so I decided they would make a great side to the pork. I already knew I wanted broccoli for dinner (I can never get enough) and was eager to try this new recipe!

Dinner was a success. Not only did my mom not have to cook, but everything new we tried (which was the entire meal) received the seal of a approval from my dad! If you’re a wife, mother, or daughter – you know how important that approval is! I hope you enjoy these two dishes as much as we did! ❤️


Roasted Pork Loin with Apples & Sweet Potatoes

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2 pounds pork tenderloin
Salt and ground pepper, to taste
1 onion, cut into wedges
2 apples, sliced
1/2 cup apple juice
2 T organic apple cider vinegar
1 T Dijon mustard
1 T fresh chopped sage or 1 tsp dried sage
2 large sweet potatoes, skinned and cubed

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  1. Preheat oven at 350F. Lightly grease a roasting pan with cooking spray and set aside.
  2. Season the pork tenderloin with salt and ground pepper; transfer to roasting pan.
  3. Arrange onion wedges, apple slices, and cubed sweet potato around the meat and set aside.
  4. In a small bowl, whisk together apple juice, apple cider vinegar, and mustard until thoroughly combined. Stir in sage.
  5. Pour the apple-dijon mixture over the tenderloin and potatoes.
  6. Cover with foil and roast for 1.5 hours.
  7. After 90 minutes, remove foil and place the pan back in oven. Continue to cook for 20 minutes, until pork is cooked through and potatoes are fork tender.
  8. Remove from oven and slice before serving with vegetables.

 

Roasted Broccoli with Panko Breadcrumbs

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1.5 lbs broccoli
2 T olive oil
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
2 T coconut spread

  1. Preheat the oven to 450F. Lightly coated a baking dish with cooking spray.
  2. Meanwhile, chop up broccoli into florets and place into baking dish.
  3. Toss broccoli with olive oil, salt, pepper, and garlic powder.
  4. Melt coconut spread and pour over the broccoli. Sprinkle with breadcrumbs and mix to coat evenly.
  5. Cook in the oven for 15-20 minutes, until the breadcrumbs are slightly toasted.
  6. Serve immediately with your favorite fall entree!

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Pumpkin for Lunch

One my favorite things about fall is the cooler weather. I know what you’re thinking – “Erin, you have no idea what cool weather is. You lives in Florida.” Well, I do know a thing or two about weather because I haven’t always lived in Florida. And hey, don’t knock Florida – it can get cold down here too!!

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Anyways, as I was saying, I love the feeling of fall. The leaves begin to turn different colors before they make their final descent to the ground. The days shift between bright and sunny to cloudy and almost snowy looking. The winds begin to pick up and there’s a crisp chilliness in the air. Even the air begins to smell sweeter. Everything about this weather makes me want to bundle up in a sweater and sip some hot soup. And so, I thought I would feature some pumpkin soups and stews for you to try. Of course, it’s still a bit warm here, so I’m also sharing a pumpkin salad dressing!

 

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Homemade Pumpkin Puree

  1. Preheat your oven to 350F.
  2. While the oven is pre-heating, rinse off your pumpkin. Use a knife to stab the hard outer shell a few times for ventilation.
  3. Place the whole pumpkin in an 8×8″ glass baking dish, and roast in the oven for 45-60 minutes. Depending on the size of your pumpkin, you may to use a larger pan and bake for longer. You know the pumpkin is ready when the flesh is darker, and the skin can be easily pierced with a fork.
  4. Remove the pumpkin from the oven and carefully cut it in half. Allow to cool for 20-30 minutes, until cool enough to handle.
  5. Use a large spoon to scrape out the seeds, and reserve them for another use (like the pumpkin seeds in my last post!)
  6. Remove the skin and transfer chunks of the cooked pumpkin into a food processor. Blend until a smooth puree is formed. You may have to do this in batches, depending on the size of your pumpkin.
  7. Now you have homemade pumpkin puree to use it in your favorite pumpkin recipes! The puree can be refrigerated for up to a week in a sealed container. It can also be frozen.

 

 

Fall Harvest Salad with Pumpkin Goddess Dressing

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1 cup plain greek yogurt
2 T apple cider vinegar
2 T olive oil
1 T maple syrup
1/2 cup sour cream (I used plain Greek yogurt)
1/3 cup pumpkin puree 
1 teaspoon minced garlic or about ½ teaspoon garlic powder 
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon thyme
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon 

  1. Place all ingredients in a blender and combine. Chill until ready to use. (Super easy, right?)

 

Pumpkin & Red Lentil Soup

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Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 35 minutes
Total Time: 45 minutes

2 tsp olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 cups cubed pumpkin 
1 cup dry red lentils
6 cups water
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cumin
Cayenne pepper to taste
Sea salt and ground black pepper to taste

  1. Heat oil in large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onion and cook, stirring frequently until translucent (about 5-6 minutes).
  2. Add garlic and cook for an additional minute.
  3. Add pumpkin, lentils, and water. Bring to boil.
  4. Reduce heat and cover with a lid. Gently boil for 20 to 25 minutes, or until pumpkin is soft. Remove from heat and allow to cool completely.
  5. Place small batches of soup in a blender or food processor and blend until smooth.
  6. Return soup to sauce pan over medium heat. Add ginger and cumin. Season with cayenne, salt, and pepper, if desired; cook, stirring constantly, until soup is hot.

 

Pumpkin Turkey Chili

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1 medium red onion, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 (4oz) can chopped green chilis 
4 cloves garlic, minced
1.5 lbs ground turkey
1 (14.5oz) can diced tomatoes, undrained
1 (15oz) can pure pumpkin puree
1 (15oz) can cannellini beans (or your fave), drained and rinsed
½ – 1 cup water
1 cup low sodium chicken broth
1 tsp oregano
1 T chili powder
2 tsp ground cumin
½ tsp sea salt
Black pepper, to taste
Red pepper flakes, to taste 

  1. In a skillet, brown the turkey until cooked through, breaking it into smaller pieces.
  2. Add all ingredients to the slow cooker and stir to mix well. Cover and cook on low for 5-6 hours or on high for 3-4 hours.
  3. Serve topped with some plain Greek yogurt, green onions or shredded cheese.

21 day fix counts: 1 Red, 1 Green, 1/3 Purple, 1/3 Yellow, 1 blue (if you add cheese)

Serving size: 1 1/2 cups. Serves 6.

 

 

Pumpkin Thai Soup

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Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 4 hours
Total Time: 4 hours, 10 minutes

1 small onion, diced
1 red pepper, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1 1/2 T Thai red curry paste
3 cups pumpkin puree (canned or homemade)
5 cups chicken broth
1 lime, juice
1/2 tsp sriracha sauce
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1, 13.5 fl oz can coconut milk 
1/3 cup chopped cilantro

  1. Sauté the onion, red pepper, garlic, ginger and curry paste in a non-stick skillet over medium heat. Stir until softened and fragrant, about 2-3 minutes.
  2. Add to the slow cooker, along with the pumpkin puree and chicken broth.
  3. Cook on high for 3-4 hours or low for 6-8 hours. Allow to cool for about an hour.
  4. Pour the cooled soup into a blender and puree until it is completely smooth.
  5. Pour back into the slow cooker. Stir in the coconut milk, lime juice, sriracha, salt, pepper and cilantro.
  6. Cook on low for an additional 20-30 minutes.
  7. Serve with more cilantro, coconut milk and peanuts on top.

Serves 6.

 

Southern Comfort

A few months ago, my coworkers and I were all having lunch. It was your typical lunch – we all brought food from home and were discussing what we were going to be doing for the weekend. Somehow, we got onto the topic of food – Southern food to be specific. One of our coworkers was sharing that even though she had been living in South Carolina prior to moving to Florida, she really hadn’t tried that many Southern dishes. The rest of us, who are truly from the South, naturally started sharing some of our favorite dishes. “Oh my gosh – you’ve never had greens?” and “Oh, what about corn fritters?” were exclaimed as we just couldn’t believe she’d never had these things.

I remember joking about how we should all cook these items and bring them in for her to taste. I went back to my desk and couldn’t shake the idea from my head. I sent an email to the other girls and asked, “What about if we had a Southern style luncheon at someone’s house and everyone made a dish or two?” They were all on board with the idea, so we picked out a date and set it on our calendars (yes – I’m THAT person). Now for the hard part….choosing what to cook! There are so many delicious options out there, from fried chicken to fried catfish, from okra to black-eyed peas, all the way to banana pudding!

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We just hosted our Southern luncheon last weekend, and it was an absolute success! I feel like it should be an annual affair for our circle of friends. Today, I’m sharing the recipes from our party so you can throw your own Southern Comfort party. All the key players are here – from country fried steak, to collard greens, to banana pudding! I know there are several dishes missing, but we’ll get to sample those at the next luncheon we host. But for now, check out these recipes we featured at our very first Southern Charm Luncheon. Be sure to which one is your favorite!

 

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Paula Deen’s Corn Fritters

1-1/4 cups self-rising cornmeal mix
1-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp salt
1 cup milk
2 large eggs, slightly beaten
1/4 cup butter, melted
1, 15.25 oz can corn, drained
Vegetable oil, for frying

  1. Heat oil to 325 degrees F.
  2. In a medium bowl, combine the dry ingredients: cornmeal mix, flour, sugar, and salt.
  3. In a small bowl, combine the milk and eggs. Add the milk mixture to cornmeal mixture, stirring well.
  4. Stir in the butter and corn.
  5. Pour oil to a depth of 2 inches in a Dutch oven or a deep-fryer. Drop batter by tablespoons into hot oil. Cook 2 to 4 minutes, or until golden, turning once.
  6. Drain on paper towels.

 

Deviled Eggs

 

Country Fried Steak & Sausage Gravy

Chicken Fried Steak:

1 1/2 cups whole milk
2 large eggs
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons seasoned salt
Freshly ground black pepper
3/4 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
3 pounds cube steak (tenderized round steak that’s been extra tenderized)
Kosher salt
1/2 cup canola or vegetable oil
1 tablespoon butter
Gravy:

1/3 cup all-purpose flour
3 to 4 cups whole milk
1/2 teaspoon seasoned salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Mashed potatoes, for serving

  1. The first thing you’ll tackle is the steak. Set up an assembly line of two bowls and one plate.
  2. In the first bowl, mix the milk with the eggs. In the second bowl, mix the flour with the seasoned salt, 1 1/2 teaspoons black pepper, paprika, and cayenne pepper. The plate will be at the end of the line and used to hold the breaded meat.
  3. Starting with one piece of meat, sprinkle both sides with black pepper. Next, place it in the flour mixture. Turn to coat both sides evenly.
  4. Dunk the meat into the milk/egg mixture, turning to coat.
  5. Finally, place it back in the flour mixture and turn to coat. Place the breaded meat on the clean plate, then repeat with the remaining meat.
  6. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Drop in a few sprinkles of flour to make sure it’s sufficiently hot. When the butter sizzles immediately, you know it’s ready.
  7. Cook the meat, 3 pieces at a time, until the edges start to look golden brown. This will take about 2 minutes on each side. Remove the meat to a paper towel-lined plate and keep them warm by covering lightly with another plate or a sheet of foil. Repeat until all the meat is cooked. I kept warm on a foil-lined cookie sheet in the oven at 300 degrees.
  8. After all the meat is fried, pour off the grease into a heatproof bowl. Without cleaning the skillet, return it to the stove over medium-low heat. Add 1/4 cup of the grease back to the skillet and allow it to heat up.
  9. Now it’s time for the gravy. When the grease is hot, sprinkle the flour evenly over the grease. Using a whisk, mix the flour with the grease, creating a golden-brown paste.
  10. Add more flour if it looks overly greasy; add a little more grease if it becomes too pasty/clumpy.
  11. Keep cooking until the roux reaches a deep golden brown color.
  12. Pour in the milk, whisking constantly. Add the seasoned salt and black pepper to taste and cook, whisking, until the gravy is smooth and thick, 5 to 10 minutes.
  13. Be prepared to add more milk if it becomes overly thick. Be sure to taste to make sure gravy is sufficiently seasoned.
  14. Serve the meat topped with the delicious gravy!

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Buttermilk Drop Biscuits

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
1 tsp sugar
¾ tsp salt
1 cup buttermilk, chilled
8 tablespoons butter, melted and slightly cooled

  1. Heat oven to 475 degrees F. Line a cookie or baking sheet with parchment. Grease with cooking spray.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients.
  3. In a measuring cup, stir together the chilled buttermilk and melted butter until the butter forms small clumps.
  4. Stir the buttermilk mixture into the flour mixture with a rubber spatula just until the ingredients are incorporated.
  5. Using a greased ¼-cup measuring cup, drop the dough aonto the prepared baking sheet, spacing about 1 ½ inches apart.
  6. Bake the biscuits for 12-14 minutes, until the tops are golden brown and crisp.
  7. Serve warm with your favorite jam, butter, honey, or gravy!

 

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“Lightened Up” Paula Deen’s Macaroni & Cheese

2 cups uncooked elbow macaroni
2½ cups grated sharp, low-fat cheddar cheese
½ cup light sour cream
1, 10.75 oz. can condensed cheddar cheese soup
½ tsp salt
1 cup skim milk
½ tsp dry mustard
½ tsp black pepper

  1. Boil the macaroni in water for six minutes. Drain and set aside.
  2. While the macaroni is cooking, combing butter and cheese in a medium saucepan. Stir until the cheese melts.
  3. In slow cooker, combine cheese mixture, sour cream, soup, salt, milk, mustard and pepper. Add the drained macaroni and stir again.
  4. Cook on low for 2½ hours, stirring occasionally. Serve immediately with your favorite entree!

 

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Slow Cooked Creamed Corn

3 (15.25-ounces) cans whole kernel corn or 8 ears of corn, cooked and drained
1 cup milk
1 T sugar
1/4 tsp pepper
8 oz. cream cheese, cubed
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into thin slices

  1. Place corn into a slow cooker. Stir in milk, sugar and pepper until well combined. Without stirring, top with butter and cream cheese.
  2. Cover and cook on high heat for 2-3 hours.
  3. Uncover and stir until butter and cream cheese are well combined. Cover and cook on high heat for an additional 15 minutes.
  4. Serve immediately.

 

Southern Collard Greens

64 oz. chicken broth 
1/2  onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, crushed
2 smoked ham hocks
2 lbs. fresh collard greens, washed, trimmed
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon pepper
2 T white vinegar

  1. In 10-quart stockpot, heat broth over medium-high heat. Add onion, garlic and ham hock and bring to a boil.
  2. Carefully add collards greens, one bag at a time. Once greens have wilted, stir in salt, pepper and vinegar.
  3. Cover and cook on low for 2 hours or until greens reach your desired tenderness.
  4. Remove ham hock. Remove ham from bone; discard bone. Shred ham; return to stockpot and stir.
  5. Serve warm with black-eyed peas and pepper sauce.

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Southern-Style Black-Eyed Peas

1 cup dried black-eyed peas
Water
2 T butter
1/4 cup onion, finely diced
1 smoked ham hock
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper

  1. Soak peas in 6 cups water overnight (10-12 hours). I know it may be tempting but trust me – don’t skip this step.
  2. Drain peas, rinse well with cold water, and then drain again. Set aside.
  3. In a large stock pot, sauté onion in butter until onion is translucent and tender.
  4. Add 2 cups water, black-eyed peas, ham hock, 1 teaspoon salt and pepper to pot.
  5. Cover and simmer over medium-low heat for 4 hours, stirring occasionally.
  6. If you have more liquid than you’d like, simmer on medium heat, uncovered, until liquid has reduced to your liking.

 

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Lemon Garlic Brussel Sprouts

1 lb. Brussels sprouts, rinsed and dried, ends trimmed, sliced in half lengthwise
2 – 3 cloves garlic, minced
2 T extra virgin olive oil
2 tsp fresh lemon juice
1/2 tsp fine sea salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a cookie sheet with foil and grease with cooking spray.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, drizzle Brussels sprouts and garlic with the olive oil and lemon juice. Quickly toss, then sprinkle with salt and pepper. Toss again before spreading them evenly onto a cookie sheet.
  3. Bake in preheated oven, until golden brown on edges, about 25 – 30 minutes.
  4. Serve warm topped with parmesan cheese.

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Southern Style, Not-Your-Mama’s Banana Pudding 

4 bananas, sliced
3 cups milk
1 box Nilla Wafers
2 small boxes instant French Vanilla pudding
1, 8 oz. pkg. cream cheese
1, 14oz. can sweetened condensed milk
1, 12 oz. container Cool Whip

  1. Line the bottom of a 9×13 pan with Nilla Wafers.
  2. Slice the bananas and lay evenly on top of the wafers.
  3. In a bowl, combine the milk and pudding mix and blend using a handheld mixer.
  4. In a separate bowl, mix together cream cheese & condensed milk until smooth. Gradually fold in Cool Whip.
  5. Add the cream cheese mixture to the pudding mix & stir until well blended.
  6. Pour evenly over the bananas. Place the remaining Nilla Wafers on top of the mix. Chill until ready to eat!

 

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I’ll leave you with this tasty idea – sweet tea vodka mixed with sweet or unsweet tea. Nothing says southern like a nice, cool glass of iced tea! It’s only fitting to have a little bit of the sweet tea vodka mixed in!

The Wheel of Life

A few weeks ago, I talked about trying to find balance in life and how it’s never going to be possible. You’ll wind up driving yourself nuts while trying to find it. I know I’ve struggled with the internal argument that I’m just not good enough and I’m failing because I’m not able to do everything and balance everything. If you’re feeling this way, STOP. It is not possible for one person to achieve the perfect balance.

Since this earlier post, I’ve had several people reach out to me asking how I completed this. I actually wasn’t quite thrilled with the balance wheel that I used in my last post. I felt that there were a few areas of life that still needed to be addressed when talking about living a balanced life. For example, what about self-fulfillment, home, and passion? These are all areas that I feel we really should focus on in order to consider ourselves as a whole individual. I decided to create my own balance wheel and share with you how to perform this exercise. I also have a next step to this exercise that I will share later in this post.

My Life Balance Wheel has 12 spokes to it, each representing an area of our lives. These key areas of our lives are listed below, along with a brief description of each area:

  • Spiritual: your spiritual connection with a higher power (whatever you believe or don’t believe in)
  • Fitness: the physical activities you participate in
  • Home: the environment that you live in
  • Love & Relationships: the romantic relationships that you are a part of
  • Self-fulfillment: what you are doing to make yourself happy
  • Passion: the activities that you do/participate in that fuel your passion(s)
  • Wealth & Finance: your financial outlook, stability, and planning
  • Career/Study: what you do for a living or study in preparation for a career
  • Family: all relationships with family members
  • Health: your health – physical, mental, and emotional
  • Service/Community: your interaction with the world and your community
  • Social: your relationships with friends and social interactions/activities

Now that you have a basic idea of each area that you’ll be “rating” yourself on, it’s time to dive into the fun! But first, we have to do one preliminary step. I want you to take a deep breath. In fact, I want you to take a few deep breaths – in through your nose and out through your mouth. Gather your thoughts and your materials. All you really need is yourself,  your  Life Balance Wheel worksheet (balance-wheel), and something to color with.

Now that you have everything and you’ve centered yourself, you can begin. Start on whichever area that speaks to you first and ask yourself, “How balanced or satisfied do I feel in this area?” Don’t spend a lot of time really analyzing; give yourself 5-7 seconds and go with your gut reaction. Based on your thoughts, give yourself a score from 1-10 based on how balanced and satisfied you feel in that area. The higher the score, the more balanced you feel. Once you’ve decided on the ranking, color in that many sections for that area’s spoke. Repeat this for each of the 12 area spokes.

After you’ve completed the wheel, take a minute to review your life as it’s laid out before you, because that’s essentially what this is. It’s a snapshot of your life as you see it at this very moment. I’ve completed one of these wheels for the past 3 months and I can say that each month is different, even if it’s just one area. The overall goal is to get something that faintly resembles a circle or oval shape. As you can probably imagine, this isn’t usually the case and most certainly isn’t the way mine looked in any of the 3 months I’ve been completing them.

August 2016

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October 2016

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November 2016

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Remember, this is just a snapshot of your life at this moment. And as I’ve been saying, it isn’t possible for us to achieve absolute balance in all areas of our life. Based on the season of life that we’re in, we will fluctuate between which areas we feel more balanced in. If you’re being absolutely honest with yourself, you will have areas that are low – it’s natural. Remember, this is not a competition to see how many areas of your life can be ranked with a score of 10!

Ok, now that we’ve gotten that straight – let’s look at your wheel carefully. Look at the areas where you rated yourself with a 5 or below. Because our scale is based on scores of 1-10, a five means that you feel 50% or less balanced in this area. These are the areas that you may feel that you are lacking in and would like to grow in. On a separate piece of paper, write down the areas that you scored 5 or below.

Next, look at each of these areas and think of how we could increase the balance in this area. I hesitate to say the word “improve” because we don’t need to be better in any particular area. The goal of this exercise is to determine where you may feel un-balanced and work towards finding a more balanced and peaceful feeling. So, look at where you stand at this moment in each area and just write down something you can do to make yourself feel more satisfied in that area.

For example, I scored myself at a 5 or below in six key life areas. For each area, I wrote down something I felt would help me to increase my satisfaction in each area:

  • Spiritual (score – 5): meditation; journaling
  • Love & Relationships (score – 2): couples therapy; controlled communication with my husband
  • Self-fulfillment (score – 4): continue blogging, reading, and running
  • Passion (score – 5): continue blogging & reading
  • Career (score – 3): continue exploring options for a new career path
  • Service (score – 2): look for volunteer opportunities

Now, I want to take this exercise a step further. While it’s fantastic to feel very satisfied and balanced in some areas, we must realize that in order to feel more balanced in the lower-scored area, we’ll need to let some things go. Since it’s not possible to be fully balanced in all 12 areas, we need to understand what areas we could afford to lower our satisfaction in.

For example, I scored myself at an 8 in the area of fitness and 7 in the area of health. I know that in order to increase my satisfaction in the areas of career and spiritual, it will require me lowering some of my focus on my fitness. I spend at least 30 minutes a day (usually an hour if it’s a run day) working out. I workout and run every morning, which means I’m up around 5:15am. By the time I finish working out, I have about half an hour to shower and get ready before I have to make the hour commute to work. This leaves me zero time to work on improving my spiritual connection in the morning, but for me, that’s the best time of day to meditate. If I want to increase my balance with meditation I’m faced with a choice: wake up earlier, cut down on my workout time, or re-arrange my workout and meditation schedule. In any of these situations, I’m going to be lowering some area – whether it be sleep, working out, or another area of my life after work.

Now do you see what I mean about not being able to balance it ALL? I can’t stress it enough. Don’t be upset!! This is why we’re doing this exercise: to be able to realize what areas are important to us and what areas we can afford to lower our expectations in.

Now comes the second part of this exercise: the priorities and goals wheel! We’ve identified the areas that we want to improve in, along with something we can do to increase our satisfaction in each area. We’ve also identified the areas that we may need to lower our activities in order reach the necessary balance we crave.

First, we need to prioritize the areas of our life. Looking at the 12 areas, rank them in order of priority. For me, spiritual and career are the main areas that I feel very strongly about. So, they will be at the top of my list:

  1. Career
  2. Spiritual
  3. Love & Relationships
  4. Fitness
  5. Self-fulfillment
  6. Health
  7. Passion
  8. Family
  9. Service
  10. Wealth & Finance
  11. Home
  12. Social

Now, based on the first 9 areas that you have listed, we’re going to come up with a small goal to reach a better balance.

  1. Career: look into school options for continuing education
  2. Spiritual: meditating 2-3 days a week
  3. Love & Relationships: have open communication (phone calls, texts, emails) with my husband
  4. Fitness: develop a maintenance running program through Christmas (so I’m lowering my workout time 3-4 days a week)
  5. Self-fulfillment: read a personal development book
  6. Health: continue individual therapy for trama
  7. Passion: launch new blog and continue my blog
  8. Family: build a stronger relationship with my parents
  9. Service: volunteer somewhere during holiday season

As you can see from my example, these are small goals that can be achieved in a few months. I’ve set my goal deadline for the end of 2016, which means I have a little less than 8 weeks to work on these goals. The key here is to not overwhelm yourself. On a sheet of paper, write down each goal for the first 9 areas.

Now for the fun part – it’s time to create our own Life Balance Wheel of Goals. For this activity, you’ll need:

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  • Triangle shapes – I bought wooden chalkboard triangles that are part of a banner from Michael’s
  • Chalk or chalk markers
  • Your goals sheet from earlier

On each of your triangles, write the area name (ex. Spiritual) and write your goal (ex. meditate 2-3 days). Repeat this until all 9 triangles have your 9 areas of focus and goals. Now, lay the triangles out next to each other in order to form a pinwheel shape. Now you have your Life Balance Wheel of Goals!

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Now, how do you keep yourself motivated to stay on track with accomplishing your goals? First and foremost, you have to keep the wheel where you can see it. I’m a firm believer in visual stimulus when it comes to working towards a goal. When you’re losing weight, putting up a photo of what you want to look like or a tally sheet to cross off the pounds as you lose them is extremely motivating. Depending on what’s best for you, you can choose a few different ways to display your wheel.

  1. You can take a picture of your wheel and save it to your phone’s background or screen saver, or load it as the desktop background on your computer.
  2. You can lay lay your wheel out on a table or counter where it won’t be disturbed and yet in a place that you’ll see it every day.
  3. You can put velcro on the back of each triangle and the corresponding Velcro on a board. Attach the triangles to the board and display it somewhere you can see every day.

Seriously, just find any place you can display your wheel of goals so you’ll see it every day.

Another great way to stay on track is to find an accountability partner. Find someone who you can share your goals with and check in with on a regular basis to keep you on track. For example, I have an accountability partner for my meditation and my personal development reading. Anytime that I meditate, we text one another with a simple “meditated today”. For my therapy sessions, I have an accountability partner in my therapist by showing up to the actual sessions. For my blogs, I have a daily reminder of something I should be working on, whether it be research or actual blogging. For my group blog, we have weekly Zoom calls to make sure we stay on track and reach our weekly goals. Having someone to check in with is extremely helpful to keeping yourself on track.

Finally, have a weekly check-in with yourself. That’s right – set up a mini meeting with you once a week to review your goals. I like to do mine on Monday morning, just so I can sett the tone for the week. If I notice an area that I’ve been neglecting, I can make a note to give that area a little extra focus for the next few days. This not only gives me a head start on the week, but it also allows me a chance to check in with my goals. Ultimately, we want to be self-motivated to accomplish these goals. We are the ones that want to accomplish more balance in our lives, so we need to hold ourselves accountable!

If you have any questions at all, I’m here to help! Good luck and don’t forget to have fun!!

 

Pumpkin for Snacking

Ah, the first day of November is finally here. I know fall began about 5 weeks ago, but for me, fall doesn’t really seem to set in until after Halloween is over with. Don’t get me wrong – Halloween is a fun holiday and probably the reason for the pumpkin craze. But if you ask me, Thanksgiving and Christmas are two of my favorite holidays. It’s probably because they both involve family and food – two of my favorite things!

If you’ve been following me, you know that I love finding ways to incorporate pumpkin into the many meals we eat throughout the day. Today’s focus is snacks. For me, I always have a shake as my mid-morning snack. These are a great source of protein and serve as a pick-me-up for that slump that seems to come on before lunchtime. I’m an early riser (5am wake-up calls), so by 10:30am I’m in need of a serious boost. I used to eat a really large breakfast, thinking that this would help tide me over to lunch. Well, it did but I would wind up feeling pretty tired. This was because I was eating too much food in one sitting. By breaking out my meals, I actually stay more awake, more focused, and feel less bloated.

Now, there’s also that afternoon snack that we all know and love! Some of us call it dessert time, but for me, it’s another chance to get some protein in. I try to get my starches in by 1pm so I have plenty of time to digest them. This means that my afternoon snacks are usually fruit or veggie based along with some form of protein. But sometimes, you just need something a little salty and crunchy! Pumpkin seeds are an excellent alternative to the all too accessible potato chips. Another better-for-you choice is hummus. You can pair veggies with it instead of pita chips!

Below are just a few of my favorite pumpkin-themed snacks. Check these out, try them out, and let me know which one is your favorite!  ❤️

 

Pumpkin Pie Smoothie

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1 banana, chopped
1/2 cup pumpkin puree
1 teaspoon agave nectar
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
3 T unsweetened almond milk
3/4 cup Greek yogurt
Ice

Blend & enjoy ❤️

Peanut Butter Pumpkin Shake

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1 scoop Vanilla Shakeology
1 cup water
1/2 cup pumpkin puree
1 teaspoon peanut butter
1/4 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 cup Greek yogurt (optional)
Ice

Blend & enjoy ❤️

 

Pumpkin Seeds

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  1. Heat your oven to 325 degrees.
  2. Rinse your pumpkin seeds by placing them in a bowl filled with water. Let sit for 10-15 minutes, allowing the “gunk” of the pumpkin to drop towards the bottom.
  3. Using a slotted spoon, scoop out the seeds and lay them on a paper towel. Pat dry.
  4. Line a cookie sheet with foil and grease with cooking spray or olive oil. Place the seeds on the foil and drizzle with olive oil.
  5. Choose your flavor and mix the seasonings. Note: measurements shown below are for each 1/2 cup of pumpkin seeds. So if you have 1 cup of seeds, you’ll want to double the ingredients.
  6. Sprinkle the seasonings on top of your seeds and stir to coat.
  7. Place pan in the oven for 10 minutes. At 10 minutes, remove and stir. Place back in the oven for another 10 minutes. Continue cooking in 10-minute increments so as not to burn the seeds.
  8. Remove from the oven and allow to cool before serving.

Ranch

1 teaspoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon parsley
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon dill
1/8 teaspoon dry mustard
1/8 teaspoon celery seed
1/8 teaspoon paprika
1/8 teaspoon black pepper

Cinnamon Sugar

1 teaspoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon brown sugar
Pinch of salt

Sweet & Spicy

1 teaspoon olive oil
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/8 teaspoon black pepper

 

Pumpkin Hummus with Cinnamon-Sugar Tortilla Chips

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Hummus

1 cup chickpeas
3/4 cup pumpkin puree
1/4 cup maple syrup
2 tsp pumpkin pie spice
2 tsp coconut oil, melted

Chips

8 whole wheat tortilla
1 T coconut oil, melted
Stevia
Cinnamon

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and coat a cookie sheet with melted coconut oil. Set aside.
  2. Drain the chickpeas and spread them out on a paper towel. Gently squeeze each chickpea until the thin, papery skin comes off. This is called de-skinning. Repeat with remaining chickpeas.
  3. Place the chickpeas, pumpkin, maple syrup, pumpkin pie spice, and 2 tsps of coconut oil into a small food processor. Process until smooth, stopping to scrape downy the sides every so often.
  4. Cut each tortilla into 6-8 triangles (depending on the size of your tortillas) and lay them on the oiled cookie sheet. Brush with 1/2 of the melted coconut oil and then sprinkle with cinnamon and Stevia.
  5. Bake the tortilla chips for 10-12 minutes, or until lightly golden.
  6. Drizzle the hummus with additional melted coconut oil, if desired, and serve with your cinnamon sugar tortilla chips!

 

The Best of: Candy Shakeology

My mission this Halloween season was simple – find the best candy-flavored Shakeology recipes to cure my sugar cravings without all the guilt and acne! Yes, I said it – I may be 30 years old, but chocolate definitely makes me break out! But I love chocolate, so it’s something I’ve always had to struggle with. Thankfully, Shakeology doesn’t make me have to choose public ridicule and massive insecurity about how my face (or body) looks and feels. I can indulge in chocolate goodness and not fret!!

So, I spent the last 14 days trying different Shakeology recipes to find the ones that tasted the best. Read on below for my top 5 choices!

5. Twix Bar

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1 scoop Chocolate Shakeology
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup unsweetened almond milk
1/2 tsp caramel extract
1 graham cracker (or 3 crumbled Biscoff cookies)
1 cup ice cubes

Blend and enjoy!

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4. Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup

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1 scoop Chocolate Shakeology
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup unsweetened almond milk
1 tsp peanut butter
1 cup ice cubes

Blend and enjoy!

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3. York Peppermint Patty

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1 scoop Chocolate Shakeology
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup unsweetened almond milk
1/2 tsp peppermint extract
1 cup ice cubes

Blend and enjoy!

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2. Milk Way

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1 scoop Chocolate Shakeology
1/2 cup water
1 tsp caramel extract
1 tsp peanut butter
1 frozen banana
1 cup ice cubes

Blend and enjoy!

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1. Caramel Turtle Shakeology

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1 scoop Chocolate
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup unsweetened almond milk
1 tsp caramel extract
1 tsp PB2 or peanut butter
1 tsp slivered almonds
1 cup ice cubes

Blend and enjoy!

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