balance, change, communication, energy, New Year, peace, prayer, resolutions, The Savvy Kitchenista

May PEACE Be With You…

The New Year for me is an exciting time where I lay out all my dreams, goals, and ambitions and tell myself “you can do this”. And, just like 95% of the population, I quickly lose sight of my goals and drop the ball by January 31st. In fact, did you know there’s a national “holiday” called Ditch Your Resolutions day and it’s to be celebrated January 17th, 2017??

Something that I really struggled with in 2016 was the ever elusive “balance”. I’ve written several posts earlier this fall about how I’ve chosen to deal with my uphill battle. And I’ve really had to come to terms with two things. One – balance will never truly exist because some area of your life will have just a tad bit more priority over another area. Two – balance is an action, a verb; not a place. This means that we will constantly be working to maintain or reach a good balance, but we’ll never just be there. That nirvana just doesn’t exist in the real world.

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Coming to terms with this alone really helped bring me some solace. But it of course didn’t resolve the issues I was finding myself having. I was constantly wanting to do more and finding myself with less and less time. In the beginning, I just thought I needed to structure my free time better in order to accomplish everything. Yes, you read that right – structure my free time. I like staying busy because I feel like I’m accomplishing things and when it’s something I’m extremely passionate about, I’ll get it all I’ve got and won’t think twice about it.

But as I devoted more time and attention to the things that I found important and valuable, other areas of my life began to suffer. I had a frustrated spouse who didn’t get why I was constantly writing or reading. I had a sad puppy who just wanted to cuddle on my lap where my laptop would now be perched. Even the dishes in my sink and the laundry in our closet began to feel neglected. So what did I do? I took a “me” day and tried to give myself a schedule of how to fit it all in.

By now, you’re probably shaking your head and thinking, “she’s seriously crazy”. And maybe I was. But I was determined to achieve the goal that I had set for myself and it meant sacrificing a little bit of time now, it was worth it. Right?

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Wrong. As you could probably have predicted, things began to tumble down. The areas of my life that I had spent so much time and focus on stayed strong, but those that I didn’t pay attention to came crumbling down like an avalanche. And that is when I realized that I wasn’t really focused on balancing my entire life, but just on the areas where I felt I was being meaningful and helpful. And that is how I came across The Life Balance Wheel.

Throughout the fall, I spent a lot of time trying to recalibrate my life so that the spokes of my wheel were more equal. As you can tell, the Health/Fitness spoke started off as a really high area of focus in my life, with all other areas very low in comparison. I learned the hard way that I couldn’t do it all, so I began to lessen my focus fitness (less workouts) and used that extra time in others, like Spiritual and Passion. But I still was struggling – I felt overwhelmed and when I get overwhelmed, my agitation and anxiety goes through the roof.

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And then, I stumbled across this book one day on Amazon (don’t you just love their recommendations??) and thought, “eh, why not?” It took me awhile to start reading it (you know, because I was busy doing everything else), but once I began I couldn’t put it down. And it’s a very short read, so I finished it in less than 2 days. The best part was, what the author said made sense. And because I found it so helpful, I thought I would share some ways that it helped me as we wind 2016 down.

Now, I’m not going to tell you everything that’s in the book, because then you won’t go read it! Instead, I just want to give you a quick preview of what Joyce E Brooks talks about. It all begins with PEACE – her strategy for achieving work-life balance.

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  • Not having peace about something affects how balanced your world will be.
  • We must be thankful for what we have and how God has blessed us. If we can’t be grateful for what we have, we’ll constantly be blocked from having more.

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  • Adrenaline, coffee, 5-hour energy – all of these things only go so far!
  • What do we sacrifice in order to do it all? I sacrifice sleep, which affects my hunger, my clarity, and ultimately my sanity.
  • We must take care of our Body, Mind, and Soul:
    • Body: exercise
    • Mind: sleep, meditation
    • Soul: spiritual growth and connection
  • “The soul is like a bank account – the more deposits you make, the more dividends the account will pay.”

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  • Attitude is all about perspective.
  • Attitude is also about choices – how do we choose to respond?
  • “There is good in everything. You must have the right attitude and choose to see it.”

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In order to be a successful communicator, you must learn to do three things:

  1. Learn to say NO. If you don’t know how to say NO nicely, then try this:
    1. Express appreciation: “Thank you very much for thinking of me”
    2. Acknowledge the request: “And asking for my assistance with carpooling”
    3. Tell the truth: “I’m not sure how that will work with my schedule; I need to check my calendar. Can I get back to you?”
  2. Listen and learn from the wisdom of others. You don’t know everything.
  3. Ask for help – you never know when you might need someone’s help!

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  • Life is a gift – every morning we wake up alive is a gift.
  • Make sure that in every day, you leave a little time for JOY and simple pleasures.
  • “Joy is an emotion that is generated by your internal outlook on the external world…Joy is dependent upon you!”

 

As I’ve said over and over again (and I’ll say it again) – balance is something that you work for, but isn’t a destination. Life will always be a bit off balance, but it is possible to make it livable. It all depends on your priorities, your goals, your willingness, and your mindset! I’ll be continuing my journey into 2017 and can’t wait to share with ya’ll the new tips I pick up along the way!

Oh, and if you like what you read, be sure to pick up a copy of The Self-Inflicted Overload by Joyce E. Brooks!

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anxiety, attitude, faith, Flashback Friday, friendship, Gabby Bernstein, gratitude, loss, love, love yourself, marriage, meditation, motivation, positivity, purpose, relationships, self-confidence, self-fulfillment, self-love, setting goals, sharing, stress, thankfulness, trust, Universe

A Look Back on 2016

The New Year. A chance for fresh starts; a chance to start over. A clean slate, if you will. A time for rejoicing and celebration. A time for recording and reflection. A time for looking forward with bright, starry eyes and all the determination in the world. “I will do this,” you tell yourself. And in this very moment, on the precipice of a new year, you believe it.

Every year, I going the majority of society in making bold goals for myself and promising myself that “this year will be different; this year will be the BEST ever.” And as I close this year, I would like nothing more to continue with this sentiment. But in order to truly make the best plans for the upcoming year, it only makes sense to reflect on the year. And it wasn’t until I thought about this a few nights ago that I realized – I’ve been skipping this step every year.

If you’ve had a pretty difficult year and keep repeating the sentiment, “Next year is going to be so much better; it has to be better than this”, chances are you the reflection won’t be very difficult for you. I know for me, I can rattle off at least 5 things in 30 seconds that I am looking to improve.

  • Faith.
  • Career.
  • Love.
  • Relationships.
  • Direction.

And honestly, I feel that you should take a moment to reflect back on the year. But instead of wallowing in the pain or angrily beating your fists in the air over the events, we should try to look at things objectively. The year couldn’t have been ALL that bad. I mean, we’re still alive, right? That’s a plus. So, in the faith of being fair, let’s look back at the past year and review what went well and what went not as swell.

 


The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly

Let’s start with the Bad & Ugly – get the worst out of the way and then end on a positive note.

If I had to sum 2016 up in one negative word, that word would be: loss.

  • Loss of best friends
  • Loss of love
  • Loss of home
  • Loss of family
  • Loss of trust/faith

In the earlier half of this year, I lost a dear friend of mine. No, they didn’t die physically, but in my mind and my world, they might as well have. I’ve had a best friend since college and we went through everything together – boyfriends, houses, jerks, classes, jobs. You name it, there was a story for it. We had drifted off a few times – when she moved to south Florida for grad school, then again when she moved to Atlanta and Texas with someone. She wound up back in town shortly after I met my husband, and ended up dating his brother.

There is a lot of back story here that I’m not going to go into (that would probably take a week’s worth of blog posts), but the gist of it is this: she was newly single; his brother was new to the area and starting over. They of course started seeing each other because he was living with us and she came over a lot to see me. What no one realizes about best friends and brothers dating is that no matter what, you get entangled in each other’s relationships. When things are going great, all is well. But when something is off, we’re going to complain to each other and naturally take sides. Which puts the couples at odds against each other – no matter how you look at it.

And that, my friends, is exactly what we were afraid of happening and after 3 years it did. And it was stressful. I’m going to be honest with you – my marriage definitely suffered from it. I naturally saw her side of the story and my husband sided with his brother. A house divided, unknowingly. When they split we thought it would calm down, but it got worse. Nearly tore my world apart at one point. From that point on, I chose to distance myself in order to preserve my relationship.

When they re-united and acted as nothing happened, it was very difficult for me to understand. Their split had nearly torn my own marriage apart as I took her side and helped her through some of the worst of time. And then to say nothing every was wrong; that he’d been there through it all. I was flabbergasted. I very politely said that I felt it was best we not involve each other in our relationships, just because of how stressful it had been on us. Well, that lead up to us not speaking. Which has now resulted in over 6 months of almost total silence. Going from talking to someone everyday to nothing – that’s extremely tough.

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That seemed to be just the tipping point for me too. Next up on the list was my actual relationship. Underneath what appeared to be a happy exterior, there was a good deal of unhappy emotions rumbling around. Anger. Discontentment. Disappointment. Fear. Sadness. Longing. Distraction. Uncertainty. Distance. All of these and so many more were lurking around the rooms of my house. They would explode every once in awhile, but as the summer progressed, any sort of happiness was overwhelmed by these emotions.

Have you ever had someone describe a situation to you and they say, “it was like a dream – I thought for sure I would wake up and it would be just a really bad dream?” I never experienced that until this year and trust me, it’s a terrible dream that would beg God to wake you up from. In the course of 24 hours, I lost my relationship, my house, and my future as I knew it. Talk about a shot to the heart and the gut. If you woke up tomorrow and everything you knew and had created was just *poof* gone, I imagine your reaction would be close to mine.

I chose to push through mine. I let as few people know as possible what was going on and just tried to make it until the weekend. Scratch that – just try and make it through the day. To make it out of work without bursting into a puddle of tears and divulging what was really going on – how your world was really falling apart. That was my life for almost 2 weeks. Not knowing what I was coming home to – the home that really didn’t feel like home anymore and the man that didn’t feel like my husband anymore.

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And I loathe change. I am a planner and I had my future all planned out. Our future. I had been tucking away every little penny I had and putting it into savings. There was a baby savings account and a home savings account. My goal was to have enough for a house downpayment by the end of 2017. We were looking at different job opportunities for him so that he could utilize his new license, which he had slaved and studied for most of 2015. We even got the bigger house in case we needed to stay a few more years – the 3rd bedroom was going to be the baby room.

So going from that loving environment and mindset, where we were putting in 110% to make all of these dreams possible, to questioning everything you thought you knew…I think that would upset anyone. I had a choice – try to forgive and forget OR get the heck out before something worse could happen. In every instance where something like this had occurred before, I had gotten out. And those instances weren’t as serious as this one. But now I was married – how do you leave someone that you love and adore; someone you vowed to stand by, “through sickness and health, til death do we part”? How do you do this??

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I’ll let you know when I’ve completed that journey. I chose the latter – the safer decision. It was, hands down, the most difficult decision I’ve ever had to make. More difficult that losing a best friend; more difficult than leaving any ex; more difficult than quitting a job that was financially stable for one that I was more passionate about. As someone told me, there will never be a good time for this and nothing could ever prepare you for this situation. But you’re here now, so you have to make the most rational and logical decision – for YOU. And that is the advice that I took and have been repeating to myself for the past 3 months as I’ve re-learned a whole new way of life.

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A new world without him in it. I thought it was hard losing my best friend who I text with everyday. Losing the person that you woke up to. That person you kissed good-morning, good-bye, and good-night. That person that you text throughout the day – reminders, emojis, questions, advice, news, motivation. That person who playfully chased the dog around and snuck up behind you to steal attention as you tried to cook dinner. That person you shared dinner with every night. That person whose touch made you instantly feel like you were home. Their kiss. Their hugs. Their hand holding yours. All of it. Gone.

Talk about the world just crumbling down. And that, my friends, is how I lost everything. I lost my love. I left the home that we had begun to build together. I lost the future family that we had been trying to build. I lost my faith and trust in something I had pledged my faith, trust, and loyalty to.


And now…for the Good

Despite all of the craziness that went on this year, there were a lot of positive things that did happen to me. A good word to summarize the positive aspects of 2016 would have to be “growth”.

  • Self-confidence
  • Self-love
  • Self-respect
  • Let go
  • Use your support system
  • Have faith

I gained all sorts of “self” stuff this year. I would love to say that I merely improved myself a little more than last year in the areas self-confidence, self-love, and self-respect but…then I would be lying to you. It’s no secret that I’ve always struggled in these areas. I’ve always sought external satisfaction and fulfillment in these areas of my life and come up very short. I am known for asking everyone else’s opinion instead of valuing my own; for relying on others compliments and still couldn’t look in the mirror and believe that what they were saying was true. Whenever something ever went wrong in a situation, I’m the first to say “I’m sorry”, even though 9 time out of 10, it wasn’t remotely my fault.

This last feature has come up time and time again in my relationships, friendships, and careers. I will do anything and everything to help you out, even if it means putting myself out. If I have to work later hours because I feel like I should help you on your project, I’ll do it. If you give me a project that is so obviously not my responsibility, I’ll still do it because I don’t want to let you down and (honestly) because I value your opinion of me more so than respecting myself to realize you’re (probably) taking advantage of me. And don’t get me started on relationships. Anytime something goes wrong, I will take the blame for it. The traffic on the way somewhere; the food not being cooked the right way (at home or at the restaurant); the abuse – I always told myself it was something I had done wrong.

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This year, that all changed in a very big way. I don’t know what exactly triggered it, but I slowly began to gain self-confidence. I began to feel proud of what I was doing – the projects I was working on, the goals I was working towards achieving. It felt good to even have a goal in mind other than “get pregnant”. And when issues would rise up here and there – the same issues that had occurred before – I had a very different reaction. I began to focus on what made me feel better and what would help to me to reach a happier place. This sort of self-improvement was new to my environment and I think the growth was troubling to others in my life. And when the losses began to occur in my life, I became that more determined to get to a happier place.

I wish I could tell you that I am in that heavenly happy place where I 100% believe that I am the bomb diggity 24/7. But, I would be lying. I’m no where near “healed” or perfect. I still have doubts and troubling thoughts that haunt the outskirts of my mind, whispering to me, “this is all your fault…you’re a disgrace…you’re the reason this all happened…”. It’s a daily struggle to silence those thoughts, but it’s a struggle that’s becoming easier as each day passes. And in the process, I have become much stronger of my convictions and what I deserve.

 

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In addition to all of this self-growth, I learned what really is important. In addition to being a planner, I am super OCD and meticulous. I am very detail-oriented and a self-proclaimed perfectionist. I am notorious for having to-do lists for to-do lists; one for every day of the week. My Outlook calendar is carefully color-coded (that I learned from work) so as I make sure not to forget anything that I need to complete.

As you can imagine, I take pretty much anything I do to the extreme. I like to be fully committed, which can be viewed as a good and bad quality. It’s a fantastic quality in an employee; it’s not such a desirable quality in a partner. I would constantly have something to do, whether it was running errands, working out, meal planning, cooking, painting, cleaning…you get the point. My husband, on the other hand, just wanted to hang out by the pool or watch TV (neither of which were on my to-do list). We often argued because in his eyes, I couldn’t (or wouldn’t) relax. I argued back that most of these things (cooking, painting, running) were relaxing to me.

Over the course of these last 3 months, I’ve learned to let go of a lot of things that 6 months ago would have driven me up a wall. Take for instance my meal plans. When I first moved out and was visiting my parents during their vacation, I had a very hard time adjusting to not being able to cook each meal. Those first few weeks, I nearly had an anxiety attack when I would realize that I couldn’t cook something I had planned on. Don’t laugh – to me it was a way to just have a little bit of control amongst all the chaos that I was living in. But, given the same situation about 4 weeks later, I was much calmer and responded with, “oh ok, that’s cool! What are we eating tonight?” That is incredible growth for me.

In this same manner, I learned to rely on others. I’m known for trying to do everything on my own because…well, I feel that I can do everything. Is it also an underlying need for control? Absolutely – I’m not going to lie to you. I am terrified of losing control and by handling everything, I know that if it does all fall down, I only have myself to blame (see…there’s that blame game again). But this year, I really learned a lesson in control and having to relinquish it in order to maintain my sanity.

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When everything began to crumble down, I was faced with a choice: let others know what was going on and ask for help or try to muddle through it on my own (which is secretly what I had been doing for months). But unlike the earlier years of my relationship, 2016 had brought about a lot of new friendships and reconnections. I had rekindled several friendships from high school and college, which quickly grew to be some of the strongest friendships. We jumped back into the friendship, as if no time had passed at all. So when I was faced with the decision of going it alone or asking for help, I chose to reach out.

I shared my story with those closest to me. That alone was difficult for me – to open myself up like that to my closest friends and family; for them to know what was and had been going on for several months. At first, I was worried of being judged and ridiculed (probably why I kept it in hidden for so long). But not once did anyone make comments. Instead, I was surrounded with love and understanding, which is honestly what I needed at that moment. I had friends open their arms and their homes to me, asking how they could help. Others who weren’t nearby offered words of encouragement, motivation, and support. Through the entire ordeal, I never for a moment felt that I was alone and that was the time that I needed support the most.

 

Finally, 2016 brought an awakening to the spiritual area of my life – an area I have long neglected. In conjunction with my fear of losing control, I have an extremely difficult time having faith. I am always looking for the other shoe to drop, as my mom puts it. I will dig and search and analyze until I find the worst possible outcome – then set myself up for that possibility. I know, it’s horrible – how does one even live like that? To not have faith in the unknown and believe and trust that there is a bigger picture….I’ve just never had enough trust to believe in all of it.

Until now. Until 2016. This was the year that God and the Universe finally put their foots down and said, “enough”. This was the year that I learned the lesson of having blind faith and trust, and as you can imagine, it’s not be an easy task. There are days that I wake up and I just don’t even want to do anything. Thankfully those have been few and far between, but they do happen. And when they do, I have learned to surrender to them. There are moments when a memory hits me and I internally break down, silently screaming out, “Why??”. And then there are moments that I actually break down in a magnificent display of tears and sobs that are gut-wrenching as I finally explode from all the pain and anguish.

 

And through all of this, I can’t understand why this has happened to me. Trust me – I’ve tried. I’ve tried to reason as to what I did to make God so angry at me. What I’ve done to make others so angry at me that they hate me. What I’ve done that I deserved to have everything ripped away from me in the course of a few days. Yes, I could have chosen to stay, but what kind of life would that have been and what message would that have sent to him? What kind of message would that have sent to myself? I’ll tell you:

  • That I’m not worth anything. 
  • That I deserved it.
  • That I was the reason for it – that it was my fault.
  • That it will get better.
  • That this is just how it will be and I have to deal with it. 
  • That I have to stay because it’s in my vows.

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I made the bold and courageous choice to not accept that – to make a choice that would defy all of those messages. I chose to take a huge leap of faith into the unknown and let God handle the big stuff. I was given the opportunity to move back home and take the time to heal myself. I was blessed with the opportunity to continue with my current career, just from a different location. I located an office that I could be seen and treated for the experiences that I have gone through; to work through all of the emotions and thoughts that I’ve been struggling with.

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I don’t know what is going to happen. This time last year, I had my entire life semi-planned out: the house, the job, the town, the husband, the kids, the dog. Everything that made my world perfect and complete. As I sit here writing this now, I have lost most of those things (all but the job and the dog), but in those places I have gained so much. I have begun a daily practice of reading, journaling, and meditating. I have slowly relinquished control of the things which I don’t understand or have the ability to control. I have begun to ask both God and the Universe for signs and guidance as I journey down this new, unfamiliar path.


And so, I as I take one final glance back over this year, I realize that it wasn’t all that bad. Yes, there were some pretty terrible moments (ok months) where I just wanted to push past them and start over. But, I have to admit there were some pretty remarkable moments scattered in there. And amongst all the good, the bad, and the ugly, there were lessons that needed to be learned. Not all of them are completed; I’m very much still a work in progress and learning day by day. Remember that faith and trust that I said I lost in my marriage? Maybe, just maybe, it was meant for me to lose it there so I could take the time to build it in myself. Only then will I be fully able to love, trust, and have faith in others. ❤️

 

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Your Holiday Entertainment Guide: Christmas Day

I’ve always longed to host holiday parties. I don’t know why, but I have the sincere desire to to cook for a lot of people. I personally always thought it would be cool to host a large family dinner for the holidays – just once. Growing up as a military brat, we moved around every four years and during about half of those holidays, we weren’t near our family. So, we would celebrate Christmas just the four of us.

And the years that we were near family, we still didn’t do the whole family dinner scene. I can remember when I was about 5, we lived in the same town as my grandparents and fairly close to my mom’s family. On Christmas morning, my brother and I would wake up our parents and eagerly open all of the gifts from Santa. We would usually have breakfast, but then instead of spending the morning and afternoon playing with our new toys, we instead got dressed up and went to have 2nd Christmas with the family. This meant a lot of being quiet (or running outdoors because us kids got too loud), waiting around as everyone took turns opening gifts, or boredom because we just really wanted to be home. I recall my mom saying how bad she felt that we didn’t get to spend much of our Christmas at home, and once we moved away I think we were all a bit relieved that we got to stay home!

When I went off to college and became too busy to come home every Christmas, I was still very near my dad’s side of the family. Every year, they would all gather at one house and have Christmas dinner. All my cousins, aunts, and uncles would be there. But every year, I opted not to go. Surprising, I know, but for some reason the idea of a quiet Christmas at home had grown on me. Even once I met my husband, we opted to spend Christmas at home one year, just to try it out. It’s not that we don’t enjoy spending time with family. There’s just something relaxing about waking up in your own bed and knowing that you don’t have to go anywhere, you can literally stay in your PJ’s all day, and you don’t have a 5-10 hour drive home within the next 24-48 hours.

So you must be thinking, “Wow Erin, but it sounds like you would prefer to be alone – why the desire to cook for people??” Well, that’s simple: I’m a total people pleaser. Oh, and I love cooking. I would actually find it kinda relaxing to cook a big feast, have everyone over for said feast, and then after everyone has gone home, relax with a glass of wine or hot cocoa. So I would have my quiet time in the morning and in the evening, but during the day it would be loud, busy, and boisterous. Maybe I’m just mentally preparing myself for the craziness of Christmas once I have kids, but somewhere in the day I would like to spend it with other people – family and friends.

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So with this in mind, I’ve crafted my final holiday menu for you. It is complete with some delicious offerings to keep you munching all day long. But nothing heavy enough to distract you from the actual dinner, of course. I hope you find something that catches your eye and tastebuds!

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Gluten-Free Pumpkin Pancakes with Peanut Butter Cup Syrup

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Syrup

  • ½ cup pure maple syrup
  • ¼ oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped (approx. 2 tsp.)
  • 2 tsp. all-natural peanut butter

Pancakes

  • 1 cup gluten-free all-purpose flour
  • 1 T coconut flour
  • 1 T baking powder
  • ½ tsp sea salt (or Himalayan salt)
  • ¼ tsp ground nutmeg
  • ¼ tsp ground cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp ground ginger
  • ¼ cup pumpkin puree
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 T raw honey
  • 1 cup unsweetened almond milk
  • ½ tsp. pure vanilla extract
  1. Combine maple syrup, chocolate, and peanut butter in a small saucepan and heat over medium-low heat.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, combine all dry ingredients for the pancakes. Mix well and set aside.
  3. Combine pumpkin, eggs, honey, almond milk, and vanilla extract in a small bowl; whisk to blend.
  4. Add pumpkin mixture to flour mixture and mix until a smooth batter forms.
  5. Heat a greased, nonstick skillet over medium heat.
  6. Pour ¼ cup of pancake batter into pan for pancake and cook for about 2 minutes, or until bubbles in center of pancake begin to set. Flip pancake; cook an additional 1 to 2 minutes, or until underside is browned.
  7. Top each pancake with 1 tablespoon of syrup and enjoy!

 

Vanilla Nog Shake

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  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened milk
  • 1 tsp rum extract
  • 1 scoop Vanilla Shakeology
  • 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1 cup ice
  1. Blend all ingredients together until smooth!

 

Autumn Apple Salad with Maple Vinaigrette

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  • 2 cups baby spinach
  • 1/4 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/4 cup halved pecans
  • 2 T feta cheese
  • 1/2 granny smith apple sliced
  • 1/2 fuji apple sliced
  • 2 slices bacon cooked and chopped

Maple Dijon Vinaigrette

  • 2 T extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 T apple cider vinegar
  • 1 T maple syrup
  • 1 and 1/2 tsp dijon mustard
  • salt & pepper to taste
  1. Add the spinach to a medium size bowl or plate.
  2. Top with dried cranberries, halved pecans, feta cheese, sliced apples, and cooked bacon.
  3. Mix all the ingredients for the maple dijon vinaigrette in a small bowl or jar. Shake to mix and pour over the salad.

 

Christmas Sangria

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  • 1 bottle Pinot Grigio or Chardonnay
  • 8 oz. sparkling apple cider
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup cranberries, halved
  • 3/4 cup cranberries, whole
  • 1 Granny Smith apple, diced
  • 3 rosemary sprigs
  1. Combine all ingredients in a large pitcher and stir together to ensure the sugar dissolves.
  2. Chill for at least 4 hours to allow all the flavors to meld together. Serve chilled or over ice.

 

Roasted Cranberry & Goat Cheese Flatbread

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  • 1½ cup fresh cranberries
  • 3 T dark pure maple syrup
  • 1 T finely chopped shallot
  • ½ tsp chopped dry thyme
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 2 Stonefire flatbreads, (14.1 oz package)
  • 1, 4-ounce package fresh goat cheese, crumbled
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
  2. Mix cranberries, maple syrup, shallot, thyme and salt in an 8 by 8-inch baking dish. Roast, stirring once or twice, until the cranberries burst and the mixture is bubbling and caramelizing along the edge, about 15 minutes.
  3. Remove from oven and stir until the cranberries are broken down and the mixture is thick. Set aside.
  4. Lay flatbreads out on a plate. Spread the hot cranberry mixture over the flatbreads, dividing evenly.
  5. Top with the goat cheese. Place back in the oven and cook until the cheese is softened and flatbread is crispy, about 8 to 10 minutes.
  6. Cut into 8 small wedges and serve warm.

Coq Au Vin

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  • 5 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 3 T all-purpose flour
  • 4 slices bacon, roughly chopped
  • 1 T unsalted butter or extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 package white or baby bella mushrooms, quartered
  • 2 carrots, chopped
  • 1/2 medium yellow onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
  • 2 large sprigs thyme
  1. Arrange chicken on a large sheet of waxed paper or baking sheet. Season both sides with salt and pepper, then lightly coat chicken all over with flour and set aside.
  2. Heat a nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add bacon and cook until golden and just crisp, 3 minutes. Drain bacon on paper towels and set aside. Discard drippings and wipe out skillet.
  3. Melt butter or oil in same skillet. Add mushrooms and cook until edges begin to brown, 3 to 5 minutes. Add carrots, onions, garlic and salt. Cook until vegetables just begin to soften.
  4. Transfer vegetables to crock pot and add broth. Arrange chicken on top. Sprinkle bacon over chicken. Add thyme sprigs, then cover and cook on low for 6 to 7 hours.
  5. Season with salt and pepper, then serve.

 

MASHED Garlic CAULIFLOWER

  • 1 large cauliflower, chopped into small florets
  • 3 oz. low fat cream cheese
  • 2 T unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 tsp minced garlic
  • 1 T fresh rosemary, chopped into small pieces
  1. Bring a medium pot of water to boil. Once boiling, cook the cauliflower for 8-10 minutes or until fork tender. Remove and drain cauliflower.
  2. Place cauliflower along with all other ingredients in a blender or food processor and pulse until smooth and creamy.

 

Roasted Butternut Squash Winter Salad

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  • 1 butternut squash, peeled, seeds removed and diced into 1/2 inch cubes
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 4 T olive oil, divided
  • 2 cups farro
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 T butter
  • 1 shallot or onion, finely diced
  • 4 cups finely shredded kale
  • 1/4 cup feta cheese

For the Cranberry Dressing:

  • 3 T balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 cup fresh cranberries
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  1. Preheat the oven to 400°F and line a baking sheet with foil.
  2. Place the butternut squash on the baking sheet, drizzle with 2 tablespoons olive oil. Season with salt and pepper, and toss well. Roast the squash in the oven for about 15-20 minutes, or until fork tender.
  3. While the butternut squash roasts, place the farro and about 4-5 cups of cold water in a saucepan. Season with kosher salt and bring to a boil over medium high heat. Once the farro comes to a boil, lower heat to a simmer, and cover for about 40 minutes.
  4. When the butternut squash is tender, remove from the oven and set aside.
  5. In a deep-sided sauté pan, heat remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil and butter over medium-low heat. Add the shallots/onion and garlic; cook for a minute or two, or until the shallots are translucent.
  6. Stir in the kale and allow to wilt a few minutes before adding butternut squash and farro. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  7. Sprinkle the balsamic vinegar over the mixture and mix in fresh cranberries. Cover with a lid and allow to cooke 5-10 minutes, or until the cranberries begin to pop.
  8. Transfer the salad to a serving dish and serve warm with feta cheese.

 

Mini Eggnog Cheesecakes

Crust

  • 1 cup graham cracker crumbs or Biscoff cookies
  • 2 T unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/2 T granulated sugar
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg

Cheesecake

  • 8 oz dairy-free cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/3 cup eggnog
  • 1/2 T all purpose flour
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/8 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 1 egg
  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly grease the cavities of a 12 cup mini cheesecake or a muffin pan.
  2. In a food processor or large bowl, combine crust ingredients. Divide evenly between prepared cheesecake cavities. Firmly press down to create and even crust. Bake for 5 minutes.
  3. Remove crusts from oven and reduce oven temperature to 325°F.
  4. Meanwhile in a large bowl or stand mixer, beat together sugar and cream cheese. Add
  5. eggnog, flour, vanilla, nutmeg and salt. Mix until well blended.
  6. Add egg, mixing only until just combined.
  7. Pour the cheesecake filling onto each cookie crust, about 3/4 full.
  8. Bake for 15-18 minutes or until centers are only slightly jiggly.
  9. Remove to a wire rack to cool for 1 hour.
  10. Transfer to refrigerator to chill 4 hours or overnight.

 

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Mini Dark Chocolate Candy Cane Kiss Cheesecakes

  • 24 whole oreo cookies
  • 6 T butter, melted
  • 16 oz. softened cream cheese 2
  • 4 oz. melted dark semi-sweet chocolate (I used Hershey’s special dark chocolate chips)
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 whole eggs
  • 24 whole candy cane Hershey Kisses
  1. Preheat oven to 325°F. Lightly spray a mini cheesecake pan or muffin tin with cooking spray and set aside.
  2. In a food processor, grind Oreo cookies to crumbs. Pour in melted butter and mix again until well mixed.
  3. Spoon about a tablespoon of cookie mixture into each cheesecake well. Press down and set aside.
  4. In a stand mixer, whip cream cheese and melted chocolate together. Scrape sides and mix again until evenly mixed.
  5. Stir in eggs, being sure to scrape the sides down.
  6. With mixer on low, stir in sugar.
  7. Spoon cheesecake filling over top of each crust and bake 15-20 minutes or until cheesecakes are set.
  8. Cool cheesecakes to room temperature, then remove from pans and refrigerate.
  9. Before serving, top with one candy cane kiss.

 

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Your Holiday Entertainment Guide: Christmas Eve Edition

Christmas Eve. Every child’s favorite night of the year and the one night they won’t fall asleep. And every parent’s nightmare because the longer the children are awake, the less time to build Santa’s toys! While I have yet to experience the joys of being a parent on Christmas Eve, I have fond memories of my childhood Christmas Eves.

Those final days to Christmas seemed to drag on forever. As a kid, every day seemed like it just wouldn’t end. Oh, to be young and feel that way again! Now I can barely get through two things on my to-do list in a day before the sunlight is gone and it’s time for dinner! But as the days drew nearer to Christmas, I got increasingly impatient and just wanted to know what was in the wrapped packages. I can remember shaking, nudging, and weighing my gifts in hopes of figuring something out about it. I think even one year I tried the old “oops, the paper started to rip” trick, but my mom caught onto that one pretty quick. That happened to be the year I received my beloved “A Little Princess” movie – VHS!

As an adult though, things are a lot different. You don’t have to wait until Christmas morning to open your presents. I mean, technically, you can open them whenever they show up, right? My brother and I are staunch believers in saving all gifts until Christmas because if you don’t, what else will you do? He lives across the country in California, so he’s not with family during the holidays. So for him, opening presents Christmas morning is something that keeps him connected to the rest of us on the East Coast.

Me, on the other hand – I live rather close to my family. Ever since my husband and I began dating, he made a big deal about seeing family during the holidays. This was one of the things I loved about him because no one else I had been with really spent quality family time (or didn’t give a hoot about mine). He was the first one that took an interest in my side of the family and actually encouraged me to make plans for us to spend the holidays with them.

Take the first year that we were together, for example. We visited my family for Thanksgiving, which was the first time I had been home on a holiday in years. Not to mention, this was the first time he met my parents. His mom’s side of the family had a huge Christmas extravaganza, so we chose to visit her for that particular holiday. Her Christmas was a bit more than I’d ever experienced. Her husband’s best friends hosted us and the family for Christmas Eve and Day, along with the days leading up to the holiday. Every night, they would sing and dance, playing card games and munching on cheese and crackers.

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Their Christmas Eve tradition was one that I found interesting, but quickly fell in love with. On the night before Christmas, we each opened our stockings. The host and hostess made sure that everyone had a full stocking – even me, the brand new member to this family circle. We all gathered in the front sitting room and took turns opening the treasures that were hidden inside these ginormous knit stockings. Everything from the staples (toothpaste, lotion, toothbrushes), to gag gifts, to cards and sentimental thoughts could be found in those stockings.

And as the night would wind down, we would refill our wine glasses, have another smidgen off the cheese platter, and top off our drinks. Not once were we concerned about jumping into bed to awake bright and early to open presents because, in reality, the presents that mattered didn’t need to be opened. The company we shared and the memories made on those Christmas Eves were what really mattered – not what was wrapped up underneath the tree.

So, whether you have a quiet Christmas Eve at home with family or a bustling evening planned with friends, be sure to take a moment to appreciate the company you share.

 

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EGGNOG PANCAKES WITH MAPLE CRANBERRY SYRUP

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Pancakes:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 2 cups dairy or canned eggnog
  • ¼ cup cooking oil

Maple Cranberry Syrup

  • 2 cups fresh cranberries
  • 1 cup pure maple syrup
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  1. In a large bowl combine flour and other dry ingredients.
  2. In a second bowl, combine eggs, eggnog, and oil. Stir eggnog mixture into flour mixture until slightly lumpy.
  3. Heat a lightly greased griddle or skillet over medium heat. Pour about 1/4 cup batter onto griddle for each pancake. Cook until golden; turn when tops are bubbly and edges are slightly dry (1 to 2 minutes per side).
  4. For the syrup, heat all ingredients in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Cover with a lid (trust me on this) and cook until the berries begin to burst. Once the syrup thickens and the berries begin to blend together, remove from heat and pour over warm pancakes!

 

Peppermint Mocha Chiller Shake

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  • 1/2 cup brewed coffee, chilled
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened almond milk
  • 1 scoop Chocolate Shakeology
  • 1/2 tsp peppermint extract
  • 1 cup ice
  1. Pour all items in blender and blend until smooth!

 

Pear, Pomegranate, and Spinach Salad

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Salad

  • 2/3 cup chopped walnuts or pecans, toasted
  • 3/4 cup pomegranate arils
  • 3 oz feta cheese, crumbled
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 2 pears (firm but ripe), cored and sliced
  • 9 oz baby spinach

Dressing

  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 3 T extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp honey
  • 1 tsp dijon mustard
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  1. Whisk together all dressing ingredients in a bowl.
  2. Place all salad ingredients in a large salad bowl, drizzle with desired amount of dressing then toss to evenly coat. Serve immediately.

 

ROSEMARY AND GARLIC ROAST BEEF

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  • 3 lbs. boneless rib eye roast
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh rosemary
  • ¼ cup chopped garlic (about 20 cloves)
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 4 T olive oil, divided
  • 4 T butter, divided
  • 2 cups of mushrooms, roughly chopped
  • 1 cup of stock
  1. Preheat oven to 350F.
  2. Season the roast with salt and pepper.
  3. Mix together rosemary, garlic, and 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Stir to combine and reserve.
  4. In a skillet over medium heat, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil and sear all sides of the meat.
  5. Remove skillet from heat. Brush the herb-garlic mixture all over the roast.
  6. Place the skillet in a greased casserole dish and cook for about 75 minutes or until a meat thermometer reads 135F degrees.
  7. Remove from the oven and pour in the mushrooms. Return to the oven for another 15 minutes.
  8. Let it cool for at least 10 minutes before serving (final temperature should be 145F for medium rare.)
  9. Serve with your favorite sides and with some of the mushroom sauce pour over each slice.

 

Cranberry Apple Wild Rice Pilaf 

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  • 1 1/2 cups low sodium chicken broth
  • 1 1/2 cups apple juice
  • 1 T Dijon mustard
  • 3 T butter, divided
  • 1/2 tsp EACH: salt, dried parsley
  • 1/4 tsp EACH pepper, dried oregano, dried thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 cup wild rice blend, rinsed and drained
  • 1/2 large onion, diced
  • 1 Fuji or honeycrisp apple, chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1-2 tsp apple cider vinegar (to taste)
  • 1/2 cup fresh or dried cranberries
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans, toasted
  1. In a large skillet bring broth, apple juice, 1 tablespoon butter, salt, pepper, herbs, and bay leaf to a boil.
  2. Add rice, cover, and reduce heat to low. Simmer 45-60 minutes or until rice is tender and almost all of the liquid has been absorbed. Pour rice into a bowl and set aside.
  3. To the now empty skillet, melt 2 tablespoons butter over medium heat. Add onions and apples; sauté for 5-7 minutes, or until onions and apples are tender. Add garlic and saute for 30 more seconds.
  4. Return rice to skillet along with cranberries and pecans. Add apple cider vinegar a little at a time to taste. Toss to evenly combine, and season with additional salt and pepper to taste.

 

Stuffed Acorn Squash

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  • 1 large acorn squash
  • 1 T extra virgin olive oil
  • ¼ tsp ground sea salt
  • ¼ tsp ground black pepper

Stuffing

  • 2-4 T extra virgin olive oil
  • ½ cup chopped sweet onion
  • 1 large clove minced garlic (about 1 tablespoon)
  • 8oz package of small mushrooms quartered
  • 2 T dried sage
  • Pinch of red pepper flakes
  • ¼ tsp ground sea salt
  • ¼ tsp ground black pepper
  • ¼ cup fresh cranberries
  1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
  2. Wash and trim the ends off of the Acorn Squash. Stand upright and cut in half length-wise.
  3. Scoop out the seeds, then place squash halves on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet.
  4. Brush inside of each half with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Sprinkle ¼ tsp each of salt and pepper and then place cut side down on the baking sheet.
  5. Bake for 25 minutes. While squash is roasting, prepare stuffing.
  6. Heat large skillet over medium-high heat and add 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add onion and sauté 1-2 minutes.
  7. Add garlic, mushrooms, sage, and cranberries, sautéing another 5-7 minutes.
  8. Remove squash from oven and split the stuffing between the two squash halves.
  9. Return to the oven an bake 10 more minutes. Serve warm with your favorite entree!

 

Gingerbread Ice Cream

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  • 4-5 frozen bananas
  • 2 T molasses
  • ½ tsp ground ginger
  • ½ tsp ground cinnamon
  • ½ tsp vanilla extract
  • ½ tsp lemon juice
  • 1 cup of gingerbread, ginger cookies, or gingersnaps, crumbled
  1. Blend everything except the cookies in a high speed blender or food processor until creamy and smooth.
  2. Add 1/3 of the cookie crumbles. Blend briefly to combine.
  3. Spread into a shallow pan or Tupperware container. Sprinkle more cookie crumbles on top and freeze for at least 2 hours.
  4. Scoop into bowls, top with more cookie crumbles, enjoy!
  5. Keep in the freezer for up to 2-3 days.

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How to Handle Your Sweet Tooth this Christmas

I don’t believe there’s a person on this planet that can say with a straight face, “I don’t have a sweet tooth.” And if you can, well my hat is off to you for sure (and I might be kinda jealous). For the rest of us, we all have at least one weakness. Mine is chocolate.

Every year, I tell myself I will be good and not eat as many sweets. But if you set anything with chocolate in front of me, it’s like your just asking me to cave! I will re-route my entire way around the house or office, just to avoid the temptation. I know there’s studies supporting that dark chocolate it good for you and eating a piece a day (especially for runners) is healthy, but come on now – who can really just eat one?! If I eat one piece, I want at least 4-5 more!

Now, I’m one of those people who insists, “Oh, it’s Christmas – just relax and enjoy the holidays! If you want cookies, have cookies!” This is probably largely in part because that’s what my mom says to me whenever I give myself some negative thoughts about my weight and “Oh, I really shouldn’t…” But this year, I’m actually trying to watch what I eat because I’m tired of the way I feel come January 1st – bloated, overloaded, depressed, and sick. You know the feeling – it’s uncomfortable to say the least and typically ends in a food coma.

But as you can probably tell, I’m very fond of baking cookies. Go figure, right?! And while I do have some pretty decent willpower, I want to be able to have my cookies and eat them too! But if you’ve taken a look at those recipes, I’m sure you’ve noticed some not so great ingredients – canola oil, Crisco shortening, all-purpose flour, and white cane sugar. If you’re trying to watch your figure, all of those (combined with the other ingredients you need to actually make something) won’t really help you keep it!

So this holiday season, it was my sole mission to find ways to lighten up some of the all-time classics. And I’m here to tell you – it is possible to cut the calories and not sacrifice the taste that you know and love. Trust me – I have a few cookie experts in the house and they couldn’t tell a difference (other than these sugar cookies didn’t break). I think if you try these out and taste-test against the classics, you’ll be pleasantly surprised!


 

Chewy Coconut Oil Chocolate Chip Cookies

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  • 3/4 cup melted coconut oil
  • 3/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 (3.5-ounce) packet instant vanilla pudding mix
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • Pinch salt, optional
  • 1 (12 ounce bag) semi-sweet chocolate chips
  1. In a large bowl or your stand mixer, combine the butter, sugars, egg, and vanilla. Beat on medium-high speed until well combined, about 2 minutes.
  2. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, and add the dry ingredients. Beat on low speed until just combined, about 1 minute.
  3. Scrape down the sides of the bowl again and add the chocolate chips. Beat on low speed until just combined, about 30 seconds.
  4. Using a large cookie scoop, form tablespoonfuls of dough by compressing, compacting, and squeezing until the dough comes together; don’t be afraid to really squeeze it.
    1. Note: If your dough is absolutely not coming together, drizzle in one tablespoon of coconut oil at a time until it comes together.
  5. Place mounds on a large plate or tray, flatten slightly, cover and refrigerate for at least 3 hours (up to 5 days).
  6. Preheat oven to 350°F and grease a baking sheet.
  7. Place dough mounds on baking sheet, spaced at least 2 inches apart. Bake for about 11 minutes, or until edges have set and tops are just set.
  8. Allow cookies to cool on baking sheet for about 10 minutes before serving with your favorite glass of milk or cocoa!

 

Dark Chocolate Cranberry Oatmeal Cookies

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  • 1 cup instant oats
  • ¾ cup whole wheat or gluten-free flour (measured correctly)
  • 1½ tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 2 T coconut oil or unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
  • 1 large egg, room temperature
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • ½ cup pure maple syrup
  • ½ cup fresh cranberries, chopped
  • 3 T chopped dark chocolate
  1. In a medium bowl, mix together the dry ingredients.
  2. In a separate bowl, whisk together the coconut oil, egg, and vanilla. Stir in the maple syrup.
  3. Slowly add in the flour mixture, stirring until just incorporated.
  4. In a food processor, chop up the cranberries. Fold them into the dough along with the chopped dark chocolate.
  5. Chill the cookie dough for 30 minutes.
  6. Preheat the oven to 325°F, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper or grease with cooking spray.
  7. Drop the cookie dough into rounded scoops onto the prepared sheet, and flatten to the desired thickness using a spatula.
  8. Bake for 9-12 minutes. Cool on the pan for 10 minutes before transferring to a wire rack.

 

Honey Whole Wheat Peanut Butter Cookies

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  • 1 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 1 cup honey
  • 1 large egg
  • 1½ tsp vanilla extract
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • 2 cups whole wheat flour
  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment or a grease with cooking spray.
  2. In a large bowl or stand mixer, combine the peanut butter and honey. Beat until totally incorporated.
  3. Stir in egg and vanilla. Add the salt, soda and flour and mix until it comes together to form a dough.
  4. Shape dough into tablespoonful balls and place on the prepared sheet. Use fork to lightly press each dough ball down.
  5. Bake for 10-12 minutes, until cookies become slightly golden brown. (Note: Be careful to not over bake! Honey burns much more easily than sugar.)
  6. Remove from the oven and place the cookies on a wire rack to cool.

 

Nutella Sea Salt Thumbprints

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  • 1 cup blanched almond flour
  • 1 T coconut flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • Dash sea salt
  • 4 T grass-fed butter, softened
  • 3 T raw honey
  • Nutella
  • Coarse sea salt
  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper (or grease) and set aside.
  2. In a bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and a dash of sea salt.
  3. Add in the softened butter and honey. Mix well so the butter is evenly distributed.
  4. Drop teaspoonfuls of the dough onto the sheet and press your thumb slightly into each center.
  5. Bake for 10 minutes, or until cooked through.
  6. Remove and place 1 teaspoon of nutella into the center of each cookie.
  7. If desired, sprinkle with sea salt and let cool before removing from the baking sheet and serving.

 

Skinnier Sugar Cookies

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  • 1/2 cup butter (to make vegan, use Earth Balance), softened
  • 1/2 cup organic cane sugar + more for topping
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup pumpkin puree
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1 3/4 cups unbleached all purpose flour
  • 1/2 T cornstarch or arrowroot powder
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1-2 tsp non-dairy milk (I used unsweetened almond milk)
  1. Place softened butter in a large mixing bowl and cream with a mixer.
  2. Add sugars, vanilla, and pumpkin puree. Beat for 1 minute.
  3. Sift together dry ingredients. Use a spoon to briefly stir, then sift over butter and sugar mixture.
  4. Mix until until incorporated, being careful not to over-mix.
  5. Finally, add almond milk and mix until a soft dough is formed.
  6. Cover and freeze dough for 15 minutes, or refrigerate for 30-45 minutes (can sit overnight if needed).
  7. Five minutes before baking, preheat your oven to 350°F, and position a rack in the center of the oven.
  8. Scoop out heaping tablespoonful amounts of chilled dough and roll into balls. Or if you want shapes, roll out between two pieces of wax paper. Be sure to lightly flour the bottom layer so it’s easier to cut out shapes.
  9. Arrange cookies on a clean baking sheet at least 2 inches apart (to allow for spreading). If you’ve rolled the dough into balls, dip a glass into cane sugar and gently press dough down into a disc to help them cook more evenly.
  10. Bake on the center rack for 10-12 minutes for (8-10 for cutout shapes), or very slightly golden brown. Be careful not to overcook!
  11. Remove from oven and let rest on pan for a few minutes before transferring them to a cooling rack.

 

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Hands-Down Best Christmas Cookies

So in our family, we tend to go all out when it comes to Christmas cookies. Every year, a lot of time and thought is put into what cookies will be baked. We bake at least a dozen different kinds of treats during the holidays. Please don’t misunderstand – not all of these cookies are for us. Oh no – we bake so that we can share! My parents live in a small town and so growing up, we knew most of the people around. Even now as I’ve come back home, my parents still know a lot of the townspeople. It’s just how small towns work.

Everyone from the postal driver, to our family doctor and dentist, to our neighbors would get a plate of goodies from our house. As my mom likes to say, you never know how far that plate of goodies will get you somewhere down the road.

I can say with absolute certainty that I have inherited the baker’s thumb and every fall, I get the itch to start baking. I feel like there are so many different options out there, but some you just always make. These are the ones that really make it feel (and smell) like Christmas! Ever since I can remember, we have baked these same recipes. Although there’s at least a five more recipes that should be on this “staple” Christmas cookies list, these are by far my top 5 favorites. And I like to believe that most people who have experienced the Printy cookie platters would agree with my choices!

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Mint Chocolate Chip Sugar Cookies

It’s no secret that I have a thing for mint. I don’t know where it comes from, but something about mint mixed with chocolate…it’s heavenly. You have to keep me away from York Peppermint Patties – especially these new bags where they’re in bite-size form?!? I could easily down the whole bag.

Knowing my love of a mint, my mom made an Andes Mint igloo cake one year for Christmas. It was, to sum it up, to-die-for. We were little kids, so I wasn’t allowed to a very big slice (😭). My mom claimed it was because there was just too much mint, and we sadly never had the cake again. Thankfully, she found these cookies to be just the right amount of mint and they continued to be made every year. To this day, these are my number 1 favorite cookies! 

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  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar, divided
  • 3/4 cup oil
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 (10 oz.) packaged mint chocolate chips
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease two cookie sheets and set aside.
  2. In a small bowl, combine flour, baking powder, and salt. Mix well.
  3. In a large bowl, combine 1 cup sugar and oil; mix well. Beat in eggs and vanilla extract.
  4. Gradually add flour mixture, stirring between each addition. Slowly stir in chocolate chips
  5. Pour remaining 1/4 cup of sugar in a bowl. Drop rounded teaspoonfuls of dough and roll them in the sugar.
  6. Place cookies on the cookie sheet and bake 8-10 minutes.

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Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

Whenever we were younger and out grocery shopping, my mom would sometimes take us through the bakery area. I always confused the oatmeal raisin cookies for chocolate chip cookies. I’m pretty sure there was an instance when I insisted on the cookie that I had to have and when I bit into it, was extremely disappointed because the “chocolate” turned out to be raisins.

My mom has made these cookies every since I can remember. For some reason, these were always the cookies that wound up in my care packages during and after college. My husband got a finger on these during the early dating years and fell in love with them. Ever since, my mom makes sure to send him his own bag! He loved them so much that they were part of the welcome bags for our wedding guests.

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  • 3/4 cup Crisco
  • 1 1/4 cups firmly packed brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 3 cups quick-cook oats
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 cup raisins
  1. Heat oven to 375 degrees and grease 2 baking sheets.
  2. In a large bowl, combine Crisco, sugar, egg, milk, and vanilla. Beat at medium speed until well blended.
  3. In a separate bowl, combine remaining ingredients (except raisins). Mix this into the the Crisco mixture at low speed until blended.
  4. Stir in raisins.
  5. Drop by rounded tablespoonfuls about 2 inches apart on baking sheets.
  6. Bake at 375 for 10-12 minutes, or until lightly browned.
  7. Cool 2 minutes on baking sheets before moving to a wire rack to cool!

 Christmas Decoration

Grandma’s Sugar Cookies

I think everyone has sugar cookies at Christmas time – whether they’re homemade or store bought. In our house, we rarely used the pre-made cookie dough and we certainly never bought the pre-made cookies (the ones you just take out of the package and lay on the cookie sheet). I’m not knocking either of these; we just never experienced them. In our house, we stuck by Grandma’s sugar cookie recipe. It’s certainly not the healthiest recipe (but really, what cookie recipe is “good for you”) out there, but it sure is the best tasting sugar cookie that I’ve ever had!

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  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 cup oil
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 4 cups plus 4 T flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp cream of tartar
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Cream butter and sugars.
  3. Add eggs and salt; beat well. Then add oil and vanilla; beat until combined.
  4. In a large bowl, sift together flour, baking soda, and cream of tartar. Slowly add the dry ingredients to the wet, beating well after each addition.
  5. Drop by the teaspoonful onto ungreased cookie sheets.
  6. Grease the bottom of a glass and use to flatten each cookie. Sprinkle with additional sugar or colored sprinkles, if desired.
  7. Bake for 8-10 minutes; be careful not to overcook!
  8. Allow to cool on cookie sheets at least 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

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Best Ever Chocolate Chip Cookies

I don’t know about everyone else, but for years we’ve struggled to find the BEST chocolate chip cookie recipe. My dad is definitely a chocoholic (although in recent years he claims to no longer like it 🙄), so we were always trying to please his palate. Anytime we would make a new recipe, he had to taste test it. For years, we would found that the Tollhouse Chocolate Chip cookies were the best and so we never branched out.

However, about 3-4 years ago my mom went hunting again. Maybe this was when my dad first announced he “no longer liked chocolate” and she felt it was long overdue that we find a new recipe. Whatever the reason, she came across this recipe that requires you to chill the dough before using it. For us millennials who have trouble with patience, this is an unheard of concept. You want me to CHILL my dough and not eat it for a couple of hours, then bake it? That sounds like torture, but I can assure you that the additional hour or so wait is definitely worth it. I liked these so much, I included them in our wedding welcome bags for the out-of-town guests! 

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  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 T vanilla extract
  • 1 egg
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
  1. Sift together the flour, baking soda and salt; set aside.
  2. In a medium bowl, cream together the melted butter, brown sugar and white sugar until well blended.
  3. Beat in the vanilla, egg, and egg yolk until light and creamy. Mix in the sifted ingredients until just blended.
  4. Stir in the chocolate chips by hand using a wooden spoon.
  5. Cover dough and chill in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour.
  6. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Grease cookie sheets or line with parchment paper.
  7. Remove dough and drop tablespoonfuls of cookie dough onto the prepared cookie sheets. Cookies should be about 3 inches apart as they will spread.
  8. Bake for 15 to 17 minutes in the oven, or until the edges are lightly toasted.
  9. Cool on baking sheets for a few minutes before transferring to wire racks to cool completely.

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Snickerdoodles

Cinnamon. Sugar. What could be better? I think every child loves the combination of cinnamon and sugar. We rarely went out to breakfast (unless it was our birthday), but my parents were great at finding new ways to spice up breakfast. Take, for example: toast. Normal toast with jelly got boring. Sometimes, peanut butter and banana slices would do the trick. But then there were those times that you just wanted something sweet. Enter: cinnamon toast. Oh yes ladies and gentlemen: you take an ordinary piece of bread, slather some butter on, sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar, and then placed in the toaster oven. 

And because all little children (and the inner child in all of us adults) love cinnamon-sugar, this cookie is an absolute must. Every year, my mom made sure to make these little pieces of sweet heaven. The best part was you really couldn’t mess them up – just mix, drop it in the cinnamon-sugar mix, and bake! My favorite part was rolling the balls of dough in the cinnamon sugar. In fact, I think anything leftover from this mixture got re-purposed into cinnamon toast “seasoning”.

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  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 3/4 cups flour
  • 1 tsp cream of tartar
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 T sugar
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  1. Heat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. In a large bowl, beat sugars and butter together until light & fluffy.
  3. Add vanilla and eggs; blend well.
  4. Add flour, cream of tartar, baking soda, and salt to this mixture. Mix well.
  5. In a small bowl, combine the sugar and cinnamon.
  6. Shape dough into 1″ balls and roll them in the cinnamon-sugar. Place at least 2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheets.
  7. Bake for 8-10 minutes or until just set. Immediately transfer from cookie sheets to wire racks to cool!

 

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Tis the Season of Giving

This time of year, it’s easy to get lost in the glitz and glam of the holiday. Everywhere you look, there’s something new and special that you just have to have. I wonder if that’s why computers and phones are released later in the year – too boost the sales for the holidays? I, unfortunately, bought into that this year but more out of circumstance and need. My phone simply wasn’t functioning properly and my computer has been long overdue for a new model, so I decided it was time to upgrade. With my line of work, I have to be connected and able to access emails. And with my running, my phone is kind of a necessity  so I can track and time myself.

As I’ve mentioned, I love shopping for people. Every year, I look for that perfect gift to give – the one that will bring absolute joy to their face and maybe even a tear to their eye. And every year, as the holidays approach, I get asked the same question – what do you want for Christmas? As the years have passed, I’ve noticed that I am less and less prepared for that question. I spend so much time worrying about others – finding the perfect gift; making the right wreath to set off the holiday theme for the house; gathering the best recipes to make Christmas cookies – that I forget all about myself. I work myself into such a state of festiveness that I wind up sick.

One year, it happened right on Christmas Eve. It was the year that I slaved away on a scrapbook for my then boyfriend. I had worked tirelessly on the weekends, nights, and wee hours of the morning to finish the scrapbook in time. I remember getting worried towards the end and buying extra gifts because I was so worried I wouldn’t have my masterpiece completed in time. That was the first year we chose to stay home for the holidays. Normally, we spent it with his mom or my parents. But this year, we had tickets to a concert the day after Christmas, so we stayed home. This meant I was in charge of the Christmas traditions – stuffing stockings, opening gifts, making Christmas dinner. But I was so sick, I didn’t even want to cook Christmas dinner or open my gifts. I just wanted him to open his gift so I could stop being worried he wouldn’t like it.

That’s another thing I do – I worry. I worry that my gift(s) won’t be great enough. You can thank the perfectionist streak in me for that fear. This is why I start planning my gifts so early – so I have time to really determine if it’s the best gift to give. And what’s sad is I’m always worried that I won’t do enough. It’s never about the money that someone else spends on me –  you could give me flowers from the side of the road or a homemade cake and I’d be thrilled. No, my concern is that the recipient of the gift won’t think that I put enough money into it. See, to me, it’s the thought that counts. It’s not about the quantity, but the quality. You could give me ten gifts and they all be great, but then maybe one little gift is the best one of all. But for others, I’m positive that they look at the money standpoint.

Take for example last Christmas. My husband and I spent it with my parents, which very rarely happens. I was tickled just to be home with them and to see my grandparents for the holidays. Leading up to Christmas, I was so upset and worried that I hadn’t spent enough on my husband. I had been searching for THE gift and didn’t think what I had chosen was going to be enough. And then suddenly, in the final weeks, I came up with what I thought was the greatest idea. I found the items, shipped them to my parents’ house, and the minute we arrived I helped my mom put it together.

Christmas morning came and this was one of the first gifts he opened. It was large and bulky, but you could obviously tell from the shape that it was art. I crossed my fingers and prayed that he would like the gift. Now, he was never really picky about gifts, but I was so concerned that somehow what I had put together – something that took more time and thought than money – would somehow just not be enough. I grimaced deep down and prayed the entire time he carefully unwrapped the gift. I watched (as if in slow motion) his eyes light up and he turned the frame around and realized what was in it – a poster from the first and “best” (his words) Bonnaroo music festival. That was it – I had done it! Now I could relax.

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See, as I grow older, I grow less focused on the receiving part of the holiday and more on the giving part. And maybe that makes me odd, but I really think my heart is in the right place. With everything going on, what I want people to give me is the furthest thing from my mind. What I’d really like to ask for is forgiveness, love, a fresh start, laughter, happiness… a chance to have all the memories from Christmas past to be relived again, just one more time. You get the picture: I want all the intangible things that can’t really be given, but only we can give ourselves.

So, since no one can really GIVE me these things, I decided to work on them for myself. When I was completing my Life Balance Wheel earlier this fall, I realized that I don’t spend enough time giving back in my community. I’ve always wanted to volunteer at a soup kitchen or food bank, and what better time to offer this than during the holidays? The only reason someone would possibly want to do this is because a) they need community service hours or b) they genuinely want to help out/give back. Well, I would be in the latter camp and I know that this simple act will give me some of things I so long for this Christmas. And so, I called and you are looking at the newest volunteer at the Albermarle Food Bank.

As we head into the final weeks before Christmas (yes, we are less than 10 days away), I want us each to take a moment to reflect on our lives and be thankful for everything that we have. This is the season of giving, not receiving. What can we do to help make someone’s life a little brighter? Maybe it’s baking some cookies for your crotchety neighbor that always growls at you (hello Mrs. McFarland from Prancer). Maybe you help to someone decorate their house or yard for the holidays. Maybe you could be a part of your company’s food drive or angel tree. Or maybe you just reach out to a family member you haven’t spoken to in ages and just wish them happy holidays. Whatever you choose to do, just do it with a happy heart and a smile!

Oh – and enjoy these yummy recipes afterwards. I promise, you’ll feel so happy inside that you’ll want to burst! ❤️

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Maple Sweet Potato Oatmeal

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Ingredients

  • ½ cup oatmeal, old fashioned or quick
  • 1 cup non-fat milk, or water – whatever you prefer to cook your oatmeal in
  • pinch of salt
  • ⅓ cup cooked sweet potato, mashed
  • ½ tsp pumpkin pie spice
  • 1-2 tsp brown sugar (I used coconut sugar)
  • 1 T maple syrup
  • 1/2 T chopped almonds

Preparation

  1. Mix the oats, milk, and salt in a small saucepan and bring to a boil.
  2. Meanwhile,  make sure your sweet potato is warm and mashed completely.
  3. Once the oats have come to a boil, lower heat. Add sweet potato and pumpkin pie spice. Stir until thoroughly heated, about 2 minutes.
  4. Remove from heat and serve in a bowl. Sprinkle with sugar, drizzle with maple syrup, add the chopped almonds. Serve immediately!

 

Gingerbread Man Shake

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Ingredients

  • 1 scoop Chocolate Shakeology
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • ½ tsp ginger
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cup unsweetened almond milk

Preparation

  1. Blend to perfection

 

Rudolph’s Rocket Fuel

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Ingredients

  • 6 medium carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 1 parsnip, chopped
  • 1 large potato, peeled and chopped
  • 1 leek, washed and chopped
  • 1 medium onion, peeled and diced
  • 1 eating apple, cored and chopped (I left my skin on)
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1 T olive oil
  • 1 tsp sweet paprika
  • Salt & pepper, to taste
  • 5 cups of water

Preparation

  1. Heat the oil in a large sauce pan and add garlic. Sauté about a minute until fragrant, then add the vegetables and apple.
  2. Season to taste with sweet paprika, salt, and pepper.
  3. Cook on a medium heat for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  4. Add water and bring to the boil, then turn down to a simmer. Cook for 30 minutes, until all the vegetables are soft.
  5. Remove from heat and allow to cool (I cooled mine overnight in the fridge). Using an immersion blender or standard blender, process until smooth.
  6. Serve warm with your favorite crusty bread or crackers.

 

Butternut Stuffed Pork Tenderloin

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Ingredients

  • 1 lb. boneless pork tenderloin
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/2 T light olive oil
  • 1/3 cup chopped shallots
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 1/4 cups diced butternut squash, 1/2-inch dice
  • 1/2 cup fresh cranberries
  • 2 T pure maple syrup (replace with honey for Paleo, omit Whole30)
  • 1 cup baby spinach or kale
  • 3 sage leaves, chopped
  • 2 T chopped pecans
  • 1/4 tsp crushed black pepper

Preparation

  1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Grease a casserole dish and set aside.
  2. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat and add olive oil.
  3. Add shallots and garlic and sauté over medium-low heat for 4-5 minutes, or until golden.
  4. Add butternut squash, cranberries, maple syrup, and 1 tablespoon water and cover. Cook on low for 10 minutes.
  5. Remove lid and add greens, salt, sage, and pepper. Cover and cook for another 3-4 minutes.
  6. Set aside to cool and mix in pecans.
  7. Meanwhile, cut a pocket into the sides of the tenderloin, careful not to cut all the way through at the ends. Season the inside and outside of the turkey with salt and pepper.
  8. Stuff the tenderloin with the squash mixture. .
  9. Heat a skillet over medium-high heat and carefully sear the tenderloin on each side about 2 minutes.
  10. Place the tenderloin in the greased casserole dish with 1 tablespoon of water. Cover tight with foil and cook in the oven for 40-45 minutes.
  11. Allow to sit 5 minutes before slicing into 4 slices. Spoon any pan juices over the pork and serve.

Apple Pecan Stuffing

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Ingredients

  • 4 slices whole wheat bread, cubed (3/4″-1″)
  • 1/4 cup chopped pecans (about 2 oz)
  • 1 T unsalted grassfed butter
  • 1/2 cup chopped celery
  • 1/2 cup chopped green onions (I used leeks)
  • 1 /2 large or 1 small golden delicious apple, chopped
  • 1 cup low sodium chicken broth
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp dried, rubbed sage (or 1 tbs fresh, finely chopped)
  • 1/2 tsp dried thyme (or 1 tbs fresh)

Preparation

  1. Preheat oven to 225 degrees. Place fresh bread cubes on a baking sheet and dry them out in the oven for about 25 minutes. When the bread cubes are done, remove them and increase the oven temperature to 400 degrees.
  2. While the bread cubes are toasting, toast your pecans. You can heat them in a dry skillet until they become aromatic or you can heat them on a plate in the microwave.
  3. In a large sauté pan, melt butter over medium heat. Add celery, green onions, apple and some black pepper to taste. Cook for 1-2 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  4. Add broth, salt, sage, and thyme. Cover with a lid on and bring to a boil.
  5. Once boiling, turn off heat and stir in bread cubes and pecans.
  6. Pour this mixture into either a greased 8X8 square baking dish (or similarly sized casserole dish) and bake at 400 degrees for 10-15 minutes or until the top starts to brown and get slightly crispy.

 

Brown Butter Peas

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Ingredients

  • 12 oz bag frozen peas
  • 3 T butter
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • ½ tsp black pepper
  • 2 tsp garlic cloves, minced

Preparation

  1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
  2. Melt the butter in a skillet until it’s just turning brown then remove from the heat.
  3. Put the peas on a baking sheet with an edge to it (so the butter doesn’t drip) and pour the butter over the top.
  4. Add the garlic and toss to coat the peas in the butter.
  5. Roast for 10-15 minutes, toss once more then serve immediately.

 

Gingerbread Ice Cream

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Ingredients

  • 4-5 frozen bananas
  • 2 T molasses
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp lemon juice
  • 1 1/2 cups Gingerbread Cookies,  crumbled

Instructions

  1. Blend everything except the cookies in a high speed blender or food processor until creamy and smooth.
  2. Add 1/3 cup of the cookie crumbles. Blend briefly to combine.
  3. Spread into a shallow pan or loaf pan. Sprinkle more cookie crumbles on top.
  4. Freeze for at least 2 hours.
  5. Scoop into bowls, top with more cookie crumbles, enjoy!

Note: Keep in the freezer for up to 2-3 days.

 

img_2527-jpgTis the season….

 

 

silver bells

better for you food, breakfast, chocolate, Christmas, clean eating, cookies, cooking, desserts, dinner, entertaining, food, giving, health, holiday, holidays, home, home cooked meals, homemade meals, lunch, overnight oats, Santa Clause, Shakeology, shopping, toys, winter

Your Holiday Entertainment Guide: Part 2

If you ask most children what’s their favorite thing about Christmas, I’ll be you a quarter they’ll answer with “presents” or “cookies”. Not many children under the age of 13 will focus on the reason for the season: family, giving, love, kindness. But that’s ok – as children, we should be thinking of the gifts, the cookies, the tree, and, of course – Santa Clause.

When I was little, my favorite part in preparing for Christmas started long before the tree was discussed or the cookie flavors were decided. No, Christmas time began when the Sear’s catalog would show up for winter and it included the entire section devoted to: TOYS. My brother and I would beg for notebook paper and pens so we could jot down each and every item we hoped for. For years, mine centered around Barbie and what her newest accessory was. When I was 5 or 6, Santa brought me a pink Barbie Beach House and a pink convertible for her to zip around in. Every year after that, I looked for one or two items to add to her play land. I usually wound up with a new Barbie each year, which meant her family was ever growing. It actually turned out to be a good thing since my brother had this habit of snapping their heads off. By the time I hit pre-teens, all but a few of my Barbie’s had undergone “neck surgery” (that’s how I referred to his loss of sanity when he was doing this).

As I got older, the need for toys went away and I began to look at clothes. I think this was a welcome sigh of relief for my mother who I know wasn’t fond of taking me shopping. Until I hit high school, I detested shopping. Nothing fit the way I wanted it to thanks to my abnormal height early on. Anything that did fit wasn’t that cute or trendy, so I never wanted it. And anything that was cute wound up being too small or too short on me. So, for the better party of my elementary and middle school years, I would try on one item and then just choose 2-3 other colors. This saved me the agony of trying each piece on. I know – who was I?!?

Thankfully, I grew out of that stage. Shopping became fun for me. But Christmas shopping – oh boy, that’s a completely different animal. I do believe this is my most favorite time of the year to shop. I, like my mother, start months in advance. See, my mom would start her Christmas shopping as early as summertime. Looking back, I’m pretty sure this was to her advantage so whenever my brother and I acted up, she could tell us that Santa was watching and could remove the gifts. Yah, it scared us enough to straighten up but what’s funny is it was true – she probably already had all our gifts tucked away and could have started returning them if we were horrible enough!

I like to keep my eyes peeled and my ears perked all year round, picking up on little hints for gifts. This usually works pretty well except when you come across those that take care of themselves a little too well. We all know that one person – they say they want something and you’re like, “Woohoo!! I’ll get them that for Christmas.” Not even two weeks later, they wind up grabbing the item themselves and you’re back to square one. My dad is one of those. Or you have the person who can’t make up their mind. One week they want the new Vampire Weekend album and then two weeks later, they don’t like them anymore and have moved onto someone else. That would be my husband and in my opinion that’s harder to shop for. It’s like you HAVE to wait until Christmas Eve to go get their gifts for fear they’ll wind up hating it two days later!

How do I keep all my ideas straight? Well, I can honestly say that I never was this into shopping until about 4-5 years ago and thankfully by that time, I had a smartphone. I live by two apps on my phone: the memo pad and my calendar. Seriously – what did people do before these?? I’ve tried writing on my hand to keep reminders (good until you wash them) and I’ve tried Post-It’s (they don’t stick well on my hands or clothes). I was forever forgetting things and remembering them the week before Christmas or (better yet) after Christmas. Either way, I would be screwed. So once I discovered the memo pad app, I fell in love. Each year, I begin a list of people I know I’ll be shopping for and jot down ideas and I see/hear about them. You know me – always the planner!

I don’t always stick to my list, though. If I’m out shopping and just see something that I think would be perfect, I’ll snag it (or set it aside for when I have money). For example – candles are always a good gift. Yankee Candle is one of my weaknesses, especially when they have one of their awesome BOGO sales going on. It’s like crack – you can’t walk past Yankee Candle without at least coming in to smell the new candles and then once you’re in there, you can’t HELP but grab one or two of their scents (you know, just because). I mean, they smell nice and who doesn’t want to smell nice things in their house? If I could light a candle in every room of my house, I would. It would smell ridiculous since I never buy within the same scent family, but it would look like a gorgeous shrine from afar.

This year, I really went out on a limb and didn’t follow my normal routine. I had all intentions to and I can say for a fact that I did begun my Christmas shopping early. But something inside me knew this year was going to be just a tad bit different. I didn’t get as excited as I usually did about planning Christmas gifts. For the first time in 4 years, I didn’t plan out a cute Christmas card design or photo opp. I didn’t even make my usual list in my app. Some will blame my new hobbies and interests – that I became too consumed with them and lost focus on other things. And yes, that did have an impact. But now looking back, I almost feel as if God knew that I had bigger things to focus on rather than what to buy my brother for Christmas.

So this year, I won’t be spending as much time in the stores shopping. Normally, I would devote two – three weekends to researching and locating the perfect gifts. I would scour all the craft stores for the cutest pieces so I could build my homemade gifts and creations. I would dutifully dredge back and forth around the mall, finding the just-to-good-to-be-true gift for a special someone. And by this time in the season, I would be finished with all of my gift wrapping and long mailed my Christmas cards. All that would be left would be to share my Christmas cookies and make some visits with friends and family before the big day would arrive and I could go home.

No, this year is definitely different. I’m shopping online or during the week, hiding anything I do pick up somewhere in my room so my parents don’t find it (oh how the tables have turned)! My Christmas cards desperately need to be mailed and my cookies, well they aren’t all finished yet. So I’m a bit behind. But I still have two weeks and during that time, I most certainly will get it all out in time to brighten someone’s day. And one perk of shopping from home is I get to nibble on homemade foods as I check off my list! No Starbucks and Auntie Annie’s for this girl – I’m going keeping it simple, seasonal, and still good for you! Save the pounds for the cookies, am I right?!

 

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Breakfast: Cranberry Overnight Oats

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Ingredients

  • ⅔ cups rolled oatmeal
  • 2 tablespoons chia seeds
  • 3 tablespoons dried cranberries
  • 3 tablespoons unsweetened dried coconut
  • 3 tablespoons dried pecans
  • ½ cup vanilla Greek yogurt
  • ¾ cup unsweetened almond milk

Preparation

  1. Place all ingredients in a mason jar and seal. Keep in the fridge overnight or for at least 2 hours.

 

Chocolate Eggnog Shake

Ingredients

  • ½ cup water
  • ½ unsweetened almond milk
  • 1 scoop Chocolate Shakeology
  • ½ tsp. ground allspice
  • 1 tsp. pure rum extract
  • 1 cup ice

Preparation

  1. Place water, almond milk, Shakeology, allspice, extract, and ice in blender; cover. Blend until smooth.

 

Cinnamon Spiced Sweet Potato Soup with Maple Croutons

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Ingredients

  • 2 T olive oil
  • 1 cup carrots, cut into 1/2-in. pieces
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • pinch of nutmeg
  • 1 sweet potato, peeled and cut into 3/4-in. pieces
  • 1/4 cup vegetable broth
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 dried bay leaf
  • 2 slices leftover bread, cut or torn into 1-in. pieces
  • 1 T maple syrup

Preparation

  1. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the carrots, onion and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are starting to brown at the edges 8 to 10 minutes.
  2. Add the spices and cook, stirring, for 1 minute.
  3. Add the sweet potatoes, broth, bay leaves and 3 cups water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until the vegetables are very tender, 10 to 12 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, heat the remaining tablespoon oil in a large skillet over medium heat.
  5. Add the bread and cook, tossing occasionally, until golden brown. Remove from heat, drizzle the maple syrup over the top and toss to coat.
  6. Discard the bay leaf from the soup. Using an immersion blender or standard blender, puree the soup until smooth. Serve with the maple croutons.

 

Dinner: Turkey, Swiss, & Cranberry Quesadillas 

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Ingredients

  • 2 Flatout wraps
  • 1/3 cup shredded Swiss cheese
  • 6 ounces turkey breast
  • 1/4 cup cranberry sauce
  • 1 cup baby spinach
  • 1 sweet potato, microwaved and thinly sliced or mashed
  • 1 tablespoon butter

Preparation

  1. Heat butter in pan and lay one of the wraps on the bottom.
  2. Place spinach on the bottom, followed by the cheese, turkey, cranberry sauce, and sweet potato.
  3. Top with other wrap  and cook for a few minutes on each side, until wrap is toasted and cheese is melted.
  4. Remove from pan and let sit for a few minutes. Slice into pieces and enjoy!

 

Balsamic Brussels Sprouts with Cranberries

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Ingredients

  • 3 pounds Brussels sprouts
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • 1 cup fresh cranberries
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ½ cup balsamic vinegar

Preparation

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with foil.
  2. Trim and clean the Brussels sprouts, then cut them in half. Arrange on baking sheet and toss with the olive oil. Roast until brown for 15 minutes.
  3. After 15 minutes, remove from oven and add cranberries. Return to over for another 15 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, combine the balsamic vinegar and sugar in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low and reduce until slightly thickened.
  5. Remove the sprouts from the oven. Drizzle the balsamic reduction over the roasted sprouts and serve warm.

 

Dessert: Coconut Oil Fudge

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Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup coconut oil, melted
  • 1/2 cup cacao powder (I used Hershey’s Special Dark Cocoa Powder)
  • 1/2 cup smooth almond butter
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt (omit if nut butter is salted)
  1. Line a loaf pan with parchment paper and set aside.
  2. In a small saucepan, combine all ingredients. Whisk over medium heat until smooth. It doesn’t need to boil!
  3. As soon as mixture is smooth, pour into loaf pan and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

 

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10K training, attitude, breakfast, fitness, Fitness Friday, goals, half-marathon, motivation, passion, positivity, running, setting goals, training

Five Tips to Running a Half-Marathon

So… you want to run a race. And you want to challenge yourself. Maybe you’ve already completed the K races – 5, 10, and 15 – and are looking to step it up a notch. Maybe you’re already planning to run a marathon, but need a good starter/warm-up race. Maybe you have NO idea what you’re doing but you heard that the Disney races had some pretty awesome swag so you figured eh – why not??

Well, don’t worry – you can do this. I believe in you and I know that you can do this because I was once in your shoes. That’s right – this time exactly a year ago, I was at least 15 lbs heavier, not exercising at all, and had no plans to start running anytime soon. My goal was simple: get pregnant and be fat and happy for 9 months.

Well, that goal didn’t quite go the way I had planned. By February, I was getting antsy and I decided that I needed to do something. I had gone to the doctor for my annual check-up and was appalled at my weight. I had no idea how I had gained the weight and what was more upsetting was that I had gained more than 15 lbs in exactly 12 months. To say I was angry at myself is putting it lightly. So I turned to something I had done right up until my wedding to stay fit – I started running.

Week 1 was harsh – I could barely finish a mile. I was determined to get up to 3 miles – I had done it last year and the year before; why should the cold weather or the weight stop me now? Well – I needed motivation. Losing the weight wasn’t enough for me – I needed a goal. I signed up a charity 5K about a month out and made it my mission to complete the whole thing without stopping. It took me the entire training period to do it, but just days before the race, I managed to run an entire 3 miles without stopping.

Looking back, that milestone seems so minimal, but at the time it was like winning a gold medal. As my friends always tell me, “Oh you act like a mile is no big thing – meanwhile I’m dying over here”.  Well, I didn’t start this way and neither will you. We all start somewhere – whether it’s from the very beginning (You want me to run how far??) to slightly experienced (I’ve run a few races) to a pro (I eat races for breakfast).

I’m here today to share with you how to train and complete a half-marathon. As I was saying, 9 months ago I was still laboring to complete 3 miles without stopping. I wasn’t fast and it wasn’t pretty – but I did it. Now here I am in a very different position: three 5K’s under my belt, a 10K, and fresh off a half-marathon. And while my original plan was to take a break over the holidays and then run the 15K that inspired me to start this journey (see more here), I couldn’t stop the urge to just RUN.

So, enough about how I FEEL, cuz that’s not why you’re here, am I right? You’re here to learn about how I got from that no-running place in February to the half-marathon runner in December. Well, I’m going to share with you my top 5 tips that helped me to get from that Point A to this Point B.

  1. Motivate
  2. Plan
  3. Cross-Train
  4. Fuel
  5. Rest

Sounds simple, right? Well, you and I both know that some of the simplest sounding things are actually very involved. So let’s talk about each one of these in depth so you can really see what training for a half marathon is all about.

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Motivation

The first step towards achieving a goal is to obviously set one. But once you’ve set the goal, how do you get there? The answer (and the key) is motivation. According to Merriam Webster, the definition of motivation is (1) “the reason(s) one has for acting or behaving in a particular way”; (2) “the general desire or willingness of someone to do something”. Basically, it’s great that you’ve set a goal but what is driving you to achieve that goal?

  • Is it to prove to yourself that you can do this?
  • Is it to prove to someone else you can do this?
  • Is it to overcome a fear?
  • Is it to lose weight?

Whatever the reason, you have to acknowledge it. The next step is accepting that it’s going to be tough. And during those tough times, you can’t forget about what’s driving you to achieve the goal. Having the goal of running in a half-marathon probably won’t be the reason you wake up EVERY single morning. There will be days where you just don’t feel like running and it will be up to you to dig deep and push past those feelings (unless of course it’s a legitimate feeling of pain, which we’ll talk about later). There will be days where it rains or snows and you think, “oh I’ll just skip today”, but then that turns into 2-3 days… This is when motivation is key.

Motivation can be a variety of things and it will be different for everyone. During my training, I focused on two things to keep me motivated: improving my race times and meeting my long run goals so I could get a t-shirt. That’s right – I motivated myself with shirts! WalMart had these motivational workout tank tops earlier this year and I went a little nuts by buying almost every style that they had. I couldn’t obviously wear them all at once, so I decided to “gift” them to myself each time that I met a mini-goal. So on the days that I might not want to get out of bed, I would visualize the shirt that I would be running in that morning or the shirt that I would be getting after meeting my next goal. Or I would just be honest with myself: “If you don’t run the 6 miles today Erin, you’re going to be behind a whole week and then you won’t have run the 13 miles before the actual race.”

The other way I motivated myself was by tracking my running times. I had a reminder each morning on my phone that would go off, showing me the mileage for the day. After each run, I would log my time in this reminder. After a week or so, I would transfer my times to my tracking spreadsheet. This helped me to see if there was a specific mileage that I was struggling with or if I was improving on my splits. I also had the joy of marking off the days until my next race, which in itself is motivating to me…but that’s because I’m a checklist person and I like crossing things off!

So in sum, find something – anything – that will motivate you and make a plan of attack for how to keep going strong. Tell someone your goal so they can help keep you on track. And always have a back-up plan for when the going gets rough.

 

Plan

Once you have a goal and you’ve grasped WHY you’re doing this, it’s time to plan HOW you’re going to get there. If you already have a race in mind, count how many full weeks you have until the actual race. I say full weeks because most training programs will either start on a Sunday or Monday and it’s easier to follow along by being on the same day. If you don’t have a race in mind, go find one. In order to achieve your goal of running a half marathon, it kinda requires you to actually do it. Just saying.

Most training plans are at least 12 weeks long. I made a hybrid of a training schedule for myself because by the time I realized I wanted to run a half, I was in the middle of training for a 10K. So, I looked at the two schedules and meshed them together. The 10K schedule only had me running up to 6 miles, so when I hit that mileage, I moved into the half-marathon schedule.

More importantly, though, I found a routine that worked for me. I moved my long runs to Sundays because Saturdays were usually spent with family, cleaning, and running errands. I made sure I had two rest days because I didn’t want to overwork my knee. I ran short mileage during the week (3-4 miles a day) and would mix it up between days so I didn’t get bored.

Click here for this schedule:

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Cross-Train

I can’t stress this one enough – you must find another activity outside of running that you can do on your days off. When I first started preparing for my races, everyone told me that I needed to cross-train. I didn’t listen (because you know I was such the seasoned expert) and I wound up hurting myself and having to stop training in order to heal. Not a smart plan, so let’s not repeat what I did!

As I mentioned, make sure that you have rest days built into your training schedule. Depending on your level, you may just need one day. I personally need two – one for mid week and one the day after my long run. In addition, you should have at lease one cross-train day each week. On this day, you should do an activity that will work the same or complimentary muscles, but in a different way than running. Many people like swimming or cycling. Others like to do yoga (a personal favorite of mine).

You’ll see on my training schedule that I don’t have a cross-train day. This is because I did various daily workouts, in addition to running. I did a cardio and light-weight workout routine the first month of my training, a dance cardio/yoga program the second month, and then back to the cardio/weight program the final month. This was a daily program, but I felt that I benefitted from the weight workouts because my knees felt stronger. On one of the 4-mile days, I would recommend using this as your sole cross-train day.

I do want to note here something very important: If at any point during your training, you feel that you aren’t benefitting from the cross-training, make sure you stop and re-evaluate. If you’re cycling as a cross-train but notice that you feel more sore when running, it may be that you’re overworking your body. I always say it’s the best idea to listen to your body – it’s usually right!

 

Fuel

There are a lot of articles that I’ve read that list out the foods that every runner should eat. I found that I was already including them in my meals, so it wasn’t too much a of a shocks. There were some items that I did find to be new and it inspired me to find ways to incorporate them! Here are just a few of the top foods you should be eating every week:

Almonds: great source of vitamin E

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Black Beans: provides 30% of your daily value in protein and 60% of your fiber

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Chicken: protein is viable in rebuilding muscle and just 1, 4oz. serving can provide half of what you need to do this!

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Dark Chocolate: contain flavanols, which can boost heart health and help to ease inflammation

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Eggs: one of these is equally to 10% of your daily protein needs

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Oranges: provides more than your daily value in vitamin C

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Mixed Salad Greens: mix up your greens so that you’re getting the full benefit of the unique phytonutrients they each have to offer!

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Salmon: a great source of protein and omega-3 fats

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Whole-Grains: whether it’s cereal or pasta, look for items that contain at least 5 grams of fiber and 8 grams of protein

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Yogurt: the live cultures in this provide healthy bacteria to keep a healthy digestive tract and help with inflammation

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During my training, I always ran in the morning. Not only was it cooler and quieter, but it also ensured that I got my run in for the day. I learned very early on that I couldn’t run after eating, but I also couldn’t run without anything on my stomach. I read a lot of articles that said to eat bananas, eggs, or peanut butter. I settled on peanut butter because it was the lightest and the least time-consuming (I’m not a big banana fan). Below is the one that I discovered about halfway through my training and I seriously can’t go back now.

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During training, it’s recommended that you find a way to stay hydrated. Some people like to use gels during races. I’ve personally never tried them.I have a weird reflex when I run that if I try to drink water, I wind up swallowing it down the wrong “pipe”, thus gagging or hacking the water up. It’s really not fun for myself or the people watching, so I typically avoid the water stations. However, I know that I need something to keep me going, both during the race and on my long runs. A fellow runner actually suggested taking dates with me on runs and eating a few whenever I feel drained. I tried it and was surprise at how much they helped (and that I didn’t gag). It was a win-win, so I stuck with this routine. I really don’t have a particular brand, but I would recommend these smaller, chopped ones and not the larger Medjool dates.

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Rest

I feel so so strongly about this one that I mention it again!! It’s very important that you learn to listen to your body so you know when it’s really been pushed to it’s limits. I’m the worst at taking a day off. I’ll be honest – I fear that if I give myself one day off, I won’t start back up. I quickly realized that not taking any time off wasn’t a smart decision. But by the time I realized this, I had pushed myself too hard and I was forced to take a few weeks off. This was also before I started cross-training. When I was able to re-start, I made sure to include at least 1 rest day a week.

You also have to listen to your body. You can’t just push and push without something giving. You will have sore muscles – that’s too be expected. But if while running to start to experience severe pain, make sure you stop and assess. Don’t assume it’s nothing and wind up hurting yourself!


So after all of the training, what do you do in the final days before the race? Well, that’s an excellent question that I had as well. Here are my top 5 tips on preparing for the big day:

Attire: Determine what you’re going to wear and test it out before the race! Do not wait until the day of to wear those new shoes or shorts – you will regret it. If the weather is going to be pretty drastic, make sure you plan accordingly so you’re not sweating unnecessarily or freezing for half the race!

Eat Up: In the final day or so before your race, be sure to up your carbs and proteins. Your body is going to need both of those in order to last through the race. This is especially important if you’ve not run the full distance prior to race day!

Below is what I ate for the day before and morning of the race:

  • Breakfast: steel cut oats with peanut butter and banana
  • Snack: Greek yogurt and fruit
  • Lunch: Hook -N- Ladder from Firehouse with veggies with a lot of coconut water
  • Shake: blueberry & mango shake
  • Dinner: homemade pasta and spaghetti sauce with a garlic breadstick
  • Dessert: apple crisp with peach cookie gelato
  • Before the race: eggs with kale, coffee, and my beloved Peanut Butter & Coconut Spread

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Prep & Plan: In order to avoid forgetting something (as we all are prone to do when rushed and/or excited), lay everything out the night before. If you’re super worried you’re going to forget something, write yourself a list so you can cross things off. This will help you fall asleep easier knowing that all you will need is in one place in the morning.

 

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Rules: Be sure to read over the instructions and confirm when/where you need to pick up your race packed. I made the mistake of not confirming and the night before the race I went into absolute panic because I overanalyzed the statement that said “You must pick up your packet on Saturday at the expo” (even though it said the expo was open Sunday morning before the race. Talk about not getting much sleep! Which brings me to my final point….

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Sleep: Make sure you get enough sleep!!! There is nothing worse that trying to run 13.1 miles and dragging because a) you stayed up way too late and b) you couldn’t have your coffee before you ran!


Good luck!!!

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