Monday, October 27, 2014

A Surprise for Me this Morning

When you've resigned to the fact that you are a once or twice a quarter at best blog poster, have a good 30,000 hits or so to your blog - EVER - and only do so because your relatives and friends beg you to do so after seeing your latest creation on Instagram, you kinda just let your blog slide.
(Hidden message: Follow me on Instagram because I'm far more interesting over there.)
But when a hilarious, consistent, and wildly popular blogger by the name of Taylor gives you some unexpected but very welcome publicity, and you get the notification on your Twitter feed, what do you do?
You run your butt out of the gym locker room as soon as you can slap some mascara and clothes on, hair in a wet knot (blogger knot?  Maybe I am a real blogger?)  and write a stream-of-conscious post so you look like you're actually sort of relevant.
This is me and E from a couple of weeks ago on our fabulous trip to California - this specifically was from a dear friend's wedding in San Diego; we also visited LA, Santa Barbara, Santa Monica, Malibu, and Coronado Island.  An amazing ten days that I wish I could live over and over.
Relevant post coming soon, I guess, but this is to say HI and please check out my other posts, you'll love them.  And please GFC me - I'm probably the only person left out there that actually uses Google Friend Connect but hey, what can I say.
Another note - I did the Whole 30 at the prompting of Ashley Paige, last month and I totally loved it.  I will recap this later this month!  (Well, it's the 27th, but you know what I mean.)
So I definitely pumped this post out in record time, so I guess I have no excuse not to write more often. Thanks, Taylor, for the swift kick in the butt, and great chilling with you again!
Thanks for visiting!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

How to Make a Healthier, Less Expensive Pumpkin Spice Latte

As much as I'm not ready to admit it, Pumpkin Spice is making a comeback for 2014.  Starbucks launched their famously overpriced and unnatural, yet incredibly delicious, Pumpkin Spice Lattes in their stores either today or sometime around today.  Yes, they're good, but they're expensive, and full of weird things like caramel color (a known carcinogen) and corn syrup derivatives .. plus things they won't disclose because "they're individually handmade and customized."  Sounds weird.

I'm trying to make the effort to not eat as much crap as we tend to do in our lives.  While skimming FB, I saw my friend from college, Heidi, forwarded this link along on how to make your own Pumpkin Spice Latte.  She loves it and so I figured I'd pass it along now, in my own voice, just in time for the Autumn hit just ahead.

This is not my picture or my original recipe.  Just sharing the love.  Click this link for the original source.

Homemade - and Healthier - Pumpkin Spice Latte

-          Add the following to a half-cup skim milk:
o   1 Tablespoon pumpkin puree
o   1 teaspoon brown sugar
o   1 teaspoon vanilla extract
o   ¼ teaspoon pumpkin pie spice (which is equal parts cinnamon, ginger, allspice, and nutmeg)
-          Whisk it all together and microwave for about a minute and a half, watching it so it doesn’t froth over and make a mess.

-          Pour this hot pumpkin milk into a tall mug or glass, and top off with 8 oz hot coffee.

-          Add a little nonfat creamer and Splenda to taste.

-          Optional – add 2 Tablespoons whipped cream and a sprinkle of nutmeg.  Voila!

-      NOTE: I've been advised not to really drink all the way to the bottom of the glass .. the natural pumpkin in there may make it a little too thick to be palatable.  Your choice!

I looked up the nutrition facts of all these ingredients .. it comes to 95 calories, 0 grams of fat, and 14 grams of sugar .. if you add the whipped cream, it bumps it to 110 calories, 1 gram fat, and 14 grams sugar.

Compare this to the 340 calories, 10 grams of fat, and 47 grams of sugar found in a regular grande Starbucks PSL – and that’s WITHOUT the whipped cream!  That bumps it to 410/17/48! Even if you use nonfat milk in the Starbucks version, you're still WELL over 200 calories and an astronomical amount of refined sugar.  I have to say, that's just not good for you.

Enjoy, and save your money and waistline!

Some nutrition fact proof for ya:

Click to enlarge; Source -

Click to enlarge; Source -

Monday, June 30, 2014

Lemon Quinoa Salad with Avocado, Spinach, and Garbanzos

I literally just ate this.  As in, the empty bowl is beside this laptop as I type.  And it was so good I had to post the recipe immediately.

Mondays normally find me back home with Lumen after spending my weekend with E, friends, and plenty of heavy, guilt-inducing food (and drink(s)).  While poking around the internet deciding what to make for dinner tonight, I came across this recipe and figured I'd give it a shot for myself.  It seemed simple enough to make quickly, light enough to assuage my guilt from all the gin consumed the previous three days, and judging by the ingredient list, I knew E might like it.

Now I'm convinced.  EVERYONE will like this recipe.  Except if you're one of those people who thinks cilantro tastes like soap.  In that case, I forgive you; just omit it from yours.

I've made some modifications from Meg's version - and I'm telling you, this isn't just a side dish (though it can be).  I ate a big ol' bowl of this for dinner and I am fully satisfied.  It's fully vegan vegetarian (can be made vegan by swapping out the honey for agave syrup or brown rice syrup) and yet still full of protein!  I ate it still warm but you may refrigerate this and serve chilled.

If you are a newbie to keenwah quinoa, don't let it intimidate you.  The other flavors in this dish are what sing; the texture and taste of the quinoa simply enhance it.

Enjoy this light summer salad!  Let me know what you think.

Lemon Quinoa Salad with Avocado, Spinach, and Garbanzos
(Serves 4 as a side, 2 or 3 as a main dish)
  • 3/4 cup dry Quinoa.  I used Shoprite's brand of tri-color quinoa, which blends white, black, and red grains.  Really fantastic - and store-brand so extra-cheap!  I will forever sing the praises of Shoprite.
  • 1 and 1/2 cups Vegetable Broth or Water - the broth is optional.  Tonight I made the quinoa with just water as I know I have a brand-new box of veggie broth at Eric's and I just couldn't see myself buying another.  The broth will make it more flavorful but, since there's so much going on in this dish already, it really isn't critical.
  • 1/2 cup fresh Cilantro, diced
  • 2 cups fresh, raw Baby Spinach, diced
  • 1 clove Garlic
  • 1/4 cup (or 4 Tablespoons) Red Onion
  • 1 can Garbanzos (Chick Peas), rinsed and dried
  • 1 cup Cherry Tomatoes or grape tomatoes, cut into halves.  I used only red this time around, but next time will use both red and yellow tomatoes to enhance the sweetness.
  • 1 large, ripe Avocado, diced
  • The juice from 1 medium Lemon
  • 2 tsp Dijon Mustard or brown mustard (don't use yellow mustard for this, no no no, save that for your barbeques)
  • 3 tsp Olive Oil
  • 1 and 1/2 tsp Honey
  • salt, pepper, and a little Adobo to taste (optional)
It's recommended to rinse your quinoa before cooking, not really sure why, but I found this left me with clumpy quinoa that was almost impossible to deal with.  Your call.  In any case..

Combine the quinoa and your broth/water in a medium pot and heat to a rolling boil.  Once boiling, reduce heat to simmer and cover.  Your quinoa should fully absorb the liquid in about 12-15 minutes.  Remove from heat and set aside.  (Or stick in the fridge if you prefer this salad cold.)

Combine diced cilantro and spinach in a large mixing bowl.  Add garlic, red onion, garbanzos, and tomatoes and stir to combine.  Then add quinoa and stir to combine.

In a separate bowl, combine lemon juice, mustard, olive oil, honey, and seasonings.  Whisk together.

Pour this dressing into the garbanzo salad, add diced avocado, and toss lightly so as to not squish the avocado. 

Serve either still warm, or refrigerate prior to serving.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

An Announcement ..

I'm Engaged!

E and I go to Martha's Vineyard at least once a year to visit good friends and have the time of our lives.  It's our special place - the first vacation we took together, the first place we exchanged I Love Yous, the place we eat and relax like we wish we could live daily ..

And now it's the place where he asked me to be his wife.

E proposed on Saturday, June 7, 2014 atop the Cape Pogue Lighthouse on Chappaquiddick island, timed exactly at sunset, staged to be a surprise, had a photographer friend on-hand and ready, and it was completely, utterly romantic.

I have never been happier or more sure that he is the man I want to spend the rest of my life with.

Now I can't wait to leave the awful kitchen I currently have -- and finally call this beautiful kitchen OURS!  (E and his dad designed and constructed it, and I will be sure to blog about it once the backsplash and final pieces are complete!  It's been a complete labor of love.)

While on our last trip, we went to a restaurant that starred this amazing Summer Orzo Salad.  I'll be back this week with the deconstructed recipe.

Thanks!  Today, I am deliriously happy.  WE are deliriously happy.

Special thanks to Erin at Living In Yellow for the shout-out in today's post!  I loved my outfit and so did E, of course :)  Check Erin's blog out, especially today - she is a riot and an excellent writer.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Greek 7 Layer Dip, and Egg White Oatmeal. Both of Which are Not My Recipes.

It's no secret that I'm a less-than-regular blogger.  However, I'm really trying to step up my game a little bit over here.  My Spring goal is to become better organized.  I used to really pride myself on my organizational skills, Type-A, get-er-done mentality. 
So what happened?  I got swamped.  No - I let myself get swamped.  In addition to my love for organization, I also don't tend to say "no, I can't" to very much.  This tends to stretch me thin and make me so panic-stricken that I become crippled - and then I get absolutely get nothing done.  A lot of great things get started, but nothing completed. 
I kicked myself in the butt a little bit over the past few months, and this is the best way I know how to get at least this piece of it going.  I'll leave you with two killer recipes that are not my own, but I make regularly now and I can't get enough.
The first is this quick breakfast staple for Cinnamon Egg White Oatmeal.  I know it sounds a little gross, but I promise you - you do NOT taste the egg whites, and the extra protein kick keeps you fuller longer.  Find the recipe by Robin, here at her blog.  She's a sweet girl and I am very hopeful you'll like it.  I tend to make more than one serving at a time and re-heat it throughout the week.

I put chia seeds on mine - extra omega-3s and fiber
The second recipe is this Greek Seven Layer Dip.  I've made it for many parties and it always, ALWAYS disappears before the party is over.  I got the recipe from Erin at LIY, where I'm also being sponsored this month .. she's a great lady and always a fun read.  Scroll half-way down this post to get the recipe.  I also like to garnish it up a bit :) 

That's all I got for ya today.  I'll be posting some new spring recipes up here the rest of this month .. I know, don't hold your breath, but I'm going to try posting again more often than once a quarter.
Happy May!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Semi-Homemade (AKA Fast and Easy) Italian Wedding Soup.

Um, brrrr.  It's snowstorm number 497 of this winter.  We've all said it: We've had enough.

I did have to admit, waking up this morning, I romanticized the snowfall a bit.  There's something just really nice about awakening in a snuggly bed to the purity outside; the stillness paired with the glittery detail is something not easily sound elsewhere.

These pictures were taken on my way to work last week the morning after the last snowstorm we had.  This is the kind of snowfall I mean.  Pretty.  Still.  Romantic.

So about 10 minutes into today's snowstorm - into which I only stepped out ONCE - I am totally over it.  It's cold and windy and plain awful.  

 Cold and rain and ick.  Done.

Figured today was just a good a day as any for piping hot soup.  And definitely not the watered-down stuff you find in a can.

 This is a rip-off from Ina Garten's already incredibly-easy Italian Wedding Soup (link).  However, she makes her own meatballs for it.  If I made the time, I'm sure I could do the same and they'd be amazing.  However, when I'm hungry, things have to be ready ASAP.  I definitely recommend checking out the Barefoot Contessa's soup recipe for some really great-sounding, truly homemade chicken meatballs.  I can't vouch for them because I've never had them, but they sure sound good.

Instead, I used these store-bought turkey meatballs, from BJ's (thanks M!), and cut them in half because they're really huge .. and frozen spinach.  Yes, I know.  Trust me, it's okay: it's SUPER cheap, convenient, quick, and just as good in soup as fresh spinach is.

The big selling point of my soup over Ina's?  This should take less than a half-hour to cook - probably even 20 minutes.  Compare that to the one-hour, fifteen minutes of prep time Ina's takes!  And it tastes fully homemade (You do have the option of leaving the meatballs whole - adds to the authenticity of the "homemade" feel).  It's SO fulfilling, and it freezes well.  I even made another pot of it for E's neighbors - it was very well received!

Semi-Homemade Italian Wedding Soup

What You'll Need:
  • 1 lb pre-cooked frozen turkey meatballs (OR: 1/2 lb frozen turkey meatballs, 1/2 lb hot chicken sausage or hot turkey sausage, cooked and cut into bite-size pieces.  This obviously is a variation, and therefore kinda throws the tradition of MEATBALLS ONLY! out the window - along with the time-saving piece due to cooking the sausage beforehand.  However, I made it this way twice before (you'll see sausage in the very first picture on this post) and it's too friggin delicious.  Worth a shot if you're feeling adventurous.
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup minced yellow onion
  • 1 cup diced carrots (3 carrots), cut into 1/4 inch pieces
  • 3/4 cup diced celery (2 stalks), cut into 1/4 inch pieces
  • 10 cups chicken stock (low sodium is better for you, it's true)
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1 cup small pasta such as tubetini or stars - or, I use the pretty pasta called Gemelli that you see above.  It gets way too bloated as it sits in the soup, but I don't mind.  Most people would, though.  Stick with the small pasta to start.
  • 1/4 cup minced fresh dill (optional, really effects the taste but in a good way, I believe)
  • 2 packages frozen whole-leaf spinach (18 to 20 oz total)
 What You'll Do:

Take a swig of wine out of the bottle.  Yes, I do this every time I make this soup.  Whatever.

Take meatballs out to defrost on the counter (or nuke in the microwave in Defrost setting for a few minutes.  Do not get them completely hot - just a little warm.  Cut each in half if you'd like.

Heat the olive oil over medium-low heat in a large heavy-bottomed soup pot.

Add the onion, carrots, and celery and sauté until softened, 5 to 6 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Take care not to burn the onions, as they will look odd as little brown specks in your soup.

Add the chicken stock and wine and bring to a boil.

Add the pasta to the simmering broth and cook for 6 to 8 minutes, until the pasta is tender.

Tip:  What I do here is take the lid off the large soup pot (now that I got the broth boiling and the pasta's in there) and put it on top of the plate of meatballs.  The heated lid steams up the meatballs just the slightest bit more.

Add the dill and the spinach to the soup and simmer for 1 minute. Add the meatballs, and taste for salt and pepper.  Cook for another three to five minutes, until the spinach is fully separated.

Ladle into soup bowls and sprinkle each serving with grated Parmesan.  Serve with a big piece of crusty bread.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Vanilla Apple Pumpkin Spice Cupcakes

It's a dreary day outside.  Forgivingly warm, but still cloudy and taunting with the threat of storms to start Monday morning.  I'm hanging out with Er, watching football, and prepping myself for the work-week ahead.  I get some solace in spending a few hours getting ready for the wave of emails so I'm not surprised first thing in the morning - no one likes those kind of surprises.

I took a quick break between the Eagles (boo) and the Giants (heck.  yes.) just now to catch up on my blog-reading, and hey, it turns out I've hit a milestone I knew was coming but didn't think it would happen so soon.  Especially since I update this thing maybe four times a year, I don't sponsor or advertise, and really only keep it alive to prevent my creative-writing skills (or what I have left of them; I may have peaked in AP English class when I was seventeen) from wilting away completely like the crimson leaves blowing around outside.

I've officially hit 20,000 blog visits since its launch!

Guaranteed, 10,000 were probably my own visits, making sure the graphics look tolerable and my writing doesn't sound like I use the same fifty words over and over.  So - that means at least 10,000 unique visits, right?  That's gotta be something to celebrate.  I know many blogs get 10,000 views a week, but for me, this is a pretty big deal.  So please pity cheer with me!

So thank you, readers: friends, family, fellow bloggers, Instagrammers and Twitterers, strangers in Austrailia, China, and France that seem to keep finding this blog, internet stalkers, thanks to each and every one of you. 

To celebrate, here's the long-coveted Vanilla Apple Pumpkin Spice cupcake recipe that a lot of you have been lusting after online.  They're really semi-homemade; I start with a BOXED (I'll pause for the choral ::gasp::) spice cake base and add some flair to it.  I'm sure if you make a slammin' spice cake really from scratch already, you A - are most certainly a better baker than I, B - I'm insanely envious of you, and C - you can absolutely use that instead.  I'm just not sure of the conversion.  But, if you are baking everything from scratch already, I'm sure you're eons ahead of me skill-wise and can figure it out.  Definitely let me know if that's the case, I'll edit this appropriately!

Posting these just in time for Thanksgiving.  Hey family - yes, I will be bringing these with me.  Don't worry.

I'm sure I'm riding the tail-end of all food bloggers' "OMG pumpkin spice EVERYTHING" posts .. so I apologize if you see these and are all, "um these have been done a million times already, Christine, so chill."  To that I say, bookmark this page and come back in September 2014!  Maybe I'll hit 30,000 views by then.  ;)

Vanilla Apple Pumpkin Spice Cupcakes

  • 1 box Spice Cake mix (I use Duncan Hines Signature Spice Cake Mix)
  • 1 and ⅓ Cup water
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup smooth unsweetened applesauce
  • 2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice seasoning (if you do not own this, do not fret and do NOT spend $6.29 on a tiny little McCormick jar.  See below to make your own - odds are good you have everything you need already!)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 small package vanilla instant pudding
  • Cream Cheese frosting (I did not make my own.  I used the unhealthy, processed, trans-fat-laden, what the heck is in this stuff, canned frosting.  Please do as I say, not as I do: Find a good cream cheese frosting recipe online and make it from scratch)
  • Cinnamon Sugar
  • Pumpkin candy
  • Optional, but a HUGE bonus: frosting injector (I actually used an unused, brand-new hardware glue syringe from E's father .. make do with what you got!)

Preheat oven to 350°F for metal or glass pans, 325°F for dark or coated pans.

Combine all ingredients listed above (obviously not the topping part).  Mix with an electric mixer for 2 minutes.

Let batter sit in the bowl for 2 minutes to rest and set.

Bake in greased muffin tins for 15 minutes.  You do NOT want to overbake these, so watch closely.  Of course, be sure to test with a toothpick for done-ness.

Let cool and remove from tins.  If you have an injector, use them to poke a hole in the top of each muffin and squirt a little cream cheese frosting.  It really adds a LOT, trust.

Then frost completely, dust with cinnamon sugar, and top with a candy.

Note: If you don't have pumpkin spice - it's OK.  It's totally overpriced and makes no sense because I guarantee you have these ingredients in your pantry already.  Unless you're my boyfriend and have nothing in your kitchen yet.  But that's ok because it's beautifully custom built by his and his father's hands and I am SO PROUD OF HIM.  Okay enough gushing, but I will be posting about it soon.  Get ready because I AM SO EXCITED to share it with you!

Cinnamon.  Ginger.  Nutmeg.  Cloves (not pictured). Allspice. (no, that doesn't mean all the spices you own.  There's actually something called Allspice.)  See?  Not that bad.  Here's a quick-and-dirty Pumpkin Pie Spice recipe for ya:

3 Tablespoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground ginger
2 teaspoons nutmeg
1 and 1/2 teaspoons ground allspice
1 and 1/2 teaspoons ground cloves

Mix well.

Oh, and thanks for not commenting on my chipped nail polish.

I just got a new manicure yesterday.  It looks much nicer now.

Let me know what you think.  Hope you have a great Thanksgiving!