CHAMPAGNE AND CRANBERRIES

When the holidays approach, two things I look forward to the most are Champagne and cranberries. I realize that if I really wanted to, I could have these anytime of the year. But the holidays seem to make it all the more special. I happen to consume both of these in abundance over the holiday season. They’re so tasty!

Cranberries are a seasonal fruit for this time of year. I also happen to love these little gems.  Their color is by far my favorite color of any fruit out there. The hues of reds, pinks and burgundy are magnificent. How does nature create such wonderful things?? It’s amazing! Their flavor is wonderful as well. Adding that perfect bite of tartness to cakes, muffins, or pies. Added into savory dishes when dried, adds a bit of sweet tartness to brighten the flavors. I must also add that they are a healthy little berry too. Packed full of vitamin C, manganese and anthocyanin (the flavonoids that give the berries their gorgeous color). All good things people….all good things.

 

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Happy little berries!!

Then Champagne. Remember that balance thing? Have to mix some good with the bad. Although how “bad” can Champagne really be? I mean it’s wine and bubbles!! Nothing bad ever came of that. EVER. The bubbles are little trails of love you get to follow with your eyes as they climb their way to the top of the glass. They hit your palate and wake it up. Then they eventually make their way to your head, and well, you can draw your own conclusions for what effect that has on you. For me, the bubbles are a super highway to happiness. They scream party time and make me a little extra bubbly. I know. Don’t judge.

 

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Although I love a great glass of Champagne, my knowledge of it was lacking. I wanted to find out primarily what separates Champagne from sparkling wine. Turns out nothing does. Its only the French being territorial over the Champagne region of France. Only sparkling wines made in that area have the right to be called Champagne. So there’s that. Spain jumped on that bandwagon as well and ordered all sparkling wines out of Spain be called Cava. Italy, its Prosecco. Although Prosecco is made slightly different than champagne. It’s all about the fermentation process…..I won’t go into those details here. I just want to drink it, not make it. There are different levels of sweetness: Extra Brut (the driest), Brut (the most common and popular), Extra Dry (not as dry as the first two, has more sweetness), and Demi-sec (the sweetest, to be sipped as a dessert wine).

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These were the sparkling wines I tested. My favorite (and yes the most expensive naturally) was the Veuve, which was a Brut. My second favorite was the Cava. I found that at my local Whole Foods and it was the least expensive of all three!

Now, you combine the two. You could add a splash of cranberry juice to your mimosa. You can make a cocktail with Cranberry and a little wedge of lime. I like to place my cranberries whole in my glass and watch them float and parade around on the bubbles. It makes me so happy. Its a visual thing. You could sugar them!! Oh happy day!! Anyway,  I love the visual affect of cranberries. And I like being happy. This accomplishes both things in one glass. It’s the simple things, honestly.

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Speaking of simple. Homemade cranberry sauce. Have you made it? You throw some cranberries, sugar, orange juice, orange zest and water in a pot and boil it. Wow! So much flavor and texture.

You can add in an apple or stir in gelatin to make it jellied. I did both this year. I like the idea of a cute little jelly mold.

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Cranberries, Apple, orange rind, orange juice, sugar, cinnamon, cloves and water. Simple. Perfect balance of flavors. Easy to make. Please leave the cans on the shelves.

Apple-Orange Cranberry Sauce (William Sonoma) 

1/2 Orange

2 cups water

1 tart apple, such as Granny Smith, pippin or McIntosh

3 cups fresh cranberries

1 1/4 cups sugar

1/2 tsp  ground cinnamon

1/4 tsp ground cloves

Squeeze the juice from the orange and set aside. Remove and discard the membrane from inside the orange rind and cut the rind into small dice. In a small saucepan over high heat, combine the rind and water and bring to a boil. Cook for 10 minutes, then drain and set aside.

Peel, core and quarter the apple. Cut into 1/2 inch dice and place in a saucepan. Sort the cranberries, discarding any soft ones. Add to the apples along with the orange juice, orange rind, sugar, cinnamon, and cloves. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce the heat to low and cover the pan partially. Simmer gently, stirring occasionally, until the sauce thickens, the apple is tender and the cranberries have burst. About 10-15 minutes.

Transfer the cranberry sauce to a heatproof bowl an let rest for 1 hour before serving. Or cover and refrigerate; bring to room temperature before serving.

 

I made this cranberry sauce three days in advance. Which is awesome if you have a big meal to plan. Anything that can be done ahead is so helpful. As I was in the throes of kitchen prep (literally 3 days of prep for one meal?!?) I realized I was starving and needed more protein. Turkey burger with cranberry sauce anyone? Yes. Please. It was so good and great way to test the sauce!

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So in love with this color!

As a count, I went through three bottles of sparkling wine. Two pounds of cranberries. Several oranges and a lot of sugar. I shared! Kind of.

The Holidays are upon us. Find what you love about this season and make it a priority to have it in your life. Abundantly.

V~

 

 

 

Caramel Sauce

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What kind of a person would I be if my first blog about food wasn’t about Caramel?

I would be incongruent with my message.  I profess my love for caramel all the time, so it’s only prudent to write about it first.  My love of caramel developed out of an (brace yourself) allergy to chocolate. Yes, horror of all horrors, I was allergic to all things chocolate as a child. But no need to be sad….caramel came to the rescue! Caramel sundaes, caramel candies, caramel apples…. all the yummy, buttery, caramely goodness a kid could want. Why should chocolate get all the glory?? Honestly, people are missing out.

As I grew older, I eventually grew out of my allergy and was able to have more chocolate, but as it would happen, I never gained that strong affinity to chocolate like most people. I preferred caramel, amongst other flavor profiles (lemon to name another). As an adult, I’ve learned that caramel is still there for me. It’s got my back in most situations. It’s there as a solid standby on those crappy days (or weeks) when you need a little extra love. Nothing hits home for me quite like a little spoonful of caramel. Heck, I’ll even drizzle a little caramel in my protein smoothies if the mood strikes.

I used to purchase caramel from the store or the random specialty shop. (Still will from time to time). Then I looked at the various ways to make it at home. All I needed was sugar, water, cream, vanilla and butter?? Wait, what?? I have that on hand ALL the time!! Wait….I can make caramel ANY time I want?! I got to work. First batch….epic fail. The sugar burned, I got burned and it took an over night soak to get all the sugar out of the sauce pan. After several tries (I’m talking a solid week or so of trying) I had varying degrees of success. Once I found my way to amber waves of caramel I never went back!

There are SO many ways to make caramel. It can make you crazy. It would take an entire post just to write about all the ways. Bottom line is you just have to try. Burn yourself, burn your sugar, burn your pan (just don’t burn down the house) and I promise you’ll find the way that works best for you. I’ll share what works for me.

Caramel Sauce

  • 1 1/2 cups  sugar
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1 1/4 cups heavy cream
  • 1/2 tsp  pure vanilla extract
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • sea salt (if desired)

I prefer to start with a sugar/water combo. Stir it around a bit and put it on medium heat.  I use a heavy sauce pan. If I’m using a cup or more of sugar, I will bump up the size of the sauce pan, say, to maybe a 10qt size. It helps to distribute the sugar more thinly, therefore reducing the cooking time and you’ll have more even heat distribution. Then you just stand and watch. Maybe grab a chair if you need. Put on some good music. Pour something to drink, kick back and watch sugar do its thing.  I would refrain from drinking any alcohol unless you are a seasoned caramel maker. Remember, I’ve learned the hard way. Just so you know.

These are the stages of what your sugar should look like as it caramelizes. The bottom right hand photo is right at the color you want before you take it off the burner. Taking photos of making caramel while watching it, is tricky! Don’t be afraid to swirl it around!  I swirl it around and have found that helps it to heat more evenly.

If you’ve read any recipe about how to make caramel, it will typically give you how long it takes before you’re supposed to see the sugar caramelize. They’ll say “5-7 minutes” or some silly thing like that. They’re wrong. Every single one is wrong! While I was learning to make caramel, I found this to be a really frustrating and frankly, demoralizing aspect. I continually wondered what I was doing wrong! Why was mine taking so long? Was it me? Was it my pan? Heat? Sugar? Well…..likely a combination of all that. I stopped watching the clock and started watching my sugar! When it starts  looking like caramel, it’s caramel and I’ll pull it off the heat!! However, one must pay very close attention to this detail and know when to take it off the heat. It will go from wonderful caramel sweetness, to burnt and bitter in a nanosecond. So give it all the love and attention it deserves, watch over it the whole time! You can also use a candy thermometer, however if you don’t have enough liquid for it to settle in, you can get an inaccurate reading. If it’s in a hot spot, it’ll read wrong. Really it’s about trial and error. I still get batches wrong. It happens. And it’s ok. Just start anew. It’s just sugar.

SO……once you’ve got that perfect Amber color, take it off the heat and pour, ever so slowly, the cream in. (Side note to the cream: I  like to have my cream and butter at room temp, I’ve found it lessons the risk of forming sugar crystals while combining it into the the caramelized sugar) While pouring slowly, you are madly whisking. It will bubble up like a volcano. Hiss and steam and look a little scary. Just keep working, it calms down quickly. Once that’s incorporated, whisk in your butter and add the vanilla flavoring. Put it back on the heat and keep whisking. Its ok if there are a few little balls of hardened sugar. You can sieve those out. Its ok if there is still some hardened sugar along the bottom, it won’t affect the taste outcome.  You should mostly have creamy, smooth caramel sauce in the end. It will be like the consistency of cream.

If you’ve got a glob of sticky tar like sugar. It won’t recover. Start over.

If it smells burned. It is. Start over.

If it tastes like sugar or looks too light. It’s not caramel, start over.

It should look nice and golden brown. Like your skin does after a week long vacation to Hawaii. It should taste creamy and buttery sweet with that classic caramel flavor, no bitterness. Then you’re done! Its caramel sauce! If you’re like me and jump right in to the taste test, be aware of how hot this is. Only a few moments ago it was molten sugar. You will burn the heck out of your mouth like I’ve done on occasion.  I typically dip my spoon in and let it sit on the counter a bit, then give it a taste. Pour it into a jar or dish, cover and tuck it away in the fridge to cool and thicken.

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Want to really turn it into something special? Infuse spice into the cream first. A little cinnamon and cloves perhaps. Add a pinch of cayenne pepper.  Keep it classic and top it with a little sea salt and you have one of my all time favorite flavor combinations. You could mix in some whiskey or Bourbon…..now you’ve gone from friends to lovers. Oh ya!

Again, as with most things in life, the things we find the most meaningful, take the most care. Caramel making is no exception. It demands your time and attention. The reward is so worth it!

V~

My Fitness Journey

So a little background as to how I’ve arrived at a passion for fitness…….

As a kid I lived at the top of a hill. A series of very steep hills actually. Not so fun to ride a bike up. Not so fun to learn a stick shift on. But back in the day that’s all we had. Two legs and a bike. This made simple things like going on a hike in the mountains, really easy. Running, playing were never a challenge. We always led an active lifestyle…..camping, hiking, riding bikes etc. But as a kid I never really understood or had a strong appreciation for what that did for me. I just played!!

Food was never made an issue in our house. Sure, mom went on diets from time to time, but I don’t ever recall it being a major point of conflict in our home. We had balanced meals, we spoke about the importance of eating a fruit, veggie, starch, and protein. Food was eaten, appreciated and enjoyed. If we wanted ice cream….we ate it. If we wanted cookies…..we ate them. It was just food. No emphasis was ever put on it, except to appreciate it.

As I approached my high school years I joined my schools ski team, kept running up hills to train so I could hurdle myself down them. Then college came…….

The freshman 15 happened. Or was it 20? Either way…..it was weight gain. Just got out of sync with it all. Working, school, new relationship…..it happens, right? Soon I realized I was not pleased with the reflection staring back at me. So, I joined weight watchers with a friend of mine. I lost the weight and started exercising once again. If I found myself putting on a little extra weight, I would jump back on the weight watchers train, and get back on track. The only thing I wasn’t doing was keeping my exercise routine steady.

In 2000 I joined my local gym, started working with a trainer and started my fitness journey a new. I stuck with this off and on for another 6 yrs. Not really finding my way. I would go just to go….never fully grasping the appreciation for it. Just trying to maintain. Never took it serious. Ahhhh, the joys of being young!

Then in 2006 I found out I was pregnant with my first child. Vacation time, right? Hell ya!! I was doing nothing and eating whatever I wanted. It was glorious!! Until that is, after the baby came. Lucky for me she was an amazing baby. She slept well, loved the stroller, could go for long walks (hills included, as I live in a neighborhood filled with hills again) and I started taking Pilates classes. Pilates!! Its what ignited my love of the mind, body connection. I got it. I was like “Yes!! This is it! I get this!” My instructor encouraged me to get certified and teach, so that’s what I did!

By the time I was pregnant with my second child I was certified and teaching. I continued to teach and take classes all the way through my second pregnancy. I went on only a mini vacation this time. Why not? It worked before!! Again, it was all fun and games until the second baby arrived. That’s when I hit the “WTF just happened?” and life just kind of stopped. She was (and still is) a high need child. Not entirely a bad thing, but it makes getting out of the house all the more challenging. So the weight I put on with her, (although the same as my first pregnancy), was really difficult to come off. The time between her being born and getting pregnant with my third is such a complete blur…..I don’t even recall what I did to maintain myself!

Then with my third pregnancy, I knew I had to make some serious adjustments to my vacation mentality. I knew I came into this with added pounds, so I couldn’t go to Tahiti for 9 months and expect to walk out of it with a bikini ready body. So I watched what I ate. I went to the gym and I walked. Mostly, I just didn’t eat all the brownies. I ate one. Shocking….I know.

So with each of the girls I gained 40lbs, with my son I only gained 25lbs…….yep, I stayed present. My passport to fun had expired. But because I went in with added weight, I still had a bit of journey ahead of me. And this is where it all shifted for me.

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Me in august of 2011 just before my son was born. I was just as happy then with my body as I am now. You can be happy with where you are, but also want to improve!

In 2012 Some girlfriends and I started our own Biggest Loser contest. We were all fans of the show. I LOVED Jillian Michaels no nonsense approach to weight loss and exercise. I’m kind of a no nonsense person myself, so I found inspiration in her story. We did our contest over the course of 17 weeks and we all saw progress. The biggest shift for me was when I started running. Self taught. No help. Just would pick spots and run to them. Soon the distances between those spots became further and further until I was literally running everywhere. Up hills, down hills, dirt trails and bike trails. I L.O.V.E.D it! (runners high is a real thing FYI)  I used My Fitness Pal to track everything I ate, logged in every day for the entire 17 weeks and the weight just melted away. I didn’t stop. I ran almost every day for close to two years. After the contest, I continued to track my food and found ways to live a healthy balanced lifestyle. Once I found myself able to maintain my weight I eventually let go of logging my food. I ate a clean diet 80% of the time. Then would enjoy my wine, baked goods, etc. the other 20%. It worked…. I went from 154 to 128 in about 6 months time.

Then one day you look in the mirror, and you see your booty, and you’re like “ummmmm, is it me or does my ass look like a pancake?” No, it wasn’t just me…….it actually looked like a pancake. That wasn’t going to work for me. So I did some research and quickly learned I needed to put on muscle. Not just my booty, but everywhere. I was a flabby mess! Sure my legs were lean, but they certainly didn’t have the amount of muscle I wanted. My arms…..total chicken arms. That is not a bad thing! I was fine, I was healthy and all, but its just not where I wanted to be. Again, there was room for some improvement is all I’m saying. I hit the gym again, but this time with the goal to build muscle. I worked at it for the better part of a year and a half. Still wasn’t seeing the results I really wanted. I knew something was amiss. Was it diet? Was it how I was going about my workouts that was off? Was it both??? I knew I needed to find more answers.

Enter Jessie Hilgenberg, IFBB Pro…….BOOM! If you don’t already know her, do yourself a favor, grab your phone and google her as you read. NOW. Ok…..amazing right?!? Her physique is absolutely amazing. Beyond that, her approach to fitness and nutrition were exactly what I was looking for. Again, very direct no nonsense way of doing things. Very clear and precise. Oh…..and you get to eat. Like REALLY eat! I had already been accustomed to eating, not starving myself at all. But I realized, I was not eating enough calories, nor the proper balance of calories to build muscles the way I wanted. Its all about what goal you want, right? I purchased her Muscle Building program, its 14 weeks long. I started at 126ish and finished at 126……I gained muscle, but lost body fat, which is why my weight stayed exactly the same. After I completed that, I started her Bikini Body program which drastically changed my physique. It gave me back my booty!!! I was able to maintain my weight through the course of that program while putting on even more muscle! I was a lean. The leanest I have ever been, while eating the most I ever have while being on any program. FOOD!!!! Who knew right?

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FIRST picture is February 2015, MIDDLE picture is May 2015, LAST  picture is September 2015 after completing both programs.

I suppose that through my journey, I never lost sight of the importance of eating healthy or being active. I just maybe didn’t make it a priority. However, I never gave up. I kept looking, searching, finding new ways to get me to where I wanted to be. Here I am. I’m not here to stay in this spot forever. I still constantly look for new things. I try to incorporate Pilates, and yoga. Again, learning to balance life. I want to have wine. I want to eat what I bake. I also want to stay fit and healthy in the process. There are times where I’ve had to be 100% at reaching my goal. There are times where I’ve been 50/50 (or maybe 30/70) and now I’ve reached the 80/20. I’m on point 80% then enjoy, relax and taste life the other 20%. You have to keep trying. Find your goal. Search and be relentless in finding the path that works for you. Be 100% when you need to. Take the break when needed. Just don’t allow it to consume you. When tomorrow comes, its a new day. A chance to start again. Its a privilege and a gift.

I encourage you to start today. Don’t let the pain of fear stall you. Kick that shit into high gear and just walk up that hill. Run if you can. If you find yourself down today, stop. Just stop, put your hand to your chest. Feel that? That’s call opportunity. Run with it and make it stronger.

Start Now

“Start now. Start where you are. Start with fear. Start with pain. Start with doubt. Start with hands shaking. Start with voice trembling but start. Start and don’t stop. Start where you are, with what you have. Just……start.”

I don’t know who the author is of that quote. Its awesome….my very first blog entry and I start with a quote who’s author I don’t even know. I don’t think they would mind. It’s kind of the point, right? To just make the leap into something unknown.

I’ve been thinking about starting a blog for a long time now. I held back for all the reasons we give ourselves excuses to not start anything meaningful. “It’s going take too much time”, “I don’t have the right skill set for this”, “Its going to cost too much money”, “what if I don’t succeed”, “Its scary”….blah, blah, blah. So what?

So. What.

I was going back and forth on this subject, not because of any outside influence. Most people I spoke to about it were supportive. I found I was talking myself out of something I really wanted to do. How silly is that? Self doubting. Filling my own head with the idea that too many people blog. How will I make a difference? Then I started asking myself this question……how many brands are there of anything (vegetable oil, toilet paper, etc) that have a spot in the world? A million!!! Somewhere, someone said “I want to make toilet paper” and despite any adversity they started and fought for their shelf space at the store. Seriously, just start!

So, that’s what I’m doing! Starting. I have no degree in journalism, no English major to back this up….nothing even remotely related to writing. Or spelling. Or grammar. So if you don’t see a comma where one should be placed, well, now you know why.

This blog will be dedicated to living a healthy, balanced life, where I will speak about my journey in being fit while baking. Its a paradoxical, juxtaposition way of life as you really have to pay close attention to when that balance gets out of whack. Its what I do. I love every minute of it.

That’s what we all want, right? To love what we do. Then start. Just start. Start with your fitness journey. Start with a new education. Start with a job, or a move, or a whole new life. Bring love into your life and that will never be a wrong choice.

Find a way to do it with what you have, in your head, in your wallet, in your heart and take the leap.