It Starts With One Step

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I had the pleasure to hang out with a dear friend of mine over the holidays. We drank, we talked, we laughed and inevitably we talked about exercise. But it wasn’t what you may think. It wasn’t the typical treadmill, stairclimber, deadlift conversation. She only told me a simple story of how she had to walk to her car, up a hill in the cold, for quite a distance. She was surprised at how well she did! I said “Heck ya!!! Now do that every day and when that gets easy make it more challenging!”

It got me thinking…..does starting an exercise routine really need to be that complicated? I believe it does not!

So let me ask you?

Have you walked today? Walked up stairs? Up a hill recently? Lifted a milk jug? Picked up your child perhaps. All of these things are forms of movement. There’s really no need to complicate it. The ONLY thing that needs to happen is you actually doing it! Everyday. Anything. Something. Move. Bend. Shape. It’s what your body was designed to do!!

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When I was in my early 20’s the only thing I knew to do for exercise was to walk. So I walked! When I wanted to start running, I just ran. Wait……that sounds really Forrest Gumpish. Anyway, I went slow, I mean really slow, but I ran. I did it until it was easy. I did it until I could run up, down and all around anywhere I wanted. It wasn’t complicated. I didn’t need a gym. I needed shoes, weather appropriate gear, and my own determination. Easy. Right?

Yes. And no.

Yes because it’s not complicated. Like at all. No, because at first it’s hard. Really hard. For some of us, the fact that it’s hard and uncomfortable is hard and uncomfortable to get past. It hurts. It feels like you’re gonna die sometimes. You’re not sure if you’re doing it right. It’s exhausting. Blah, blah,blah. Having kids has the same affect come to think of it.  But they’re SO worth it, right? Well, so is exercise.

Anytime we learn something new,  it’s hard. It’s painful, like algebra for example. I SUCK at math. It was painful, but necessary, so I learned how to do it. Same thing with working out. It’s a learned skill that then becomes habit. Once learned and used everyday, it becomes something you don’t have to even think about, you just get up and do it.

Let’s talk about the basic skill of walking, which clearly we are built to do. How far can you walk? How fast can you walk? Get that heart rate up and steady for a good 30 minutes and you’re making a change. Do that until it’s easy. Then add in a hill climb. Or walking lunges. Or a small jog for one minute. You just build on it. Keep adding to it as it gets easier. One day, what was once your workout, will be your warm up. Don’t over think it. Keep it simple and just add on to what you’re doing.

Take my friend for example. She walked that distance up a hill to her car, right? Now,  she can take that same walk, (in her neighborhood or recreate it on a treadmill) and keep doing that exact thing for a week. Then add in another hill climb (or up and down the same hill twice). Increase her speed perhaps.  Just think,  if you kept building on that, how quickly you would build up your endurance!

Start finding new ways to get your body moving. Maybe a yoga class. Pilates is an awesome way to get started strengthening your muscles. Especially those with injury.  So good for the body! Get online and research ways to build muscle. That’s all I did. I was a total Pinterest stalker. I found all kinds of info there. Go to Bodybuilding.com…..great amount of info. Next thing you know you’re deadlifting 250lbs! (hey, don’t knock it till you try it).

You just have to do it. That’s all it takes. That is truly THE only difference between those that succeed at reaching their fitness goals and those who don’t. There is no in between.  Nike didn’t come up with the multimillion dollar “Just Do It” campaign for nothing. Simple and affective. Just Do It. So there’s that.

The other thing that I’ve found (especially over this last year) is to surround yourself with like minded people. If not to work out with, just for support. A little camaraderie. Those “atta girl’s” and “atta boy’s” go a long way. Someone to vent, voice, and brag about your success to is so helpful. It can really aid in your success. It’s amazing when you can talk to someone about that awesome sholder pump or that you hit your macros spot on all week. They not only understand exactly what you mean, but they know exactly how you feel because they’ve been there too!

Hearing an “Atta Girl!” is music to my ears!!

And let’s not forget about fear. It’s a huge stumbling block. Fear of failure. Fear of succes. Fear of what people think. Fear of pain. Fear of the alarm clock having to wake us at 4:30am. I’ve felt all those fears. Still feel all those on some level. Especially the 4:30am wake up call. What stops the fear is my desire. My desire to change regardless of any of those things. Failure is only in the eye of the beholder. So is success. Some may say, “but I didn’t finish the program all the way through. I was a failure.” Other’s may look at that and say “but you started. That’s half the battle” So make it about the journey. Make it about starting a new lifestyle, rather than a beginning that has an end. If you start and can’t finish a program, find something you can do. It’s not a failure, so much as it may not be a good fit for your life at the moment. If you make fitness a part of your life, there will always be a style of fitness that works for you.

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Also, self love. Speaking from a woman’s perspective, we have a really hard time with this. We find ourselves on a fitness journey because we are not happy with ourselves. We aren’t happy with the way we look, feel, move. We judge ourselves and others. Lets shift that way of thinking. Instead, start to make a change out of self acceptance. Do it because you care about your body. Do it because you love yourself, but know you can make a change. When you look at other women, don’t compare. All of our journeys are very unique. You may see the fittest, strongest woman out there, but until you know the struggles she’s been through to get there, don’t judge. Also don’t compare your beginning to someone’s years long journey. Often times the people we see on fitness magazines have been living this lifestyle for years. And it could take you years. I know its taken me a long time trying all kinds of things!!

So, I’m embarking on a new challenge myself! As some of you may know, I have followed Jessie Hilgenberg over the last year. I have followed both her Muscle Building 1 and Bikini Body programs. Loved them. They changed me both physically and mentally. It was a very empowering experience. She has started the Jessie’s Girls 3K challenge, which starts today! We had to pick a program (I’m doing her Muscle Building 2 program)  and do it all the way through it’s 12 week course.  The three winners get a visit from Jessie herself, $1000, Jessie’s Girl swag and have the opportunity to become an ambassador to all the Jessie’s Girls out there!

I had to think twice about that. Not about doing the program. Or even finishing the program. I know I can do that! What scares me is, what if I succeed? What then? Will I be good enough? What if I fail at it? All those silly little worries that creep into your head. Well at some point you gotta just kick that noise to the curb and follow your own advice! Take it a day at a time. One rep at a time. One step at a time. And just see where it takes you.

In the wise words of Dave Matthews (because I love the hell outta that man): “To change the world, start with one step. However small, the first step is hardest of all”.

And my friend? Well she’s taken that first step and still going!

Take your first step. You never know how it could change your world!

V~

 

 If you want to follow my progress through this 12 week program you can follow me on Instagram @fit_to_bake_    fair warning…..there’s a lot of pictures of cakes!!

Whats in your Kitchen?

 

The New Year is upon us. We all love the notion of a fresh start. A new beginning, new chances, new choices, new way of looking at things. I get it. It’s energizing and pulls us out of our holiday haze. I’m not huge on New Years Resolutions. Especially when it comes to fitness. I like to make changes when it feels right in my life rather than what a calendar tells me. Also, it’s helpful to look at change as a lifestyle change, rather than a resolution. However, if you feel like its a good time to jump into a new you, lets take a look at what might help you get there!

First off we all know (and I’ve said it before in my “the other 80%” post) that its all about what you eat. Let me show you what’s in my kitchen!

Aside from butter, flour, sugar and eggs…..I do have plenty of healthy eats in the house as well.

First off, all my major protein sources; ground turkey, turkey burgers, chicken breast and salmon are the mainstay of diet. Then some of my favorite veggies are asparagus, spinach, sweet potatoes, butternut squash, Brussels sprouts and broccoli.

Most of these protein sources are really high in protein per ounce while being low in fat and sodium. These help make reaching my protein macro goals for the day really easy! They can also be used many ways. Chicken tacos, chicken salads, chicken sandwiches. Turkey meatballs, turkey for tacos, on salads, mixed in with veggies. It’s endless with all the varieties!! The frozen turkey burgers are must have staple. Any time you have your grill going, just grab a couple and put them on the grill ready to have for the next day! Meal prep done!

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Vans waffles are a great grab and go breakfast item (or snack, or meal, or late night snack for that matter. I’ve been known to eat chicken and waffles at 10pm to meet my macros for the day) with plenty of carbs and protein to keep you satisfied. Top them with almond butter and some banana….SO GOOD!

Some other great protein sources are Greek yogurts, almond milk, almond butter, peanut butter, eggs and egg whites. Egg whites and Greek yogurt are probably some of the most versatile protein sources because you can mix them into anything. You can add egg whites into your oats for added protein. Add egg whites to scrambled eggs for added protein that doesn’t add fat. They’re virtually tasteless, so they take on whatever flavor you add to them.

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Greek yogurt is amazing!!  Again, you can take this and make it into so many different meals. You can add it plain on your tacos as a sour cream.  You can mix in avocado with it to make it like a mayonnaise spread on sandwiches. My favorite late night snack is Greek yogurt mixed with chocolate protein powder, almond milk and peanut butter topped with Lilly’s chocolate chips. If you haven’t ever tried Lilly’s chocolate chips I highly recommend them. They have no added sugar to them and they are the perfect little topping to special treats. Another staple item!

The only tricky thing about Greek Yogurt is you have to be careful of the sugar content. It can get high. Every brand seems to vary, so look carefully at labels and find the one that works for your needs. You can find Greek yogurts in varying percentages of fat as well. I like to keep both in the fridge. It helps to give yourself options. If I feel like I want something creamier, I’ll pick the Greek yogurt higher in fat. If at the end of my day I’ve consumed all my fat macros, but I still need carbs and protein, I’ll pick the fat free Greek yogurt. The more options you can give yourself, the more likely you are to succeed!

Next up are some pantry items. Most of your bulk carbs will come from breads, grains, rice, and cereals. Veggies provide carbs as well, and given a choice, veggie are always a great option. However, when you’re trying to reach well over 200g of carbs a day (yes I eat that many carbs) and stay within a certain sugar limit, you’ll need to eat rice, (some) bread, and cereals. Some vegetables and fruits that are high in carbs are also high in sugars. Sure they’re “natural” sugars, but its sugar just the same. So if you’re watching your sugar intake, you’ll need to be aware of the sugars in veggies and especially fruits.

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All rice products are just straight up pure carbs!! They can go with anything. You can cook rice in bulk to have on the ready in the fridge. Portion it out and you are good to go!! Rice cakes are perfect on the go snack. My favorite afternoon pick me up is a rice cake (or two) topped with creamy almond butter and Lilly’s Chocolate Chips with an iced coffee with almond milk. OMG…..the best.

Don’t forget to season your food! Mrs. Dash makes great seasonings that are all salt free. I know that there are a lot of other salt free products out on the market that are really awesome. Healthy food does not have to equal bland. If I do add salt, I will use sea salt, has more flavor and you don’t need to add as much to your foods. A little goes a long way! I also add cinnamon to nearly everything. Cereals, yogurt, egg whites, pancakes. I’ll sprinkle it on my almond butter slathered rice cakes. I love it. And its good for you. So there’s that.

Coconut oil cooking spray helps me to cook without added fats. However, if I want the added fat or need the added fat I’ll use coconut oil or olive oil.  Also good for you. Lots of healthy fats here! I may go through 4lbs of butter in a month for baking, but that certainly isn’t consumed by me!

The brown rice farina cereal is like a cream of rice cereal. Super high in carbs, gluten free (if you’re sensitive to gluten), no sugars and low in fiber. I use this as part of my pre-workout meal. Low in fats, low in sugars, low in fiber, high in carbs and high in protein. Why? It’s immediate fuel to my body. All those carbs are delivered straight to my system for energy to have a strong efficient workout. The protein is there to help protect and build my muscles. Its science.  Your body must have the proper fuel to build proper muscle mass.

Which leads me to supplements. There are a million different kinds of supplements out there. Are they a requirement to becoming fit and strong? Absolutely not!! That’s why they’re called supplements. They can help supplement your fitness goals, but they definitely don’t make or break it. Protein powders are the most helpful in that they can help you reach your daily protein macros. It can get tiresome to eat chicken, turkey, fish, beef, bison, eggs, yogurt all day every day. Protein powders can help you reach your protein goals and they come in a variety of flavors. For all you out there with a sweet tooth, these will get you through those cravings!!

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The next most popular is a pre-workout energizer (or if you’re like me, drink it the entire workout). This gives you that added bit of energy to get you moving through your workout. I will say that this definitely helps in the gym. With three kids (and now a puppy) my nights can be less than restful, so on the days I’m dragging my butt to the gym, my pre-workout is there to save me. As for the fat burners, I can’t say if they help or not. I’m sure I drink enough caffeine in the day that far surpasses what any fat burner has in it. The protein bars are great as well with a good balance of carbs and protein. I always like to keep them on hand or have one in my bag in case I get stuck doing something and I need to eat. It happens. And the people around me probably don’t wanna see me overly hungry either.

My biggest piece of advice is this: keep a well stocked kitchen. The more options you can give yourself, the more likely you are to be successful.  The other biggest piece of advice is to track our food BEFORE you eat. Right?? You don’t want to be mindlessly eating. The next thing you know, while you’re cooking your healthy meal, you’ve had a few bites of the cake on the counter, a spoonful of peanut butter, couple of crackers, and a glass of wine. Now you know what else is in my kitchen.

Lastly is try not to catch yourself hungry with no food around. Or at Costco shopping. Or at an In-N-Out. Starbucks either. Trader Joes can be a tough call on that as well. I’d only recommend a Whole Foods when extremely hungry. You see the point, set yourself up for success, not failure.

The deal is, food is THE most important part of your health and fitness goals. You could bust your butt in the gym for hours, but it’ll never show if your nutrition isn’t on point the majority of the time. The saying, “abs are made in the kitchen, not in the gym” is SO true! Speaking from personal experience!

Make this year the year you turn this into a lifestyle, not just another resolution!

V~

 

 

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Millionaire Cake

Millionaire cake

Chocolate? Check.

Caramel? Check.

Cookie Crunch? Check.

Vanilla? Check.

HIIT Cardio done? Check. Check.

This cake has it all. Anything and everything a millionaire could want all wrapped up in one 6″ round. I totally get why this is called a Millionaire Cake because it is so rich and decadent. Except it doesn’t have any of the attitude a millionaire may have. No, this cake just wraps you up in love and gives you little kisses. Trust me…..who needs money when you can just have this cake?

The inspiration for this cake came from The Cake Bake Shop, just named for the best chocolate cake in Food and Wine Magazine in Indianapolis. So you know they’re delivering some good stuff. There’s also a Millionaire cookie. It has a shortbread cookie crust, layered with caramel and chocolate. Throw all that into a cake and smother it in chocolate fudge frosting? Yep. I’m on it.

First step is to make the shortbread cookies.

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Luckily shortbread cookies are one of the simplest cookies on earth to make. Four ingredients later and you have cookies!

Next the chocolate cake, one of the easiest cakes to make! Mix dry ingredients in one bowl, mix wet in another, mix them together and your done! The tricky part is making sure that all the batter is measured out evenly in the baking pans. The scale is key. I weighed my mixing bowl before I started, took note of the weight, then once all the ingredients were in the bowl mixed together I weighed it again. Noted the difference and divided the total by 3 (I had three 6″ cake pans). I know…I know. Math. But I’ve accepted its part of baking. And lifting. And life for that matter. Dang it, I really did need it after all. So there’s that.

I set each cake pan on the scale and weighed out the perfect amount of batter in each pan. Seems complicated, but it actually makes the process really simple. Takes all the guess work out. All the bending and stooping looking through one eye trying to see if all the pans are equal. Setting them side by side trying to look for level heights. Save your sanity and buy a scale.

So while the cakes cool I start the process of making the caramel, vanilla buttercream and the chocolate fudge frosting. Each of these steps are not super complicated individually. However, when made for one cake it can feel a bit overwhelming. Anytime you jump into the process of starting a new recipe, no matter if you’ve made the individual components a million times, it’s really important to read over the recipe several times. Think about the timing of each component . Be thinking about mixing time, baking time, cooling time etc. Helps to make the process organized and efficient.

For this cake I started the vanilla buttercream and the caramel at the same time. I know I don’t have to “watch” the butter whip. I do however need to watch the sugar caramelize, but only at the very end. So I know I can whip butter at the same time I stand and watch caramel. Then next thing you know both things are done at the same time!

Last step was making the Chocolate fudge frosting. Same process as making buttercream, only added step is melting chocolate. Which I had accomplished while making the caramel and buttercream. That’s a step that doesn’t involve much, except to stir a couple of times just to ensure even melting. Plus I wanted to give it time to cool.

Now its time to assemble. Exciting!! But this is where it starts to get real. You have all the components to the cake made. They all taste great by themselves. But now you have to put it all together in the right balance and hope you get it right. There’s really no turning back once you get it all stacked and frosted, you just hope for the best. At least that’s how I roll. I think I got this one right. For my first go of taking several different recipes to compile one cake, I’m pretty happy with the outcome.

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I really like the fudge frosting because for someone who lacks the skill to make perfectly flat, smooth vanilla buttercream cakes, this frosting is so easy to work with. Very forgiving.

After tasting the constructed cake, I definitely loved the moistness of the cake. It has a great rich flavor with a perfect chocolate cake consistency. The only thing I would’ve done differently is added more caramel and cookies. They both kind of got lost in the chocolateness of the cake. So when you make this, don’t be shy with the caramel!! With New Years Eve around the corner this would be an awesome cake for any party!

Here’s how to whip this cake up!

Chocolate Cake

  • 1 1/2 cups or 180g all purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cups or 300 g sugar
  • 3/4 cup or 90g dark unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp or 6g baking soda
  • 1 tsp or 4g baking powder
  • 1 tsp or 5g salt
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk
  • 3/4 cup hot brewed coffee
  • 2 eggs room temperature
  • 2 tsp vanilla

Pre-heat oven to 350º. Prepare three 6″ round cake pans with butter, flour and parchment paper for the bottom.

In the bowl of an electric mixer sift together all dry ingredients. In another medium bowl whisk together all wet ingredients. Add wet ingredients into dry and mix on medium speed for 2 minutes.

Using a digital scale, divide batter equally between each cake pan. Bake for 20 minutes then rotate pans and bake for another 5-10 minutes until wooden skewer comes out clean. Do not over bake!

Let cakes cool in pans for 10 minutes then, loosen from pan with knife and invert onto wire racks to cool completely.

Shortbread Cookies

  • 2 cups unsalted butter, cold and cubed
  • 1 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 4 1/2 cups all purpose flour, divided
  • 1/2 tsp salt

Heat oven to 325 and line cookie sheets with parchment paper

In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add in about 3 cups of flour and salt until the dough starts to take shape. Keep adding flour until your dough starts to resemble play dough. It should not be too sticky. Remove from bowl and toss out onto a floured surface. Kneed dough a few times to make into a round then cover in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 3o minutes.

Roll out dough to 1/2″ thick and cut into squares/bars/shapes. For the purpose of this cake, it doesn’t matter much because it’s going to be crumbled. Bake for about 15-20 minutes until edges are slightly browned. Let cool on wire rack, then crumble into 1/2″ sized pieces.

Vanilla Buttercream Frosting

  • 1 cup butter
  • 3 1/2 cups confectioners sugar
  • 1 tsp milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/8 tsp salt

In the bowl of an electric mixer with a paddle attachment whip butter on medium/high speed for about 6 minutes until light and fluffy. Add remaining ingredients and whip for another 6 minutes. Your buttercream should be really light and fluffy.

Caramel Sauce

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/4 heavy cream
  • 2 tbs butter
  • generous pinch of sea salt

In a heavy bottom sauce pan heat sugar and water over medium heat and bring to a boil. Heat until the sugar turns a dark amber color. Remove from heat and slowly pour in the cream, while whisking. Put back on low heat and stir in butter and add sea salt. Remove from heat and pour into a heatproof container. Set aside.

 

Chocolate Fudge Frosting

  • 1/4 cup + plus 2tbsp (45 g) unsweetened Dutch process cocoa powder
  • 1/4 cup + 2tbsp (90ml) boiling water
  • 1 1/2 cups (3 sticks, 341 grams) unsalted butter room temperature
  • 1/2 cup (63 grams) confectioners sugar
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 pound (454 grams) good quality semi-sweet chocolate, melted and cooled

Over a double boiler, melt semi sweet chocolate, set aside and let cool. Add cocoa powder and boiling water together in a glass measuring cup and stir until smooth and cool.

In the bowl of an electric mixer with paddle attachment, whip butter, sugar and salt on medium/high speed until light and fluffy. About 5 minutes.

Reduce speed to low and add in cooled melted chocolate, beating until combined, scraping down sided of bowl as needed.

Beat in the cocoa mixture until well incorporated.

Assemble Cake

Trim tops off the three cakes layers to make flat, even cakes.

Place one cake layer on cake stand. Add layer of chocolate fudge frosting. Next pipe a thick layer of vanilla buttercream, leaving and inch from outside of cake. Sprinkle a good handful of shortbread cookies over buttercream. Then drizzle caramel over the cookies. Next carefully place second layer of chocolate cake on top. Repeat with second layer.

After the third and final layer is added on top, frost entire cake with a crumb coat of the chocolate fudge frosting. Place in refrigerator to chill for about 10-15 minutes. Once the first layer of frosting has had a chill, remover cake and frost with final layer of chocolate fudge frosting.

Lastly, sprinkle top of cake with shortbread cookie crumbs and drizzle with caramel. Place in fridge to chill and set. Remove cake about 30 minutes prior to serving.

Enjoy!!

 

 

 

 

Meyer Lemons

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I love lemons.

Lemon everything. Lemon candies, lemon ice cream, lemon cakes, lemon custards, cheesecake, lemon cocktails.  And what’s with the almond flavor poppy seed muffins? Let’s get real, they’re so much better being a Lemon Poppy seed muffin. Yep, I’m in that camp. Although, that’s not what we’re talking about today. I digress.

I drink 20 oz of water with a slice of lemon in it every morning. Before my coffee. I know. That may be going a bit overboard. But its my ritual and its working for me. Lemons not only taste good they have a lot of health benefits as well. They’re a great item to have as a staple in your kitchen.

So, it should come as no surprise that lemons have been one of my favorite fruits to use in baking. The tart, yet sweet flavor is wonderful in so many dishes. I add it to blueberry muffins. You can make a wonderful lemon cream sauce for chicken or pasta. The juice can be used for vinaigrettes, marinades or simply squeezed over fresh seafood. They add the perfect touch to many foods.

At your local grocer you’re likely to find the common Lisbon or Eureka lemon on the store shelf almost year around.  This variety of lemon is large with a thick, textured skin. It has a very bright yellow color with a medium pulp. Their flavor has the traditional “lemon” tang, very tart and bright, perfect for savory dishes.

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On the left is the smaller Meyer Lemon. As you can see it has a smoother skin than the larger common lemon and is also a bit more orange in color.

 

Meyer Lemons are smaller in size. They are slightly more orange in color with thinner skin. The pulp is smaller and they have a sweeter, slightly more orange flavor to them. They come into season in December and are available through May. The Meyer Lemon is native to China and was brought over to the U.S. in the early 20th century. They are said to be a cross between a lemon and a mandarin orange.

Because of this combination of flavors,  it gives these lemons added depth of flavor. It makes a world of difference when baking with them. Making creams, curds, or custards with a Meyer Lemon are extra flavorful. Give it a try sometime!  They are extra special when home grown and given to you as a gift. When life gifts you lemons you bake with them. Lemonade? Pfft…zest those babies and make a cake!

My first go to recipe when I have Meyer Lemons in the kitchen are Lemon Sugar Cookies with Lemon Buttercream Frosting. These little tasty bites of heaven melt in your mouth with lemony goodness. Instead of all purpose flour, you use cake flour, which gives lends a very tender cookie. Then add in the lemon zest and the lemon juice to give them a gorgeous lemon flavor and color.

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The kitchen always smells so fresh and bright after zesting. It’s interesting how this is a winter harvest, yet it is so fresh, it feels like spring or summer!

You can see the bright little specks of lemon zest in both the cookie batter and the Lemon Buttercream.  I dare you to resist all the BLT’s (bites, licks, tastes) you’ll take of this batter and frosting.

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This year I set up the coffee table to frost all of them while I sat and watched a few Christmas programs with the kiddos. Usually I’m standing in the kitchen doing this tedious task. Cold hard tile is not the best medium to be standing on…..toggling from foot to foot. Eventually you find yourself hunched over the counter with poor posture. Live and learn. Now I know I can sit and do this.

 

Lemon Sugar Cookies with Lemon Buttercream Frosting (as adapted from motherthyme.com)

For the Cookies

  • 3 cups Cake Flour
  • 3 tsp Baking Powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 cup unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 tablespoons fresh juice from any lemon preferably Meyer Lemon
  • 1 whole lemon zested
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

For the Lemon Buttercream Frosting

  • 1/2 cup unsalted Butter at room temperature
  •  3 cups Confectioners Sugar (I like to reduce this to 2 1/2 cups to make the frosting a bit more buttery tasting)
  • 1 Whole lemon zested
  • 2 TBSP fresh lemon juice (Meyer Lemon if available)

Directions:

Heat oven to 350°

In a medium bowl mix together the cake flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer combine the butter and sugar. Mix together on medium speed until light and fluffy. I like to run mine for about 3 minutes. Add in eggs one at a time, scraping down the sides after each addition. Stir in lemon zest, lemon juice and vanilla. On the lowest speed gradually add in the flour mixture until just combined.

Cover and chill dough for at least one l hr in the refrigerator.

Using a 1″ ice cream scoop, scoop chilled dough and roll into little rounds. You can leave them round or flatten them slightly with the bottom of a glass.

*I’ve done this part of the process so many different ways. I’ve used a small 1/2″scoop. You’ll get more cookies (like little tea cookies). This year I used the 1″ scoop but did not roll them and flatten them. They had a bit more of a rustic look.

Place dough rounds on parchment lined baking sheet and bake for 9-10 minutes. Do not over bake!!

Remove from oven and let cool on wire rack.

For the Buttercream Frosting

Whip butter with the paddle attachment of a stand mixer for 5 minutes at medium speed. Add powdered sugar, lemon zest, and lemon juice. Continue to whip for another 5 minutes until light, fluffy and creamy.

Once cookies have cooled completely, frost with buttercream and let sit out so frosting sets a bit.

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These little cookies are packed with so much flavor. They have the perfect balance of sweet and tart to them. The texture is perfect. The frosting is smooth and creamy. Made into little tea cookies, they’ll be a one bite treat. Maybe next holiday season you can add these to your cookie exchange!

Go on out and find some Meyer lemons! Once you taste the difference, you’ll always want to make a point of including them in your baking rotations.

Life with Pancakes

But First…….a small soliloquy about letting go.

One of the very first lessons I learned in Pilates was about letting go. We have muscles, that over time, have built up a memory to hold on because the other muscle that is supposed to be doing to work won’t or can’t.  It can create imbalance and sometimes lead to injury over time. The muscle that holds on so tightly will, at some point, run out of strength to hold on any longer.

Life is no different. Our hearts are no different. Holding on to things that no longer serve you will lead to injury. Apparently I’ve been earning my masters degree in letting go over the last two years. Its hard. Everyone’s capacity to hold on is different. Some can go decades holding on. Some can go only days. Some muscles are stronger than others, but eventually they have to let go. What I learned, was that letting go doesn’t mean not caring anymore. Not loving. Or feeling you have to be indifferent to the situation. Its actually the opposite. Its accepting. Its accepting where you are, what you’re given and work with it. Letting go of how you thought it should be. Letting go of what you wanted, to accept that what you need is more important. It sucks ass, right?? I know. I’m working at it everyday too. One day at a time to keep digging that ditch to where you feel like you don’t have to hold on so tight. Accept and let go to move on.

 

Ok. That’s done.

 

So we have an Elf on the Shelf. Its a racket. It was given to the kids as a gift. Sometimes I wish the Elf had never made it to the shelf. Acceptance. It’s in our lives now. Anyway, I’m about as good at remembering to move the elf everyday, as my dishwasher is at cleaning the caked on almond butter off the knives. However, a good idea was given to me the other day which had him sitting in the whisk beater of the stand mixer. I had some pumpkin puree, so the elf and I quickly got to work. We made the pumpkin muffins from Smitten Kitchen. Its one of the kids’ favorite morning treats.  If you don’t already know about Deb and Smitten Kitchen go check it out. Love everything about her site. Naturally this was a big hit!

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The great thing about making the kids happy, is that I had left over pumpkin. One of my favorite treats in the morning, is pumpkin protein pancakes! MMMMM! If you haven’t already heard about Kodiak Cakes….you’ll be happy to know that they are the best thing ever. So many things you can do with this awesome cake mix. I can whip up wholesome, protein packed goodness in a matter of minutes!

The Kodiak Cake mix has a fairly neutral flavor base, like a traditional pancake, so it makes adding whatever flavor you want really easy. You can also add in different flavored protein powders to make them really interesting. I’ve added a vanilla, cinnamon bun and chocolate protein to them.

I’ll show you my top two; pumpkin and vanilla cinnamon.

 

Pumpkin Protein Pancakes

  • 53g Kodiak Power Cake Mix
  • 46g liquid egg whites
  • 40g pumpkin puree
  • sprinkle cinnamon to taste

Weigh each ingredient separately into a bowl (making sure to tare your scale in between each ingredient). Stir all ingredients together until mixed thoroughly. Spray skillet or pan with non stick spray (I use a coconut oil spray). Cook until done! (I topped these with Josephs Sugar free maple syrup)

Vanilla Cinnamon Protein Pancakes

  • 53g Kodiak Power Cake Mix
  • 25g NLA for Her Vanilla Cupcake protein powder
  • 3 fl oz Almond Milk
  • Cinnamon and nutmeg to taste

Weigh each ingredient separately into a bowl (making sure to tare your scale in between each ingredient). Stir all ingredients together until mixed thoroughly. Spray skillet or pan with non stick spray (I use a coconut oil spray). Cook until done!

Ok, so since I track my food based on the macronutrients, this is what each one looks like:

Pumpkin Protein Pancakes (with sugar free syrup):

264 Calories, 38g of Carbs, 4g of Fat, 20g of Protein, 540mg sodium, 5g sugar

Vanilla Cinnamon Protein Pancakes:

304 Calories, 33g Carbs, 6g of Fat, 28g of Protein, 562mg sodium, 3g sugar

On this mornings Vanilla Cinnamon pancakes, I added a topping of Greek Yogurt with sugar free syrup and cinnamon. OMG……heaven!

The addition of the Greek yogurt and syrup changed the macros a bit:

350 Calories, 37g of carbs, 7g fat, 34g of protein, 584mg sodium, 5g sugar

Not bad!! Such a delicious, filling breakfast.  Perfect for the pre-workout meal to fuel your body to help make that workout as strong as possible!

There is no way you will ever feel like you are missing out on pancakes ever again. You could even make a large batch to freeze and store. Ready to pull out of the freezer for a breakfast on the go! Love that!  They even sell this mix at my local Costco now. So dash out and get yourself some cakes…..your cakes will thank you.

LET GO of the notion you need to starve to be fit. LET GO of the notion that eating healthy needs to be boring. LET GO of how you thought your fitness journey “should” go. It will not go as you planned. At least not everyday. LET GO of where you’re starting. Instead accept it and know you want something new. LET GO of the fact it make take you a while to get to where you want to be. Accept that fact and just start. You’ll be one day closer to your goal.

V~

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Other 80%

The cold kept me home again today, but it didn’t keep me down!  I fired up what energy I did have (with the help of coffee) and meal prepped!! I told you I would.

But brace yourself for a big dose of reality……..

Here is what no one, and I mean NO ONE, wants to hear……..

Its all about…..What. You. EAT.

Especially on those days where your ass does not meet the stair climber.

When I started  Jessie Hilgenberg’s  programs, I was introduced to a macro based diet or IIFYM (If It Fits Your Macros). In this nutrition plan, you track how many grams of Carbohydrates, Fats, and Protein you eat in a day. You can easily find out how to calculate your macros by doing a quick search on the web. It’s not any big secret. What is unique about calculating your macros is its based on your body, amount of activity you do and what your end goal is. So you can make it very unique to you and your desired results.

The other thing no one wants to do or hear is, you have to Track. Your. Shit…….I mean food. Your food people. You have to. I honestly don’t know how people make a salad , throw a whole bunch of stuff in a bowl and not track it!! How in the world are you supposed to know if it’s even balanced?? It kills me! Take a cake recipe for example. You absolutely cannot make a cake without the proper balance of ingredients. Everything is weighed and measured. If you don’t, you will not have the desired outcome. YET, you expect to just throw together a days worth of “healthy” food  and expect to walk away with the body you want. I’m here to tell you that will not happen. Ever. So start thinking about what your shoving into your mouth. And track it.

Ok…….that takes me to todays meal prep. Get your scales ready people. It’s just the way it has to work.

I chose to keep my meal prep pretty basic today. I wasn’t up to planning 3-4 meals per day for an entire week. I’m sick. I also don’t really need to do that. I mostly like to meal prep because it’s just another tool to help keep me on track. I know that on those days that get away from me, I have food ready to rock in the fridge. I can grab it and go. I can grab it, add a few extras and have a great meal. Keeping it simple now, pays off in the days to come.

First off, I made Turkey Meatballs. Simple yet delicious. Easy to grab. Easy to put into other dishes. Easy to eat on the go.

I used 20 ounces of ground extra lean turkey meat, one egg, 1/4 cup of parmesan cheese and some seasonings. I like Mrs. Dash, its easy to find, inexpensive and salt free!! I did this all in one bowl on the scale so I knew how much of each item I had.  I divided it into 15 meatballs, baked on a parchment lined baking sheet at 400 degrees for 15 minutes. I kept them relatively plain because I like to take my prepped food and add it to other  dishes.  For example, these could go in a soup base later in the week. Or over rice with some teriyaki sauce.  I could even break them up, throw it in a tortilla for a taco. Make sure you take your weight from the scale and divide it out so you know how much of each ingredient is in your meatball. SO easy! Took me about 10 minutes to prep this!

Next, (while the meatballs were baking) I cut up and prepped my butternut squash. I bought a whole squash, so I had to sharpen up those knife skills today. To drastically cut away time here, you can buy pre-cubed squash. I just happened to have a whole one. I like chopping food up.

As you can see I ended up with 998g of squash. I added 2 tsps. of olive oil, some sea salt and pepper. I baked this at 400 degrees for about 15 minutes or until fork tender. I broke this down into four servings. Now when I go to log my butternut squash I know I’ll need to divide those numbers by 4.

I should add, that I keep a little log book of all my totals. Then after I’ve made everything and I break it down into the serving sizes, I sit and do the math in the log book. (I hope you’re better at math than I am)

By the time the squash was cut up the meatballs were done, so I was able to put them directly into the oven. AH! THATS the other thing I did!! The oven temp was the same for all the items!! A good tip to remember. Makes going from one dish to the next, seamless.

While the butternut squash baked I chopped up all my zucchini, yellow squash and red bell pepper. Again, if time is of the essence for you, there are a lot of grocery stores that sell all these items pre-cut. May cost a bit more, but you can decide if its worth the time savings. Again…..I don’t mind the chopping.

Here, you can see my little work station. I chop up each of my veggies individually on a silicon mat. When I’m done chopping, I can fold it up and pour it straight into my bowl on the scale! Then take note of the weight, then transfer it to the baking sheet. Super simple. Hardly any mess. I keep a colander near by for all the scraps as well. Love it!!

While those were baking I pan seared some boneless, skinless chicken breasts in a little coconut oil spray. Another kitchen staple of mine. Then I cleared the decks and started dividing up the food.

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I started this process at 12:30 and was done with kitchen cleaned (that’s what I consider done, when all things are washed and put away) by 3pm. That includes a 20 minute diversion with a guest who came by. Not bad! Again, some of that time could’ve been shortened with pre-cut veggies. I ended up with 4 servings of each of the veggies. About 4 servings of the meatballs and quite a bit of chicken. I cooked 6 chicken breasts, so that will be enough for  roughly 3 meals per day that would include chicken.

Some examples of what I’ll do with this food:  I will weigh out some chicken and eat that along with the zucchini/red pepper combo. I love to add a little teriyaki sauce to that, or soy (being mindful of added sugars or sodium). I will have the butternut squash with the meatballs or chicken. I love to put my salmon with the zucchini combo. So tasty! I could literally grab a bag of veggies and a meatball and jet out of the house if I needed to. I should’ve added rice as a pre-made side (I will do that tomorrow for sure!) Rice is always a great carb to have on the ready to mix with your protein.

Meal prep is all about setting yourself up for success. The few hours you spend in one afternoon can make all the difference on those days where you’re running ragged and barely have time to fill your cup with water. It’s really hard to make a decent choice in those moments.

This way of life is a choice. Everyday, I chose to eat well. I chose to fuel my body so I can build strength. When I don’t, it shows. Plain and simple. The results of what I chose to eat today show up on my body. There is no amount of time I could spend in the gym that would make up for food choices that don’t get me to my goal.  It’s not that their wrong, or bad, or I should feel guilty……they just don’t get me to where I want to be.

I have found that if I stick to and 80/20 rule, I get to live that balanced life and still reach my goals. Basically that boils down to one day a week I can relax a little. Take a break a little and not let it overwhelm me. Trust me when I say, there have been plenty of weeks where that doesn’t happen, it quickly becomes like 60/40. But there are more weeks where its 80/20. Even some that are 90/10 and yes I do have spurts of weeks where I’m 100% all in (that’ll be the next two weeks leading up to Christmas, damn cold).

Find what balance you need today to get you to your goal. Is it 100%? Or is there a balance you can find? One step at a time, one choice at a time. Always with your vision in your heart and mind.

V~

 

 

Birthday Cake!!

I would love nothing more than to say this birthday has been epically stellar. It’s been good…..maybe even great! I’ve made it another year. So there’s that. And I did get to see Rob Thomas in concert last night (front row no less). But alas, I now have a cold. On my birthday. I still need to drag my butt to the gym. (update: that never happened ). My diet has been really off today (not eating nearly enough nor the correct balance). My palate is off. And by “off” I mean, it’s practically non existent.

Hey, here’s a great idea……I’ll bake a cake and since I’m at it, it’ll be a new recipe too!!! Not a wise choice people.

But its my birthday darn it and I’m making my cake!! Yes, I wanted to make my own birthday cake.  Yes, I’m now second guessing that decision. However,  I had a vision and I dug in. Take that cold!!

Ok, so if any of you have ever seen some of Sweetapolita’s cakes, you’ve feasted your eyes on some really gorgeous confections. If you’ve ever been so inclined to make one of her cakes,  you know they are delicious. You also probably know they aren’t something you just whip up in 20 minutes. Oh no. These take time, patience and dedication. Especially todays cake.

Her version of this cake is absolutely gorgeous…..all pink, contrasted by dark chocolate ganache. Mine, was, well my own creation with the inspiration coming from her. All I can say is, I’ll keep trying.

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I jumped in and made a chocolate cake with raspberry buttercream and a marshmallow buttercream filling. Great balance of flavors. Chocolate and raspberry are always a classic flavor combination. Plus the marshmallow filling balances it all out. The easiest part of this chocolate cake is making the cake portion of it. Chocolate cakes are, without a doubt, the easiest cakes to make. You can measure your dry ingredients in one bowl, combine your wet ingredients in another, stir the two together and bake. SO easy!! In a pinch this is what I will make for cupcakes, as it goes super fast and makes a lot of cupcakes quickly.

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The cake that inspired this creation was Rosie’s  Dark Chocolate and Raspberry Buttercream Cake.  One thing that I love about her recipes, is she gives you both the scoop measure and the weighted measure. I prefer the weighted measure for the dry ingredients especially. Try it someday. Not all flours are created equal! You won’t ever scoop the same amount of flour each time either.  The only way to know exactly how much of each ingredient you are using is to weigh it. I found that for cakes this make all the difference. I found that when weighing and measuring my food for meal prep days this makes all the difference. Takes all the guess work out, I know how much I’m eating. I love my scale!!

I did change it up a little bit today.  I ended up making a traditional buttercream instead of a Swiss meringue buttercream.  Swiss meringue is a little laborious. If you’re not accustomed to making them and  don’t have 10 eggs on hand, then skip it all together and go with a traditional buttercream. Once you have your vanilla base, adding in whatever flavor you want is exactly the same either way. Easy enough to change and adapt. The marshmallow filling was really easy as well. So tasty too! Not an overwhelming marshmallow flavor, but it added a really nice touch to the cake.

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Today’s epic journey through cake making helped me realize a few things:

  1. If you can, avoid baking when you cannot properly taste test
  2. New recipes take time and should be prepared only at optimum health levels
  3. I love pink cakes
  4. I go through more butter than my thighs actually show….so I’ll mark that in the “win” category today.

Today my persistence paid off. I had to re think almost every part of this cake today. I stuck with it and in the end I got a birthday cake out of it. According to my taste testers it was “the best cake ever!” I wouldn’t know. Maybe tomorrow I will actually be able to taste it.

All in all it was a really great day. I got to do what I love. Happy Birthday to me!! Tomorrow will be a day of meal prep, fire water (aka my cold remedy), and maybe some gym time.  I suppose I should show you what I eat the other 80% of the time. For now……tea, water, food, bed.

V~

Digging My Ditch

Yes, the above title is from a Dave Matthews song. But lately its kind of been my mantra. I tend to go through different Dave mantras. What can I say? The guy is wise. Right now this one seems to fit.

Its also a bit about starting over. We all have to start over from time to time with something. A lot of us find ourselves starting over with our fitness journeys. If you think about it, everyday you wake up, you’re actually starting all over. After all, its only the present moment that is real. Only the present moment is what matters.  So lets all just get past the “starting over” part and focus on digging your ditch. (go play the song now…..it will help you understand my perspective).

I’ve come to realize that instead of focusing on the starting over, its more about what I’m doing every day to get me where I want to be. I can’t change what happened yesterday. I have no way to predict what will happen in the next hour, let alone tomorrow. I know there’s quite a few of you that have had life change in the blink of an eye. All of a sudden you’re starting over with a whole new reality. But you’re not really starting over, so much as you are dealing with a new path to your vision. So what are you doing right now to get you to where you want to be? What are you doing to dig your ditch for when your done?

 

Lately I had been noticing (others too), that I was spending a bit too much time on social media. That habit had clearly taken up too much space in my day.  I also noticed that I was allowing other worries to take up internal space that was not allowing me to get where I wanted to be. In other words I was not spending any time digging my ditch to where I wanted to be. Instead, I was spinning circles in the sand. A friend and I decided to give ourselves a 30 day respite from all the distractions. Some silence in my head to let other thoughts in. Now look where I am…..I started my blog finally!! Now every week I spend a few days writing out an entry for my blog. I’m digging away. I’m not sure where it will take me, but at least I’m digging my ditch in the direction I want the energy to flow.

The other thing I do daily is think about the direction I want my fitness journey to go. Sure I have ups and downs. Great days, decent days, and the days from hell. I have three kids…..so most days are faced with some challenge or another. The biggest thing I do is, I’m thinking about my future self. That ditch. What do I want to see at the end? Will eating the entire piece of cake get me to where I want to be or will just a bite do or none at all?  Look where you are and then where you want to be. What is it going to take in this moment to get you there? Don’t focus on how long it will take you to dig that ditch (BTW its your whole life you’ll be digging, so no worries, you have plenty of time) but look more at what vision you had in mind at the end. It truly does not matter how long it takes, the time passes regardless of what you choose to do. That’s what we all forget! The sun will rise tomorrow just as it has every single day of your life!!! A fresh start.

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Dig. The. Ditch.

So today you ate that whole pizza. Oops! Alright, you had a bad moment.  I get it. We all do. What are you going to do in this moment to change that? You could start by drinking water and letting that shit go. As Dave so masterfully says “Where all these disappointments that grow angry out of me, will rise.” We are all faced with disappointment. You will rise above and get heavy on digging your ditch.

This attitude did two things for me. First,  when I really had to work hard  on my fitness, it helped me to stay super focused. I wasn’t focused on what I had to do tomorrow or the next day. I was focused on the vision. So in the moments where I had to make food choices, I remembered my vision. In the moments where I really did not want to wake up at 4:30 in the morning to go workout, I remembered my vision. I literally took it moment by moment. Soon I noticed I was making the right choices far more than I wasn’t. Soon, I was seeing my vision come to life.

For example: Lets say my plan for the day was to go to the gym, meal prep and get some work done. The kids plans were to be home sick. So, I ask myself, what am I going to do today that fulfills my vision?  I make healthy food choices. I drink plenty of water (and coffee, because well, the kids are sick). I may not get to work out, but that’s actually not the end of the world. Food choices are far and away the most important decisions I make toward reaching my goal. Plus, I’m busy buzzing around the house taking care of kids and cleaning up after them. Always something to do. Always some way to keep digging that ditch in the direction you want to go.

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The second way its helped me:  I can let that vision keep me clear on those days where I want to have a break. Or I need a break. Or life made it damn near impossible to keep me on track. Its ok to take some time away and rest. Unplug. Do something that also fulfills me, but still keeps me digging my ditch. Maybe some yoga. Maybe sleep. Maybe wine. Ok….that last part was not a maybe….its always wine. But you get my point. On the days where I’m not on point the whole time,  I know I’ve done at least one thing to keep me in the right direction of my vision.

In fact I’m digging right now. I’m writing, cooking salmon and drinking water. Yesterday it was wine. Today, it’s water. Yep, digging that ditch people. And when the day arrives where my life changes again, and I have to start over? I will come up  with a new plan that keeps me digging. Always thinking ahead to that end goal.

My kids always ask me what I want to be when I grow up. I tell them I want to be a grandma. What they don’t understand is, I want to be the grandma that still plays, still goes places, is still active, bakes, takes care of them and their babies. All that comes from the ditch I dig today. That’s the long term vision. Naturally my short term vision is to have the best booty I can for summer time 🙂 Hey…..gotta have that short term goal to carry you all the way to the end!

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Sometimes we have to start on a new path. But its staying persistent with your vision that will keep you digging your ditch.

V~

 

 

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~