Kitchen Adventures

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In general, I try to steer away from topics where I am basically giving you guys advice. Because, I mean honestly, I consider myself okay if I can get MYSELF through the day. I would never assume responsibility for your guys.

But, if you’ll indulge me, there’s been something on my mind lately that I’m curious to hear your perspective. And it has to do with DIETS.

Not like, Atkins. (Y’all know I hate a fad diet.) Diet as in the Webster version: food and drink considered in terms of its qualities, composition, and its effects on health.

I’ve said before that I believe in all things in moderation, but lately I’ve been experimenting with removing certain elements from my diet and then analyzing their effect on my mood and emotions.

Before I get into it, I feel obligated to remind you all that I am not, in fact, a medical professional. This is not meant to serve as advice of any kind. This is purely an examination of my own experiences and a request to hear your own. Do you need me to include an asterisk disclaimer? Because I will. I am not a doctor.*

As I was saying.

For the last couple of months, I’ve removed a couple of things:

1. Diet soda
2. Alcohol
3. Caffeine
4. Dairy

I mean, I’ve had the occasional glass of wine here and there, but in general, I’ve been trying to limit the amount of excess sugar I consume, and alcohol is obviously a big source of sugar.

One of the things that prompted me to start playing around with what I eat was my gut itself. I noticed that I was getting stomach aches often, or just feeling general discomfort. (GLAMOROUS!) When I went a week without drinking and tried to avoid desserts, I noticed, almost magically, these problems seemed to go away. It was especially helpful when I was training for a race or just working out a lot in general.

Not surprisingly, an hour-long spin class is much easier without a tummy ache.

I had a similar response to dairy, and as a result I rarely consume anything that come’s from cow’s milk. (The occasional Greek yogurt or scoop of ice cream is the only real exception.)

Beyond the purely physical benefits, I’ve found it kind of fascinating to see how limiting sugar has affected my mood. When I’m limiting my sugar, I feel more even-keel in general, rarely feeling anxious or overly sensitive. When I’m not, I have more stressful days or moments when I feel like my anxiety is harder to control.

The changes I noticed when I cut out caffeine were more predictable: Sure, that first week sucked, but since then, I feel like I’m sleeping better and I don’t feel any more tired than I did when I was drinking several cups a day.

Again, I’m not sharing these observations in an attempt to guilt or pressure anyone to do the same, I’m just curious: Has anyone else tried something like this and noticed similar results? Are there certain foods you don’t eat because you notice they contribute negatively to your mental well-being?

Basically, I find the psychology of food really interesting, and I want to know your experiences. SHARE WITH ME! (If you want…)

*No, seriously. Not. A. Doctor.

 

Healthy Chocolate Pecan Oatmeal Cookies

What? Two baking posts in one week? Who am I, you guys?

I guess this is me unofficially adding “bake more” to my fall bucket list.

Today’s recipe is technically a cookie recipe, but the health nuts out there will appreciate that it is flour-, egg-, dairy-, and gluten-free. It does have nuts, but those can easily be swapped out if you have an allergy.

I actually made a variation of these cookies a while back (recipe here), but this time around, I made a few substitutions and the whole process turned out a lot better. Here’s how to make them:

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Healthy Chocolate Pecan Oatmeal Cookies

Ingredients:
2 overripe bananas
1 cup gluten-free oats
1 1/2 Tablespoons cacao powder
1/4 cup pecans, chopped

Directions:
Step One: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Step Two: Combine all ingredients, mashing the banana with a fork. Stir until the bananas are completely blended with the rest of the ingredients.

Step Three: Place 2-tablespoon clumps of the “batter” on a parchment-lined cookie sheet. These cookies don’t really spread, so you don’t have to worry about the cookies being close together. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until cookies appear slightly crisp on the outside. Let cool and enjoy!

Cacao is one of my favorite chocolate substitutes — it’s high in antioxidants, magnesium, and iron. It adds a rich, chocolatey taste without too much sweetness. (In this recipe, the overripe bananas make the cookies sweet enough.)

Next, I’d like to try a variation of these cookies with canned pumpkin instead of bananas. Stay tuned!

I’ve noticed a few bloggers making bucket lists for the seasons. You’ve probably seen them: In the summer, they want to go to the beach, try surfing, throw a BBQ. In the fall, they want to make s’mores, go camping, wear plaid, etc.

You all know I love fall. And you know I love making lists. So I figured, why not? Here’s what I would put on my fall bucket list:

1. Go apple picking.
2. Make an apple crisp.
3. Go camping.
4. Hike a trail through fall leaves.
5. Drink apple cider.

You may notice a propensity for the outdoors and, well, eating. I am who I am.

And what a coincidence, I’ve already checked off three of those things. Last Friday, Joey, Boges, a few of our friends, and I went apple picking at an orchard upstate.

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Bogey clearly loved it most of all, but Joey and I also had a great time picking our own apples and drinking cider. (Hello, Bucket List Items #1 and #5!)

Last night, I decided to check off item #2 by making apple crisp for the first time evah. Here’s the recipe I used, in case you have your own list to tackle this season. Bonus: It’s also gluten free as long as you use gluten-free oats.

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Whiskey Pecan Apple Crisp
(gently modified from this recipe)

Ingredients:

For the filling:
6-7 medium apples, peeled, cored, and diced
1 tablespoon cinnamon
3 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon lemon juice

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For the topping:
1 cup hazelnut flour
1 cup gluten-free whole oats
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1/2 cup pecans, chopped
1/4 cup honey
4 tablespoons unsalted butter

For the garnish:
Cinnamon Whiskey (I used Fireball)
Cinnamon for sprinkling
Vanilla ice cream and/or whipped cream (optional…but recommended)

 

Step One: Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Step Two: Combine the apples, 1 tablespoon cinnamon, 3 tablespoons honey, and lemon juice. Stir until apples are coated evenly.

Step Three: In a separate bowl, whisk the hazelnut flour, oats, salt, remaining cinnamon, and pecans.

Step Four: Use a fork or your fingers to mix in the remaining honey and butter until the topping has a crumbly consistency.

Step Five: Pour apples into two 9-inch pie dishes or baking dishes. Cover with the crumble topping.

Step Six: Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the top is golden brown.

Step Seven: Spoon half a cup to one cup of crisp into a bowl while still warm. Drizzle with 1 oz of the cinnamon whiskey. Top with ice cream, whipped cream, and cinnamon as desired. Enjoy!

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How to Plan an Anniversary Party

My parents celebrated their 30th anniversary this year. By any standard, that’s an accomplishment. My parents always had the kind of marriage that made me want to get married, too, so it was important to me to help them celebrate this milestone. I planned a party in my mom’s home state of Ohio for the whole family. Here are all the details of where and how we partied.

The Location

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Their anniversary was in June, but the soonest I could get everyone together was August (close enough, right?). The party was in my aunt’s backyard (my mom’s sister), which turned out to be more than perfect. Not only is her backyard beautiful with giant trees and a huge hydrangea tree that created the perfect backdrop for photos, she also has a huge deck where we could put the tables. And, obviously, it was more budget friendly than renting a room at a restaurant — and it gave us a lot more freedom to customize the space.

We started the night on the patio where we had arranged cocktail tables and a drink table. On the deck, we arranged two long tables for dinner and hung string lights for a bit more ambiance.

The Flowers

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To save money, I arranged my own flowers for the party. My friend Cynthia is an event planner, and from her I learned not only how to arrange flowers, but also about the company Global Rose, which will deliver fresh bulk flowers (for incredibly reasonable prices — free shipping!) almost anywhere. I ordered 50 peachy-pink roses, 10 white hydrangeas, and bulk greens to fill in the arrangements. That gave me enough flowers to create eight mason jar centerpieces and two smaller arrangements for the drink table. The flowers arrived in perfect condition and held up beautifully for days. I recommend having your flowers delivered at least a day in advance so the roses have time to open up a bit more. (Note: Hydrangeas aren’t as hardy, so don’t order them too far in advance and keep them in water constantly so they won’t wilt.)

The Stationery

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I designed the menus in Photoshop and printed them on Kraft paper. For the gold “menu” at the top, I printed the original text in a light brown and then traced over it with a gold marker. I used the same marker to hand-write the place cards on Kraft paper tags.

To display the place cards, I made holders out of wine corks (I always save them). To create the holders, you’ll want to steam the corks for 4-5 minutes before using an exacto knife (or a bread knife if you realize you don’t have an exacto knife…that happens to some people). To keep the corks from rolling, I super glued a metal washer to the bottom of each one.

To finish off the tables, I printed black and white photos of my parents over the years and displayed them in simple white frames along with glass lanterns with candles.

The Food

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The food came from a local caterer, BOSS Corporate Catering. And, you guys? My only regret is that this company is in Ohio and I can’t use them anytime I want to have a party in New York. The food was so good, and Crystal, the owner, went above and beyond, helping us move the food into our chafing dishes and arrange it for the party. She was also extremely responsive and accommodating during the planning process, which took a lot of stress off of me. We had Sicilian skewers and goat cheese bruschetta for appetizers, then dinner was chicken marsala, penne alfredo, zucchini and summer squash, strawberry arugula salad, and fresh dinner rolls with honey butter. Dessert was a lemon berry mascarpone cake and a chocolate espresso cake.

The Drink

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The signature cocktail of the evening was an Elderflower Blush.

Ingredients:
Fresh strawberries
Fresh basil
Gin
Elderflower Liqueur
Seltzer
Prosecco or champagne

To make by the glass, muddle strawberries and basil in a glass and add 1 oz gin and 1 oz elderflower. Top with equal parts of the bubbly stuff. (We made ours for a group, so Joey muddled the strawberries and basil in drink dispenser and added equal parts gin and elderflower and about two cups of seltzer. We filled the glasses half full with this concoction and then topped up each with Prosecco.) Garnish with a strawberry and basil leaf.

The night came together beautifully. It was so great to spend time with my family that I don’t see that often, and my sister took the loveliest photos of us all. Happy anniversary, Mom and Dad!

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Sources:
Photography by Figment Art Photo
Food by BOSS Corporate Catering
Flowers from GlobalRose.com
Glass lanterns from World Market
Paper and frames from Michaels
String lights from Target
Rentals from Sun Rental

how-to-plan-kate-spade-party

It should come as no surprise to anyone who knows me that I love a theme. (Symptom of being an overplanner.) I typically plan one themed (or at least more elaborate) party a year, and since it had been over a year since my Mad Men housewarming, I was due for another.

The party would be to introduce a few of my girl friends. A while back, my friends Ashli and Nikki started a little tradition of planning “glam girls’ nights in” where we could introduce women from our different social circles that we thought would get along. I had said I wanted to host the next one, and then I set about working on the girliest party theme possible: a Kate Spade theme.

Here’s how I decorated, what we ate, what we wore, and how we celebrated.

How I decorated:
The first question my husband asked when I told him the party theme? “What the heck is a Kate Spade party?” Essentially, the theme was lots of color, stripes, and polka dots. In the invitation, I asked all the girls to incorporate stripes or polka dots into their outfits. (More on that later.)

invite

I got my invitations on Etsy from Olive & Star — because a fancy party needs a fancy invite. Plus, who doesn’t love getting mail?

My apartment is already pretty colorful, so the rest of the decor was simple. I created a rainbow canopy with crepe paper streamers, had a few balloons in the entryway for when people walked in, and created a photo wall in the kitchen using polka dot wrapping paper and some leftover streamers.

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I also made a few Kate Spade quote prints in Photoshop to decorate the food table, bar, and bathroom. You can download the PDFs for these at the bottom of the post.

What we ate:

veggie-rolls

Veggie Rolls, cheese and crackers, and spicy crab dip made up the appetizers.

Veggie Rolls
Ingredients:
Carrots
Red and yellow bell peppers
Cucumbers
Goat cheese

Directions:
1. Chop carrots and bell peppers into matchstick slices. Set aside.

2. Thinly slice cucumbers into long strips. Spread with 1/2 Tablespoon of goat cheese.

3. Place carrot and pepper slices into cucumbers, roll up, and pin into place with a toothpick.

Spicy Crab Dip
Ingredients:
4 cans crab meat
4 T light mayo
2 tsp chili powder
1 T hot sauce

Combine ingredients and chill until ready to serve.

For dinner, I boiled tortellini and served with a marinara (store bought…I’m only a pretend housewife, remember?) and a kale pesto.

tortellini

Kale Pesto
Ingredients:
4-5 cups kale, washed
1/2 cup pine nuts
4-5 cloves fresh garlic
1/2 cup olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients in a food processor and pulse until smooth.

My friend Cyndy also brought a salad.

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“Naked” Funfetti Layer Cake
The highlight of the food, though, was the dessert. I want to preface this with one fact: I am not a baker. Baking is chemistry, meaning you can’t really improvise that much, and that stresses me out. I almost always mess up things I bake, and even when I don’t, there’s ALWAYS a moment during the process when I am convinced I’ve ruined the whole thing.

Like I said — stress.

I always manage to forget these things when I entertain, however, and decided that I was going to bake a cake.

Not just any cake. A layer cake. Because that’s simple.

I baked a funfetti cake from a box, but I did a few substitutions to make it taste better: add milk instead of water, butter instead of oil, and an extra egg. The buttercream I made using this recipe.

Word to the wise: Just because you’re making a “naked” cake doesn’t mean you don’t need LOADS of icing. I should have at least tripled that recipe to have had enough.

After baking the layers and trimming them to be level (another tip: freeze the layers overnight after baking to make them easier to trim/stack), I started stacking. A few spoonfuls of sprinkles and a confetti topper later, we were in business.

The drink I’m calling the PopFizzClink in honor of our hashtag. Here’s how to make it:

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PopFizzClink Cocktail
Ingredients:
1 oz St. Germaine
1 oz pomegranate juice
Champagne or Prosecco

Combine St. Germaine and pomegranate juice in a champagne flute and fill the rest of the way with bubbly. When making in large batches, I recommend mixing the St. Germaine and pomegranate (in equal parts) in a large pitcher to chill beforehand. Then you pour a bit in each glass and top with champagne/prosecco.

What we wore:

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Have I mentioned how much I love friends that commit to a theme? These girls did not disappoint.

Everyone incorporated stripes or polka dots, plus there was plenty of color to add to the evening. Plus, I finally got to wear the tulle skirt I’ve had in my closet for months. (Because one day I decided I needed it, okay?)

Even Bogey got in on the action. (Because you know I would not have a party without Bogart.)

What we did:
Since the evening was going to be about introducing people who didn’t know each other, I planned a few games to keep things interesting. (I didn’t want to do too many because I know some people hate party games…just enough to get everyone talking.)

Aren’t You Cute?
For this game, I gave each girl five polka dot stickers at the beginning of the party. Whenever they heard someone use the word “cute,” they were allowed to steal a sticker from them. But if they said it, whoever caught them could steal a sticker from them. The goal was to have the most stickers by the end of the evening.

Meet My Fabulous New Friend
To introduce everyone, I paired the ladies off with someone they didn’t know with questionaires. They would interview their partner, and then “introduce” them to the rest of the group. I stole this idea from Ashli and Nikki’s party because it was such a funny way to hear hilarious stories and get to know each other beyond the basics. Questions included things like “what is your job,” “what is your most embarrassing moment,” “what is your favorite place you have traveled to,” and more.

There Will Be A Quiz
While everyone was introducing their new friends, I wrote down random facts each person revealed. After we had all “met,” I told everyone we were starting a new game where they had to be the first one to identify who had said the things I had written down. Whoever remembered the most (and the fastest) won a prize.

Put a Bow On It
We didn’t end up playing this game, but I think it’s always good to have a back-up in case things start to slow down. The plan was to pair everyone off again and give each team of two a piece of ribbon. They would then have to race to tie their ribbon into a bow first — but each person could only use one of their hands. Teamwork!

At the end of the party, I also sent each girl home with a little goody bag with a face mask, compact mirror, nail polish, and a Ring Pop.

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The party turned out exactly how I hoped. Everyone seemed to have a great time, and I had fun learning new things about everyone. Plus: cake and tutus. What more do I need?

Thanks again to the girls for playing along! And a HUGE thank-you to Monica for taking most of these pictures (if you want to hire a photographer in the NYC area, let me know and I can pass along her info).

#popfizzclink!

 

Free Downloadable Kate Spade PDFs
Eat Cake for Breakfast
But first, champagne
Cocktail in her hand, confetti in her hair
She is anything but ordinary.
Coral lipstick
Dressing up begins at age five…
#PopFizzClink
She is a voracious reader…

You guys know my friend Diana, right? (Of Burpee Thursday and Philly Half and Avocado Toast fame?)

So you know that she’s an animal when it comes to working out and has great taste in appetizers. Well, one thing you might not know is that she’s allergic to gluten. (For realsies, not just because it’s trendy.) And while I am not and am, in fact, pro-gluten in most cases, being friends with Diana has made me much more gluten-aware.

It has also exposed me to a whole new way of cooking. Because on top of being super fit and having great hair, Di can also cook like a boss.

One thing I’ve grown especially fond of? Her gluten-free dark chocolate chip scones.

Her recipe is (gently) adapted from the Chocolate Chip Scone recipe in The Gluten-Free Almond Flour Cookbook. Last night, I finally tried making them myself.

The problem was, I couldn’t find almond flour. I went to two different stores and they were both out. So I substituted quinoa flour, which meant changing a few other things in the recipe. (Side note: Experimentation in baking is HARD. This is why I never bake.) I’ve included both variations below.

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Almond Flour Chocolate Chip Scones

Ingredients:
3 1/2 cups blanched almond flour
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/3 cup grapeseed oil
1/4 cup agave nectar
2 large eggs
1 cup coarsely chopped dark chocolate

1. Preheat the oven to 300°F. Line large baking sheet with parchment paper.

2. Combine the almond flour, salt, and baking soda. In a second bowl, whisk together the grapeseed oil, agave nectar, and eggs. Stir the wet ingredients into the almond flour mixture until thoroughly combined, then fold in the chocolate.

3. Form the scones (about 1/2 cup batter each) and place on baking sheet 2 inches apart. You could make the scones smaller, but you’ll probably just end up eating two anyway.

4. Bake for 12 to 17 minutes, until golden brown or a toothpick inserted into the center of a scone comes out clean. Let the scones cool before serving.

Quinoa Flour Chocolate Chip Scones

Ingredients:
3 cups quinoa flour
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup grapeseed oil
1/3 cup agave nectar
3 large eggs, 1 egg white
1 cup coarsely chopped dark chocolate

Preparation instructions are the same as above, but heat the oven to 350°F and bake about 15-20 minutes until golden brown or a toothpick inserted into the center of a scone comes out clean.

If I’m totally honest, I prefer the almond flour version. The quinoa flour tastes a bit like, well, quinoa. It’s still good and ridiculously hearty, but a bit rice-ier. Both options are incredibly satisfying, though, especially because the dark chocolate makes you feel like you’re eating a cookie. You could also add a tablespoon of flax for some extra fiber, dried cranberries or cherries for tartness, or chopped nuts for a crunchier texture.

Enjoy!