Things I Like

 

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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I’ve mentioned my (wedding planner) friend Cynthia a few times on my blog. She’s an incredibly talented event planner, and everything she puts together seems to go off without a hitch.

The adorable Cynthia!

The adorable Cynthia!

This is never more clear than at her annual tea party. This was the first year I was able to attend, and Cynthia asked if I wanted to share the details on my blog. Y’all know I love a party, so I happily obliged. Here’s what we ate (and drank), how she decorated, and what we wore.

The Details

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Like me, Cynthia appreciates the value of a paper invitation. A couple of weeks before her fete, she sent out these sweet invites. Each invitee was instructed to wear their “prettiest dress and loveliest hat.”

For decor, Cynthia created rustic-style centerpieces out of a variety of colorful flowers. The shabby chic theme continued with the place settings, which she created by combining about four different sets of china.

My contribution to the party was a game I dubbed “Tea (and Questions) for Two.” On slips of paper, I printed a variety of “getting to know you” questions. One person would draw a question that they would have to answer, and then they would pick someone else at the party they didn’t know as well to answer the question as well. Then the selected person would draw a new question that she would answer, and then she would pick a new person to answer, too. It was a simple, fun way to learn a little someone about every other person at the party.

The Food

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I can personally attest to the deliciousness of the food. We started with a strawberry, spinach, and feta salad, followed by three kinds of tea sandwiches (cucumber, smoked salmon, and chicken salad), lemon squares, Greek and black-and-white cookies, and, of course, scones. Here’s the recipe Cynthia used to create the scones:

Blueberry Scones (adapted from Robert Irvine’s eat!)

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Ingredients
1/4 cup butter, cold and cut in pats
1 3/4 all-purpose flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup light brown sugar
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 cup fresh blueberries, rinsed and dried
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup half-and-half
1 egg, beaten
zest of an orange

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

Step two: In a large bowl, blend the butter pats with the flour, sugar, grown sugar, salt, orange zest, and baking powder by hand until the butter has been combined.

Step three: Add blueberries and mix well. Don’t crush all the berries!

Step four: In a second bowl, blend the cream, half-and-half, and egg with a whisk. Stir in flour mixture until dough comes together.

Step five: Remove scone dough from bowl and knead on floured counter, rolling 5-6 times. Do not overblend, or the dough will be too tough. Divide into 12 triangular shaped portions and arrange on a cookie sheet.

Step six: Bake until the tops are slightly browned, about 15-20 minutes.

Step seven: Serve with jame and clotted cream, flavored mascarpone, or creme fraiche. (We had the creme fraiche, and I can HIGHLY recommend it.)

The signature drink was (obviously) tea.

The Style

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I tell you what — you tell these girls to bring out their tea party best, and they will not disappoint. Cynthia even brought a selection of extra hats for anyone who didn’t have one on hand. I wore a floral dress from Forever 21 (a million years ago…but you can find a similar style here or here), a double strand of vintage pearls (okay, okay, they were just beads), and the world’s cutest hat from Fascinators First on Etsy. If you need a hat or fascinator, I can highly recommend her — the hats look exactly the same as in the picture, and shop owner Rita is willing to customize just about anything.

Over all, everyone had a lovely time at the party, and it’s always a great way to get to know a new group of gals. Thanks again for planning, Cynthia!

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Photos by Monica Vasquez — Contact me for her info!

Ohhh, apartment living.

Most of the time, I am totally fine with our apartment. Is it the newest, most modern place on the planet. No. But our building is reasonably well maintained, and I love our neighborhood, so I overlook a lot of things.

At its core, it’s just a basic one-bedroom that is nice enough because we make it nice enough.

One thing that I really do not like, though? Our lack of closet space.

The bedroom has one minuscule closet that would actually be impossible for Joey and me to share, so it is exclusively Joey’s. I use an IKEA wardrobe instead, and while it is marginally bigger than the closet, it’s still not much.

Over the weekend, though, I decided to see if I could maximize the space I had with just three simple closet organizing additions. And it I was able to create this:

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(Side note: I am wildly impressed with anyone who can take a decent photo of their closet. I am never successful in my attempts. Probably because, unlike this person, not all of my clothes are the same three colors. You will just have to trust me that it now looks worlds better in person.)

The biggest issue I had before was that my wardrobe only had one hanging bar across the top and two shelves for shoes. I have to be totally honest: I’m not that much of a shoes person. In New York, you pound your shoes into the pavement day after day, so, to me, it feels silly to spend much on something I know I will have to replace after six months or less. The point of that mini confession is that I don’t really have that many shoes to begin with. And especially in the fall, after I retire so many sandals and wedges until April, I really don’t need nearly so much space for my kicks.

Pro tip: By positioning your shoes so one shoe faces front and the other faces back, you can fit up to an additional pair of shoes in the same amount of square footage that you could if you had all the shoes facing the same direction.

I started my closet TrAnSfOrMaTiOn by removing the top shoe shelf. Already, so much more space! To better utilize it, I added a double hanging barInstantly, I had doubled my hanging space. I arranged my clothes so tops, sweaters, and jackets hung from the top bar and skirts hung from the bottom bar.

Next, I added a hanging shoe/accessory organizer to hold the pairs that didn’t fit at the bottom. This also worked as a great means to separate my tops/sweaters/jackets from my dresses, which take up the right side of the wardrobe.

Finally, I hung a handbag file next to the shoe organizer. This allowed me to hang some of the bags that were currently in the shelves next to the wardrobe, opening up shelf space for other storage.

The result is seriously life-changing — I can actually see all my clothes! And it totally inspired me to straighten up some of the other areas of my home that cause me stress — stay tuned for more DIY updates.

What are your tricks for creating more space in cramped areas? Anyone else working on organizing projects this fall?

“Justine and I grew up down the street from one another in Johnston (where the grass is always greener) and we were in choir and show choir together at school. After attending Drake University, she went on to wow Martha Stewart (among tons of others) with her writing, editing and all-around-awesome life skills. She lives in NYC and is someone you want to have on your side in any battle against a messy apartment, poor grammar, lacking money management skills, and unruly hair. Seriously, though. She has truly funny posts about everyday life events that you never knew you cared about until she wrote about them! She highlights little nuances in funny and endearing ways that can only be rivaled by Tina Fey. Maybe it’s just me, but I could not stop thinking about Justine when I read Bossypants. And her hair is famous. Take note! “

^^^Literally the nicest thing anyone has ever said about me, said by one of the nicest, funniest people I know. (And who I am sad will no longer be blogging her life. Thank goodness we’re real-life friends, right?)

Recently, my pal Ashli invited me to attend a gym she does PR for called FOCUS Integrated Fitness. I’m always up for a new gym adventure (gymventure?), so I readily accepted.

It also didn’t hurt that she told me this gym had also trained Beyonce. If wanting to look #flawless is a crime, lock me up now.

The gist of the gym is that they offer personal training, but also a small class setting that feels like a personal training session because you get so much one-on-one attention. Here’s what I thought of the class.

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The Gym
Space: The gym is fairly small with two personal training rooms and a larger area for the classes walled in by glass. There are three bathrooms, two with showers, and a water fountain for filling bottles. (Hand towels are provided; water bottles are not.) The gym equipment varies from kettle bells to treadmills to a TRX that you cycle through in a 6-station circuit. There are iPads at each station with videos demonstrating the move (in case you forgot it).
Cleanliness: Everything seemed very clean, and this might be the best smelling gym I’ve ever been in. (Weird, but true.) I didn’t shower, but I would have felt totally comfortable using these bathrooms.
Attitude: I was able to meet with someone from the marketing department, a co-owner, and two of the trainers, and they were all as nice as can be. The trainers provide constant feedback about the moves and your form, so you really do feel like you’re getting personalized attention. Most of the other people in my class were regulars, and our trainer (Kate) made a point of memorizing my name so she could call out to me the same as she did to the other people.

This is Kate. She is adorable.

This is Kate. She is adorable.

The Workout
Difficulty (Out of 10, 1 being “could do it in my sleep” and 10 being “omg I can’t walk”): 7. The class starts off with a group warm-up for about ten minutes including push-ups, crunches, and squats. Then the trainer and their assistant walk you through the six stations, demonstrating each move and the alternate move you do between sets. For example, at one station you might do elevated push-ups alternating with V sits. You then go through the stations, performing each set and it’s alternate movement twice. After the circuits, you do a 40/20, where you perform one move for 40 seconds, another for 20 seconds, and then alternate while the trainer calls out new moves each time. Finally, there’s a cool down with stretches. The class felt challenging, but not as intense as I usually go for.
Experience: The class itself was good (the other members were very welcoming and the trainers were accomodating, but I did feel like I was missing some of the energy I usually find in group classes. It might have helped if the music was louder or something.
Afterburn: Even though it didn’t feel like I was working super hard during the class, I was pretty sore the next day from all the squats and pushups. (You do a lot more than it feels like.) So what do I know?

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Final grade: A-. In general, I’m not a huge fan of stations in a workout — I feel like it breaks up my flow. But I love a gym that feels upscale without being alienating, and that’s exactly the vibe FOCUS brings. I also think that because there is such a heavy focus (PUN!) on personalizing the workout, the trainers would be more than willing to adjust each movement to make it harder if I had asked for that.

Have any of you tried FOCUS? Or do you have strong feelings about stations vs. circuits?