Love and Lemon Barsūüćčūüíē

I think homemade food is one of the greatest gifts of love there is. We have almost completely lost touch with cooking and baking from scratch because of how our lifestyles have progressed. It’s sad to me that kids now think cookie dough comes in a plastic tube from the grocery shelf. Or that soup comes from a can or box. When we prepare food for ourselves or for others we are literally putting our energy into the food. That’s why a home-cooked meal can feel so comforting. Especially when it’s made for us by someone we love.

On Mother’s Day I packed up all of the ingredients to make lemon bars and took them to my mom’s house. I know she loves them and I wanted her house to smell good from the baking. This was my gift to her and I poured love into every step.

  
It wasn’t long until my boyfriend started bugging me to make him his own lemon bars. He requested several times and because I love him I made them yesterday just for him. I am not even eating them right now because I’m on a clean 2 week meal plan.

Baking has always been therapy for me. It’s meditative and consuming. It’s hard to worry about “big stuff” when you are measuring out spoonfuls of powder and mixing up yellow batter to a frothy foam.

This recipe is super simple and basic. Real ingredients, real lemons, real love

  
Base:

1 cup flour

1/2 cup butter

1/2 cup powdered sugar

Combine and press into an 8×8 baking pan. Bake at 350 for 20 minutes

Filling:

2 eggs

1 cup sugar

Juice of one whole lemon

1 tablespoon lemon zest- use a grater lightly over washed lemon skin

pinch of baking powder

Pour over crust and bake 20-25 minutes until golden. Lightly sprinkle top with powdered sugar.

Finding Balance ……and Berriesūüćď

ÔłŹSpring is finally here in Middle Tennessee after a long, harsh winter. Proof was at the 12south farmers market yesterday where fresh local strawberries were on display. ¬†There’s no going back now…….imageThat is a theme in my life right now- no going back. ¬†As I have navigated my way the last couple years between career moves and lifestyle changes I’ve found myself wondering about what propels us forward. Sometimes we choose to move, sometimes we are forced, but either way there is movement. Just like the seasons our lives change constantly. And for every ending, there has to be a fresh sweet beginning- like the berries.

My my life now is centered around trying to find BALANCE. Usually that means trying to find more time, but for me it’s more internal. ¬†Balance between past and future, self and others, work and play, physical and spiritual…….

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Local strawberries will be around for just a few short weeks. The sweetness and goodness they offer is fleeting so enjoy them to the fullest. The present moment is like that too. I try to not get caught up in the future or dwell on the past, but instead relish the ripe present moment.

Winter Wrap-Up + Snowday Cookies

It’s March and winter won’t let go! Yesterday we had ice and snow and today the snow has stayed because it’s so cold. That is not normal this time of year. It seems all I’ve been doing the last few weeks is trying to stay warm! I’ve been gravitating towards warm, comfort foods and vitamin C packed citrus. (Oh and the snow day prompted me to bake cookies!)

My yoga student brought me some oranges and grapefruits fresh from an organic grove. I’ve been cutting way back on fruit since following my lean meal plan, but I couldn’t not try these. I split the grapefruit in half, sprinkled a small amount of brown sugar on top, and broiled for 3-4 minutes to let the sugar caramelize.

broiled grapefruit

It was so good and juicy! The oranges were like candy and I limited myself to 2 of those.

I’ve also been enjoying healthy bowls of food for simple lunches and dinners. My boyfriend isn’t a fan of this, he likes a knife and fork, ¬†but I love the idea of throwing everything together in a bowl and sprinkling with nutritional yeast. It’s simple and easier to clean up. I start with rice or a grain, then add a protein, and top with cooked veggies. I’ve made this with tempeh and tahini and called it a “Buddha Bowl”¬†

Buddha Bowl

Lola got a spring haircut a bit too early. She is shaved down to a slick coat and it’s still pretty cold out, but I think she loves it- her energy level is way up and she’s acting like a puppy. She’s been curling up with us on the furniture whenever possible as if she knows how cute she looks.

Peke haircut

The ultimate snowy day activity for me is baking! I have not baked in a long time and yesterday it was so fun to make these chocolate chip/oatmeal/peanut butter cookies.

oatmeal chocolate chip cookies

Recipe:
1/4 stick butter, 1/2 cup coconut oil, 2 eggs, 1 teaspoon vanilla, 1/2 cup honey, 1/2 cup brown sugar, 1/2 peanut butter, 1 and 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour, 1 teaspoon each of salt, baking soda, baking powder, 2 cups rolled oats, 1 cup chocolate chips, 3/4 cup shredded unsweetened coconut.

Mix all wet ingredients, add flour, coconut, chips and oats. Drop on parchment paper lined cookie sheet and bake 10 minutes at 375.

They are SO good and I love that there is no white sugar or white flour in them. Check out my other healthy cookie recipe for Tahini Cookies 

Enjoy!

Nashville’s BEST Hot Chocolate

Since before Christmas I’ve been a little obsessed with hot chocolate. For me, it was about finding the perfect hot chocolate; dark, sweet, but not overly sweet, steaming and comforting. Since giving up coffee, I have been drinking only tea which I love, but something about cold, grey, wintry days makes me crave the rich sweetness of hot cocoa. I set out on the quest to find the best.

I started in my own neighborhood that has lots of great coffee shops.

Portland Brew. I love the quiet atmosphere and the industrial decor. They take their coffee very seriously here too. The hot chocolate was mildly disappointing. It was chocolate syrup pumped into a cup of steamed milk. Too sweet, too bland. I enjoyed the whipped cream on top but couldn’t finish it because it was too sweet.

Eighth and Roast is another newer coffee shop that we go to a lot. In the summer they make home made fresh strawberry lemonade that is to die for. I ordered hot chocolate and had to ask for whipped cream on top. It turns out they just heat up chocolate milk and serve. Bummer. Not what I was looking for. The whipped cream was freshly made from a local creamery which was a treat.

I was getting frustrated. 2 great coffee shops and 2 very mediocre hot chocolates. I did some research……

Bang Candy Company: When I googled “best hot chocolate” this is the place that came up. Known for making marshmallows and candy, I was pretty excited to see what they offered for hot chocolate. I ordered a medium hot chocolate and got my choice of marshmallow flavor- I chose spicy cinnamon. Sadly, I was disappointed at the weakness of the chocolate flavor. My drink literally tasted like hot milk. The marshmallow was bangin’ but the cocoa not so much. Cute shop and super nice people!

Starbucks: I don’t like going to starbucks. I don’t like the corporate feel or the food they serve that’s been pre-made and shipped in. In my opinion, they are the Wal-Mart of coffee shops- BUT I had a gift card which trumps integrity. Plus the BF loves his caramel macchiato’s. I asked how they made their cocoa and was told “Dark syrup, vanilla, and milk” The Dark Syrup piqued my curiosity. Again, I had to special request whipped cream- I thought that was a given??? The cocoa was oh sooooo disappointing. Watery, sweet, blah. I was ticked off that I wasted my gift card on it. ¬†I threw a tiny fit in the truck and left it sitting there and to be fair, it actually tasted a little better after it cooled down.

I took a few more passes at more shops, a bakery, and friends well-meaning suggestions. My eyes glazed over as I envisioned finding my perfect cup of cocoa. I wanted to stumble across a little thatch-roofed shop where people wore cute hats and wooden shoes as they shaved curls of bitter dark swiss chocolate into gently boiling milk, ¬†stirring it up with a long handled spoon. I wanted exotic spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, and REAL vanilla sprinkled lovingly into the hot goodness. I wanted a big white fluffy cloud of fresh whipped cream cooling my mouth from the top of the cup………….

Fantasy over. I took matters into my own hands. I’m a good cook, why couldn’t I make the perfect cup of hot chocolate exactly like I wanted? On a rainy afternoon I made the city’s best hot chocolate in my own humble kitchen. And I wasn’t wearing wooden shoes.

photo (91) hot chocolate photo (93) photo (94)

I cup milk (I used lowfat but almond/coconut could be used)

2 tablespoons agave nectar or honey

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 large scoop unsweetened cocoa

dash of cinnamon or nutmeg

Bring all ingredients to a slow simmer (just til milk begins to bubble) over medium heat, stirring constantly. I think the stirring really blends the flavors together perfectly.

I topped mine with Peppermint Whipped Cream- from a can. We can’t have it all…..

The Lost Art of The Dinner Party

Do people still have proper dinner parties? I’m worried about that. I’m worried that because of convenience and time, restaurants have taken over and people have forgotten the art of throwing fabulous dinner parties. ¬†The kind where friends linger and lounge on couches and armchairs with drinks in hand, waiting for the home-cooked meal to be served, but in no hurry to eat and run. I LOVE the whole concept of dinner parties and have wanted to host them since I was a little girl. I would scour my mother’s Betty Crocker cookbook looking at the delicious recipes and party themes for any occasion.

Retro cookbook

My childhood treasure that started my love of the kitchen

Luckily I love to cook so having a dinner party is not a source of anxiety for me but I know it can be to some. It doesn’t have to be though; it can be so simple that anyone can host a successful dinner party and have fun doing it. I had a birthday dinner party last weekend and here are some ways I kept mine simple but still fabulous….

Choose an easy main dish that you have made before: I chose to make lasagna. It’s easily prepared ahead of time with minimal effort and it always looks and tastes like a ton of work went into it. I made one large pan with meat and a smaller pan for a couple of guests who are vegetarian. Same ingredients, same prep time. To make it special I added red wine and fresh basil to the sauce!

tomato sauce

Have a great assortment of simple appetizers: My favorite thing is to buy a variety of crackers and chips and then make homemade hummus. I made garlic and chipotle pepper- same batch, just used different spices. Easy to make ahead too.

homemade hummus

I also bought a small amount of interesting cheeses from TJ’s. Yes, I bought cheese with chocolate in it, it was my birthday! I always splurge $ on cheese because the sizes are so small and quality makes a difference in taste.

chocolate cheddar cheese

Create a simple fresh salad: Greens, rasberries, slivered almonds, goat cheese. Done. Choose a light, versatile dressing and toss just before serving. Everyone loooooved the salad, I think the fresh berries and goat cheese was the tipping point.

Have an impressive dessert; I chose to buy a decadent chocolate ganeche cake from the bakery at whole foods. It’s easier to buy a fancy dessert than to try to make one but if you have a speciality like a pie or cobbler with seasonal items then go for that. I served caramel frozen yogurt with the cake and that was what made it really special.

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BYOB; if you’re comfortable with it, ask guests to bring their own liquor. People like too many different things for you to try and stock the bar. Plus you never know how much people drink so it’s hard to know how much to buy. My friends all brought wine, beer, and champagne and everyone enjoyed just what they wanted.

Create ambience: scented candles, a fire in the fireplace, good music, plenty of seating, fresh flowers. Make sure pets are bathed, well-behaved, and introduced properly. All of these little details can really seal the deal on a successful dinner party.

appetizers cheese and crackers

Mix it up: Invite a wide variety of your friends, or just invite 2, there is no magic #. It’s ok to mix and match people from different parts of your life. If you only have “work” friends, guess what the conversation will be about?

ENJOY: Don’t forget it’s your party to enjoy! Eat, Drink, and Be Merry- the dishes can wait……

Holiday Baking Love

This year I decided to bake some homemade Christmas gifts for friends. As usual, most everyone expects something super healthy from me: “Is it gluten free?” “Is it vegan?” “Are these whole wheat?” And the answer to all of those was “Nope”. I wanted to go old school and make holiday classics with simple, real ingredients like sweet cream butter, eggs, sugar, flour, and spices. I wanted to bake everything with love and intention and hand deliver them. To me, those things are just as healthy as omitting certain ingredients from our diets.

I believe that how we FEEL about the food we eat and how we FEEL while we are eating it is an important component in how we digest and react to certain ingredients. I’m not saying some people don’t have allergies or sensitivities to different foods, but something causes those reactions and our state of mind and attitude contribute greatly to our overall health on all levels, including digestion.

sweet cream butter

The first 2 of these recipes is from theKitchen, an awesome blog I subscribe to that always has tons of interesting recipes and cute interior design stuff too.

Snickerdoodles were my first batch. I love the simple sugar and cinnamon flavor of these and I know it’s an all-time favorite of a lot of people. Plus the name is fun!

snickerdoodles

Then I made Irish Shortbread Toffee Bars which I chose because the recipe was found in an old (1950’s?) cookbook from my town. I felt like a true junior league-er as I pressed out the crust and stirred away at the warm caramel filling. Spreading the warm chocolatey topping on was sort of meditative too.

shortbread toffee bars

These hardened up just enough to stay together and be firm. Half candy, half cookie.

shortbread toffee bar

My next recipe was Soft and Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies from the Minimalist Baker which features really healthy recipes. This recipe was gluten free so I went to the original source which was none other than Martha Stewart.

Mmmmmmm these are exactly what I envisioned- warm, chewy, soft, and buttery.

chocolate chip cookies

What made these extra good was the vanilla I used that I got in Mexico in the spring. It was SO strong and sweet that it gave them a different flavor. And I used dark chocolate chips rather than milk chocolate.

christmas baked goods

Packed and ready to be delivered with love to the lucky recipients! Please check out both of these wonderful blogs- they are definitely worth subscribing to if you love to cook.

PS Yes, of course I sampled. But now I am ready to get these out of my house they are SO good!

Homemade Energy Bars

I haven’t bought an energy/power/protein bar from the store in years. OK, maybe a stray lara bar earlier this year because of an emergency, but that’s it. The marketing and packaging lead you to believe these bars are healthy and good for you, but one look at the ingredients and it’s obvious that’s not true. Check out the ingredients listed for the “Power Bar”:

GLUCOSE SYRUP, RICE AND SOY CRISPS (RICE FLOUR, SOY PROTEIN ISOLATE, ALKALIZED COCOA), CHOCOLATE FLAVORED COATING (SUGAR, FRACTIONATED PALM KERNEL OIL, COCOA, WHEY, NONFAT MILK, SOY LECITHIN, NATURAL FLAVOR), WHOLE OATS (CONTAINS WHEAT), ROASTED PEANUTS, SOY PROTEIN ISOLATE, OLIGOFRUCTOSE (FROM CHICORY ROOT), PEANUT BUTTER (PEANUTS ,SALT), RICE CRISPS (MILLED RICE, SUGAR, SALT, MALTED BARLEY), INULIN (FROM CHICORY ROOT), VEGETABLE GLYCERIN, AND LESS THAN 2% OF: CALCIUM PHOSPHATE, SOY LECITHIN, SUGAR, NATURAL FLAVOR, POTASSIUM PHOSPHATE, SALT, GROUND ALMONDS, ASCORBIC ACID (VITAMIN C), FERROUS FUMARATE (IRON), BUTTER (CREAM), PYRIDOXINE HYDROCHLORIDE (VITAMIN B6), THIAMIN HYDROCHLORIDE (VITAMIN B1), RIBOFLAVIN (VITAMIN B2).
That is not what I call healthy, clean, or powerful.
I made these oat-y, seed-y, fruity bars the other night from a recipe adapted from the kitchn. I changed it slightly because I wanted to add more ingredients.
Mix in a small saucepan: 1/4 cup peanut butter, 1/4 cup brown rice syrup, 1/4 cup coconut oil. Stir well over low heat until blended.
brown rice/peanut butter
Remove from heat and add 1 and 1/2 cup apple sauce,  2 tablespoons ground flax seed (I used flax meal), 1 teaspoon vanilla. Mix well.
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In a separate large bowl combine:
3 cups whole rolled oats
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 pumpkin seeds
1/2 sunflower seeds
1/2 cup sliced almonds
1/2 cup diced dried apricots
1/2 cup raisins
oat bars
All of these dry ingredients can be adjusted to your taste. Be Creative! I chose to also add:

shredded coconut
cinnamon
cacao nibs
chia seeds
homemade granola bars
Combine wet and dry ingredients. Mix thoroughly and spread evenly in a greased ¬†8×8 baking pan.
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Bake at 325 for 40 minutes.
chocolate covered granola bars
I wanted a little extra something on these so I melted some organic chocolate chips on top and spread with a knife. Not enough to cover them, but enough to get my daily chocolate fix in a healthy way! Check out my recipe for homemade protein balls here!
homemade energy bars

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