Monday, August 31, 2015

How to Host a Box Top Bash + PB&J Granola Parfaits

Last week I shared a post about the Box Tops for Education program and the amazing ways that Box Tops are contributing to schools around the country. But let's be realistic -- sometimes you need a little motivation to get excited about pitching in!

The truth is that there are countless ways you can make Box Top collecting enjoyable {and even enticing!} for anyone and everyone who wants to participate. Even busy parents!

I've yet to meet a mama who doesn't enjoy a good "girl's night out" with her friends. The start of a new school year is the perfect excuse for a gathering to celebrate surviving another summer the milestone of the kiddos heading back to the classroom. So I was thinking... why not do a little good while you have a little fun by hosting a Box Top Bash?

The idea is quite simple, really. Make some tasty treats with your favorite General Mills Box Tops products, invite your gal pals to do the same, summon everyone for a "potluck"-style gathering and collect the Box Tops that were used in making all the delightful dishes you share! You can theme the party around a specific holiday or theme, make it an evening affair or even mix it up with a Box Top brunch! Have a group that's into friendly competition? How about awarding a small prize to the dish made with the most Box Top items?

If the ladies in your life aren't into cooking, you could sweeten the deal by providing noshy bites and hosting a party with a twist. For example, my girlfriends have had Bunco nights where we each pitch in a few bucks and the champion takes the pot of winnings. You could easily "Bunco for Box Tops" where, instead of chipping in cash, each player brings a certain number of Box Tops! Winner takes all for their kid's school -- not to mention bragging rights with the girls AND with the teacher! {Maybe just keep the gambling part under wraps. Wink, wink!}

The best part about collecting Box Tops is that you can get your whole community involved. Invite your neighborhood, church, sports teams and, of course, schools to participate with their own Box Top parties. Not sure how to get started? Here are just a few ideas:

Give to get! You've heard of a bake sale... why not a Box Tops Bake Sale? Following the same idea, invite community members to "pay" for baked goods in Box Tops and get some sweet treats in return!

Make it a competition. Nothing gets kids {and adults} more excited than a friendly rivalry! Classroom competitions are always a popular way to get kids involved in a challenge... especially when the winner gets an ice cream party!

Raffle off a prize. Ask local businesses for exciting donations that will draw interest. Turn in Box Tops for raffle tickets and hold a drawing for a lucky winner.

Mark your progress creatively. Kids are often visual, and goal setting can be abstract unless there's a mental image of the ultimate objective. Print out a picture of what the school intends to purchase with Box Top money and set out a big container or bulletin board where kids can see their contributions accumulate!

Make it EASY.  The truth is, as much as parents want to help, busy schedules and constant obligations can make participating a chore. Teachers can facilitate parent involvement by providing labeled zip-top bags with a clip or magnet that can be placed in prominent place in the house {i.e. the fridge?} and adding "collection days" to the classroom newsletter or calendar as a friendly reminder. I've also seen teachers give a self-addressed, stamped envelope to anyone who is willing to collect and send in Box Tops. It doesn't have to stop with classroom parents -- family and friends who live anywhere can take part with this clever collection method. Easy peasy!

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Since brunch seems to be such a thing these days, I decided to whip up a simple recipe that could easily be made ahead: PB&J Granola Parfaits. Just a bit of yogurt, a dollop of jam, some crushed peanut butter granola bars and some blueberries are all you need for adorable brunch bites. The "recipe" is also easy to scale for larger groups.

These dainty little darlings are surely worthy of a few Box Tops, and your friends will feel great about pitching in for a good cause!

PB&J Granola Parfaits

1 package Nature's Valley Peanut Butter Granola Bars
1 cup plain Greek yogurt {or your favorite kind}
1/4 cup strawberry jelly or jam*
1/4 cup fresh {or frozen, thawed} blueberries**

1. With a rolling pin or meat tenderizer, smash the granola bars into bits. {I did this right in their packaging for less cleanup!} Set aside.

2. In a small bowl, gently fold in strawberry jelly so that it maintains a swirled effect. Spoon evenly among 4 small ramekins.

3. Divide the crumbled granola bars among each of the servings. Top each with a few blueberries.

Serve immediately. If refrigerating for later use, add granola pieces just before serving so they maintain their crunch.

*You may substitute for your favorite flavor.
** Any fruit will do!

This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of General Mills®. The opinions and text are all mine.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Prep for School: Box Tops for Education!

Take a deep breath. Do you smell that? Freshly sharpened pencils, brand new shoes and school bus exhaust. {I was going to add in chalk dust but now it's dry erase marker. Yuck. I didn't say all the smells were good ones!}

The excitement of back-to-school time is in the air! 

Whether you are hoarding tissues in your glove compartment because you can't believe your baby is growing up, or you're doing a happy dance in celebration of the fact that the long {looooong} days of summer have finally come to an end, there's no denying that it's time to pack those book bags and send kids on their way.

In my pre-food blogger life, I was an elementary school teacher. And let me tell you, as happy as I was to meet new students and start with a fresh slate every year, it could also be pretty stressful.

My teacher-y days! I'm all official holding a file folder.
Not only was there lesson planning, establishing rules and procedures and setting expectations, but there was also keeping track of supplies and inventory of classroom necessities. Many necessities that I payed for out of my own pocket! 

In districts across the U.S., there is a serious need for help in covering the costs of educating thousands of children, let alone providing them with any of the extras that make learning fun. Many teachers take it upon themselves to dig into their pockets and shell out some of their own earnings to contribute to the learning environment of their classrooms and their schools. You may not believe it, but there were times my students clamored over who got to use "the good eraser" or worked harder just to earn a sticker or a small prize, often times because they didn't have very much at home.

Whether my school was able to reimburse me or not, I always made sure to have everything I needed for the kind of classroom that felt welcoming to my students. Now that I have a kiddo of my own, I'm even more invested in finding ways to help schools meet their needs and provide them with a helping hand. Luckily, programs like Box Tops for Education create ways to involve schools and communities in being part of the solution!

I'm embarrassed to say so, but I'm a total Box Tops for Education rookie. I mean, I've clipped a box top or two. But even though more than 80,000 K-8 schools participate, I never really knew a whole lot about the program until recently.

Did you know that each box top is worth 10 cents? And, while a dime may not seem like a whole lot to you, multiplied times all the families in a school, they can sure add up quickly!

In honor of my newfound knowledge, I went on a shopping excursion at my local Walmart to pick up some General Mills products {currently offering bonus Box Tops!} for creative recipe inspiration. My cart companion was a little grumpy and quite shocked when I told him that we were actually helping a school earn money by grocery shopping!

"Say whaaaat, mama?"
The classic Cheerios, Honey Nut Cheerios and Nature's Valley Granola Bars called to me... I must've been in a breakfasty state of mind!

They sure did cheer up Cole, too...

"Hey look! BONUS Box Tops!"
It almost seems too good to be true that many of the items we buy on a weekly or monthly basis -- pantry staples, treats, and ingredients for some of our favorite recipes -- come with the added perk of earning money for schools. It's a two for one, really! And the only extra step that it requires from you is a few seconds with a pair of scissors before you toss that box into the recycling bin. {Which, by the way, can totally be delegated to one of the kids as part of their responsibilities!}

That tiny bit of effort can grow into one BIG contribution for a school {up to $20,000 per year, in fact!} when everyone bands together and participates, which is pretty cool if you ask me. New books. Manipulatives. Computers. Playground equipment. School activities and parties. The possibilities are endless! And so is the gratitude from the folks who work hard to make school a place kids want to be. {Take it from me. Teachers are so grateful for helpers!}

I have a super fun post coming up very soon about how to get your family, friends and community involved in collecting Box Tops... while having a blast doing so! Keep an eye out for what Cole and I whipped up in the kitchen with one of our purchases!

Do you collect Box Tops for your school?

This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of General Mills®. The opinions and text are all mine.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Jambalaya Flatbread

In a miraculous turn of events, I managed to get the grocery shopping AND laundry done before noon on a Friday.

Before you applaud me for getting good at this mom thing {because you know I was patting myself on the back}, I have to tell you that my 9 month old child decided to pull down a small display of animal crackers as our groceries were being rung up by a Channing Tatum-esque cashier. The clear plastic barrels filled with little animal shapes crashed to the floor with a sound loud enough to shake me from my self-congratulatory fog and remind me never to get too cocky about my parenting skills. {On another note, Channing 2.0 may never have children of his own.}

Aside from that, our day has been pretty standard. And by standard I mean filled with attempts at productivity dashed by bouts of playing/fussing/chasing/catching, etc., etc.

I did, however, scratch together enough seconds to pop into the kitchen for a moment and make this:

I'm can't tell you if it was the excessive amount of green bell peppers or the soundtrack from The Princess and the Frog playing in the background that gave me the idea, but I can tell you that a good idea it was.

This Jambalaya Flatbread is such a fun Friday food for a casual dinner in or as an appetizer for guests. The hint of spice from the andouille sausage is balanced out by a creamy tomato base, seasoned with a dash of celery salt to give the classic taste of the "trinity" {onion, bell pepper, celery} that goes into jambalaya. Soft, sauteed bell peppers and onions in contrast to the crisp flatbread crust
makes every taste bud do a little dance.

Celebrate your Friday successes {or forget about your mishaps} with Jambalaya Flatbread tonight. Here's to making it to the weekend!

Jambalaya Flatbread 

Store bought {or homemade} pizza dough
Olive oil
1/2 cup diced green bell pepper
1/2 cup diced onion
4 ounces cream cheese, softened at room temp
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/4 teaspoon celery salt
{Optional} Dash of cayenne pepper
1 to 2 smoked andouille sausage, very thinly sliced

1. Preheat the oven to 500 degrees. If you have a pizza stone, place it in the oven to heat it up. If not, prepare a baking sheet with a little bit of olive oil. Set aside.

2. In a skillet over medium-high heat, heat olive oil. Saute green bell pepper and onion until just softened and translucent. Set aside.

3. Meanwhile, with a hand mixer, beat together cream cheese, tomato paste and celery salt {and cayenne if using}. Set aside.

4. On a floured surface, cut dough into quarters. Roll out each quarter to desired thickness -- I made mine very thin for quick baking and a crisp flatbread. You should be able to get 4 flatbreads out of 1 pound of dough depending on how big you make them. Place on pizza stone or oiled baking pan. Bake for 5-7 minutes or until the dough is just set and starts to bubble.

5. Remove flatbreads from oven. Spread each evenly with cream cheese mixture. Top with sauteed bell peppers, onions and sausage.

6. Return flatbreads to oven and bake for another 5-7 minutes, or until the sausages begin to brown a bit and the crusts are crisp.

Enjoy hot!

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Pimento Cheese Biscuits | King Arthur Flour #BetterBiscuits

There is a little bit of irony in the fact that South Florida, despite its southernmost positioning in the great US of A, could hardly be described as "Southern" in culture. With our tropical climate and proximity to Miami, we've got our own vibe going on -- more "plantain" than "plantation", if I'm being honest.

And yet, I have always had this fascination with all things Dixie. Sweet tea and porch swings and bourbon and grits. In fact, I'm fairly certain that the only fiction books I've read to completion in the past 10 years or so have all been set in the South. I even overlooked my aversion to horses {I know, I'm weird} to host a Kentucky Derby party a few years back because I'd always loved all the pomp and circumstance that came with the much anticipated sporting event.

So, when my friends at King Arthur Flour emailed me to see if I'd want to take part in their campaign for "Better Biscuits", I was just a little giddy. Because everyone knows that any Southern cook worth her cast iron skillet has a killer recipe for fluffy biscuits!

Because most biscuits are made with very few ingredients, the quality of each ingredient really matters. KAF makes a fabulous Self-Rising Flour that was made for things like biscuit-baking -- it's unbleached, with the addition of baking powder and a hint of salt, and it makes for tender, flaky baked goods. {Which is good because no one wants a gravy-covered hockey puck.}

When I opened the door to my KAF Better Biscuit delivery last week, I was psyched to see that they included just about everything I needed to really get my Southern on.

But I had to take it one step further.


The rich concoction of cheese, pimentos and mayonnaise is a beloved Southern staple that shows up at just about every important occasion, from baby showers to funerals to game day tailgates. {And if you're not careful about the quantity consumed, thighs.} It's a perfect balance of tang and sharpness... and it works impeccably in these biscuits.

Now, there are just about as many biscuit-making methods as there are Southern grandmas out there, so you have to find what works for you. I actually made two versions of these, using a blender to pulse together the dough the first time, and trading in machinery for a cooks best tools {my hands} the second. I must report that while the first method works well in a pinch, there's just something about sticking your digits in the dough that makes for a better result.

Flaky biscuits speckled with bits of sharp cheddar and pimento, so good it'll bring tears to your eyes faster than a viewing of Steel Magnolias. Get to baking, y'all!

Pimento Cheese Biscuits 
Adapted from King Arthur Flour 

2 cups King Arthur Self-Rising Flour
1/4 cup {4 tablespoons} cold butter, cut into small dice
4 ounces {1/2 a block} cold sharp cheddar cheese
1/2 cup to 2/3 cup cold milk {or buttermilk}
3 tablespoons finely diced pimentos, drained

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Prepare a baking sheet with a sheet of parchment. {These are amazing and so convenient.}

2. In a small bowl, combine milk and pimentos.

3. In a large bowl, toss together flour, butter and cheese, making sure to coat the butter and cheese with the flour. With your hands or a pastry blender, work the mixture together quickly until the butter pieces are flaked into the dough. {I used the "snap" method where you rub your fingers together like you're snapping.} The goal is to get the butter incorporated into the dough without melting it too much.

4. Add a little bit of the milk mixture at time and, with hands or a wooden spoon, stir it together until it is just moistened. You don't want to use too much liquid. A shaggy dough {with a bit of flour left at the bottom of the bowl} is just fine for now.

5. On a well-floured surface, turn out the dough {which may still be a bit crumbly} and quickly squish it together just enough times to create a dough that holds the shape of a ball. {If you need to add a few splashes more of milk, go ahead.}

6. Pat the dough into a rough disk shape, then using a floured rolling pin, roll it out to about 1/2 inch thickness. Punch out rounds using a biscuit cutter {or in a pinch, a round cookie cutter or an upside down drinking glass.} Don't twist, just push straight down.

7. Place each biscuit onto the parchment-lined baking sheet -- you should get 12, but may need to re-roll the scraps for the last few. {Note: For soft-sided biscuits, place them with sides touching. For crunchier sides, leave about an inch of space between them.}

8. Bake for about 10-12 minutes or until the tops begin to turn golden. {If you'd like, you can give them a little brush of butter in the last few minutes of cooking to help the color along.}

Serve hot!

Monday, August 10, 2015

Strawberry Cheesecake Ice Cream

Let me ask you a question: How do you use Facebook? {Because, I'm assuming that you have an account just like everyone and their grandma.}

Do you use it to connect with family and friends? Do you post sparingly... or are you an oversharer? Are you taking advantage of all that album space, or do you share a photo every now and again?

I'm trying to decide how I want to use my Facebook page for The Kitchen Prep because, frankly, it's been a while since I gave it any effort at all. You sort of lose your enthusiasm when you see that the post you've carefully crafted has only been seen by a handful of your supposed viewing audience. Whomp, whomp.

Meanwhile, everyone's all "Follow me on Snapchat!", "Check out my Periscope account!" "Have you seen what's happening on Meerkat?"... and I'm just over here trying to grow extra thumbs so I can keep up with the 3 billion {okay, 4} social media accounts I already have.

So I figured I should just come out and ask you what you think. I mean, if you're like me, you probably already have enough to juggle Facebook-wise: people who cannot stop taking quizzes to tell you which Disney princess they're most like, what their birth order means in the grand scheme of life or who is their true Facebook soulmate. People testing their IQ, grammatical abilities and historical knowledge. Folks who are so darn curious about their future that they have to summon the magical powers of the internet to tell them how many kids they'll have, who they will marry or when they will croak.

You may already have enough to look at between cat memes, inspirational quotes or clickbait articles that reveal what happens when "This girl makes herself a PB&J sandwich, but you won't believe what she discovers when she takes a bite!!!"

If you're a mom, you probably have your fair share of posts to scroll through including {but not limited to} the latest recalls and safety warnings, posts from the hundreds of mommy groups people have added you to, articles for/against/supporting/criticizing/condoning/condemning anything and everything related to child rearing, and of course, the latest piece of information to add to your mom-guilt inventory.

If you're a professional of any kind, you might be agonizing over that friend request from a client, coworker or competitor that will open the Pandora's box of information that you may not want to know about them -- or worse, letting them see things you may not necessarily want to share with folks you're not super close with. {Though I have nothing to hide, I'm still on the fence about accepting friend requests from people who know me only through my blog. Anyone with me on this?}

And then there are the invites from club promoters {no}, friends who want you to play mindless online games {double no}, sporting events {do I LOOK like I'm in shape to run a 5K??}, essential oil parties, jewelry trunk shows, multi-level marketing schemes.... agggghhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!!! It's enough to drive a person to hit "Delete Account" and forget about the whole thing!

Of course, some of this I say in jest {if you are my "friend" and you do any of the above things, please don't take this personally. If you bugged me that much I would've already "defriended" you.}, but some of this is too true.

Instagram has become my social media sweetheart, where I share a 50/50 mixture of business and personal photos. There's a different vibe over there and I like it. I've considered sharing the same type of stuff on my Facebook and seeing how that goes, but again, Facebook already seems a little "clogged" and I don't want to add to that mess.

So... what do you think? What types of things do you like to see from the blogs you follow on Facebook? Would you rather I keep it all "Here's the latest recipe!" or should I add in some daily activities, events and the occasional bit of my real life? Let me know!

While you mull that over, let me just share what really counts -- this ice cream. Because, you guys... holy moly. So good.

I have been on a serious homemade ice cream-making kick lately and not to toot my own horn, but every batch is better than the last. So far I've made Espresso Brownie Chunk, Cinnamon Dulce de Leche Snickerdoodle, and now this Strawberry Cheesecake ice cream.

Hello lover.

Though I normally make ice cream with a traditional custard base {meaning eggs, a stovetop and the whole nine yards} this one actually doesn't require any cooking OR eggs, which basically means there's less time between the moment you decide to make it and the second you get to shovel it into your face. You will thank me.

I adapted this recipe from one I found in this No-Churn Ice Cream cookbook that was sent to me... except I churned it because I like to make things difficult. Ha. You can totally try to make it without churning as it is recommended in the cookbook, but if you have an ice cream maker let that puppy do all the work.

Then you can scoop yourself a giant bowl of ice cream and sit in front of Facebook to wonder why you're on there to begin with. ;)

Strawberry Cheesecake Ice Cream
Adapted from No-Churn Ice Cream: Over 100 Simply Delicious No-Machine Frozen Treats

1 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup half and half {or whole milk}
1/2 of a 13 ounce can of sweetened condensed milk {not evaporated milk}
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste or 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
1/2 cup strawberry jam
2 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 cup finely diced strawberries
1 sleeve graham crackers {about 8 crackers}, crushed

1. In a large bowl, whisk together heavy cream, half and half {or milk}, condensed milk, vanilla and salt.

2. In another bowl, beat together strawberry jam and softened cream cheese with a hand mixer until smooth. Slowly add a few tablespoons of the cream mixture and begin to beat and incorporate liquid a bit at a time {doing this slowly will help keep the mixture from becoming lumpy}; continue to add the liquid until fully incorporated.

3. Pour the mixture into an ice cream maker and churn according to manufacturer's directions. You'll want to get to a soft-serve consistency. Before finishing churning, toss in the diced strawberries to incorporate them into the mixture.

4. Scoop half of the ice cream into a freezer-safe container. Sprinkle about half of the crushed graham crackers over the ice cream. Scoop the rest of the ice cream into the container and top with the remainder of the crumbs.

Freeze for about 4-6 hours or until the desired scooping consistency is reached.

Disclosure: A copy of No-Churn Ice Cream was sent to me for review. As always, the opinions here are all my own!

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

A "Sense-sational" Recap of Food & Wine Conference!

Just a few weeks ago, I was wandering the expansive grounds of the Rosen Shingle Creek Resort in Orlando preparing myself for a weekend of learning and indulgence for the Food & Wine Conference. You're probably thinking, "Wait, didn't you attend a food blogging conference just 4 months ago in Orlando?" And the answer is... yes! But I couldn't pass up the opportunity to check out this highly praised event, especially when it was just a car ride away.

Oh yeah, and this was our view. So there's that, too.
Now that I've attended several blogging conferences, I can tell you that as far as the information goes, they're all very similar. Sessions on the business of blogging, working with brands, food photography and social media are present across the board for most of them. However, the vibe of each conference is so very different, and I attribute that to the energy that comes from the people in attendance. The feel of the conferences I've attended has varied from business-like to educational to schmoozy to just plain fun!

If I had to describe the vibe of FWCon, I'd have to use words like bountiful, generous, familial -- this should come as no surprise since the mastermind behind the conference, Isabel Laessig, is also the creator of Sunday Supper. Her mission to bring back the tradition of gathering 'round the table to share in a meal carried through to her work in bringing together a community of food bloggers to share their knowledge and passion quite seamlessly.

The truth is, I attended FWCon because I needed a little inspiration and a boost to get out of a slump. Working from home with a small child isn't easy, and the past few months have been a struggle to remind myself why I thought food blogging was fun to begin with now that it's turned into something much bigger than just a personal recipe journal. I found some of that throughout the weekend, hidden among the moments filled with learning, food and laughter, like lost gems that were just waiting to be rediscovered.

The sessions at this conference were brimming with not just tidbits of knowledge, but also with pearls of wisdom. I felt that the speakers really made an effort to share their hearts along with what they've learned in their brains! Maybe that's why I felt that some of the tips "spoke to me" more than in the past.

I enjoyed Monica Bhide's keynote address so much {the woman is a hoot, really} that I decided to attend her breakout session on Writing with Your Senses even though I usually skip the writing sessions for topics out of my comfort zone like photography {which I'm still learning day by day} or entrepreneurial advice {which, H.E.L.P.}. During her talk, she prompted us to use descriptive language based around the senses to "spice" up our writing, so to speak. After all, food writing is the most appropriate place to do so!

Even though I tend to lean toward a more casual, conversational style here on the blog {people often tell me they feel as though I'm chatting with them}, practicing a "flowerier" type of writing reminded me that my passion for writing was part of the reason why I chose this medium years ago!

I probably won't turn this into a place for food poetry and will spare you from writing lengthy prose on produce, but for today, I'll take Monica's advice and take a fresh approach in sharing some of the weekend's highlights.

Like bees collecting pollen from flower to fragrant flower, they buzzed from station to station collecting small plates before converging at their respective tables to deconstruct and devour each delectable bite.

To say the room was "abuzz" with activity our first night at the welcome reception is an understatement. Between greeting new and old friends, sipping potent cocktails and plotting a plan of attack for attempting to taste a bite of each dish being served, the room was bustling with activity! And as if we hadn't had enough sweets and surprises, we were gifted with the cutest chocolates and macarons back at our rooms. I was sad to go to bed without so much as a taste, but I assure you that my belly was at max capacity by the end of the evening!

Each mouthful was better than the last, enveloping the senses completely in an exquisite blanket of subtle textures, enticing aromas and ambrosial flavors. Before disappearing completely from the tongue, her mind created a tantalizing memory of each distinct note, leaving her searching the plate again and again for another taste of that sublime recollection.

So... I love chocolate. A lot. And this conference was bursting at the seams with -- you guessed it --chocolate! I was practicing some major self control all weekend long.

Handmade chocolates, chocolate macarons, chocolate cake, chocolate mousse, chocolate tiramisu, chocolate cheesecake... not to mention samples from our sponsor Pacari Chocolates and a live chocolate-making demo!

But there was also cheese. And sweets. And beef. And booze. And people wonder why I love attending conferences so very much.

It was as though the liquid surpassed the throat and stomach, and trickled its way down deep, settling where relaxation and exhilaration coexisted in the soul.

It's no secret that I also enjoy a good glass of wine, and since this was the Food and WINE conference, there was plenty of it to go around! After a day filled with overwhelming amounts of information, it was so nice to sit down and unwind with a tasting selection from The Hess Collection. Also, I don't often get the chance to experience multiple pairings with my meals, believe it or not. Maybe I should make it a habit.

If the morning rays of the sun could have been reigned in from the sky and transformed into a dish, this would be their new embodiment; a bright, zesty breeze, clearing the heaviness and cobwebs from a long forgotten space. 

I will admit that by Sunday morning, I was aching for some fresh, colorful foods after a go around with the Idaho Potato & Wisconsin Cheese Poutine Bar and dessert overindulgence since I stepped foot on property. The Sunday brunch hosted by Duda Fresh was such a breath of fresh air for my system! I loved the beautiful displays of citrusy delights {the mimosas weren't bad, either. ::wink wink::} and the tasty options to put a little pep in my step!

To begin as strangers sitting stiffly around a table, starched napkins in their laps, and leave as friends lingering around empty platters, hoping that the clock will slow down and allow for one more story or smile -- that is the true magic of breaking bread. 

The presentations were good. The food was great. But the camaraderie? That was priceless.

I was so happy to see some familiar faces from conferences past, and to meet new friends {hi Shinee, Christin and Valerie!} to add to my growing roster of blogger buddies. I've mentioned it before, but blogging as a job can get a little lonely sometimes when you only communicate with your peers via technology. The sound of voices in the office is traded for the hum of a computer fan. To quote Brianne from Cupcakes and Kale Chips, "Facebook becomes our water cooler, Twitter the break room, and Pinterest stands in for white boards and flip charts." It's a different kind of work life.

Sometimes we have a little trouble letting go of technology. 
I said we were fun. I never claimed we were normal. Photo Credit: +Isabel Reis Laessig 
Sitting around the table during our family-style dinner on Saturday night was such a great representation of what this conference embodies: Friendship, sharing and community.

FWCon Roomies. Photo Cred: +Shaina Wizov 
I am still trying to find that sweet spot, balancing motherhood and working from home. It is no easy feat, and I admit that some days I'm a good blogger and a mediocre mom, while other days I'm supermom and a second-rate blogger. {For the record, there are some days where I'm no good at either job. It happens.} It's nice to be reassured from time to time that no matter where I am in this crazy journey, I have folks who understand and root for me just beyond the LCD.

Who would have thought that logging on to a website would one day give me a whole new meaning for the word "connection?"

A HUGE thank you to everyone who worked tirelessly to put together FWCon. And a very big thanks to our sponsors, too -- I was the lucky winner of the grand prize of Saturday's Jeopardy game and I took home oodles of swag {including an edible ink printer, wine, cheese and cutting boards, gift baskets of jam, chocolate and kitchen gadgets}! Cole especially loves his "motorcycle" from Fields Auto Group:

I hope to be back next year!

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Chocolate Hazelnut Energy Snacks | Target Made to Matter

Confession: I've been running on empty. Sputtering along with barely enough fumes of creativity to move forward, which I'm certain has been obvious by the lack of regular posts lately. For a girl who's never truly had "writer's block", the experience has been completely maddening.

Sure, blogging has come with its own list of challenges {namely, learning how to do pretty much everything involved}, but writing was never been among them. I got 99 problems, but blabbing ain't one. Or it wasn't up until now, anyway.

I used to be able to sit down and fill post after post with anecdotes {that I found slightly amusing, at least}, but now... this. Talking about having nothing to talk about.

The condition has been creeping up on me slowly over the past few months, but I've managed to pull it together and plug along, until a few months ago when I found myself having a meltdown stressing over a blinking cursor. And then suddenly -- in the middle of a succession of uninspired key strokes --  I realized that while, yes, I do have obligations and posting deadlines from time to time... I am the boss of me.

And The Boss said, "Dianna, take some time off to get a life so you have something to write about."

Ah, clarity. You elusive creature.

That's how I knew it was time for a little break from the way I've been doing things. So while I've been gone from a regular posting schedule, I've been attempting to fill my real schedule with things to fill me with wonder, joy and peace. You know... stuff to write about.

I've spent late afternoons outside sitting on a blanket under a tree letting my son climb me like a jungle gym. Cooked and baked all kinds of things, just for fun {imagine that!}. Cleaned and organized parts of my house that I've been putting off attacking since we moved in years ago. Took a weekend trip to Miami to celebrate 6 years of marriage with my guy. Met friends for lunch. Took Cole to a baby yoga class. Visited with my Aunt & Grandma. FINISHED A BOOK I STARTED READING 3 YEARS AGO.

In other words, I lived.

There have been times during all this living that I've had the urge to sit to down and write, or have had a creative idea or two pop up... and then fade again. In short: I haven't been "cured" of writer's block. But I know that the memory is there, filed away and ready to be written about another day when I'm inspired to do so -- not just because I feel the need to regurgitate what happened to meet a {self-inflicted} "3 posts per week" quota.

A few weeks ago, I was able to recapture some of my enthusiasm at the Food & Wine Conference in Orlando, where I couldn't help but be energized by the folks around me who are brimming with creativity and talent. It didn't hurt to receive a compliment from the conference keynote speaker, Monica Bhide, who kind of knows what she's talking about.

My tank is full.

Things have changed. My motivation has changed. This blog may change. {A little bit. Not too much.} There is a lot and nothing at all happening in my life all at once. It's a weird place to be.

While I figure out where this is all going, I'll still be sharing recipes and collaborations when I can. And when I can't? Well, hopefully that will mean that you can find me living, collecting stories to share again when the writer's block falls away.

Because living is the only thing that truly matters.
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Incidentally, I have a tie-in here to a project I've had the good fortune of being a part of as a Stonyfield Blogger: Target's Made to Matter campaign.

Target and Stonyfield understand what really matters, too -- conscious living that focuses on the health and prosperity of humankind and the planet. Though it may seem like a very small step, choosing to purchase products that are made by companies who take the time to create products that make a difference to the environment and their consumers' lives is a powerful way to start a wave of change.

Stonyfield, along with 29 other wellness brands {such as Justin's, Annie's Homegrown, EVOL., Ben & Jerry's and Seventh Generation} is being included in Target's collection of products that promote better living. To celebrate being among such an elite group of sustainable, quality-driven companies, Stonyfield is launching a new line of "Supergrain" Greek yogurts {think: flaxseed, buckwheat and quinoa!} that will be hitting store shelves soon, exclusive to Target!

I love Stonyfield because of their commitment to organic, smart choices... and I love anyone who helps me stay on track with better-for-you snacking.

Among the goody bag of Made to Matter products that I received was a jar of Justin's Chocolate Hazelnut Butter. Knowing that this delicious treat could only lead to a trip to the silverware drawer for a spoon to dig in with, I whipped up a batch of their Energy Snacks... best idea ever!

These little bites are packed with oatmeal, unsweetened shredded coconut , and of course, rich, decadent Chocolate Hazelnut Butter to hold it all together. In other words, there's no guilt in popping a few of these as a sweet treat... and how amazing would a few of these crumbled over some Stonyfield yogurt be for an afternoon snack?

Enjoy these treats knowing that you're doing something good for yourself and for the world with products that are "Made to Matter" AND made to satisfy!

Chocolate Hazelnut Energy Snacks
Hardly adapted from Justin's 
Makes about 12 mini muffin-sized snacks 

1/2 cup Justin's Chocolate Hazelnut Butter
1 tablespoon coconut oil
1/3 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
1/2 cup old fashioned oats
1 teaspoon honey
Optional: Flaked sea salt, such as fleur de sel

1. Prepare a 12 cup mini cupcake tin by lining with mini cupcake liners. Set aside.

2. In a large bowl, combine the chocolate hazelnut butter and coconut oil {if it needs softening, pop it into the microwave for a few seconds}.

3. Add shredded coconut, old fashioned oats and honey and stir to combine. The mixture should come together and be able to somewhat hold its shape. If it is too loose, add a bit more coconut and/or oats.

4. Scoop a heaping tablespoon of the mixture into each mini muffin liner. Press down with fingers or with the back of a spoon to pack down. Sprinkle with a tiny bit of flaked sea salt if desired.

5. Refrigerate until firm, about an hour. Pop into a zip top bag and store in fridge.

Note: I have also made these by rolling the mixture into balls. Equally as delicious, but a bit messier! If you don't have a muffin tin, this is an option.

Disclosure: As a Stonyfield Blogger, I received samples of some of the Target Made to Matter products and compensation. As always, all opinions here are my own!