Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Baby Prep: Pregnancy Update + Cardamom-Fig Granola

Thirty-three weeks today. This whole baby developing thing is one of the fastest slow processes ever.

It's hard to believe that in just a handful of weeks Cole Thomas will be joining us out here and our lives will never be the same again. Preparations are well under way now that the nursery has officially been started and we've begun taking some birthing classes {HypnoBirthing, to be exact. I can't wait to tell you more about it.} It's gettin' real, folks.

Last weekend we were given a lovely baby shower by my in-laws. It was more of a celebration in honor of the baby {with both men and women in attendance} than a traditional shower with girls and games, which I enjoyed. We were inundated with love and gifts for our boy, and I came home and immediately started organizing. At 11pm. This nesting thing is no joke.

Pregnancy has been such an interesting time for me. I mean, it is for everyone I'm sure, but it has been amazing to see how nature takes over and prepares you for this wondrous event even when you're not a gal who ever had baby fever and who was convinced that it would be the most miserable experience ever.

Everyone who knows me well has marveled at how calm I've become during this time. I am not a laid back individual normally -- I'm a fan of control when possible. But that's just the thing; when you're having a baby, you realize that so much is out of your control that the outcome has been a new-found ability to just "go with it." I wonder if there's a way to request that this trait stay with me even after he's born.

Here's a little "almost there" update on what's been going on in my pregnant world:

The Belly: It feels really big now. Everyone tells me that it looks like I swallowed a basketball {or any variety of round objects, really, I've heard so many} because my bump is mostly concentrated in the front & center, which is fine by me. Sometimes I look at myself from the back and pretend I'm not pregnant, but then the belly just seems all the more shocking when I turn back around.

Weight: So far, I've gained a grand total of 21 pounds. I was petrified that I would balloon out of control when I first started seeing the numbers on the scale go up. I actually wrote a whole post about it, which I've been planning on sharing but haven't just yet. Women gain weight at all different rates and there are so many factors that come into play that it isn't even fair to compare one to the other. Luckily, though I felt like I gained weight quickly in the beginning, it progressed in a slow and steady fashion with the help of trying to eat well and staying active. I'm on track to be within the "healthy" range for a person my size by the time I deliver.

Movement: This kid is nuts. I'll be sitting there trying to work and my bump will start shape-shifting before my very eyes as he kicks and gets comfortable. I haven't had an ultrasound since I was 18 weeks along, so I often imagine what position he's in and what in the world he's up to in there. It feels like he has very pointy elbows.

Clothing: I'm still wearing mostly non-maternity stuff {loose & stretchy}, though some tops and sundresses have started coming up too high as they accommodate the bump. Maternity jeans & leggings are a godsend. I hate that I love them, but I do. I can still wear my old J.Crew shorts with the belly band, but it's not as comfy as slipping into those stretchy clothes made for round bellies.

Stretch marks - Nope {not yet, anyway}.
Swelling - Feet have gotten puffy a few times if I've been outdoors or on my feet for long periods of time, but no "cankles" yet.
Tummy troubles - Very few bouts of heartburn, which I used to get occasionally anyway even when I wasn't pregnant. "Reflux" if I drink too much water or am too full. Nothing too terrible or annoying.
Peeing - Sometimes having to get up twice at night to go.
Waddling - I'm still exercising most mornings, but my power walk feels more like a power waddle depending on the day. I'm not as comfortable as I used to be, but it's not unbearable. I just have to make more of a conscious effort on my posture so I'm not leading with the belly.
Hormones - I haven't been super emotional or cranky or anything during most of my pregnancy. If anything, I think pregnancy hormones have regulated some that may have been off kilter before! But I did cry over this commercial the other day. I mean, who wouldn't, though?
Braxton-Hicks - That's "practice contractions" for those of you who are unfamiliar. I've had these a few times and they don't hurt, but they feel like your abs have decided to do crunches without your consent. Very strange sensation. I also went walking in the evening last week and was not hydrated enough causing some major cramping. It was not pleasant and a little scary. This little nugget needs to stay put until he's fully baked.

Perks: My hair has never been shinier. My nails grow fast. My skin has been amazing -- no breakouts. {I have had some extra darkening -- a.k.a. "melasma", which I had before as well, but it's not awful.} I've probably had 2 headaches in the past 8 months which is mind-blowing since I would often get headaches before I was pregnant. People are super nice to you when you have a visible bump.

Preparations: As I mentioned, we finally took apart the guest room and are now stockpiling baby things in there. The only thing that's fully built is the glider {which I am in love with}. We are still deciding on a crib, but I think I've narrowed it down and will be ordering one this week. I have a good idea of the finishing touches {rug, art, etc.} that I'd like, but am holding off a little longer. My sweet friends are throwing me another baby shower in a week and half, and after that we'll really get going on finishing things up.

His closet is SO FULL of clothes. I will have to change him every hour on the hour just so he can get a chance to wear all these cute things. I may have to anyway with all the spit up and poo that will be happening.

We've got a good amount of "gear"-- car seat, stroller, a vintage baby buggy that was used by my husband and his brother, swing, high chair, tub, etc. etc. We will have to find a home for all these wonderful items so it doesn't look like we're living in BabiesRUs.

This is just a tiny bit. 
Farley has started to walk around in the room and sniff things. I think he knows some big changes are on the horizon.

Stuff I'm loving:

- I'm obsessed with L'Occitane's Almond Delicious Soap. I blame it on my mom who spoils me by buying me tiny, expensive soaps that I'd never get for myself. It is scrubby and softening and it makes me feel like I'm doing something just for me when I use it. Like a little spa break every time I shower. Someone gifted me with a few bars as part of my baby shower gift. I almost cried with joy.

Pure Fiji White Gingerlily Lotion. If you've ever wondered what I smell like {because that's a completely normal thought}, it's this stuff. I have loved it for quite some time, but I now slather it all over my belly after showers because the skin can feel all tight and it needs a little love. They carry this brand at really nice spas, so again, it makes me feel like I'm being pampered it just by using it. Apparently that's a thing with me.

My pregnancy journal. Before I got pregnant, I decide that I'd like to have a place to jot down thoughts and notes for posterity. So, I looked online for journals that might work and discovered very quickly that I hated most of them. I'm not into all the gooey baby type designs. {I'm weird, what can I say.} I did find these custom journals , but in the end, I decided to design my own on Zazzle. I love how it turned out {though I wish it were hard bound instead of floppy} and I've been trying to write in it as often as possible.

It says "Great Expectations -- The Story of Expecting You"
A good friend also bought me this book and I -- the listmaker -- am really enjoying filling it out!

Having a pregnancy countdown bucket list. Somewhere around the 20 week mark, I got more excited and less patient with this whole pregnancy thing. I needed motivation and something to look forward to {aside from the bundle of joy himself, of course} every few weeks to move things along. Our schedules are pretty busy as it is, but I wanted fun "mile markers" to treat myself to and speed things up. Best idea ever!

So far, most of the treats are food related {birthday lunch at Christopher's Kitchen; visiting the new Trader Joe's that just opened, etc.}, but some of them have to do with pampering {spa day!}or time with friends. Other tasks have included things I've wanted to do for a while that we never get around to {free admission Thursdays at The Norton Museum; Farmer's Market on Sunday mornings}. Having these things on my calendar keeps me looking to days ahead, happy and active.

Food. My current favorites happen to be: Fruit {still}. Raw green peppers and hummus {I don't even care for green peppers usually, but I'm enjoying them now}. Peanut butter & bananas. Dark chocolate. {I'll raid my baking pantry & eat dark chocolate chips for "dessert". It also helps that Lindt sent me a lifetime supply -- ok, maybe a few months supply -- of their amazing Excellence chocolates for my tasting party that I still have for snacking.} Coffee. {Still doing decaf.} These gluten free pretzel sticks as a treat every now and then. {Like crack, I tell you.} Cheese. {What else is new?} Yogurt. {You must try this new stuff, more about it below.} Cereal and granola.

Frame of Mind: Great. Am I looking forward to labor? Not particularly, but I have so much less worry about it than I did in the beginning. Some of that I think is just a natural part of getting closer, but some I attribute to the HypnoBirthing classes I mentioned. Yes, they're sort of "granola", but I love the positive feelings I get from practicing their techniques. More on this later.

Meanwhile, let's talk REAL granola. The edible kind.


As much as I love the convenience of buying store-bought granola, there are 2 things that deter me from doing so: Price and funky ingredients. I know there are a lot of good ones out there that are on the healthier side, but the truth is it doesn't take too much effort to easily whip some up at home. That way you can control the amount of sugar and preservatives, and keep it relatively inexpensive to boot.

Plus, you have the added perk of being able to make ANY flavor granola you choose! I mean, the possibilities are endless.

Since Fall flavors are on my mind, I played with cardamom and fig for this batch. I threw in some ground flaxseed and chia seeds for added nutrition, and walnuts for added texture and flavor. It's great alone or with a splash of almond milk... or for a real treat, sprinkled over some Petite Creme with a dab of extra Bon Maman Fig Preserves. That's basically dessert.

Stonyfield sent some of their Clean Plate Club members their new product, Petite Creme, to try out with Bonne Maman preserves and they didn't disappoint. If you're not a fan of "going Greek" when it comes to your yogurt, Petite Creme is for you. It's much milder, less thick and smoother in flavor than its Greek cousin. And it happens to go amazingly well with this granola.

Sweet, crunchy and simply addictive, I think this combo will be part of your Fall lineup.

Cardamom-Fig Granola

2 1/2 cups rolled oats
3/4 cups walnuts, roughly chopped
2 heaping tablespoons ground flaxseed
2 tablespoons chia seeds
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/3 cup coconut oil, melted
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1 tablespoon honey
1/4 cup good-quality fig preserves, such as Bon Maman
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Optional: Dried figs, chopped {I didn't have any, but I think they'd make a good addition!}

1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Line a baking pan with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. Set aside.

2. In a large bowl, mix together all ingredients until well combined. {To make combining a bit easier, I heated the oil, syrup, honey & preserves in the microwave for a minute to help them loosen up and become more liquid.}

3. Spread mixture onto prepared baking sheet in an even layer. Bake for about 45 minutes, giving it a stir every 15 minutes or so to promote crispness and even toasting.

Let cool before packaging. Goes great over yogurt or eaten as cereal.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Earl Grey-Pumpkin Snack Cake

I feel the changes of Fall coming. I almost felt a chill during my morning walk a few days ago. My belly is slowly dwarfing the rest of me as baby boy continues to grow. We started HypnoBirthing classes a few weeks ago {more on that soon}. Our guest room is being converted to a nursery little by little. I turn 33 this weekend.

Lots and lots of change.

All that change makes me want to do things that I'm familiar with just to keep some sense of what I know in my life. Like baking. Baking is always welcome.

Now that coffee giants all over America have officially declared it pumpkin season, I feel ok with doing some pumpkin-infused baking to usher in the seasonal flavors that we all know and love this time of year.

Except, not all of us love those seasonal flavors. Like my Abuela for example. She really, really dislikes some of those spices that are found in just about every Fall baked good you can think of. Says they make everything taste like craft store potpourri.

So, I came up with this recipe in case there are other folks like Abuela out there who just can't get on board with nutmeg and cloves and allspice. No potpourri here, just the fragrant scent of Earl Grey tea, a new favorite of mine.

It took me a while to become a tea person, to be honest. I used to love the idea of tea but didn't really care for the stuff itself. Then I started buying different kinds to sample whenever I'd come across ones that seemed particularly appealing. Now, I've developed a taste for tea {specifically chai or fruity herbal blends} and a major collection that I love to overwhelm friends with when they come over.

Earl Grey has such an aromatic quality to it since it's made with bergamot, an extract that comes from citrus. And you know me. I love anything citrusy. It doesn't scream "orange" or "lemon", but has such a pleasant fragrance that I'm not sure which I enjoy more: Sipping it or letting my nose linger above the cup.

The flavor goes surprisingly well with pumpkin, as I found when I combined the two in this snack cake. This super-moist cake doesn't even need any frosting, but hey, why not gild the lily while we're at it, right? Can you really go wrong with tea-scented cream cheese frosting? I think not.

It's everything you love about something familiar... with a little change sprinkled in for good measure.

Are you feeling Fall's changes in your life? Do tell!

Earl Grey-Pumpkin Snack Cake
Adapted from Dixie Crystals
Makes 9 servings

1/4 cup milk {I used almond milk}
2 Earl Grey tea bags
1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cups sugar
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Scant 1 cup pumpkin puree
1/2 cup vegetable oil

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line an 8x8 inch baking pan with foil and spray with non-stick cooking spray. {I just use my Misto filled with olive oil.} Set aside

2. Heat milk to steaming and steep tea bags in it for about 5 minutes. When finished steeping, squeeze out the tea bags carefully with the back of a spoon to get maximum flavor from each bag.

3. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt.

4. In a small bowl, beat together eggs, vanilla extract, pumpkin puree and vegetable oil until thoroughly combined.

5. Add wet mixture to dry mixture and stir until just combined {make sure there aren't any lumps but don't overmix}.

6. Pour batter into prepared baking pan. Bake for about 40 minutes.* Remove from oven and allow to cool completely before frosting.

*You may want to check for doneness at 30 or 35 minutes, but it took closer to 40-45 in my oven. This cake is very moist and did not have a crumbly texture for me, but had I left it in a little longer it may have created more of a crumb.

Earl Grey Cream Cheese Frosting

2 tablespoons milk
1 Earl Grey tea bag
4 tablespoons butter, softened
3 ounces cream cheese
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Heat milk to steaming; steep tea bag in milk for about 5 minutes. When finished steeping, squeeze out the tea bag carefully with the back of a spoon to get maximum flavor. Set aside.

2. In a medium bowl using a hand mixer, cream together butter and cream cheese until mostly smooth. Slowly beat in powdered sugar until incorporated.

3. Add about 1 tablespoon of tea-steeped milk. Add vanilla extract. Beat until smooth. {If the consistency is too runny, add a bit more powdered sugar. If it's too thick, add some more milk.}

Frost cooled cake completely. Sprinkle with cinnamon for garnish, if desired. Slice and serve.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Honey Apple Bundt Cake with Honey Caramel Sauce

I love the celebrations that make up Fall. Mostly because they all have to do with food... that's enough to get me on board with just about any holiday.

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine asked me if I was interested in trying out some Jewish recipes for the upcoming high holidays which begin toward the end of this month. I didn't have to give it much thought -- um, yes! When she told me one of the recipes was for a Honey Apple Bundt cake that was "to die for", I knew exactly what I'd be making.

Hallie and I actually have an interesting story of how we came to be friends. It's all thanks to social media and technology, believe it or not. Somehow or another, Hallie started following my Instagram account a while back. While planning a shopping event for Rapunzel's Closet in Palm Beach, she reached out and asked if I'd be interested in providing the nibbles for a chic little soiree {thanks to IG, I have photo memories! This was before I had an iPhone, so pardon the terrible photos.}. I was thrilled and flattered, and happily obliged. Soon after, our friendship as email "pen pals" began -- Hallie was living in NYC and we had never even met. 

As it turns out, our correspondence became semi-regular {and the emails very, very long}, specifically bonding over a love of all things food. She would tell me about the amazing places she was eating in NYC and even sent me an extensive list of recommendations for my next trip to the city. Our talks of foodie things soon developed into talks about life, dreams and the pursuit of the perfect outfit {following Rapunzel's Closet keeps me in-the-know of what's cute & current since most of my reading consists of cookbooks and baking magazines}, and we planned to meet up for a girl date during one of her visits to Florida. After some wine, appetizers and lots of chatter, we parted ways and remained friends. 

And, because friends don't keep amazing cake recipes from each other, Hallie was kind enough to pass along this recipe she makes every year for the Jewish holidays. 

Rosh Hashanah starts next week, signifying the beginning of the Jewish New Year. Though I was raised Catholic, I have always loved learning about celebrations of other religions. Judaism is particularly neat to me because of the fact that it is not only a religion, but also a culture rich with its own traditions, foods and language. As is the case with many holidays, food is a significant part of the Rosh Hashanah celebration -- specifically foods that symbolize sweetness to get the year off to a "sweet start."

Fun fact: My college roomate and dear friend is Jewish, and one year when neither of us could go home for the holiday, we whipped up an Easter/Passover dinner in our apartment that was epic... for the college days, that is. Talk about a mash up! :)

It doesn't get much sweeter than this cake, I can tell you that much. From what I hear, Jewish honey cake has a reputation for being sort of dry and unappealing -- more like a necessary showpiece for a traditional table than a dessert to look forward to. {Sounds like fruitcake to me!} This cake is not only beautiful, but also moist and irresistible.

Studded with apples that lend moisture to the dense cake and drizzled with a ridiculous {in a good way} Honey Caramel Sauce, this is more of a showstopper than a showpiece. The cake is lightly spiced without being overpowering, allowing the honey flavor to shine through. {Which I surprisingly enjoyed even though I'm not a huge fan of honey.}

Whether you celebrate Rosh Hashanah, or are simply looking for a sweet way to usher in the flavors of fall, I highly recommend giving this recipe a try. I can assure you that guests will be clamoring for another slice, and your family will be kvelling {See? Shiksa can get her Yiddish on.} over your contribution to the celebration.

Thanks, Hallie, for sharing a new favorite! xo

Honey Apple Bundt Cake
Slightly adapted from a recipe by Nicole Slaven, private chef and instructor at the JCC in Manhattan

1 cup chopped pecans, divided
2 cups sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup honey
3 large eggs
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 cups Golden Delicious apples, peeled & chopped

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 12- cup bundt pan {or spray liberally with non-stick cooking spray} and sprinkle bottom of pan with 1/4 cup of chopped pecans. 

2. In a medium bowl, beat sugar, oil and honey until combined. {Note: This batter is going to be thick so a hand mixer or stand mixer is the best bet here.}

3. Add eggs one at a time, making sure each is well incorporated after each addition. 

4. In a large bowl, combine flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Gradually add to wet mixture until just incorporated. Like I said, it's a super-thick batter, so make sure there are no pockets of flour hiding, but also try not to overmix. 

5. Fold in vanilla, remaining 3/4 cup chopped pecans and chopped apples -- this part can be done by hand, but it'll take some muscle! 

6. Spoon mixture evenly over pecans in pan. Bake at 350° for 55 to 60 minutes. Note: This cake browns very quickly due to the high sugar content. If you notice that it's looking like it might burn, loosely place a piece of foil on top to prevent over-browning.

7. Remove from oven and allow to cool for about 20-30 minutes before inverting onto a wire rack to remove from pan. When the cake is slightly cooled, pour ½ cup honey sauce over top. 

Serve the remaining honey sauce along with the cake... a little vanilla ice cream won't hurt, either. ;)

Honey Caramel Sauce:

1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 cup butter
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup heavy cream

Bring sugar, butter and honey to a boil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring constantly for about 3-4 minutes. 

Remove from heat and carefully add cream {it will bubble quite a bit}, and stir until the mixture looks uniform and is slightly thickened. {For a thicker sauce, allow to cool before drizzling.}  

Drizzle some of the sauce over warm bundt cake placed on a cooling rack on top of a pan or placed over the sink to allow the runoff to drip onto something other than your counter tops. Transfer cake to a serving dish.

Serve the remaining sauce alongside cake for extra sauciness.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Smoky Blue Cheese Grits

Confession: Food bloggers get stumped about what to make for dinner sometimes, too.

Don't get me wrong, I usually have a multitude of recipe ideas swimming around in my head. But most days when I get home from the office or finish a long day of working or recipes, the last thing I want to do is think about what to make for dinner. Those are usually the nights when I say, "Honey, you're on your own." Then I chop up some tomatoes and avocado, throw them in a bowl with a sprinkle of sea salt, and call it a day. {For the record, this a delicious, albeit lazy, thing to eat.}

Ruts happen; Pork chops with a side of rice. Pork chops with a side of quinoa. Pork chops with a side of sweet potato mash. Lather, rinse, repeat.

I am lucky that my sweet husband has taste buds that almost never tire of eating whatever is set in front of him. He's one of those people that can happily eat the same items for breakfast every day for a year without blinking an eye. Meaning, he's not much help when I'm trying to be creative and ask "What should we have as a side?"

His request is usually some form of greens -- a salad, sauteed spinach or kale, etc., etc., -- along with some form of starch. But the starchy element of dinner {which, honestly, I could most times do without} is usually the same response over and over again. A girl can only make so any versions of rice, quinoa and sweet potatoes before she loses her ever-loving mind.

A few weeks ago, after a long day and a firm refusal to eat the same.darn.thing again on a day when pork chops were {once again} up to bat, I decided to get a little creative.


Smoky blue cheese grits. Because most of the time, my creativity is fueled by a constant desire to use up the tiny bits of things that end up rolling around the pantry and the fridge without a purpose. I happened to have half a box of grits sitting abandoned on one side of the pantry and a small chunk of blue cheese left over from my wine & chocolate tasting party that didn't look particularly inspiring. And so, smoky blue cheese grits came to pass.

If I said that the quick cooking time of grits didn't have something to do with my decision, I'd be lying. But the twist on a food that 1. Is usually thought of at breakfast time, and 2. Can be sort of bland if not properly seasoned or condimented {that's a legitimate word today, ok?} made for a thrilling new side dish.

Even though the husband wasn't so sure about the thought of pork chops over grits, he sure seemed to get on board quickly after a bite.

These grits are creamy and pungent with the blue cheese, and finish with a smoky richness from a few dashes of liquid smoke {an ingredient that I often tend to forget exists}.

It's an unexpected taste of something familiar; a "rut-breaker." And if nothing else, really yummy stuff.

Smoky Blue Cheese Grits 

1 1/2 cups water
1/2 cup half and half
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup grits
1/2 cup blue cheese, crumbled -- extra for garnish if desired
1 1/4 teaspoons liquid smoke
1 tablespoon butter

1. In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, bring water and half and half to a boil {watch it carefully as dairy has a tendency to bubble over when boiled.} Add salt.

2. Slowly whisk in grits. Reduce heat to medium low and continue to whisk continuously until substantially thickened, about 3-4 minutes.

3. Add blue cheese, liquid smoke and butter and continue to whisk until smooth and thickened to desired consistency. {I like my grits on the thicker side, but if you prefer a runnier texture you can add more liquid to achieve that.}

Serve hot with crumbled blue cheese over top.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

S'mores Toffee Pumpkin Pudding Trifles

Not to sound desperate or anything, but there are less than 65 days standing between me and a pumpkin ale. {Ok, maybe a few more considering the last thing I'll be thinking about is beer when I'm trying to juggle the joys of bringing home a newborn. But you know what I mean.}

I joked around with Steve and told him that he better start a stockpile for me since I'm due the 2nd week of November, just in case there's a shortage or something. That would be disastrous.

Meanwhile, I've got one foot in summer and the other wanting to crunch in some fall leaves. {Not in Florida, of course, but somewhere.} It's just too darn hot to trade in the flip flops for suede flats. The tank tops for sweaters. The ice tea for apple cider.

At the same time, all my favorite bloggers are throwing pumpkin recipes out like they're goin' out of style. I'm not gonna lie, it's made me want to be in a pumpkiny mood. But then I remember that it's 95 degrees outside and I retreat to the kitchen, sticking my head in the freezer.

Since I still have some waiting to do until I can simultaneously cool down and get into the fall spirit with a frosty pumpkin beer, I decided to do the next best thing: Make pudding. Naturally, that's a logical alternative.

I must confess that I didn't come up with the idea for these all by myself. A few weeks ago Steve and I were up in Orlando for a business thing and we went to lunch in Winter Park at a place called The Porch. The food was pretty yummy -- specifically the little Pretzel Poppers that I could probably eat by the truckload. Save me.

Though I usually don't order dessert, I was tempted by something on the menu called the "Fluff & Nuts" -- "Layers of homemade Nutella pudding, chocolate chips & graham crackers then topped with toasted marshmallow fluff." Why, yes, I do want you in my belly. {This happened to occur a few weeks after my nerve-racking glucose tolerance test, so I thought of it as a rebellious celebration for passing the darn thing and having a functional pancreas.} It was delightful.

This S'mores Toffee Pumpkin Pudding version I made at home is an autumnal knock-off of The Porch's version - Layers of homemade pumpkin pudding, toffee chips, graham crackers and toasted marshmallow fluff.

I made my own pudding, but if you want to cheat, you can buy your favorite pumpkin pudding mix and shave some more time off of satisfying your sweet tooth. I won't tell.

Happy {early} Fall, y'all.

S'mores Toffee Pumpkin Pudding Trifles
Inspired by The Porch Restaurant -- Winter Park, FL
Pudding recipe adapted from Health.com

For Pudding:
1/3 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons corn starch
1 cup milk {I used 2%, but you can use whatever you prefer}
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/2 cup canned pumpkin puree {not pumpkin pie filling}
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice

1. In a small saucepan, set over medium heat, whisk together brown sugar and corn starch. Slowly pour in milk and whisk until smooth. Heat until steaming and beginning to thicken, whisking constantly.

2. In a small bowl, beat egg. Slowly pour in about half of the hot milk into the egg, whisking constantly until incorporated {this will help you not to make scrambled eggs when you add the egg to the hot mixture}. Pour the egg mixture back into the saucepan with the remaining milk mixture and whisk until thickened, about a minute or two.

3. Remove from heat and whisk in pumpkin puree, vanilla extract and pumpkin pie spice until well incorporated.

4. Transfer to a bowl. {Optional: Whenever I made pudding, custard, or anything with heated egg, I like to ensure there are no lumps by running it through a fine mesh strainer. Just pour the pudding in and press it through the strainer with a spatula or spoon to make sure that it's silky smooth.} Place a piece of plastic wrap directly on top of the mixture, patting it down lightly to make sure it's all covered. {This will prevent a "skin" from forming.}

5. Refrigerate until chilled.

Alternatively, you can make instant pumpkin pudding or use your favorite pudding recipe.

For Trifles:
1/2 cup graham cracker crumbs
Pumpkin Pudding
1/4 cup toffee chips, such as Heath Bits o'Brickle
1/2 cup marshmallow fluff
2 small jam jars

Set your oven to broil.
1. Create a base: Scoop about 2 tablespoons of graham cracker crumbs into the bottom of each jar.
2. Scoop a couple of tablespoons of pudding over each base.
3. Sprinkle about 1 tablespoon of toffee chips over the pudding.
4. Scoop another few tablespoons of pudding over top.
5. Repeat as many times as desired {or as much as will fit in the container you're using}, leaving some space at the top for the marshmallow fluff.
6. Scoop about 1/4 cup of marshmallow fluff to top each trifle. Place the jars on a small cookie sheet and place directly under broiler to toast the marshmallows -- keep an eye on them, they tend to brown quickly! {You could probably also do this with a mini blow torch, the type you'd use for creme brulee... but I don't have one of those, so this method worked for me.}

Serve immediately & make sure to dig deep with each spoonful to get each of those yummy layers!

Monday, September 8, 2014

Where Slow Food & Whole Food Meet | Cookbook + Slow Cooker Giveaway!

My Cuban Seafood Stew recipe, available in
Where Slow Food & Whole Food Meet on Amazon!
As much as I think about food, you know what I rarely think about? Experiencing a lack of food. We've all joked about being "hangry" or casually throw around the phrase, "I'm starving!", but there are folks out there who struggle with getting enough to eat daily, and that's no laughing matter. Hunger is a real problem right here in our country -- 46 million Americans, including 12 million children and 7 million seniors, deal with hunger.

Having worked in low-income elementary schools as a teacher years ago, I saw firsthand examples of children and families that depended on the assistance of school programs and local charities to sustain themselves. It was a real eye-opener. And yet, as soon as I was removed from the daily reminder, it was easy for those real-life examples to fade into the back of my mind unless I happened to flip to a channel airing one of those heartbreaking commercials about starving children. It's shameful and I'm not proud of it, but I'm being honest.

Fall is a time when you see a lot of focus on this sort of public issue. I suspect it's because during the fall season we celebrate bounty, and giving and family. And when you reflect on the things you are lucky to have, sometimes you have a moment of clarity and realize not everyone is as fortunate... and that we should do more to help those who need it.

September, consequently, is Hunger Action Month. During this month, a nationwide campaign urges the public to take action on the issue of hunger.

I'm proud to finally be able to share this wonderful collaboration that I was invited to be a part of: Where Slow Food & Whole Food Meet: Healthy Slow Cooker Dinners from Our Kitchen to Yours. It's a cookbook made up of healthy, affordable slow cooker recipes shared by a group of more than 30 fantastic bloggers.

The best part? Proceeds from the print version of the cookbook will benefit Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida! In addition, Feeding America food banks from across the country are giving the ebook version as a free gift to their donors; if YOU donate right now, you'll get your free ebook and the satisfaction of knowing that you're helping the cause... that's a win-win! :)

Guess what else? Oprah isn't the only one who likes to change the world and give things away. In celebration of this great collaboration, there are some really awesome giveaways going on that you can participate in. 

Starting with a giveaway for your very own slow cooker! 

Please tell me that you've owned one of these at some point. They're sort of life-changing. I mean, you throw stuff in a pot, put a lid on it, and when you get home at the end of a long day, it has done all the cooking for you. Without even burning down your house. That's better than some husbands can do. I'd say owning one is a necessity. {A slow cooker, that is. Not a husband.}

Anyway, if you don't have one or if you need a new one {or, heck, if you just want another because they're so darn fabulous}, our friends at Hamilton Beach are giving you the chance to win one. This is the one they're offering. It's pretty snazzy.

What else do you have for me, you ask? Well, it would sure help to have some mouthwatering recipes to go along with this fantastic contraption. So I'm giving away a print copy of the book, too! And so are all the other participating bloggers, thanks to our sponsors Grimmway Farms, San Miguel Produce & Old Oak Farms.

You can enter to win it here... the more tasks you complete, the more entries you get!

a Rafflecopter giveaway
And as if that weren't enough, the two talented ladies who have really pulled this project together, Christine from Cook the Story and Jennifer from Mother Thyme are hosting their own giveaways for some really great prizes from our sponsors, too. The prizes include free carrots for a year from Grimmway Farms, one prize of free greens for a year from San Miguel and a potato prize pack from Old Oak Farms by RPE Produce {including 40 pounds of potatoes and 1 Bamboo Bowl, 1 cutting board, 1 pepper mill, 1 measuring spoon set, 1 recipe booklet, 1 about potatoes booklet}. Um, whoa.

Ok, so let's recap. Here are all the ways you can get your own copy of Where Slow Food & Whole Food Meet:

1. DONATE and get a FREE ebook version of the cookbook.
2. ENTER TO WIN a Hamilton Beach Slow Cooker AND the print version of the cookbook through my Rafflecopter widget above.
3. PARTICIPATE in one of several Twitter chats for a chance to win a print version of the cookbook. {Scroll to the bottom of Christine's post for information about the Twitter chat dates!}
4. VISIT the other bloggers' sites and check out the ways they're offering the book.
5. PURCHASE the cookbook on Amazon & help end hunger!

Here are the links to their blogs and the names of the recipes they contributed to the cookbook!

Broccoli and Cheese Potato Soup from Big Bear's Wife
Chicken, Potato and Barley Stew from Magnolia Days
Autumn Apple Chicken Sandwiches from Chocolate & Carrots
Pumpkin, Chicken and Spinach Tortellini Soup from An Edible Mosaic
Thai Coconut Curry Beef and Broccoli from Food Faith Fitness
Chicken Burrito Bowls from Two Healthy Kitchens
Barbacoa Tacos from My Baking Heart
Balsamic Orange Roast Beef from a farmgirl's dabbles
Cuban Seafood Stew from The Kitchen Prep
Chinese Beef and Broccoli from Very Culinary
Pork Meatballs in Marinara Sauce from Savvy Eats
Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic from Around My Family Table
Tex-Mex Scalloped Potato and Carrot Dinner from Cook the Story
Cuban Black Bean Soup from Food n' Focus
Macaroni and Cheese With Sugar Snap Peas from Brooklyn Farm Girl
Sweet and Spicy Carnitas from Cravings of a Lunatic
Pork Tenderloin Florentine from All Day I Dream About Food
Thai Pork with Vermicelli Salad from Jane's Adventures in Dinner
Mango Chicken from Stetted
Creamy Buffalo Chicken from Mother Thyme
Spiced Lentil Stew from Je suis alimentageuse
Harvest Chili from WonkyWonderful
Whole Tuscan Chicken from The Little Kitchen
Vegetarian Pumpkin White Chili from Kitchen Treaty
Sweet Italian Sausage and Peppers from Sweet Remedy
Chicken Cacciatore from Poet in the Pantry
Lentil, Sausage and Kale Stew from Jeanette's Healthy Living
Italian Beef Sandwiches from Yummy Healthy Easy
Butternut Squash Vegetarian Chili from Nutmeg Nanny

Phew!! That was a LOT of information! But the most important little tidbit I hope you take away is the fact that if we all band together, we can help those who need it. And as comforting as slow cooker meals can be, there's no thought more comforting than that.

If you made it to the end, thanks for reading... now go get your slow cookin' on! :)

Friday, September 5, 2014

Baby Prep: Things I've Learned So Far | Part 2

Remember a few months ago I shared my list of things I've learned so far during pregnancy? Now that I'm well into my 3rd trimester {home stretch!}, I thought I'd share some more tidbits that have been useful for me.

{Couldn't care any less about bump talk? Scroll down to the bottom for the recipe!}

1. There are some things you'll think you want and some you'll find you need. I held off on buying maternity clothes for quite some time. Mostly because I think it's a ripoff, but also because I can't bring myself to spend money on items so ugly.

Want to know what was my saving grace? A belly band. You know, one of those stretchy pieces of fabric you can wear over the top of unbuttoned shorts or pants so you can extend the life of your pre-pregnancy wardrobe. I bought mine for $16.99 on Target.com. I didn't see the big deal about it at first, but at 6 and 7 months pregnant was still able to wear the majority of my shorts and jeans with this miraculous contraption. I now understand why it's an investment worth making.

The BeBand.

On another note: Pregnancy underwear. Undergarments never really crossed my mind before I got pregnant. And then I wandered into Destination Maternity one day and saw these maternity undies on sale, so I picked up a pack just 'cause. Oh.My.Word. I love them. I may never go back to regular undies again. {They have cute ones, girls. Thongs, even. Don't think I've gone all granny panty just because I'm growing a bump.} They are so comfy and have an added band around the top for extra belly support, which you will need one day. Just trust me on this. Get them. You'll never look back.

Maternity underwear. So comfy.
Aside from these two life-changing purchases, I vowed to keep the maternity shopping to a minimum & did stick to my guns. I broke down and bought a pair of maternity shorts, because summer. And when I started stressing about exposing my unzipped jeans crotch to strangers, I finally gave in a bought a pair of maternity jeans. {I think I thanked God for Jessica Simpson that night. My, are they comfy.}

Jessica Simpson maternity jeans.
My dear friend passed on a bag of clothes for me to borrow. Stretchy Old Navy tanks have been a staple. {I love the tamis, I'm just buying them one size up from my normal to accommodate the belly.} Maxi dresses and casual, loose sundresses are everywhere and work perfectly for slipping on over the growing bump. I will not wear a circus tent and you shouldn't either. The end.

2. Exercise helps. Had anyone told me that I would enjoy getting up and going to the gym at 6:30 a.m. -- during pregnancy -- I would have heartily cackled in their face.

I'm going to be frank: I have never been a fan of exercise. I do not like to sweat. I do not like to pant. If I'm doing either of those things, whatever is causing them to happen better be good. {i.e. Running after an ice cream truck. What did you think I was talking about??}

Because I know better, I realize the importance of regular exercise...it doesn't mean I have to like it. But you know what happened around the end of my first trimester? I started hurting. My poor belly muscles felt like they were being stretched to their limit. I was sore and uncomfortable. {And freaking out a little bit because the baby was only the size of a chicken nugget at this point. Eek.}

Yes, there are feet under there.

So I decided to walk it out. On the treadmill, in the gym downstairs from where I live. {Convenience. No cost. Air conditioning. I'm there.} Within the week, my stretching pains magically disappeared. Since then, I've consistently been doing 30-40 minutes of cardio every morning. I roll out of bed and slip on my workout clothes before my eyes are even open and get it done. I hope to be able to continue this as long as possible! I don't love it per se, but I love starting off the day doing something healthy for me and the baby. Which brings me to my next point...

3. Weight gain -- it's a hurdle. Sigh. There are certain things that go hand-in-hand with pregnancy. Weight gain is {obviously} one of them. I'll be sharing a post soon that goes in depth on this topic, but just know that you're not alone, girlfriend. Just keep doing your best and remember that your body knows what it's doing.

4. The peeing never stops. I hope, for others' sake, that there are some people who don't have to experience this, but the incessant urge to pee is not a myth. I wish it were. I can go to the bathroom and then have to go again by the time I wash my hands and walk out. It has nothing to with the baby being on my bladder or any of the things that matter when the baby is bigger -- it is simply nature's cruel joke because we aren't already going through enough.

I have no solutions for this {except go, and then go again before you leave the house}, I just wanted to complain about it for a second because I haven't had a whole lot of other stuff to complain about.

5. People can be mean. For some reason, seeing you in a vulnerable position makes some people feel the need to tell you all kinds of horror stories about pregnancy, childbirth, parenting and beyond. They like to remind you that your life as you know it is over, as if perhaps that wasn't something you've stopped to consider. They like to tell you about terrible things like how many hours a person can go without sleep before losing their mind and brushing their teeth with a tube of caulking or laundering a small pet. They like to regale you with stories of how many degrees they tore or how miserable they were before, during and after giving birth.

I am fully aware that my body will be doing some things that I don't even want to admit could happen to a human being. I am beyond cognizant of the fact that I will no longer be clubbing every night {because I haven't been since Nineteen-Ninety Never} or be able to hop on a plane on a whim and fly to the Greek Isles {because I'm still waiting for the day when this is possible}. I am painfully realistic and nothing that I've been told during these "friendly chats" has been a shocking revelation to me... but if you're easily frightened or have made it habit of wearing your rose colored glasses, then here's my advice: Tune out the noise. Focus on whatever gets you through. Think about the dingbats that have survived this crazy thing called parenthood. You'll be just fine.

{I say this with no actual proof that it will be the case. I just have confidence in you. And in me. Let's go with it.}

I imagined that pregnancy would bring major changes to my eating habits. That I would be averse to many foods or hungrier or constantly craving weird things... something. But honestly, my eating habits haven't changed that much. 

I mean, I'm a little more careful about what I ingest because I've got a little nugget in there who is depending on me to feed him the right kinds of things. I can also eat less in one sitting -- less room, I suppose. 

A few weeks ago I went through a little scare because my doctor suggested I could potentially have gestational diabetes. Once it was confirmed that I didn't and that everything was fine I wanted to eat my way out of a tub of marshmallow fluff, I was relieved. Aside from that, I feel that I've maintained a healthy relationship with food; eating {mostly} right, splurging on occasion.

Quick but nutritious meals like these Black Bean Burgers with Roasted Poblano Salsa are my favorite types of things to eat to keep energized, full and satisfied. The baby hasn't had any issues with spicy foods and I haven't had any trouble with heartburn, so the nice kick of spice and flavor in these is welcome.

The best part about black bean burgers is that you can add or omit things easily to suit your tastes! I kept these pretty simple with some sauteed onions, spices and a dash of cornmeal for some texture and binding. They're even great without a bun!

Give these a try next time you need a tasty bite.

Black Bean Burgers with Roasted Poblano Salsa
Makes 3-4 burgers

1 can black beans, drained {I don't rinse them, just drain the excess liquid}
1/2 an onion, sauteed until soft
1 teaspoon your favorite spice mix {I use McCormick Salt Free Fiesta Citrus}
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons cornmeal
Dash of salt
Optional: Chipotle Mayo

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place a sheet of foil on a baking pan and lightly oil.

2. In a large bowl, combine the ingredients. Mash the beans lightly -- my favorite method is using a potato masher. I like some bean pieces to remain, but you can make it as mashed as you'd like. Note: You may have to add extra cornmeal if you mash too much.

3. Form burgers into patties - I usually make 4. Sliders are always fun, too.

4. Bake for about 10-12 minutes or until set. {They'll set up some more as they cool off.}

Optional: For Chipotle Mayo - Combine your favorite mayonnaise with a few drops of adobo sauce from a can of chipotles, and a squeeze of lime. Stir well.

Serve on buns {or not!} with your favorite toppings - cheese, lettuce, salsa, chipotle mayo, etc. See below for Roasted Poblano Salsa recipe.

Roasted Poblano Salsa

1 poblano pepper, seeded, roasted & skin removed*, roughly chopped
1/2 an onion
1-2 small plum tomatoes
Squeeze of lime
Pinch of salt

1. In a food processor or blender, lightly pulse onion & tomato until just chunky.
2. Mix in poblano pepper. Add a squeeze of lime and a pinch of salt and stir together.

Serve over Black Bean Burgers or with tortilla chips.

* To roast poblanos, set them on a foil lined pan and broil {500 degrees} for about 7-10 minutes or until skins are blistered. Cool slightly, then peel off charred skin and discard.