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Falling in Love with Whole Foods

whole foods

I can’t believe I’m saying this, but it took me until now to set foot in a Whole Foods. Yep, at 33 years old, I finally went there.

I’ve lived in Seattle for two years, and I’m finally coming around to the idea that Whole Foods may have more to offer than overpriced produce. While I usually preferred Trader Joe’s, I thought it was time to see what Whole Foods had to offer.

On a cloudy day in August, I drove to my local Whole Foods. By local, I mean a 20-minute drive through soul-crushing traffic. Not sure I’ll make that trek very often, but hey, it’s technically “in town.”

My first impression of Whole Foods was a pretty good one. For one thing, the prices for food were close to the chain grocery stores. Of course, if you’re going for small-batch, pretentiously organic, blessed-by-a-shaman kind of stuff, it’ll cost you – but that’s expected. I even tried out their lunch buffet, and came home with tasty nachos and this vegan almond-chocolate thumbprint cookie that was…pretty amazing.

I initially went to check out their essential oils for a project, and was impressed by both the prices and selection. Also, I grabbed the latest issue of Thrive, a vegan food and lifestyle magazine, and a couple candles from a local company called Big Dipper Wax Works. The magazine gave me a few new recipes to try, and while the candles weren’t blessed by a shaman, they smell pretty damn good.

In the end, I have to say I would happily return to Whole Foods if I was on the hunt for something specific. I’m not sure I’ll go there on a regular basis (mostly because of that damn traffic), but it’s a nice place to go when I want to switch up my routine!

Weekly Meal Prepping?

weekly meal prepping

Leftover Bits Pasta Salad / Pumpkin Bread Muffins

Weekly meal prepping has become insanely popular lately, thanks to Pinterest, Instagram, YouTube, and other social media sites. You can go online and find weekly meal plans for just about any life goal you have: lose weight, stick to a budget, save time, reduce waste, change diets, or save sanity.

The most exciting aspect to weekly meal prepping is that by spending a few hours, once a week, cooking and preparing your meals, you can save yourself time throughout the week. It’s also supposed to reduce the temptation make “bad” choices (takeout, restaurants, or frozen foods) when you’re not in the mood before or after work to prepare meals. For those on a budget, weekly meal planning can reduce wasteful grocery expenses or food waste.

I’m a huge fan of weekly meal prepping, and have been doing some form of it for years. I got into it a few years ago when I was teaching 12-hour days and didn’t have time to prepare lunches every morning. I also didn’t have a lot of time to eat, so having everything for lunch and snacks on hand made my life so much easier when I was hungry between classes, meetings, or driving between schools.

While I’ve gotten out of the habit of packing a daily lunch, I do think it’s time to get back to weekly meal planning. I find that when I have breakfasts and lunches pre-planned, I’m less tempted to eat crap we have at home, or buy something terrible while I’m out running errands. It also forces me to get creative with things I have in my pantry, which helps our budget and reduces the food we waste or just leave sitting in our pantry for months. I’ve also been trying to eat healthier lately, and this helps me better keep track of how much I’m eating as well.

I can’t wait to share with you what I come up with over the next month or so! I’ve been watching YouTube videos and stalking Pinterest to find new recipes to try, and different methods to keep things interesting!

February on Instagram

february on instagram

February was a great month for hiking! The weather was sunny and warm most days, and even if it wasn’t, I managed to get out anyway. It has been amazing to see things starting to sprout, even if it does mean allergy season is fast approaching! Hopefully I’ll be able to get out even more in March!

february on instagram

I didn’t write much about food this past month on the blog, and I probably won’t much next month – but I instagrammed about it a lot. February was all about getting back to normal after the holidays, and I’m looking to keep up the good work in March. Fat Tuesday, or as I know it Paczki Day, was obviously an important day for me (holla to my fellow Poles out there), but after spending the month behaving myself, I could indulge without feeling guilty. I’m finding a balance between eating healthy while still eating well, so of course I make sure not to cut out anything too crazy. I still love a glass of wine…but now, I stop at one (otherwise I’ll be eyeballs deep in junk food later). 

february on instagram

Finally, this past month was big for stocking up on things for spring. I updated my skincare routine after a nasty breakout, renewed my love of print magazines, and did some serious thrift shopping. I can’t wait to share more of what I scored while thrifting this past month – so stay tuned to find out what I came home with!

March is going to be a busy month, with moving into a new place, more job hunting, and some of my favorite shows coming back to TV (is anyone else excited for House of Cards?). I’m also planning to kick up the posts to 4-5 days per week, if I can manage to work that around packing, unpacking, and spring cleaning (which should be easy in a new space, I hope)!

If you want to catch up with what I’ve been ‘gramming, make sure to
click here to follow my Instagram feed!

2015 Year in Review: Food

2015 Year in Review: Food

Homemade Granola Bars / What I Eat: Summer Edition / My Relationship With Food: A Love/Hate Story / A (Dangerous) New Toy

In 2015, I cooked at home more than I ever have in the past. Not working left me with a lot of time to read cookbooks, research new recipes, and try out a lot of new foods. I also enjoyed sharing with you what I eat on a regular basis, and some of my favorite new recipes.

While I did cook a ton over the past year, I was usually too hungry or rushed to photograph or write about it! I hope in the next year I can take more time to share my favorite recipes, and do more cookbook reviews.

I’ve been in a cooking rut for the past month or two, and with the holidays, I’ve been giving more attention to baking cookies than making dinner. Hopefully now that the holidays are over, things will get back to normal!

2015 Year in Review: Food

Cookbook Review: Everyday Food: Great Food Fast /  Cookbook Review: I Quit Sugar / Meal Planning 101 / Cookbook Review: The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Dinnertime

Oh, and did I mention I read a lot of cookbooks? Our local library system is a great resource for finding cookbooks to check out, which helped me expand my horizons a lot this year!

I also found a few cookbooks I want to add to my stash in the next year. Danny surprised me with Ree Drummond’s new book, and I also have a few from Martha Stewart and America’s Test Kitchen I want to grab whenever they go on sale!

Overall, it was a great year for cooking and baking in our house, and I look forward to much more in the next year. This might be the year I finally tackle sourdough!

2015 Year in Review

2015 Year in Review

Meal Planning 101 / Summer Nail Polish / Sweat List / Home Office Makeover

I thought it would be nice to end the year looking back at some of my favorite posts from 2015!

While this blog has only been around for 6 months, it has been a busy second half of the year. 85 posts in, and I still feel like I’m finding my legs. After looking back at this blog and my old one, I’m starting to figure out what I need to do in 2016. Here are just a few goals I have set for the coming year:

Add more personal style and home-related posts

I realized my “Style” section was mainly just beauty product reviews. I’m not great at taking photos of myself, so I will work to get better at that in 2016. I also didn’t get to do many home projects this year (thanks to having no budget), so I want to do more of those next year too.

Choose a visual style I actually like and stick with it

I’ve come a long way with my photography skills over the past year (thanks to a new camera), but I really want to start toying with a more consistent visual style. Right now, I mainly do clear, mildly saturated photos – which are great, but not the “look” I want the blog to have.

I also want to nail down the look of the blog, rather than using a standard theme – but that may be a while down the road. I learned a ton in graduate school about creating style guides and all that…and it’s time I put all that to good use.

Interact more with the blogging community

I’ve enjoyed getting to know people through blogging, and interacting with many of you who comment on the blog, but I can do more. I want to start meeting people who blog (particularly in the Seattle area), and find more ways to broaden my circle of internet friends! I also want to do more work with brands, and getting myself out there will definitely help me with that!

Get on a better schedule

I’m writing this the night before it’s posted, which is not smart. I’ve toyed with different schedules in the past, and I need to find one that actually works. I don’t know if this means I’ll post every day, every other day, or whenever I feel like it. I’ve abandoned a lot of posts over the last 6 months because I just couldn’t get them done, or by the time I sat down to write, they didn’t interest me anymore. I want to make sure I’m writing about things I enjoy, even if that means taking Afternoon Glow down to a few posts each week.

So, for the rest of the year, I’ll be sharing with you my favorite posts from my Food, Home, Life, and Style sections – as well as where I want each section to head in the coming year!

Well, I’m off to make some truffles and get things finalized for the holidays! Have a great rest of the year, and I’ll see you back here with amazing new content in 2016!

Cookbook Review: The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Dinnertime

Cookbook Review: The Pioneer Woman Cooks Dinnertime

Today, I’m going to share with you a new cookbook I got recently as an early Christmas gift from Danny. While I wouldn’t say I’m a huge Ree Drummond fan, I’ve been enjoying her Food Network show lately. It’s usually on when Danny gets home from work, so he sometimes watches it too (and I’m guessing he like what he saw because here we are).

Cookbook Review: The Pioneer Woman Cooks Dinnertime

Cookbook Review:
The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Dinnertime

Some Basic Information:

The title pretty much sums up what this book is about – dinners. Instead of trying to cover all meals of the day, Ree Drummond decided to just stick to dinnertime as her main theme. Each chapter covers a different way to do dinner (soup for dinner, salad for dinner, breakfast for dinner, etc.), and she even covers some great freezer-friendly recipes for lazy nights. Since I am also a fan of using theme nights for planning dinners, I was immediately on board!

Cookbook Review: The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Dinnertime

What I Liked:

I love that the recipes, for the most part, are pretty easy to make. I’ve already made the freezer Chicken Pot Pies, and they were a big hit (not to mention we now have 2 extra in the freezer for some other night!). I’m planning to make her Potato Soup recipe tonight, and it looks just as simple. I just need to go hunt down some more celery (which I can’t believe I’m saying because I hate celery and never use so much). 

I think since these recipes are so simple and easy, they can also be easily adapted to suit your tastes and what you have around – in fact, many of her recipes include ideas to add to/adapt for your own needs. I like that the recipes seem practical, and thank goodness I don’t have to go hunt down ingredients I’ll only use once, or pay way too much for! 

One thing I can’t wait to try are her easy desserts – most cookbooks include desserts that are meant to wow and amaze, but these (while still pretty amazing) are meant to be whipped up on the fly and enjoyed. While I love baking, these are great ideas for nights when I want something sweet without having to wait an hour or more!

Also, the layout of the book is a lot like reading her blog, with easy to follow directions and photos of each step of the process. The farming photos are also a nice addition to the book:

Cookbook Review: The Pioneer Woman Cooks Dinnertime

If you haven’t picked up this book already, I highly recommend grabbing The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Dinnertime! Target is selling a special version that includes extra recipes, which is never a bad thing, right? You can also check out Drummond’s other recipes and read about life on the farm here:

The Pioneer Woman Blog

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving Cooking, Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving!

The big day is finally here, and I hope you’re all having a very happy Thanksgiving so far! In case you’re curious about what I am taking for Thanksgiving this year, I decided on trying two versions of stuffing – Butternut Squash Stuffing and Vegetable Herb Stuffing. I also baked an Alton Brown Shoo-Fly Pie for dessert, and really hope someone else brings another dessert because in all honesty, I don’t like shoo-fly pie.

I hope everyone is having a great day with family, eating tons of great food, and maybe sneaking in a solid nap this afternoon!

I’ll be back tomorrow to share some of my favorites for the week, if I’m not still in a food coma!

(*If you’re in Washington, don’t forget that Mount Rainier and Olympic National Parks will be free to the public tomorrow in an effort to support the #GreenFriday and #OptOutside initiatives! It’ll be a great way to avoid all the Black Friday insanity, and maybe walk off some of that pie we’re all going to eat today!)

What to Take for Thanksgiving

As someone who has never hosted her own Thanksgiving, I’ve gotten very good over the years at figuring out what to bring instead. Some years, I go all out and bake something magnificent, like a lattice-topped apple pie. Some years, especially if I’m eyeballs deep in papers to grade, I’ll pick up something easy that I know everyone will love – like some good wine.

No matter where you are or who you’re celebrating with, if you’re stuck for what to take, here are some great easy (and not so easy) ideas that will taste great, and take a load off your insanely busy hosts!

What to Take for Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving_Drink_Snack_Collage

A Signature Cocktail + Coordinating Snack

Your host/hostess isn’t likely to have time at the beginning of their party to serve drinks, let alone cocktails – so offer to handle it for them! While they are putting the finishing touches on dinner, consider bringing a “signature cocktail” to serve to guests as they arrive, and offer up a coordinating snack to tide them over until the everything’s ready.

I suggest keeping it simple with a Cape Cod (cranberry juice, vodka, and a lime wedge) and some trail mix of toasted almonds, dark chocolate chips, and dried cranberries. It’s a nice nod to the traditional cranberry sauce you’ll likely be eating later, and the snack has a little bit of something for everyone.

You can either mix this in a large batch ahead of time, or keep things separate if you think the kiddos will want some juice…without the extra kick.

Thanksgiving_Dessert_Collage

A No-Fuss Dessert

If you’re asked to bring dessert, I suggest bringing something easy and that doesn’t require the use of the host’s oven. There is nothing more annoying than a guest demanding use of the oven while your poor host is trying to cook/eat/relax. Same goes for the freezer, in my opinion.

And please – make it yourself. There are times when store bought desserts are fine, but Thanksgiving isn’t one of those times. If your host spent weeks planning, and days cooking, you can suck it up and spend a couple hours in the kitchen.

If you’re not baking-inclined, give cookies or box-mix cupcakes a try. I enjoy bringing sugar cookies with festive frosting or sprinkles (or both), chocolate chip cookies, or carrot cake cupcakes with cream cheese frosting. These are especially good ideas for small children, who may not like pumpkin pie (trust me, they exist).

If you have more baking skills, pies are always a big hit. I’ve never made a Pumpkin Pie, mostly because my mom or some other family member always makes them. I have, however, gotten very good at baking Apple Streusel Pie and Alton Brown’s Shoo Fly Pie, which my husband’s family and friends often fight over. This year, I’m tempted to try making Pumpkin Cheesecake – because I like Pumpkin Pie, but I love cheesecake. 

Thanksgiving_Breakfast_Collage

Black Friday Breakfast

Odds are, with all the planning, cooking, entertaining, and cleaning your hosts will be doing on Thanksgiving, breakfast the next morning isn’t even on their radar. If you’re still stumped for what to bring, consider Friday’s breakfast!

As with all things, keep it simple – don’t make them cook another meal the next morning! I suggest Alton Brown’s Granola Bars, Apple Strudel Muffins, Pumpkin Bread, or a nice box of doughnuts or bagels from the local bakery – all of which can easily feed a couple hosts, and however many guests they have staying over if that’s the case. That way, all they have to do is brew some coffee and they’re all set – unless you’re staying with them, then maybe offer to handle that too.

*****

So there you have it – a bunch of easy (and not so easy) ideas for what to take for Thanksgiving! This year, I’ve been asked to bring homemade stuffing, and my husband asked me to bring the Alton Brown’s Shoo Fly Pie for him (since I don’t think he’s a big Pumpkin Pie fan). I’ve never done my own stuffing before, so that will be a fun experiment!

What are you planning to take this year?

Meal Planning 101

Meal Planning 101

Planning meals each week is something I’ve done my entire adult life, and I believe is something everyone should get into the habit of doing. Whether you’re planning meals for an entire family, just yourself, or merely listing the restaurants where you’ll be eating during the week (for those who don’t cook), making some kind of game plan reduces waste, stress, and expense.

I’m one of those lucky bastards who only cooks for my husband and myself, but even that presents some challenges. My husband occasionally goes on “diets” where he’ll cut out an entire food group (carbs, meat, both, whatever), which means I have to plan meals that I can either adapt for him, or two separate meals altogether. We also like to stick to a budget, so whether we eat the same things or not, it’s important to us to reduce waste and keep things relatively inexpensive.

So to help everyone get on board for a week of organized grocery shopping, I have a few tips I’m going to share with you to make planning meals for one or an army much smoother!

Meal Planning 101

1. Take stock of what you already have first!

Go through your kitchen and figure out if you already have things to make a meal or two. If you have a fully stocked pantry like I do, you could easily create meals out of what’s already in the house. This reduces the amount of waste, and also reduces your weekly grocery bill. We also have a small kitchen with no pantry, so we just don’t have the space to store doubles (or triples) of extra things!

Meals don’t always have to be brand new, gourmet affairs either – some nights, a couple pork chops, some rice, and a vegetable/salad will do. Even better if you already have it in the house – it’s one less meal to buy!

2. Plan around your week’s schedule – and be realistic.

When planning your meals for the week, be realistic about how much time you’ll have to cook each night. Each household is different – some people have their weekends free to make a huge, elaborate meal, or pre-cook meals for the week, and others are barely home. Keep in mind what your schedule looks like, and choose meals accordingly. Don’t forget to check if you’ll have nights out too – no point in planning a meal for a date night out!

On a busy night, consider having a “leftover night,” where people can feed themselves out of what’s lingering in the fridge whenever they’re home. On less busy nights, make a meal you know will stock up the fridge with leftovers for those busier nights. If you live alone, consider prepping things for the week ahead on Sundays. I also used to do prep work (chopping, measuring, precooking, etc.) on Sundays when I lived alone, and it cut down on the dreaded “I’m hungry but don’t feel like cooking” feeling!

3. Use theme nights…really, I’m not joking here.

I know, theme nights sound like something a Pinterest user came up with to mommy-shame other parents for not being better organized or thoughtful. All kidding aside, I really do use theme nights – even for just two people. I mostly do this when I hit a wall with planning meals (because cooking burnout is real, people), and need something easy. Many of these double for “use the fridge” nights, since things like salads, soups, and pizzas can be adapted to include leftover veggies, meat, and other things left in the fridge. Crumble up meatloaf on a pizza? Use leftover garlic bread as croutons? Why not!

Some examples of theme nights I use:

Taco Tuesday (thanks Lego Movie!), Brinner (Breakfast for Dinner), Soup Night, Pizza Night, Salad Night, and what I call DIY Night (aka “Make Your Own Dinner I’m Tired Night”)

4. Try something new each week (but have the pizza guy on speed dial just in case).

I know the bulk of what I’ve been talking about falls under the “use what you have” and “do what you know” categories, but at least once each week you should break that rule. Cooking should be fun once in a while, and I find trying new things is what keeps it fun.

Try a new recipe, cook with a new ingredient, or try a new spin on one of your old classics. Of course, try to keep this to a night where you have more time (rushing through a new recipe is…well…a recipe for disaster). I’ve found a lot of great new meals by doing this!

5. Make a list…and check it twice!

Making a grocery list is crucial! Whether you write it on paper, take notes on your phone, or use an app, it’s important to take it with you so you’ll come home with what you need – and won’t end up back at the store throughout the week for things you forgot! This is very important if you’re on a budget – make a list, stick to it, and avoid returning to the store when you’ll be in a hurry and tempted to impulse buy!

I like organizing my list by categories, based on how my store’s organized. I group all the produce together, meats, dairy, etc. so I don’t miss things while I’m in each section. There’s nothing more annoying than heading to the checkout, only to realize you forgot bananas back on the other side of the store!

This is also a good time to double check your pantry, spice rack, and fridge to see if you need to stock up on any staples. Don’t assume you have everything you need – check so you don’t start making chili and realize you indeed ran out of beans (I’ve totally done that)!

*****

There you have it! I’d like to say I do this every week, and I certainly try to – but lately, I’ve started planning meals for the week about an hour before we head to the store. Thank goodness for theme nights, or I would come home every week with chicken nuggets, ice cream, and cereal for dinners!

A Dangerous New Toy

A Dangerous New Toy

Recently, my husband decided to splurge on a new KitchenAid mixer for our kitchen. I’ve wanted one for years, but never pulled the trigger because it’s a lot of money, and I assumed that I could survive just fine without one. I’ve been baking just fine for years – why bother with a high-end mixer when my own two hands do just as well?

Boy, was I stupid.

I’ve always heard one of these mixers can change your life, and I have to agree that it does – in both good and bad ways.

I knew it would make certain things easier, but I wasn’t expecting was how much easier everything is with it. For years, I hated baking bread because of all the leg (or, better, arm) work that went into it. Now, all I do is put in a dough hook, set to low, and walk away. I can’t say I’ll ever go back to store-bought sandwich bread ever again, especially with such easy, healthy recipes out there! Cleanup is easier, and I find that I use fewer bowls because most recipes just call for me to dump it all in the mixer anyway. It has made breads, pizza dough, cookies, brownies, and many other things less time consuming and more fun.

However, there is a problem with making things easier: things are almost too easy now. I’ve baked more bread in the past few weeks than I have in 10 years…and I’ve been eating the shit out of it too. I also have a serious problem with desserts, and making it easier for me to whip up a batch of brownies is..well…not always a good thing. My pants are a little more snug than they were a month ago, and I know this new mixer is contributing to it. It’s also not helping that my husband keeps asking me to try new recipes with it (that’s where the cinnamon rolls come in), and I know he’s expecting me to use it all the time since…you know…he paid a lot for it.

So for now, I’ll continue to make bread on a weekly basis because I like controlling the nutritional content (mostly sugar) in my food, but maybe cool it with the desserts. I know the holidays are coming up, but man at this pace I’m gonna be a fatty-fat-fat by then!

A Dangerous New Toy

Since I’m going to try to find healthier things to use this mixer for, what are some of your suggestions? Are there any recipes I can try out with my new mixer that won’t include baking sweets or breads? I know I can shred chicken in it (something I’m excited to try), but aside from that and basic whipping (mashed potatoes, soups, etc.) I don’t really know what else people use them for!

Also…don’t tell me they have an ice cream maker attachment. I know they have one, and I’m not buying it. If there’s one thing more dangerous than brownies on demand, it’s homemade ice cream. That is just straight up bad for me!