Wednesday, November 27, 2013

THE List


But it's beginning to look a lot like Christmas over here. (And has been since our trip up north to Frankenmuth.....I'll share more on that adventure soon.) Plus, all of the snow...this so-called making it amazingly beautiful and quiet and just downright gorgeous.

Yes. YES. Yes, it's that time of year again. Decision time. What am I baking this year for the holidays? Before all of the fun holiday craziness sets in (who am I kidding? it's here!), I'm sharing my list with you all today.

Last year, I did not, I repeat did not stick to my baking list at all. It wasn't intentional, but I was searching through cookbooks, scanning old recipes, and then Jessica added her cookies to the mix...I was all over the place. We were all over the place, losing track of time (and days). I always make too big of a list, we always make too big of a mess....

Go big or go home (or, in this case, get out of the kitchen), is what I say.

Pumpkin Spice Honey Cookies.
Peanut Butter Cup Blondies. (pictured above) I made these two treats a couple weeks ago as my contribution to my co-worker's holiday bake sale. I'm not a huge blondie fan, but these were decent. Of course, anything with peanut butter is, at least, decent. (see below) The pumpkin cookies were so good and perfect for the upcoming holiday, I'm making another batch for Thanksgiving.

Deep Dark Chocolate Cookies. I never made it to these gluten-free cookies last year, so I have to put them at the top of this year's list. (Sorry, Auntie!)

Black Bottom Cups. A holiday favorite. This recipe is coming, cough--a little delayed from last year--cough, so stay tuned!

Grandma Barb's Cut-Outs. I already have four batches of this special dough in the freezer, and I cannot wait to use my cute and new tiny cookie cutters. I plan to bring these bite-sized treats into work for my kiddos to celebrate the last story time of the year.

Black Bean Chocolate Chili Cranberry Cookies. My grandpa specifically requested these cookies this year. He's loving everything I'm making with black beans lately. This upcoming weekend I have to make him a special batch of my black bean burgers. I hope he enjoys these just as much.

Almond Blueberry Cookies. Ah, yes. These beauties may actually make it onto someone else's platter this year. But don't hold your breath. If you're in the vicinity when I start this batch, feel free to drop by and grab a spoon :)

Browned Butter Cookies with Caramel Frosting. Hopefully Jess and I won't get too confident in the kitchen. I'd hate to mess up these family favorites two years in a row. Unbelievable. I, err we, might be demoted.

Chocolate Chip Cookies.
Oatmeal Cookies with [Holiday] M&Ms. For Mr. B, obviously. Nothing fun about these......but it's for him. The chocolate chips were first, of course. I told him I'm only making one batch this year because "I have too many other FUN holiday treats to make." This batch is already gone. Last night he actually opened the cookie jar, Phoebo, looked inside, looked at me, and then showed me that it was empty. I added chocolate chips to my grocery list. The things I do to keep him happy.

Snowflake Gingerbread. Not a huge fan of gingerbread, but I want to give these a try.

Lucky Rainbow Chex Mix. Does this really need an explanation?

Peanut Butter Fudge Cookies. Because I love peanut butter.

Peanut Butter Coconut Oil Cookies. Because I love peanut butter.

Peanut Butter Pretzel Chocolate Chip Cookie Bites. Because I love peanut butter. And because of Mr. B's love affair, there are plenty of pretzels to go around.

Almond Butter Saltine Chocolate Bites. Four ingredients only. All four happen to be in my pantry right now. And these sound mouth-watering. I'm thinking they may be my father's favorite this year.

Reindeer Chow. I always wanted to make this. I'm not a huge fan of it, but I'm making it anyway!

Pistachio Chocolate Shortbreads. It's not Christmas without stocking up on my beloved pistachios, that is after I pay an arm and a leg for them....and these look very holiday-ish.

Almond Apricot Butter Cookies. I chose to nix these from last year's list. I'm really, really hoping to make these this year!

Lemon Poppy Seed Cream Cheese Cookies. I always make a citrus cookie, and I love, love, love lemon anything. My mother loves lemon. These are for us, Mama.

Giant Chai Tea Frosted Cookies. I was devastated sad when I realized I never made these last year. These are special. One batch only makes eight large cookies. So that means I will be enjoying eight cookies.

Snowman S'mores. I may just make these because I have an abundance of graham crackers over here. Build me one bonfire in the backyard and I become a hoarder.

Simple Avocado Fudge.
Some-other-special-holiday-fudge-I-haven't-decided-on-yet. Maybe my tasty Espresso Fudge.

Snowmen Brownies. Brownies. Snowmen cookie cutter. Powdered sugar. Festive.

Pet Treats. Don't forget these little ones!

As if Siamese needs another reason to think she's so great.

Ohhhh, Jessica, I hope you're ready, my dear. I promise to be even more prepared. Cookies galore.

What's on your baking list this season?

Happy Holiday Baking!

With Love and God Bless,

Monday, November 25, 2013

Inspiration for Your Week

Happy Monday!

Happy Short Work Week!

(or, I'm hoping everyone has off at least Thanksgiving.)

I don't like the fact that some people have to work the holidays. My husband is one of those people; crime doesn't stop just because it's a holiday. Fortunately, he was able to get Thanksgiving off this year, and we will be spending it with my family. CHEERS!

I understand some people don't celebrate the holidays, or have no family (or family they want to be around, which I find very heartbreaking) and do not mind working. But retail stores opening up early Thanksgiving night just to get an early sale....why is it so hard to wait a few more hours until midnight or 4 a.m.? I admit, my family and I are guilty of Black Friday shopping. It's been a tradition for a couple of years now, but last year we kind of called it quits. We refuse to interrupt our Thanksgiving. Last year the hubby and I went out around 2 a.m. to snatch up a good deal on some new kitchen pans and some pillows, but that was it. The earlier the stores are opening is all the more reason I want to not participate. Not to mention all the camping out at stores a week before...ridiculous.

I'd rather be home with my family. And I think that is what's wrong with our society today. Spending time with our loved ones should be much higher than anything else, especially a great deal on a TV or boots. (My family actually did the shopping with each other; it was a nice way to extend our holiday together....but now it's a little much.)

We need to spend more time inside the home.
We need to spend more time with our families.
We need to spend more time with God and His Word.

Second Timothy 3:16 reminds us "all scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness." (KJV)

My pastor is doing an awesome series on "Talking with God." You can view past sermons on the church's web site here.

I've had Randy Houser's "Back to God" in my head all weekend, and felt it was on my heart to share with you all. Enjoy.

With Love and God Bless,

Monday, November 18, 2013

Autumn Salad

I've been MIA.

The blog had a few technical difficulties, but it's back and running smoothly. The joys of technology.

I've been meaning to post this delicious salad for the past few weeks now, but I kept eating it faster than my brain remembered to take photographs. It's one of my favorite salads to eat come fall. Full of seasonal flavors, it's quick, delicious, and surprisingly filling. Something I love about salads: you really can eat them whether it's raining, snowing or warmer than Hades outside. You just need the right ingredients; pears and nuts are wonderful fall add-ins, along with a pinch of cayenne and a dash of cinnamon. YUM.

Autumn Salad

serves 3 (main dish salads)

2/3 walnuts or pecans
dash cayenne pepper
dash ground cinnamon
2 Tbsp sugar
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1/4 c olive oil
1/8 tsp salt (optional)
1/4 c balsamic vinegar, divided
1 pkg Romaine lettuce or spring mix, if you're feeling fancy
2-3 pears, thinly sliced (peaches and apples are both amazing in this salad)
1/4 c Romano cheese, shredded

In a large skillet, heat nuts, 2 Tbsp vinegar, 1 Tbsp sugar, cayenne, and cinnamon over medium heat until nuts are toasted, about 4 minutes. Spread nuts on foil to cool.

Meanwhile, for dressing: whisk oil, mustard, salt, and remaining vinegar and sugar.

Fill bowls with lettuce, top with pear slices and cooled nuts. Drizzle with dressing and sprinkle with cheese. Enjoy!

(Store any extra dressing in the fridge; when ready to use, bring to room temp and stir.)

P.S. Those shades of purple and orange were my wedding colors. GORGEOUS :)

With Love and God Bless,

Friday, November 8, 2013

A Surprise! {And Lately Happenings}

I am loving FALL over here. Although the colors haven't been as bright or exquisite as previous years, the leaves are still unquestionably stunning. While driving to work every day, lately I find myself thanking the Father for blessing me with such a beautiful view of what He has created. I am so taken aback that I turn down the radio and prayers of thanksgiving and gratitude are voiced before I even realize what I'm doing. I don't mind the 45-minute commute to work (thank you, audio books!), but the view is welcomed. The alluring and gorgeous winter scene I know is coming, a gentle dusting of snow on the bare branches...a whirlwind of white..., by far surpasses the fall splendor. Breathtaking.

So, yes, lately you'll find me just staring out the window, or fighting with Mr. B to let me rake the leaves. Mr. B cannot tolerate a leaf-covered front yard, and his battle with nature is a losing one, my friends. He would much rather run over all of the lovely leaves with his tractor and bag attachment, and cannot wait to get a new leaf-picker-upper-man-machine-tool-thing next year. (This year he opted for a new snow blower....ahhh, the things we desire as adults.) He's completely envious of our neighbor's tractor thing, which looks like a Zamboni and should belong on ice not crushing up the wonderful autumn foliage.

Alas, he decided to let me rake up the front yard and he assisted (a great work out, by the way). In about an hour we had multiple piles and bags, and he was finally happy because he could see what was left of his fine green grass. Then we went in the house and enjoyed the rest of our Sunday. We went to bed and woke up to a yard so full of leaves you couldn't even see where the driveway started and the yard began. Mr. B was upset; I couldn't help but smile. It's beautiful. It's autumn. Eventually all of the leaves will fall out of the two trees in our yard. This, too, shall pass, my love.

And then I will have to plead my case just to shovel the snow from the driveway because all he'll want to do is use his new man tool. I digress.

Also lately, fall is full of family birthdays over here. Pretty much from the time June hits through Christmas we're either celebrating birthdays or holidays, and it's delightful. A particularly special birthday was my father's 50th. And, boy, did we surprise him.

Was he happy about the surprise? Definitely not. At first.

Mama and I planned out this whole surprise party way back in July. When Daddy's October birthday rolled around and nothing out of the ordinary happened, except this chocolate cake, he thought he was home free. A couple weeks later he was pushed stumbled into a room full of his family and friends, celebrating 50 years and counting.

This was a fun project and a perfect surprise!

My father does not like to be the center of attention at all. But once he realized there were cake and presents and that he actually knew the people in the dark room, he felt a little better. You know who else felt much better? My mother. It was quite stressful and um, tedious, to keep this surprise a secret. But {yay!} it was successful and fun, and collecting all of the pictures to display historical moments of my father's life was precious and hilarious. I love surprises!

Some other happenings lately.....

I'm starting to like pumpkin more and more, and am finding many tasty uses for it.

Still obsessed with Starbucks' Via Packets and Trader Joe's Dried Mango Slices.

I've traded in my morning smoothies for my delicious oatmeal, which I've been trying out new ways to use quinoa instead of oats....just for a change. I still prefer the oats, though.

Receiving at work a beautiful flower arrangement from my wonderful husband. He said it was for Sweetest Day. Cough, cough. I think he was making up for something, cough.

And, sadly I didn't make it to the Prairie Peddler this year. It's getting too crowded and commercialized. Plus Mama's walking was limited due to her recent knee surgery. Thankfully we had the good ole Oak Ridge Festival, which is pretty much the same thing, just on a smaller scale. My favorite fall thing to do. CHECK.

Finally, finally cleared an entire day to spend with my bestie. The day consisted of a much needed shopping trip where I was reunited with my beloved Banana Republic, multiple beverages, getting lost in a ridiculous Target (I mean, NO Target is laid out like that, come on!), and devoting an entire hour looking at all of the new Vera Bradley items we wanted and contemplating on how to get them. Oh, and constantly reminding each other we have champagne tastes on a water budget.

This beauty, perfect for work, is $250 (!)

I'm enjoying every minute.

Oh, and it's National Cappuccino Day! The good Lord is smiling down on me. Last night I realized I'd accidentally let a free Starbucks beverage expire. I know. I'm a total failure and I don't deserve my gold card. (Please don't take it from me!!) However, I opened my email today and discovered a new free beverage awaiting me. For today only. Guess where I'm headed?


With Love and God Bless,

Tuesday, November 5, 2013


I'm currently....

Watching...How the Grinch Stole Christmas (the short cartoon). Yes I know, November just began, but I love Christmas and everything to do with the wonderful happenings November and December bring. But, I'm actually watching this holiday classic because I'm creating an interactive Grinch program at work for the kiddos. It's only a few weeks away and my planning butt needs to get a move on.

Eating...a lot of soup. Bring on the colder weather! Yesterday I had this tasty Harvest Apple Soup, and today I'm enjoying this Italian Wedding Soup. Both soups are simple and quick, (and filling for sure), plus they're healthy. And these girls know their stuff; I just can't get enough of their blogs. Make sure you stop by and try out a few fabulous recipes. I seriously could eat soup every day, October through March. But I enjoy it in the heat of summer, too ;)

Planning...the holidays!! The food, the many family gatherings, fitting in birthday parties, scheduling time spent with friends, holiday shopping and, of course, the baking. Honestly, when September hits all I can think about is Christmas (and fall, I really do love fall). My calendar is already full of holiday activities and I LOVE IT.

Reading...I've been getting back to and focusing on my devotionals these past few days. Because of our work schedules we hadn't made it to church in a couple of weeks, and this past Saturday we finally made it [together] and heard a wonderful and inspiring sermon on how the Holy Spirit speaks to us. It was beautiful and moving, and I'm diving right in to His Word for more.

Inspired by...#thankfulNovember. I look forward to this because I enjoy seeing my friends and family participate in posting on or talking about what they're thankful for each day. It's inspiring and can make us stop and recognize all the things we take for granted on a daily basis. Simple things that others don't have, are praying for. If you aren't involved, I encourage you to do so. It really brings you closer to your own thanksgiving, examining all of your blessings. Check out a few of my recent posts on my own gratitude.

Excited about...this weekend's trip to Frankenmuth, and the hubby is going with me this year!!!!! I.cannot.wait.I' Last year I went with Mama, and you can entertain yourselves with that adventure over here. As I said before, I LOVE Christmas. <3 Can't wait to tell you all about it when we get back....and if you've never been to Bronner's CHRISTmas Wonderland, and you love this holiday, add it to your bucket list immediately.

Fa, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la.

With Love and God Bless,

Friday, November 1, 2013

What I'm Reading

Happy November! Time to take a look at my book shelf. Here's what's been piling up on my nightstand....

An Echo in the Bone (Diana Gabaldon)
The seventh book in the Outlander series. The eighth book is scheduled to come out this coming March.
Audio book

I'm finally catching up....only a few more chapters...and this one is taking foreverrrrrrr. I just can't get into it. I find most of it boring, the story lines boring, the new characters boring, but I'm pushing through because I know I'm about to cry at any moment and Gabaldon's about to drop a game-changer. It's not that it's awful, it's just I didn't see the characters going where they are going. And deep down, I just want to re-read the first one! But I'm almost there. And the TV show is in production. Cheers!

The 5:2 Diet (Kate Harrison)

I've been conducting some research, mainly out of curiosity. I heard about a few of these "diets" from co-workers, friends, and other bloggers, and I thought I'd take a peek at the most talked about ones out there. This 5:2 diet (which my boss was embarking on) is quite simple: "feast for five days and fast for two days." Meaning eat whatever the heck you want five days out of the week, but for the other two, limit yourself to either 500 or 600 calories. Out of everything I read, or have read, on dieting, healthy eating, etc., this is by far the most simplistic. It reminds me of Weight Watchers. It doesn't suggest eliminating certain foods from your diet. You CAN eat whatever you want. And on your fast days, you CAN eat whatever you want until you reach your calorie limit and then you're done for the day.

Pretty straight-forward, huh? This guidebook includes the author's own discovery of the 5:2 diet, it's creation, and her own diary entries documenting her journey. It's not a diet to try out if you need to lose the weight fast, but over time your tortoise pace will eventually win out. The idea is that your fast days will make up for your feast days. (Now probably not if you go all ridiculous on your feast days....but let's assume you eat normally on those days...mmm'K?)  Also, your fast days will help influence your normal days; you'll pay more attention to whether you're hungry or bored and how nutritious whatever it is you're putting into your body.

I like that Harrison suggests different versions of the diet, like trying a  6:1 plan, or alternating fast and feast days, resulting in a 4:3. If you don't need to lose weight, she recommends the 6:1. She provides daily menus, routine suggestions, and other information/statistics to help you along the way. It's important to plan your fast days so you aren't starving and eating everything in sight around 10 p.m. I'm a fan of this plan because I fast quite frequently already, whether it's all foods, a certain type of food, past a certain me, your body needs a break. And often.

Doable? Definitely.

VB6 (Mark Bittman)

VB6 = Vegan before 6:00 p.m. After, eat your heart's, err stomach's, desire. Bittman provides meals plans, recipes, and a lot of statistical information.This sounds great, and I'm sure it's perfect for some people, but it's not for me. I like to eat my bigger meals for either breakfast or lunch. I try not to eat too heavy at night, and try to stay away from eating anything close to bedtime. Now, I could see myself adopting this plan maybe once or twice a week. I'm not a huge red meat fan, anyway. Most of my meat is chicken or turkey, but I would definitely struggle with no dairy or eggs. They're a big part of my breakfast.

Doable? Probably.

 *Note: I want to clarify that I don't believe in diets; I believe in adapting healthy lifestyles, recognizing your food sensitivities, never deprivation, and everything in moderation. And, no I'm not on a diet nor am I trying to lose weight. I like my body and I have great self-esteem. I just try to find new ways to maintain my healthy lifestyle. I receive multiple questions from people seeking advice on weight-loss and healthy eating habits; I try to read up on everything so I can point them in the right direction.

The Conscious Cleanse (Jo Schaalman & Julie Pelaez)

I wanted to do a cleanse and I always had it in mind to try a two-week long juice cleanse. But then I stumbled across this book, and I heard a lot of good things. And I read it and I definitely agree. Our bodies need this type of "cleaning," and a few times throughout the year wouldn't hurt. The authors include nutritional information, recipes, routine suggestions, and guidelines on what to do each day of the 14-day cleanse. Plus, they have a web site! I love cleanses...usually mine consists of a special tea/beverage or a short weekend cleanse. But this looks promising. I really enjoyed this book. It's quite inspiring and smart.

Doable? I can't wait to try this after the holidays. For years now I've been wanting to do a 14-30 day cleanse, to clear out my body and to discover if I have any food sensitivities. This January...doing it.

Emotional Survival for Law Enforcement: A Guide for Officers and Their Families (Kevin Gilmartin)

My husband came across this book on Amazon, heard good things about it, purchased it, and spent the next few days reading it. He then asked if I would read it, stating there are explanations for the things he does and the emotions he feels. Being married to a cop is tough, and though I come from a family with a few cops of its own, I wasn't prepared for a marriage to one. Don't get me wrong, I love my law enforcement husband and have major respect for what he does, represents, and deals with every day. His job is the complete opposite of mine, and it's scary. But I've been with him since he started his law enforcement career over seven years ago, and I've seen the changes in him. And it's not all rainbows, sunshine, recognition, or black and white. There's a lot of gray area, and this book helps me understand my cop.

Now this book is definitely more for the law enforcer, but there are a few things specifically for the families. And, I highly recommend this book, but I promise you, you're not going to like most of it. There were times I wanted to scream and throw the book across the room. But this book also made me realize that my husband isn't like most of the stereo-typical cops. It's because God is the center of his life; he gives Him his problems. He puts his faith in His word. My husband is difficult, stubborn, at-times-negative, beautiful, and a Christ-follower. And that makes all the difference.

Have you read any good books lately? Share your good reads below!

With Love and God Bless,