Tuesday, February 26, 2013

DIY Lace Pocket

On a very rare Saturday morning off last weekend, I left the house early and wound my way up along the coast to the Carpinteria flea market. It's held the last Saturday of every month in the parking lot of the museum right in the heart of the small, cute, surfer town just a mere 15 minutes away from us. It is just so adorable there. I showed up early and wandered around for a while trying to finish my coffee before browsing the market. Walking among quaint houses with over-sized doors, exposed brick and spacious porches left me wondering if I had somehow stepped outside of California.

The flea market was small, with only 15 booths, but all of them had really great stuff. With great self control, I wandered past the racks of vintage aprons and trays of old silverware that would make perfect fork rings and stuck to my list.

Drip coffee maker
Vintage hankerchiefs
Anything copper
Scrap fabric 
Glass votives

I did pretty well, actually! I found two huge candle holders for our fireplace which is now crowded with mismatched sized pillar candles, an old copper strainer, a fabulous and unused drip coffee maker, an Alabama sweatshirt (what are the chances?!) and an old white bed liner. I always get the strangest looks when I'm thumbing through used sheets (understandably so), but it makes great scrap fabric.

I love the scalloped edging on this and it inspired me to finish a project that's been on my list for a while: altering a thrifted, gray sweatshirt that needed a little sprucing up.

The sweatshirt is incredibly comfortable with a great fit, but the neck was much too tight. I cut the collar into more of a boat neck shape and then added a little lace embellishment. All I did was cut out a pocket-shaped scrap and hand sew it on, using a whip stitch.

Ta-da. Cute, comfy sweatshirt that no longer slightly strangles me.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Our Favorite Snack

Once fall rolls around, sweet potatoes become a staple in our house. Good ol' sweet potatoes. Good for your skin, high in vitamin c & potassium and easy to grow in your back yard, what's not to love? I've tried a few recipes here and there, but my all time favorite one is dicing them up and baking them to enjoy them as fries. After a few years of soggy fries, I finally found the trick to crispy ones: corn starch! They are easily our all-time favorite snack around here. I try to keep them on hand as often as possible and if I'm not serving them with dinner, we cook some up for dessert. Even though autumn is over, sweet potatoes are still in grocery stores and still in a pile on my kitchen counter, so I thought I'd share our very favorite snack recipe:

You'll need:

sweet potatoes (plan on about one or two small potatoes per person)
corn starch
olive oil
garlic salt

:: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Peel the potatoes and using a large knife, cut of the tips of the potato and dice them into fry-shaped pieces (try to keep them all around the same size for even baking).

:: In a mixing bowl, toss your slices around in some olive oil and a generous sprinkle of corn starch. I never measure the amount, but a generous sprinkle will do. This will create a paste on your fries. (Paste should be more on the oily-side)

::Pour the fries on a non-stick baking sheet and drizzle with a little olive oil, enough to give them something to "fry" in while baking. (Ignore the picture below and do not use parchment paper! If you don't have a non-stick baking sheet, use foil.) You want to make sure they're evenly spread out on the baking sheet so that they can get crispy. Season lightly with garlic salt.

::Bake the fries for about 15 minutes. Take them out and flip them all over. (Slide a spatula quickly under the fries, maybe four at a time, and flip them over.) At this point, I usually sprinkle on a little grated Parmesan cheese for extra flavor.

::Bake for another 15 minutes or until done. They'll lose their shine and look puffed up, almost golden brown.

Sorry there aren't really any pictures of the fries. I will pause and take pictures of just about anything, but you know as well as I do that cold fries are a real shame. As soon as these things are cool enough to eat, they're pretty much gone. They are so good! Be warned that once you try these, you will be disappointed with any other sweet potato dish.

In my opinion, these go best with delicious, homemade ranch, to which there is no comparison. But when you're consuming these as often as I am, you need to justify your ranch intake with something moderately nutritious. Enter: Greek yogurt. High in protein, probiotics and calcium, it is the perfect kitchen staple. It replaces sour cream and regular yogurt any day. Add a scoop of jam, you have a delicious breakfast treat. Mix in a little taco seasoning and drizzle on quesdilla, you have a delicious Mexican topping. We keep Greek yogurt on hand all the time. My favorite kind technically isn't "Greek yogurt", it's Trader's Joe's European style yogurt. Low in sugar & fat and very, very affordable. Does TJ's do anything wrong? (The answer to that is "yes", by the way, because they don't have gluten free gnocchi and the spicy thai green breans are no where to be found these days.) Moving on...

All I do to create this yummy, addictive dressing/dip is fill a tall mason jar about 3/4 of the way full of plain yogurt and shake in generous amounts of dill and parsley (use fresh instead of dried if you can!) and salt and pepper to taste. I give it a spin in a blender or food processor to break up the spices, but shaking it up in the jar works too. It will have much more flavor after sitting in the fridge overnight, so try to make it beforehand.This comes out pretty thin, which makes for a perfect salad dressing, but if you want to thicken it up a bit for dipping, make it with equal parts mayonnaise and yogurt (just watch for the after-taste of guilt...)


Tuesday, February 19, 2013

A Rainy Day Recipe

By some small miracle, I had an extra day off this week. Sundays are normally my only day off and consist of fitting in as much time with Matt as possible (and usually catching up on housework and possibly a lunch date after church).

A rainy day at home only comes around once in a while, especially in southern California, so I decided to make the most of it when I woke up to the ever-so familiar sound of rain on the roof. After starting a load of laundry and smoothing a warm coconut oil mask over my hair, I opened up the cupboards to find something for breakfast while my coffee brewed. 'Grocery shopping' was scribbled on the very bottom of my to-do list today, so I decided to kind of wing it. I found half a bag of Matt's gluten free oats and a mostly empty carton of coconut milk and the next thing you know: oatmeal breakfast cupcakes. They turned out really well for something I made up before I was properly caffeinated.

They were a great start to a productive day off. I caught up on some letters I've been meaning to write, finished all the laundry, put the guest room back in order, pulled out a few spring decorations (does anyone else get threatened with divorce if they bring home one more decorative pillow?) and watched around three hours of Gilmore Girls I've seen ten million times.

1 cup rolled oats (I used gluten-free and included a dash of xanthan gum as well)
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
dash of cinnamon
1/2 cup milk (I used coconut milk)
1/2 cup water
1 tablespoon of agave nectar or honey
1 tablespoon melted coconut oil
add ins of choice (I used dark chocolate chips and shredded coconut)

:: Preheat oven to 380 degrees and line cupcake tins. This recipe makes about six cupcakes.

:: Combine all the ingredients together (consistency should be kind of watery, add more liquid if necessary) and fill each tin halfway with mixture.

::Bake for 20-25 minutes or until bubbling around the rim.

They were incredibly delicious and perfectly moist. I usually don't like oatmeal because it can be too dry, but the agave and coconut oil does the trick. I think peanut butter and banana would be a good replacement for the coconut, but who has fresh fruit lying around on grocery shopping day? 

Friday, February 15, 2013

Heart Shaped Things

February 14th is my mom's birthday, so Valentine celebration's  have always taken a back seat to celebrating such a wonderful woman. Matt and I had the privilege of celebrating with my parent's last night, who got into town from Oregon yesterday! (Not before making a pit stop in Vegas for a couple days, of course.)

We were able to fit in a some romance, though. On Wednesday night, I collapsed on the couch after working 12 hours and woke up around midnight to a sweet little card perched up against a plate of pureed mango peppered with little rum gelly hearts. (Matt has been experimenting with 'modernistic cuisine' which means lots of recipes that blow my mind.) We enjoyed breakfast in bed the next morning and then spent the rest of the day celebrating my beautiful mother! After they got into town, we drove up to Santa Barbara and enjoyed one of the fanciest meals I've had and then came home for desserts and present-opening! The photo book my Dad made for her definitely stole the show. So creative and thoughtful!

I'm so glad they're here! It was so fun to get to spend her birthday together. As I was slathering layers of jam into the lemon batter yesterday, I realized it was the first time I've ever made my mom a cake! It felt weird not having the whole family together, but I'll take what I can get since we're spread out over a couple continents.

Happy birthday Momma! I adore you and I'm so glad I could be with you on your birthday!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

A Valentine treat

We have many delicious baked goods at my work, which have been looking extra delicious since I gave up sugar, but my absolute favorite are the made-from-scratch chocolate & coconut macaroons. It has been getting pretty hard to resist them, so I've been keeping my eye out for a good recipe. I was flipping through this month's issue of Real Simple and saw they had a really simple (pun intended) coconut macaroon recipe. Unfortunately, it called for quite a bit of table sugar, so I started looking around online for a sugar-less version. In the spirit of Valentine's day, I settled on a strawberry coconut macaroon recipe. They are the perfect little, pink treats to hand out to friends or give to your sweetheart. (Or stash in your lunch to enjoy at work...)

The original recipe with more thorough instructions can be found here, but here's a quick how-to on how I made the ones pictured above. I just couldn't help myself and added a few tasty toppings. The chocolate drizzle creates the perfect trio once combined with the tartness of the strawberries and the smoothness of the coconut. I can't believe there's no (white) sugar in these! This is by far my favorite recipe I've posted so far. (Hmm. Except maybe for these...)

3 egg whites
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
14 ounces unsweetened shredded coconut
1 teaspoon agave nectar(omit if you're using sweetened coconut)
1 cup fresh strawberries, sliced in half

::Using a food processor (or blender, I suppose), blend the coconut for 1 minute. Add in the agave nectar and blend for another 30 seconds.

::Add the egg whites and sea salt and blend for another minute.

::Pulse in the strawberries until they are mostly mixed in. Leaving them partially unmixed results in a pretty swirl of creamy white and pink once the cookies are baked. (I couldn't help myself and mixed them completely.)

::Using a melon ball scooper or round tablespoon, scoop batter into 1" mounds on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper.

::Bake for about 25-30 minutes at 325 degrees. Keep an eye on them and pull them out once they are slightly browned on top. I checked on mine a little too frequently, so they didn't rise very well. This worked out okay since I convinced myself I could eat a couple extra (five) since they "weren't that big"...

::Allow them to cool completely (about 30 minutes) before pulling them off the paper. They will get a delicious crunch on the outside, but be soft and chewy on the inside and go perfectly with a cup of coffee!

These are great on their own, but I decided to add a little somethin'-somethin' to them. Chocolate and strawberries go hand-in-hand, right?

Chocolate coconut drizzle:

1 cup dark chocolate chips
1 tablespoon coconut oil

::Using either a double boiler or a small saucepan inside a larger saucepan filled with boiling water, melt down the chocolate chips and coconut oil together until the sauce is quite thin.

::To get a good drizzle, use a small, oval shaped spoon, scoop up some sauce and drizzle off to the side of the macaroon (on the parchment paper) until the stream of chocolate is really thin, then drizzle over the macaroon.

Coconut chip covered macaroon:

::Follow the instructions above, but about half-way through the baking time, sprinkle on a tablespoon or so of crunched up Trader Joe's coconut chips. (These have a small amount of sugar in them but I've been dying to find an excuse to use them.)

Enjoy these (mostly) guilt-free Valentine's treats!

Monday, February 11, 2013

Good Eats

My beloved Brittney has come and gone once again. I hate how quickly the weekend blurs by, especially when you have a best friend in town! No matter what we're doing, I always have a wonderful time with Britt. She sat at my work for a number of hours, entertaining me and keeping me company during my long and dreaded Friday afternoon shift. We really lived it up this weekend, food wise. Matt and I set aside our diet restrictions (except sugar, mostly) and feasted almost every meal! After work on Friday, Brittney and I went on a little date to my favorite Thai restaurant, Rice, where I devoured a huge plate of avocado curry. And by devoured, I mean I ate all the bites with avocado and then took home a box of leftovers. My lack of sleep over the past few days had caught up with me, so I promptly fell asleep on the couch around 9 and woke up to the end of a movie Matt & Britt had watched. (Morning people: marry a night person to entertain your guests when your bed time rolls around.) The next morning, I tip-toed out the door to work and came bursting in the door hours later, only to find the house quiet and motionless. After rudely waking everyone up, we all made a delicious meal of eggs benedict together. Surprisingly, the Hollandaise sauce was the easiest part (all credit given to my brother, who gave me verbal instructions over the phone while working the breakfast rush at his work), but it took all three of us to get the poached eggs just right. 

The rest of the day, Brittney and I did what we do best: shop. I took her downtown and showed her the boutique I work at a few days a week, walked around downtown and introduced her to my favorite coffee drink of all time: salted caramel americano.  Lucky for us, the renaissance faire was taking place in a park nearby so we saw what I have to assume was dancing and heard a few shout outs for a 'wench'.

I love spending time with this lady! Our day together went by way too quickly. After a day of shopping and then very briefly catching the sunset over the ocean, we came back home to Matt cooking up a storm. He cooked us an incredible meal, but not before he came waltzing into the living room carrying in cocktails he whipped up! 

After once again falling asleep on the couch for a quick nap (Brittney is a very patient woman!),  we stayed up until about 2:30 in the morning revisiting our favorite guilty pleasure, Grey's Anatomy. It felt like the good old days in college when we would avoid our homework, drink wine and catch up over last week's episode.

We finished off the weekend right with mimosas & breakfast downtown and then took our coffee up to Grant's Park, a beautiful park overlooking the city and ocean. I was so bummed on our way home from the airport, it felt weird to not have her with us anymore! Thanks again for visiting us, Britt! We love you so much.

Scripture Tea: another pawn in Matt and Brittney's game of who can give who the tackiest gift.

Hats off to this wonderfully dapper man who helped host my sweet friend all weekend! Not only did he help me host and cook for us, he also slept in the guest room without complaint all weekend so that Brittney and I could get in some pillow talk. Seriously, he is so sweet. Thanks again, my love.

Next up: the inlaws! My parents get here on Thursday evening for a quick weekend visit to celebrate my mom's birthday!

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Happy Birthday Bethy!

Happy Birthday my beloved Bethany! It is so incredibly easy to celebrate you. You are one of my favorite people to be around. You are loving, funny, understanding, quick to listen, forgiving, beautiful, entertaining, loyal, creative and absolutely outside of your mind. I simply adore you and find myself sharpened to be a better wife, friend, story-teller, sister, daughter, employee, roommate and over-all Jesus-follower whenever I'm around you. Thank you for being such a wonderful friend to us.

As a small virtual gift to you, I'm going to share one of my favorite memories with the world wide web:

Beth and I lived together a little under two years, mostly sharing the same room. Since we were both incredibly social extroverts (and I'm afraid of the dark), it only made sense to keep sharing a room when we moved to California together and were living in a two-bedroom rental. Most of the nights I slept on an air mattress on the floor of her room were pretty funny and resulted in us hysterically laughing, but one memory that immediately comes to mind is the night I got engaged. Playing with a new ring on my finger, I drifted off into a blissful sleep dreaming about wedding dresses and honeymoon spots when I was abruptly awakened by hysterical screams and chaos. A pantless and still-sleeping Bethany had pounced off her bed in a panic, swooped up all her blankets and pillows from her bed and threw her back against the wall on the other side of the room, catching her breath from screaming out "HELP ME, HELP ME, SOMEBODY HELP ME". In a sheer panic, I jolted out of bed and looked around the room for an intruder. Realizing it was just a dream, she crawled back into her bed and fell fast asleep. I was, of course, up for hours and way too terrified to fall back asleep. Apparently she had a dream that a bus was driving straight into our house and she had to get out of the way. And rescue the bedding.

This story is just the tip of the iceberg of memories I have with this lady! I wish we could play a round of cards, watch Will & Grace and split a bowl of cheese dip in celebration of your life. Oh Bethy, living in California is absolutely not the same without you. You have been greatly woven into the cloth of my life for the past two years and I hope we are living in the same spot, if not the same house, again.

We love you!

Monday, February 4, 2013

The other side of the cleanse...

After giving up sugar and all other delicious things for a week, I can confidently say I feel so, so much better. The point of our cleanse was, obviously, to cleanse out our digestive tract with detoxing tea, but also to merge into a few permanent diet changes to alleviate some of Matt's Crohn's disease symptoms.

Fasting from (table) sugar was SO much easier than I thought it would be! After the initial few days of withdrawing, I was fine. Any time a sugar craving hit me (which was around three times a day), I would slice up a fresh pear or blend together a fruit smoothie and it would totally hit the spot. My moods throughout the day were completely different. I was never too wired, I didn't get hungry between meals, I slept great and I didn't completely fall apart as a result of my blood sugar plummeting.  Now that the cleanse is over, I am looking forward to experimenting with some baked goods that are sans table sugar. I know that all sweeteners, including raw honey, agave, stevia, etc, need to be consumed in moderation, but at least they contain some nutritional value, unlike processed table sugar or high fructose corn syrup (both my faves) and are easier on the pancreas.

When Matt and I were browsing through Trader Joe's this weekend, nonchalantly trying to check all the food labels in the least snobby way possible, we noticed that almost all of the cereals contained some kind of cane sugar/juice/etc in it! Even the most healthy options had sugar in the first two or three ingredients. As much as I have become endeared to my morning smoothie, I need something a little more substantial than that to ward off any hunger pangs while I'm serving up fresh cinnamon danishes at work.

So in an effort to use up all the expensive leftover ingredients from our cleanse last week, I came up with a pretty decent granola recipe. It's not as savory as the other recipe I posted, but it's quick, easy and can be altered to whatever you feel like throwing out of the pantry and into the mixing bowl.

3 cups rolled oats
3/4 cup chopped pecans
1/4 cup unsweetened coconut shreds or flakes
1/3 cup melted coconut oil
1/4 cup maple agave nectar (or sweetener of choice)
just less than 1 teaspoon kosher salt

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Combine all the ingredients together in a large mixing bowl until oats are fully coated, then spread evenly over a parchment paper covered baking sheet. Bake for 25-30 minutes, stirring around every 10 minutes, until golden brown. Then, turn off your oven but leave the granola in there until the oven has completely cooled (about an hour or two); this will help make your granola crunchy! (Dried strawberries would pair well with these flavors but should be added after baking.)

This smelled like delicious cookies while it was baking! I splashed some coconut milk over a small, still-warm bowl of this stuff and felt like I was sneaking dessert in the middle of the day.