Monday, November 24, 2014

Brownies with Brown Sugar Icing and Pecans...and other musings

I am having a love affair with pecans. I'm not sure what it is about pecans right now, but I am craving them like no other - and no, I am not pregnant. I think it's just the time of year where all you want is baked goods and comfort foods because the holidays are upon us and the cold weather has set in. Gotta get hibernation ready!

I'm even attempting a pecan pie for Thanksgiving. What!?! This girl, who could barely get around a kitchen just a few short months ago, is making a pecan pie? Actually, it looks really easy so I'm going to give it a whirl.

Anything with pecans right now is totally my jam. From the cream cheese cookies I made last week, to just a handful of pecans and cranberries topping my salad, I'm all about that nut, bout that nut, no trouble! (See what I did there?)

Maybe my inner self is yearning for my Southern roots. Pecan trees are all over the South, and pecan pie is basically the Southern dessert.

Maybe it's because they're sort of forbidden fruit (err, food) since I just got braces put on.

Yep, you read that right. I am now the proud new owner of dental hardware. Something I should have done long ago, but kept putting off and putting off until I finally decided. It is time. So, Thursday afternoon I went in to the orthodontist after a few consultation appointments, and 45 minutes later I came out with braces on my upper teeth. They'll put the bottoms on in a few months after the tops have moved enough. Something to do with biting down on the bottom brackets, and that sounds like no fun.

I have a new list of "forbidden" foods which include:
- popcorn
- nuts
- caramel
- hard candy
- hard fruits and veggies (unless cooked or cut up)
- Butterfingers
- taffy
- sugary sweets of all kinds

just to name a few. I'll let you in on a little secret though - I'm already breaking all the rules. I've eaten popcorn, nuts (pecans, obviously), and sweets like ice cream and these amazing brownies that I made this weekend.

I've learned that I will just have to brush my teeth after every meal, which is a pain but it saves me from the embarrassment of having food in my mouth. It's been an adjustment, to say the least. The bright side of this post are these brownies:

Brownies with Brown Sugar Icing and Pecans


-1 box of your favorite brownie mix (I used Duncan Hines chewy fudge brownies)

-1 cup brown sugar
-4 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
-1/2 cup cream
-2 cup confectioner's sugar
-2 tsp vanilla
-1/4 - 1/2 cup chopped pecans

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9x13 pan. Make the brownies according to the directions on the box, fill pan with brownie mixture, and bake according to directions. Let cool before you ice them.
2. For the icing, mix brown sugar, butter, and cream in a small sauce pan. Bring to a boil, stirring frequently so it doesn't burn on the bottom. Remove from heat.
3. In a large bowl, add confectioner's sugar and vanilla. Pour brown sugar mixture over confectioners sugar mixture and beat on low with a hand mixer until smooth. Refrigerate for 5 minutes to set.
4. Once brownies are cool , spread icing on top of brownies in the pan. Sprinkle desired amount of pecans on top. Cut and enjoy!

I adapted the recipe from this Pumpkin Brownie recipe, which looks amazing. I didn't want pumpkin brownies because I'm kind of pumpkin-ed out (gasp!), and I was feeling lazy so didn't candy the pecans. The icing recipe is all her though. She also used an 8x8 pan, and cut hers into 9 brownies, so you could use a smaller pan and have thicker brownies. My box called for a 9x13 pan, but I cut mine into 1 inch(ish) squares. Trust me, these are so sweet and decadent that you won't need a huge piece. Which makes them last longer!

Have you had braces? Any words of advice? What are you craving with Thanksgiving right around the corner?

Friday, November 21, 2014

Runners Tell All: Who is your #1 Running Fan?

This is the second to last post in the monthly Runners Tell All link up hosted by The Lady Okie and Sunshine to the Square Inch. Only two more months to get in on the action before it's gone!

This month, we're talking about our own running fans. Our cheer squad, our water bottle holders, our support system. 

This is easy for me. If it weren't for these two cheering me on, I'm not sure I'd have gotten as far in running as I have! 

Travis & Em waiting for me to cross the finish line at Rock'n'Roll St. Louis

Sometimes they're not waiting so patiently, but hey - 2 hours does get a little long! 

They were there at my very first race,

Red Ore Run 2012

and while they don't come to every race I run they are there at the big ones. Or the ones I travel to, because trips are fun. 

Even when the weather isn't all that great, they tough it out along with mom so that I can see a smiling face at the finish line. 

Clouds and rain won't stop me! Go Mom!

But it's not just in racing that they support my running. Travis listens patiently while I worry over weather and slight mystery injuries, or pace times and splits. They've come to accept that Mom will be gone very early Sunday morning for her long runs, and Travis doesn't complain about the time commitment that running requires of me, or the early bedtimes and early wake ups, or the amount of money I spend on entry fees (really thankful on that one!). 

When I was contemplating registering for my first full marathon next Fall, I asked Travis "do you really think I can run a full?" His response? "Of course you can." That's pretty awesome. No doubt or hesitation. Just yes, yes you can.

Emily makes comments sometimes about having "running shoes like mom" or "muscles like you, mama!". This puts the biggest smile on my face! A big part of why I run, and run long distances, is to set a good example for Emily about exercising, being healthy, setting goals and sticking with them. So to hear that my choices are resonating with her already is kind of big. 

Also, when she says "good job mama!" - that's kind of huge. 

I am incredibly thankful for my 2 biggest supporters, and really, words cannot express that enough. 

Who are your biggest supporters? Link up and tell us all about them!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Talk the Talk

Walk the walk?

After my post on Friday about running in my Yaktrax, I was pretty gung-ho about doing my long run outside this weekend.

Sunday morning I woke up bright and early, had my coffee, and got myself ready to go. I was all dressed in my 500 layers of clothing and feeling prepared. I knew it was about 6 degrees, real feel of about -4, but the sun was out and I was pretty determined.

Until I got outside and felt the wind. The wind which was nearly knocking me over and biting into me despite all my layers.

So I turned around and went back inside.

The only minor success for me was that I got changed and ran on my treadmill instead. Preferable to outside? No. But when the elements are against you, I think it's a perfectly fine alternative. I'm trying to be nice to myself here.

I settled down with the Gilmore Girls to while away my morning as I jogged for an hour and half in our basement. I found that I can get through 2 episodes in that time, and those chatty girls keep me pretty entertained.

I had just read The Lady Okie's post about getting over a running slump, and it made me realize some things:

1. I may not be in a slump, but the weather sure affects my motivation.
2. It's ok that I don't run outside all winter long. Running is not my job. It's a hobby that's supposed to be fun while keeping me fit.
3. I should be nicer to myself and accept defeat modification to my workout when the weather is uncomfortable.

Does that mean that I'm totally giving up on winter running? Not at all. But it's ok if I swap back and forth depending on the weather, my mood, the time of day, etc. There's no point in beating myself up or risking hypothermia over a hobby.

How are you being kind to yourself lately? 

Friday, November 14, 2014

Friday Favorites: Yaktrax & Cookies

Happy Friday!

This week has been nothing short of pulling-my-hair-out-driving-me-to-drink crazy, so I am so very thankful that it is nearly over.

I'm also very thankful that I run and that it reduces stress. I turn less to food and alcohol during stressful times, opting instead to go for a run.

Which is precisely why I was running this morning at 5:00 am through the snow, in the dark, while it was actively snowing. Sometimes you just do what you gotta do. I ran on the treadmill yesterday morning and couldn't face it 2 days in a row yet.

Although we haven't had much snow yet, it's still a little thick in spots and icy in others. But with these bad boys, I feel like I'm invincible!

My route wasn't bad at all this morning, except one street in particular. I nearly fell about 4 times, but since I had my Yaktrax on I just kept trucking along. Seriously, if you are a winter runner then you need a pair of these.

I would be totally lying to you if I said that I don't eat baked goods (or drink) during stressful times, but I do try to be conscious of whether I'm actually hungry or not. Put the cookie down, Alison. Put it down!

I did some baking with Emily last night, and I think that may be the ticket. Focusing on making something, measuring ingredients, setting timers, and giggling with my daughter are much better ways to take my mind off things than mindlessly eating. So when these cookies came out of the oven, I didn't need one right away! I did eventually eat one though - hey, I put in all the hard work!

My inspiration came from this recipe on Tablespoon. But I thought it sounded a little boring and plain with just the pecans and chocolate drizzle, so I jazzed them up a bit.

Pecan Cranberry Chocolate Chip Cookies (whew!)
1 package Betty Crocker Sugar Cookie mix
1 8 oz package of Neufchatel cheese, softened
2/3 cup chopped pecans
2/3 cup dried cranberries
2/3 cup mini chocolate chips

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In large bowl, mix cookie mix with the cream cheese. I used a hand blender because it took a lot of muscle! You will get a very thick cookie mix, so don't be alarmed.
2. Mix in pecans, cranberries, and chocolate chips with your hands. This takes a bit just to get everything in there. Lots of kneading and crushing and kneading with your fingers.
3. Once well combined, split dough into two and roll out two logs. Then cut the cookies about 1/4 of an inch thick. Make sure to reshape them so they look pretty!
4. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper, and bake one sheet at a time for 10-15 minutes. Make sure to check them! The original recipe says 6-9 minutes, but mine were not even close even at 9 minutes, so I kept them in much longer. They should be lightly browned around the edges and underneath.
5. Let cool for about 5 minutes before transferring to a plate, cookie jar, or to be enjoyed!

Feel free to change these up any way you please. I would suggest chopping up the ingredients smaller than what is seen in my cookies. I accidentally bought mini kisses instead of chips, which are actually bigger than even normal sized chocolate chips. It's ok, but I think I'd prefer the smaller ones because they melt better in a cookie. Either way, these are pretty tasty!

Are you a crazy winter runner? What do you do to relieve stress?

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Spill your bag, ladies!

I was recently contacted by RueLaLa on writing about their new Handbag Style Guide, or Handbags 101. I've seen some other bloggers posting about their handbag essentials lately, and I thought it would be fun to combine the two.

If you don't know about RueLaLa (because you're living under a rock), it's a flash sale site offering designer brands at deeply discounted prices. I have bought a few things from them, and can honestly say it's the real deal. Great prices, great designers, and great customer service. 

They've introduced Handbags 101 to help those of us that are not the savviest get to know purses a little better. Type, hardware, brand names, and even care tips - they cover all the bases! 

What type of purse do you like the best? Being a working mom on the go, I'm a fan of totes and hobo bags. But not super huge that you lose your kitchen sink in it. I think both Travis and Emily think that my purse is a mythical place where just about anything and everything can be found. The new bag that I received in my last Stitch Fix box is probably the largest bag that I'm comfortable with.

So, what's really in mom's purse? Here are my essentials:

1. Wallet with a wrist strap that can go on it's own if need be. 
2. Cell phone
3. Keys
4. Water bottle - gotta stay hydrated.
5. Vera Bradley pouch to contain all the chap stick and lip gloss that would normally fly around at the bottom.
6. Tiny nail care kit - for when you have those annoying hang nails that catch on everything!
7. A book. Whatever I happen to be reading at the time. 
8. Traveling wine bottle opener - you would be amazed at the number of times this has come in handy. Or maybe not so much if you know how much I like wine. *wink wink*

Also included at any given time: band aids, flash light, wipes, sippy cups, iphone charger...the list goes on and on! 

See why I need a big purse? There's a lot that goes in to being a well-prepared mom on the go! Not sure what type is best for you? Go check out RueLaLa's Handbag Style Guide to get some ideas.

*disclaimer: Although I was contacted directly to write this post, I was not compensated by RueLaLa in any way. All opinions are my own.

What's in your bag? Spill it and tell us!

Monday, November 10, 2014

Grocery Shopping Process

As I was making our grocery list last week, I was thinking that what I do is a little crazy and maybe I should document it.

If you know me at all, you know that I am a very organized person. I like to meal plan for our family because it helps curb eating out and we eat healthier that way. 

When we first moved to Minnesota and lived in the sticks, I started going grocery shopping once every two weeks. This has mostly stuck, although now that the grocery store is only 2 blocks away we do end up going back for milk, bananas, or anything else I may have forgotten on the big grocery shop. Hey, it happens. 

Here's what my list looks like:

I know, a little crazy. Let me break it down for you.

First, I start off by checking out our grocery store flyer to see what meats will be on sale. That gets me thinking about actual meals that we'll make. I'm trying to buy less meat and eat more vegetarian meals since meat is so expensive right now. Also, eating vegetarian is healthy! But that's a rant for a different day.

My list starts out with the veggies and/or fruits we'll need, followed by the meat section. Then it's typically condiments/sauces/canned goods, followed by pastas, cheese, frozen goods, breads, and whatever else mixed in. It basically follows the layout of our store.

On the top right is where I list the meals. I typically try to put down 12-14 meals, while keeping a mind on our calendar. For example, we have a family photo session on Nov 19th, so we'll be eating out after that for convenience. So this shop I only needed 13 meals. 

I hop onto Pinterest to check out meals that I've pinned, so that I actually make them. Novel idea! I also check out my "Recipes Tried & Liked" board for recipe inspiration. I have a mental catalog of some of the meals we have printed out in the past that I keep in a binder at home (not super fancy - literally a 3 ring binder), so I try to incorporate some of those recipes, too. Some things, like tacos & spaghetti, don't need a recipe obviously and are great to have as a stand-by easy meal.

Just recently (like within the past 2 months), I started actually listing out the meals in calendar fashion. I used to do this a long time ago, but got away from it. Having started again, it's really easy to stick with the "plan", remember to take meat out to thaw, and make sure we're not eating the same thing over and over. Like having Mexican 3 nights in a row followed by 2 nights of spaghetti. That gets old real quick, my friend!

Our grocery store also just started implementing a coupon "code" that's like the coupon key. If you have it/know it, or just ask nicely, the clerk will plug that in and it applies all the shopper coupons that you may need but forgot at home. Or just didn't cut out because you have the code instead. It's pretty nice! I write it at the top of my list, so then I don't have to worry about clipping coupons! It only works for our grocery store coupons though, and not on vendor coupons. 

I know this sounds like quite the process, but it really only takes me 20-30 minutes. I feel like that's a fair trade off for spending less money on eating out and eating better meals! 

When I get home, I cut out the bottom corner with the calendar list and put it up on the fridge. Not as fancy as something like this (which I actually love):

Maybe someday I'll have a fancy board like that. Maybe when my fridge isn't covered in art projects and coloring book pages.

I also check out my Checkout 51 app. Have you heard of this? It's an app that gives you cash back for buying certain products. Most of them are brand specific, but each week they also have rebates on things like bananas, mixed salad bags, tomatoes, etc. I typically only earn .25-.50 cents per trip, but it's starting to add up! When you get to $20 in rebated funds, you can cash out and get money! 

To me, this is great for a little cash back on things that normally don't have coupons. Occasionally I will actually buy the brand-specific product though, which usually gets you a little more. Like last week they offered $1.00 back on Mrs. Renfro's Salsa. We needed salsa, and this brand was on sale at my store too, so that was a no brainer! 

Do you have a grocery shopping strategy? What do you think of my list? Am I crazy?

Friday, November 7, 2014

Friday Favorites: Breakfast Frittata

Travis and I have been on a "cooking really good food" kick lately. I've been breaking out of my cooking shell a little, and we've been trying a lot of new recipes. So far we've had a lot more successes than failures!

Do you know what a Frittata is? I had heard of it in the vague sense, but wasn't all too sure on the exact definition.

From Wikipedia: "Frittata is an egg-based Italian dish similar to an omelette or crustless quiche, enriched with additional ingredients such as meats, cheeses, vegetables, or pasta. The word Frittata is Italian and translates to "fried"."

There's really nothing fried about this though, except a bit of pan frying. But I felt like it was a pretty healthy option, and you can really make this your own by adding the vegetables and toppings that you like best.

The original recipe came from Foodness Gracious (who is actually a stay-at-home dad - props to him!). Here's his pic:

Looks amazing, right? I believe he used peach/pineapple salsa, and larger sausage links. We used black bean salsa and regular pork link sausage because it was on sale. Holler!

Here's how ours turned out:

Pretty good, right? We all added more salsa to our individual servings. Let me tell you what: this was so so good! I'm not a big egg fan, and with the flour in the mix this gets more of a baked taste than an omelette. Light and fluffy too! Even Emily ate her entire portion, with salsa to boot!

I told Travis that we will be making this regularly from here on out. 5 stars!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Stitch Fix #4 - Need your help again!

My fourth Stitch Fix box arrived today. I originally wanted to skip this month since the holidays are coming, but didn't note that in time on my Stitch Fix profile. So I got a box!

I apologize in advance for the crappy iphone photos. My photographer has hidden our camera. It better not be lost!

First up: Street Level Parvin Reversible Hang Tag Detail Tote - $58

This is the only item I know that I'm definitely keeping. When I pulled it out of the box, it was on the brown side and I thought "eh, it's ok". The brown leather is a lighter camel color. But then I reversed it and thought "wow!" The green is a lovely shade for Fall and Winter. I do like that I can flip it out to be more neutral as well.

The inside is huge. The middle part is actually a smaller tote that comes out. In theory that's nice but not a function I will likely use a lot on it's own. What I love is the size of this. It doesn't feel huge on my arm, but I can fit all my stuff, plus my water bottle and a good sized book in here. I ripped the tags off it last night and changed my old purse out so I could start carrying it today. I'm digging it so far! Kept.

Kensie Jeans Sophia Skinny Jeans - $88
Fun2Fun Lukas Paisley Print Blouse - $48

The jeans are a no go again. They were just too big and bulky around my hips and thighs. This mama does not have junk in her trunk, so the fit wasn't working for me.

The top was interesting. I apologize for the lighting again, but it's a navy blue with kind of a red paisley detail. I liked it enough, except when I turned around.

The high/low aspect of this shirt just felt off to me. It was too long in the rear for my taste. Both returned.

Market and Spruce Honolulu Embroidery Detail Tab-Sleeve Blouse - $48

This top actually looks a lot cuter in the picture than I felt it did in person. I wasn't digging the print at all. It's red and blue, and I felt very patriotic.

The tabs are kind of cute, but again, not digging the colors. Overall, I just didn't love it. Returned.

Skies are Blue Stefan Graphic Knit Cardigan - $68

My photographer finally came around, so I got some better shots of this cardigan.

I've pinned a few Aztec print cardigans, and I kind of really like it. But I'm just not sure. Part of me feels like I shouldn't be spending the money with the holidays coming up. This is definitely something I don't need.

I do like it a lot, but I'm just not sure if I would wear it enough to justify the cost. Undecided.

What do you think of my picks this month? Should I keep the cardigan? 

Monday, November 3, 2014

Halloween Weekend Recap

Happy November!

Did you know there's only 7 Fridays left until Christmas? That means 7 more paychecks for my family, so I better get Christmas shopping!

We've been in a bit of a candy-induced food coma this weekend, thanks to Halloween. I tend to buy way too much candy to hand out, and did not fail at that again this year. We had 2 groups of Trick or Treaters, or about 8 kids. I was giving them handfuls, but we still have a ton left.

Emily also rocked Trick or Treating. Despite it being about 34 degrees while we were out, she still lasted for over an hour. Travis had to carry her for the last 20 minutes or so, but she went up to each door and said either "Trick or Treat" or "Happy Halloween!" to each house. I had to laugh when she would say "Happy Halloween" instead of "Trick or Treat", because I kept reminder her that the candy comes when you say "Trick or Treat". She's just a polite, well-wishing kid, I guess.

Emily dressed up as Elsa from Frozen, along with a million other little girls. Actually, we only saw about 5 other Elsa's, but I'm sure if we went to the town's indoor party then we would have seen many more.

Giving me her rendition of "Let it Go"
 Because it was so cold, I dressed her in a t-shirt, turtle neck shirt, tights, leggings, extra pair of socks, plus she wore her winter jacket and hat over her dress. She was feeling pretty good until about 40 minutes in when she started getting cold. Also, those cute little Elsa shoes only lasted for one house before she wanted to switch into her tennis shoes. Good thing Mom is a planner and brought them along! Overall, she did great and filled her entire bucket. I'm proud of my little Elsa!

On Saturday, Travis spent the day putting up our outdoor Christmas lights. I really dislike the whole Christmas-steam-rolling-Thanksgiving trend, but this is kind of a necessity in our neck of the woods. Please refer to this post from a few years ago.

One strand of lights on the very top of our house had been up there for two years at this point, and were pretty sun-bleached. I am actually thankful that Wal-mart had their lights out already so that I could buy new strands this year. Maybe we should just switch to white lights so this doesn't happen again? Should we be those neighbors who perpetually leave Christmas lights on their house? As it stands with our snow and ice situation, they usually can't come down until March, at the earliest, anyway.

We wrapped up our weekend by attempting to make Garbanzo Bean Burgers for dinner last night. I am on a healthy/weird food kick lately and these sounded really interesting. They are supposed to look like this:

Placed on a bun, with some mozzarella cheese, lettuce, tomato, and maybe some Greek yogurt. Looks good right? There's also red pepper, carrot, and some green chile in there.

Unfortunately, this recipe lied. They were mush and just wouldn't hold it together even after spending 30 minutes in the oven. We eventually turned the broiler on, just so they'd harden enough on the outside so that I could get them off the pan with a spatula. The flavor was ok, even good, but they definitely need a binder. If we make them again, I'll add breadcrumbs and an egg. But, I may just stick to our trusty black bean burgers instead.

How was your weekend? Gearing up for Christmas, or looking forward to Thanksgiving first?