October 31, 2011

Halloween & Pumpkins

Happy Halloween!

I'm super into fall. I love everything about it, but I just don't get excited over Halloween like some people.

Sure, as a kid I loved getting lots of candy. I was super anal about it, too. I'd come home from trick or treating & dump my plastic pumpkin bucket out on the table. I separated out every candy into it's own pile & then counted them. Mom always wanted my Reese's cups, Dad liked the Snickers, & I liked M&M's. I would dole them out carefully, until I got to the candies I didn't like. Then I was very generous. "Here, Mom! You can have all of the Now&Laters!"

I remember leaving a Sugar Daddy on the dashboard of our truck one time. I've never been super into caramel, so it was taking me forever to eat it. When we stopped at a rest area, I set it there & when we got back into the truck it had melted down through the speaker holes. Oops...

Anyway, aside from the candy (which I don't get anymore anyway) I don't get excited about Halloween. I don't want to dress up or answer the door to strangers or decorate my house or go on scary hay rides or to haunted forests. I'd rather decorate for fall with autumn harvest things & make it last through Thanksgiving.

So instead of cool decorating ideas or spooky baked goods, I'm sharing with you a pumpkin recipe I found that I think you need to make. I'm celebrating fall by eating tons of pumpkin & squash.

Go make them. It'll take about 30 minutes of work & 2.5 hours of waiting, but it's totally worth it. You can always go plan your costume while you're waiting!

These rolls literally melt in your mouth. The dough is so light and airy. I even used white whole wheat flour for half of the flour & they were STILL airy! I did give them a second rise, once they were tied into knots. That was mostly because I was waiting for some super yummy Pumpkin Spice Bars to come out of the oven, but I would do it again. They really puffed up during that final 30 minute rest time.

These were perfect for eating on that bizarre snow day we had over the weekend!

I'll post my pictures from that soon (poor little garden!), but it just didn't seem right to post snow pictures on Halloween. This is fall, & I want to keep it that way!

October 30, 2011

Dinner for One + Roasted Curried Butternut Squash

When I'm eating alone, I get creative. It's probably a good thing that I rarely eat alone.

If left to my own devices, I'd be eating a lot of popcorn, apples, bananas, & carrots, with some chocolate dipped marshmallows thrown in for balance.


This meal, however, was a healthy mish-mash of foods. I'm really into orange lately. Maybe my beta carotene levels are down? Or maybe it's just fall & pumpkin season.

Don't forget the wine. When you're peeling & cubing 1 mini pumpkin & 2 small butternut squashes, you get thirsty.

See how my meal progressed? Toast with Dijon mustard, carrots, roasted yellow tomatoes + eggplant, & pumpkin seeds....

...turns into toast with Dijon mustard topped with roasted yellow tomatoes + eggplant, carrots, & roasted butternut squash.

It was completely worth the effort of preparing the squash. That stuff is like candy! I just can't stop eating it. It's melt in your mouth creamy & has just the right salty/sweet ratio.

Those pumpkin seeds sure did grow fast!

Roasted Curried Butternut Squash
Serves 2-4

1 large or 2 small butternut squash
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp curry powder
1/4 tsp cumin

Preheat oven to 400*F. Spray a large baking sheet with cooking spray. Peel & remove pulp from butternut squash, saving seeds for roasting seperately. Cut squash into small cubes, about 1/2"-1" in size. Spread on prepared tray in an even layer with all cubes touching the tray. Sprinkle with sea salt, curry powder, & cumin. Bake for 15 minutes. Stir & bake another 15 minutes. Stir again, checking for burning. Squash can be eaten when it's soft (check by poking with a fork - if it goes in easily, squash is done). If you prefer your squash to be a little crispier on the outside (like I do), leave in oven for another 10-15 minutes. Serve warm. Leftovers can be refrigerated for about 4 days & reheated as needed.

October 28, 2011

Candle Making

I have a lot to say today, so bear with me. I'm getting old.

Have you ever used Icy Hot? Or Bengay?

Don't do it. Just don't.

It's giving me a complex.

We had our first frost last night, so I should be expected to be chilly today. It's not quite chilly enough to need a turtleneck AND a turtleneck sweater.

My knee is telling me otherwise. It's Icy Hot.

Here's where the getting old part comes in. All ranting aside, my joints are going. We were walking down the sidewalk last night & my knee suddenly twinged, resulting in sharp pain everytime I bend it to step down.

After choir, I rubbed on some Icy Hot, put on my knee wrap, & rested my knee. I should've learned my lesson then, since my knee was freezing, causing the rest of me to be bizarrely chilled, but I didn't.

This morning, after my shower, I put on more. This resulted in me getting so cold that I then dressed like I live in the arctic. It's all an illusion of being cold even though I know I'm not. Super confusing!

To top that off, I actually had someone tell me I look like a grape. They softened the blow by saying they really like grapes. Um...thanks?

So back to this candle making thing.

We like to save the bottom layer of wax from candles, melt it down, and make new candles. There's always a layer, about 1" thick, of wax in the bottom of those jar candles. It really adds up quickly, so we like to reuse it. Candles are pricey!

How to form a new candle out of old wax:

1. Carefully scrap the wax out of the bottom of an almost empty candle jar. The easiest way is to use a knife (carefully!) to loosen the edges & then break the piece apart to remove the pieces.

2. Remove any remaining wick or base pieces.

3. Combine wax pieces into a glass jar (we use one that we just emptied).

4. Melt wax, either in the oven or microwave.

5. Insert a wick (found at craft stores) into the melted wax. Make sure it goes to the very bottom, to ensure the candle will burn as long as possible. To keep the wick straight, tie it to a pencil or skewer and lay it across the top of the jar.
Hint: Use a bamboo skewer or similar item to guide the wick straight down into the wax.

6. Set candle aside to cool.

7. If pockets develop in the top of the candle, melt additional wax and pour into the pockets to fill.

8. Burn as desired!

October 27, 2011

Chocolate Avenue Grill

This is my last post about meals I ate to celebrate my birthday. I need to stop for 3 reasons:

1. My birthday was 8 days ago.

2. You're going to think all I do is eat huge amounts of food for every meal. (This may or may not be true...) :-)

3. I'm getting very full.

That said, I've been loving every minute of these celebrations. Last night, my in-laws took us to the Chocolate Avenue Grill. I'd been there once before for my bachelorette party dinner, & I remembered it being great. When I was still a Concierge, I'd recommend the place a lot & everyone came back pleased with their meal.

To start, I had the Strawberry Poppyseed Salad. I was a little skeptical about the dressing when I saw it, but once I tasted it I couldn't get enough. It was lightly sweet with poppyseeds & sesame seeds in it. The toasted almond slivers really complimented the juicy strawberries, too.

On the side, I had their fresh rolls. They were melt in your mouth delicious & I would go back just for more of them!

For my meal, I got the Mediterranean Risotto, described as "Fresh zucchini, asparagus, Roma tomatoes, red onions, black olives and basil folded into a creamy Parmesan risotto with a hint of lemon." The veggies were super fresh & the flavors blended very well. I was surprised by how much sauce was on it, as usually a risotto is creamy & thick, but it was still quite good. Bonus: It was a large serving, so I have leftovers for lunch!

I'm a member of their e-club, so they sent me a free dessert coupon as a birthday treat. I should've had it boxed up, because I was beyond full already, but of course I didn't. :-)

Their pastry chef came out & visited us - she knew my in-laws from church. She recommended the housemade Peanut Butter Melt Away Pie. I usually don't order pb pie because I'm often disappointed & it doesn't sit well in my stomach (not sure why not, this only happens with pb pie), but I tried it. It was a little different than usual, with a brownie crust & ganache topping. I liked the added chocolate!

Thanks for a wonderful birthday dinner, Mom & Dad K.!

October 26, 2011

Mornings are a Gift from God

Lately, I've been enjoying the sunrises.

I roll out of my cozy bed & into my shorts & t-shirt (set out the night before!). It's pitch dark outside.

It takes me 6 minutes to convince myself I should get going, dress, use the bathroom, put my hoodie, gloves, earphones & blades on, & get out the door.

What on earth am I'm doing out when it's this dark. Why do all these people feel the need to drive at this time of morning? Their headlights are blinding & seriously crimp my style. If you can call roller blading style of any sort.

The sun starts to peak through, showing off by painting the sky. This is why I'm doing this. It's not just for the exercise & my love of movement. This is my daily time outside.

More colors show through, slowly changing from deep reds & purples to brighter oranges & yellows.

Morning has broken! I love being out to welcome the day as the sky brightens & changes from black to gray to blue.

Almost home.

Oops! I took too long, as usual, but it was worth it. Good morning! The day just got pretty. I'm not ready to go inside.

 I'm happy to be alive & able to be outside enjoying the sunrise each day.

Thank you for the mornings, God. For all the bright colors, the crisp air, & the freedom to move throughout your kingdom!

October 25, 2011

Garden in the Fall

We're still gardening!

My beets (above), turnips & radishes are almost ready to harvest. We tried a few radishes over the weekend & they were ready. I just want to savor looking out the window at the greenery for a little longer.

Speaking of beets, we bought our first fresh juice at the Palmyra Real Food Emporium. It was made with raw beets, apples & carrots. We loved it! It was a pretty purple, lightly sweet & had just the right combination of flavors. I think I'm going to try to recreate it at home once I harvest our beets.

The purple peppers are doing well. The Bup had to prop up one of the plants with a stick because the peppers are so heavy!

We would like to save the seeds from one or two of the peppers because they're really nice. They're super crunchy & thick walled, which is great for eating & storing in the fridge.

Mom said that to save the seeds, we should let one of them turn red before we pick it so that they are fully mature. Once we pick the pepper, we'll lay out the seeds on paper & let them dry. Then we can put them in an envelope & try planting them next year. I'm excited to try this!

Can you guess what this is?

Mini eggplants!

I thought the plants were going to die because they got severly eaten by bugs during July & August. They must like the cooler weather, though, because now they're thriving. I can't wait to taste one once they ripen.

The kale just won't stop growing. It's a mini forest in our garden! I love the homegrown variety versus the store bought because it's a lot heartier and sturdy, making it perfect for kale chips. We started using Old Bay on the kale instead of sea salt - try it! It adds a little kick.

My lettuce is loving the fall weather, too. I planted 1.5 rows each of mixed greens & spinach. Both are thriving, and the Bup is going to put out our lettuce greenhouse soon so that it survives the first frost.

A sneaky tomato plant somehow made it's way into the lettuce patch. They're poking up everywhere! Meanwhile, all the mature tomato plants are dying.

And then there's the swiss chard. This stuff is out of control! I haven't picked any lately because it looks so pretty popping up among all the strawberry plants.

The first frost will be coming soon, so I better get picking!

October 24, 2011

The Birthday Celebration That Just Doesn't End!

I'm prolonging this birthday as long as possible. So far, it's going on 1.5 weeks. :-D

Don't count, okay?

Mom & Dad were away for the week, so they had us over for the "official birthday dinner" on Sunday.

We started with olive bruschetta & goat cheese toasts. They were really good! The recipe was from Better Homes & Gardens, and it was actually an Olive-Cherry Bruschetta, but Mom left the cherries & prosciutto out. I'm glad, cause it was delicious as it was. We decided that anything with lime juice in it is always excellent.

For pre-dinner drinks, I brought Pumpkin Mudslides. The Food Network posted a mini-recipe on Twitter that I had to try. If you like pumpkin & you like Bailey's, this is for you. Yum!

To compliment the pumpkin in the mudslides, we also had roasted butternut squash candy.

Dinner was a white lasagna that was chock full of veggies!

Broccoli, cauliflower, onions, mushrooms, kale, zucchini, eggplant, green beans, & tomatoes with whole wheat lasagna noodles & a variety of cheeses.

Pairing Wine: Riesling, compliments of Dad's wine making

When we go to dinner at my parents, Mom always makes sure to have a super huge salad. Half for me, a quarter for her, the rest for the guys to split. :-)

My traditional birthday cake is always white with chocolate icing. It's my all time favorite, at least when it's made by Mom! She made Happy Day cake, which is an older recipe that she's tweaked a little to make it healthier. I love cake!

After dinner, we played pinochle. All of my hands looked about like this...decent but nothing special. Mom & I were a team against the guys, just like last weekend. We lost, but only by a little! I guess they deserve to win sometimes, too. ;-)

Hope everyone enjoyed their weekend! It always goes by WAY too quickly!

October 20, 2011

Birthday Dinner

A few notes & a cupcake recipe from my birthday:

1. Tuesday night was spent prepping cupcakes to bring to work. I finished this messy task at 10:15pm by splitting a giant-leftover batter-not quite baked through-chocolate chip cupcake topped with a whole lot of icing with the Bup. Yum!

2. It rained on my birthday. All. Day. Long. I went roller blading anyway & barely got wet. I'll show that rain!

3. The Bup left me notes on star shaped Post-Its. My favorite was on the door heading to the garage: "Wait! You forgot your halo!" O:-)

4. All 24 cupcakes disappeared before 5pm. Most were gone before noon. Guess my co-workers like cupcakes! (see below for recipe)

5. We had Zesty Wheat Berry-Black Bean Chili, salad, and bread for dinner, prepared by the Bup. The secret's out, my love, now I know just how well you can cook!

6. After dinner, it was still raining. We went for a walk anyway & got soaked. I think the rain showed us this time.

7. Avocados were on sale for $1, so we made a trip to the store.

8. While we were out, we got ice cream, the perfect birthday treat!

9. There was some pumpkin to puree. Now I have 5 1/2 cups of puree in the fridge to eat! YES!

10. We saw Tangled for the first time & LOVED it. I think the Disney movies have been going downhill since all the Princess classics, but this one was excellent!

11. After all this cake & ice cream, I think I need to go back to green veggies & smoothies for awhile. I even found a great post for a great assortment of go-to healthy foods!

Thanks to everyone for the birthday wishes!

Chocolate Chip Cupcakes adapted from Can You Stay for Dinner
Makes 24 cupcakes

3 c white whole wheat flour
1 ½ c granulated sugar
1 T + 1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
8 T unsalted butter, melted
1/2 c unsweetened applesauce
1 cup reduced fat sour cream
4 T ground flax seed OR 4 T chia seeds, mixed with 3/4 c water* - let set for a few minutes before using
1 T + 1 tsp vanilla extract
2/3 c mini chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350*F. Line two 12 cup standard sized cupcake tin with paper liners.

Using an electric mixer, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Add melted butter, applesauce, sour cream, flax/chia eggs, and vanilla. Beat at medium speed until combined, about 30 seconds. Scrape down sides of bowl with rubber spatula and continue to mix until no lumps remain. Stir in chocolate chips by hand.

Evenly divide the batter among the cups in your prepared pan. Bake until cupcake tops are golden and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 20 to 25 minutes. Remove the cupcakes from the pan carefully and let them cool on a wire rack.

*Note: You can use 4 large eggs instead, but then you lose the health benefits of the flax/chia.

Peanut Butter Icing/Filling
1 T butter, room temperature
1/3 c natural peanut butter
3 c powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2-4 T milk, or more if needed

Using an electric mixer, beat together butter & peanut butter. Add powdered sugar, 1 cup at a time, alternating with vanilla & milk, until you reach desired consistency. It should be spreadable, not runny.

Chocolate Icing
4 T butter
1/2 c cocoa powder
3 c powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2-4 T milk, or more if needed
Using an electric mixer, beat butter until smooth. Add cocoa powder & mix in. Add powdered sugar, 1 cup at a time, alternating with vanilla & milk, until you reach desired consistency. It should be spreadable, not runny.

To stuff the cupcakes

Note: You will probably have leftover icing. I had about 1 cup of peanut butter icing left over. You can freeze it to use at another time. Or eat it with a spoon. Your choice, I won't judge! :-)
: Fill a pastry bag with peanut butter icing. Stick the tip into the middle of the top of the cupcake and gently push down. Squeeze out icing as you pull up until you see it peak out the top. Then ice the cupcake with chocolate icing either with the icing bag or using a knife.

October 18, 2011

Champagne Roasted Cauliflower

Our dinner tonight was pretty small. I was too busy making cupcakes to bring to work tomorrow.

It may have been small, but it was delicious!

I was recently selected to be part of a Foodbuzz Tastemaker program with Marzetti Simply Dressed. We don't generally use bottled dressings, preferring instead to make our own, but this dressing was delicious!

They have a nice variety of flavors available, ranging from Ranch to Champagne to Ginger Sesame. I'm very picky (who me??) about ingredient lists, so when I saw that their Simply Dressed line uses minimal ingredients, all of which I can pronounce and recognize, I was happy to try it.

I used a gorgeous mixture of purple & orange cauliflower. Any variety will work here, I just like the fun colors. You can use both the florets and parts of the stem, as long as all the pieces are of uniform size.

After roasting, it gets all caramelized and delicious. This would work with any veggie, but would be especially good on Brussels sprouts, aka roasted deliciousness. We like our veggies roasted no matter what seasoning is on them.

The dressing is an added bonus. And a very tasty one, too!

Champagne Roasted Cauliflower
Serves 2 as a main dish or 4 as a side

1 head of cauliflower
1 large onion
3 T Marzetti Simply Dressed Champagne Dressing

Preheat oven to 400*F. Spray a large baking sheet with olive oil spray. Wash and chop cauliflower florets & stem into 1" pieces. Chop onion into similar sized chunks. Toss together with dressing. Spread in an even layer on the baking sheet. Bake for 20 minutes, then stir. Bake another 20 minutes. Depending on the size of the baking sheet, the cauliflower may need more time. Check every 5 minutes after the first 40 minutes, being careful not to let it burn. The cauliflower pieces should be slightly browned and starting to crisp.


October 17, 2011

Weekend Waterfalls

We went to the cabin for the weekend. It's becoming a recurring theme.

We stopped on the way up to hike the High Rock Trail at World's End State Park. The trail went straight up the mountain to the High Rock Vista & then straight back down again to this creek.

Because of the raging waters with all of the heavy rains & flooding, this wasn't a simple creek crossing. It was a raging mega-creek. We hiked upstream a little to find a narrower place to cross.

Then, despite all of our efforts to stay dry, it started to pour. We had originally planned to take a second loop that started where this loop ended, but decided to head to the cabin & get some lunch instead.

For Mommom's birthday, I offered to bake a cake. Unfortunately, she and Poppop had to cancel their trip up at the last minute, so she didn't get any. I'll have to make it again! I doubled the recipe for this Chocolate & Coconut Milk Cake since I like to have a layer cake for birthdays, but it would have been plenty of cake with just the single layer. No one was complaining about extra cake, though!

Mom & Dad gave me an early birthday present - a pillow top mattress cover! Our bed up at the cabin is pretty hard & the original mattress cover kept coming off. It was so nice so sleep on this instead!

We went for a few longer hikes on Saturday & Sunday to see more waterfalls & views.

I love being out in nature and seeing all the signs of life.


Leaves changing color

Deer running across the path

Blue skies with drifting clouds

Trees blowing in the wind

Birds flitting around

Chipmunks scurrying through the underbrush

There's something so calming and peaceful about it all.

The Bup has been whittling away at his hiking stick to make the perfect handle. A few more trips up and I think he'll have it done.

Here's the family in their hiking gear. Mom refuses to wear pants if it's over 40*F, but she'll wear gloves! We all had on orange for safety in case any hunters were out.

For breakfast - Pumpkin Spice Pull-Apart Bread. This was a kitchen flop from a few weeks ago, but this time it was a kitchen win! Yum!

The power of water! I think these waterfalls in the middle of the woods are far more beautiful than Niagra Falls.

Water is the driver of Nature.        - Leonardo da Vinci
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