Due to poor communication on both our parts, my mom and I both decided that we would buy a variety of soft cheeses to spread on crackers and veggies at our holiday gatherings. Instead of one or two spreads to sample, we ended up with enough to generously serve a crowd at a huge family reunion, despite the fact that there would only be four of us in attendance at each of our holiday meals.
Then on top of that, my grandmother sent us a sampler pack of all-natural Wisconsin cheeses as a Christmas present for the entire family. They were so tasty that we didn’t even touch any of the spreads that we purchased at the grocery store, so needless to say, I was left with a fridge stocked with more cheese than I could ever possibly use.
I ended up scouring the Web for recipes incorporating Boursin cheeses, and I ended up striking gold with one for mini pretzel bites from Boursin’s website. I knew I had to try out the recipe as soon as I stumbled across it, as Chris is completely obsessed with the pretzel breadstick appetizers that so many chain restaurants have been serving up lately. It was a huge hit that I would make again any time I’m looking for a unique appetizer to serve; in fact, I’m already planning on whipping up a batch on Superbowl Sunday to compensate for the fact that I just can’t get excited about football the way Chris does, no matter how much I try!
By nature, pretzels are rather high in sodium, and this recipe is no different, even though I decreased the amount of salt for which the original recipe calls. I would love to play around with it and find a way to preserve the pretzel taste without so much salt, but I’m currently at a loss when it comes to ideas. For those of you who are more well-versed in making homemade pretzels the healthy way, please feel free to comment and let me know if you have any thoughts about how I could go about doing this next time.
For the time being, I’m just practicing moderation and refusing to allow myself to eat the whole bowl of bites, although it is certainly tempting!
What do I need?
- 1 container of Boursin spreadable cheese (The original recipe calls for the Vermont White Cheddar & Sage flavor, but I used the Garlic & Fine Herbs variety. The hint of cheesy flavor was so light that Chris didn’t notice it until I listed off the ingredients to him, so you may want to try the suggested flavor if you want a strong kick of cheesy taste.)
- 4 cups water
- 3/4 cup sea salt
- 1 tablespoon agave
- 1 tablespoon molasses
- 1 packet dry active yeast
- 1/2 cup whole wheat flour (The original recipe just called for regular unbleached flour; I simply chose to substitute the whole wheat variety for the added fiber and health benefits.)
- 1/2 cup baking soda (Yes, this does seem like a lot of baking soda, but this isn’t a typo!)
- 1 egg, beaten with one tablespoon of water
What do I do?
1. Using the paddle attachment on an electric mixer (I used my Kitchen Aid.), combine the one cup of water, molasses, sugar, and yeast. Allow the mixture to sit for about five minutes, or until foam has started to accrue on the surface.
2. Switch to the dough attachment and stir in the Boursin cheese. With the mixer on a low speed, gradually stir in three cups of flour, allowing the mixer to knead the dough for three minutes.
3. Cover the bowl, and allow the dough to rise for approximately an hour.
4. After the dough has risen, heat the oven to 450 degrees. As you wait for the oven to heat up, line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
5. In a pot, bring the four cups of water and baking soda to a boil. As you wait for the water to boil, take the dough out of the bowl and place it onto a floured surface. *I didn’t have to do this, but if your dough seems sticky, the original recipe advises you to add an extra 1/2 cup of flour and knead it into the dough.
6. Pull bite-size (Seriously, bite size! Trust me, they won’t cook well if they are too large.) balls of dough off and line them up on your baking sheet. When they are all ready, drop about four at a time into the boiling baking soda water. When they float to the surface, fish them out with a slotted spoon onto a cloth or a stack of paper towels. *This last note is important. When I tried this recipe the first time, I simply plopped them straight from the boiling water onto the parchment paper and made a wet mess.
7. After you have boiled all of the bites and returned them to your baking sheet, brush the tops with your egg wash, sprinkle with as much sea salt as desired, and bake them for about 12-15 minutes, or until they are golden brown. Serve alone or with a nice variety of dipping sauces, such as melted butter, ranch, and honey mustard.
When I first saw the Curved Cleo Skirt by Maple, I have to admit that I couldn’t help but think of a very important and influential woman from my childhood:
Yeah, that’s right… MISS CLEO! I know that those of you who grew up in the ’90s have to remember the female psychic who seemed to always be advertising her services on late-night television when we were kids. When I say she was important and influential, I mean that she taught me the definition of the word scam. I remember wanting to call her when I was about eight years old, but the mere thought that my parents could find out about an evening chat session with Miss Cleo ultimately deterred me from dialing her hotline. Thankfully, the similarity between this slim-fitting skirt and the moomoo-clad Miss Cleo lies only in their names.
I bought this skirt during a crazy sale at Anthropologie last year when I was still teaching high school English, and even though I no longer work in a classroom, it’s still one of my favorite skirts to this day. Back then, I really enjoyed dressing up on a daily basis (even on “jeans Fridays”), so my closet is still stocked with a wide array of professional career wear. While many teachers regularly show up to work in casual khakis and polo shirts, I always felt that consistently dressing the part of a professional reinforced to my students that I took my responsibilities to them in the classroom very seriously. As a baby-faced teacher, I also realized that dressing up made me look older, which I still believe largely contributed to my success as a young educator and kept me from being mistaken as a student, although that did still happen on occasion.
While many reviewers gave this skirt negative ratings on Anthro’s website because of its flirty side panels, the “wing” feature is actually my favorite aspect of the skirt, as it adds an original and feminine flair that other pencil skirts lack. I paired the skirt with a chocolate-colored turtleneck and cinched it with a stretchy belt to add some dimension to the overall look, polishing it with knit sweater tights and coordinating booties. This look would have been perfectly classroom-appropriate, but it proved to be a comfortable “date night” ensemble when I wore it out to dinner at the Epicentre, followed by a Charlotte Bobcats game.
Top: Merona from Target (Similar)
Belt: Linea Pelle from Anthropologie (Similar)
Tights: H&M (Similar)
I have always found gnomes to be strange and, quite frankly, really creepy. I can’t believe that I’m the only one out there who can close my eyes and visualize them waging wars against each other in people’s gardens and making their own water park attractions with conventional sprinklers and hoses.
When my ninth grade students were wrapping up their unit on Romeo and Juliet last year, they begged to watch Gnomeo and Juliet as a way to wrap up their first in-depth examination of a Shakespearean work. At first, I refused to let them watch it; after all, there is little educational value in the film for a group of high school students, especially being that the only thing this cartoon has in common with Shakespeare’s tragic version is the fact that two characters indulge in a forbidden romance.
Eventually, my students won. Because their final exam had to be given on a day designated by the our state’s education department rather than by the school, they had two days to kill at the end of the year, so they finally got to watch their beloved Gnomeo and Juliet. They brought snacks and oohed and ahhed like preschoolers over how adorable the little gnomes were, while the one classroom cynic and I scoffed over how scary it would be to find that your garden gnomes were executing hidden adventures like the ones in the movie.
Ironically, I recently found myself waiting in a long line at Time Warner Cable Arena for the sake of (You guessed it!) a gnome. As a part of the Charlotte Bobcats’ new marketing campaign to get people excited about the team before it switches back to the Charlotte Hornets next year, there are lots of giveaways going on at the stadium, with fans receiving everything from scarves to- well, gnomes. Cody Zeller is one of the most popular stars of the current team and will undoubtedly be a fan favorite once they “bring back the buzz” and become the Hornets after a mediocre twelve-year run with the Bobcats name.
I guess I’ll be having to reconcile my distaste for these little guys and begin to embrace them, as Charlotte may be referring to itself as “Gnome City” instead of “Buzz City” in the near future. Not only are Cody Zeller gnomes currently selling for up to $50 on eBay, the Bobcats’ January 22 game against the Los Angeles Clippers has been deemed as “Kemba Walker Gnome Night.”
I’m willing to give gnomes a chance for my husband’s sake because of how much he loves sports memorabilia. With that said, if I sense that little Cody has moved even slightly on his own accord, he’ll be shipped off to a grateful eBay buyer in a heartbeat, and the gnome Kemba will NOT be welcome in our home.
This v-neck dress from The Limited is one of my personal favorites, but I’m not a big fan of its accompanying sweater sash, which has remained in the back of my closet since I purchased it. Instead, I pair it with a different belt each time I wear it to create a new and original outfit each time. On “Cody Zeller Gnome Night,” I cinched my waist with the Woven Raffia Stretch belt from Anthropologie and loved how it turned out. With a different belt than I had worn in the past, I felt like I was wearing the dress for the very first time.
Dress: The Limited (Similar)
Boots: Guess (Similar)
What’s your take on gnomes: creepy or cute?
There’s nothing that brings people together like a warm, homemade meal enjoyed in the comfort of someone’s home.
When Chris and I were first getting serious as a couple, we decided to scratch our usual “dinner and a movie” routine and head to my kitchen for a unique date night. We spent hours flipping through the dozens of thrifted cookbooks stashed in my tiny apartment, finally settling on a shrimp and veggie stir fry with tons of ingredients we didn’t have on hand. After taking a lengthy trip down the aisles of a local grocery store and spending way more than we could afford at the time on the veggies, spices, and seafood that were required to make the dish, we worked up such an appetite that we ate the entire meal in one sitting. Sure, that may not sound like a big deal, but the stir-fry contained two pounds of shrimp and an abundance of flavorful veggies. We may have been uncomfortably full to the point of sweats and cramps, but the memorability of the experience made it entirely worth the temporary discomfort.
The aromatic scent that permeates throughout our entire apartment whenever I make any type of stir fry always brings me back to that date night, when I believe I first fell in love with Chris. I know it sounds corny (Or carrot-y? Sorry, I couldn’t help myself!), but I’ll never forget the meaningful conversations we exchanged and the way our unbridled laughter filled my apartment as we noshed on a delicious meal we had created together, just the two of us.
Just the other day, I found myself looking through old pictures and reminiscing about the journey that Chris and I have taken together, so when I realized it was almost dinner time, I felt inspired to whip up a stir fry. Without several of the ingredients I needed to make our traditional shrimp stir fry, I decided to toy around in the kitchen and use the fresh veggies and canned goods that I had on hand to whip up a new concoction. Even though Chris would probably live on hamburgers and barbecue ribs if he hadn’t married me, he gobbled down this vegetarian stir fry as if it was his last meal, even going so far as to make sure I had written down exactly how I made the dish so I would be able to make it for him again in the future.
The perfect blend of sweet and spicy, this stir fry is one your entire family is guaranteed to love. Don’t hesitate to play around with whatever fresh veggies you may have in your refrigerator, as the sauce would be delicious coating just about any crisp veggie.
What do I need?
- One 16-oz. can of chickpeas/garbanzo beans (Preferably with low sodium/no added salt)
- One small-medium yellow onion, chopped
- Approx. 3/4 cups broccoli florets
- Approx. 3/4 cups chopped carrots
- 1/2 cup soy sauce
- One teaspoon sesame oil (I have also used olive oil when I have been in a pinch, and it works great!)
- 3 teaspoons agave
- 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (Chris and I like our stir fry dishes to have a kick. If you aren’t too keen on spice, I would suggest either using 1/2 teaspoon to reduce the heat!)
- 4 teaspoons corn starch
- 2 tablespoons cooking oil (for sautéing veggies and chickpeas)
What do I do?
1. Stir together the soy sauce, sesame oil, agave, red pepper flakes, and corn starch until the corn starch is completely dissolved.
2. Heat cooking oil in a skillet or wok at medium heat. Stir fry the carrots, onion, and broccoli for about 3-5 minutes, or until the carrots begin to soften and the onions become less firm. Add the chickpeas and sauce, and stir fry for another 3-5 minutes, or until all ingredients are fully coated and the sauce is thickened.
3. Serve while the stir fry is still hot, either on its own or over a bed of your favorite grain product. In our household, we use a brown rice/quinoa blend.
These bath products are so natural that they are perfectly safe to eat! Okay, maybe not. But they are much safer to use on your body than their less-than-natural counterparts.
When I was younger, I had no qualms about lathering myself in chemical-ridden lotions, soaps, and hair products with artificial scents because I just didn’t understand the potential dangers they posed to both my health and the environment. After all, as those of you who grew up in my generation can attest, it seemed perfectly normal to smell like a giant cupcake that had been soaked in a chemical bath for several hours.
Along with most other girls in the early 2000s, I sloughed on “edible” lotions and gels that tasted like sugary chemical concoctions. Jessica Simpson claimed it was even safe to eat this stuff, so how could it have possibly been detrimental to our health, right?
I also regularly coated my skin with plastic flecks of glitter. It made Britney shimmer and shine on stage, so this had to be some seriously high-quality stuff.
Obviously organic and all-natural body products were available during the older years of my adolescence, but they certainly weren’t as mainstream as they are today. Not only was ordering all-natural products online simply not an option, but the big box stores like Target and Costco that my family shopped didn’t cater to a crowd that was overly concerned about the issue.
However, I’m pleased to say that I now pay much more attention to what I’m putting on and in my body. Minus my encounter with Jessica Simpson’s Dessert line, I have always been a healthy eater, but it wasn’t until a few years back that I started getting really serious about what my body was absorbing through the bath and body products I used every day.
This evolution is what has inspired me to start a regular new addition to my blog; every Sunday, I’m going to help you “kick-start your week” with whatever healthy, “good for you” products I’m currently obsessing over. Sometimes I may focus on pre-packaged snacks or food items, while I may feature safe cosmetics at other times.
This week, I’m all about healthy bath and shower products. These are a few all-natural products that my little family keeps in stock at all times. Please note that I have not been compensated in any way for this post; this list of my honest opinions has been compiled based on products I have purchased and sampled myself over the past few years.
Honest Shampoo & Body Wash (Sweet Orange Vanilla)
Price: $9.95 for an 8.5 oz. bottle at http://honest.com or $14 for two bottles at Costco
I absolutely love Jessica Alba’s sense of style, so I first heard about The Honest Company through her Facebook page, which I had started following just because I loved seeing her outfit posts pop up on my mini-feed. The company was started by Jessica and entrepreneur Christopher Gavigan in an effort to create a line of all-natural, eco-friendly cleaning and body products safe to use with children and in the home.
I decided to try out the Honest Shampoo & Body Wash in Sweet Orange Vanilla when it was available in a twin pack for only $14 at my local Costco store. Because the product is a shampoo and a body wash in one, Chris and I keep a bottle in our small guest bathroom to save space and offer a convenient, one-stop option for guests when they stay with us.
The orange vanilla scent is light and fresh, yet it is also strong enough to evoke childhood memories of eating cream-sicles in my backyard on hot summer days. Because it’s not overly feminine, Chris feels like he can use also use it without smelling like a woman all day.
I was wary of the bottle’s claim that it’s safe to use on color-treated hair, but after using it for several weeks, I didn’t notice any fading in the hue of my color-treated strands. I have used plant-based shampoos in the past that seem to dehydrate and fade my locks, but this product leaves my hair feeling soft, hydrated, and vibrant.
Giovanni Colorflage Brazenly Brunette Shampoo and Conditioner
Price: $8.99 each at Whole Foods
I bought the blonde variety of this shampoo and conditioner on a whim after coloring my hair for the first time, and I have used it ever since. Not only does it prevent color from fading, it brightens and illuminates highlights as it cleans and moisturizes. From my personal experience, both the blonde and brunette Giovanni shampoos and conditioners are spectacular products.
I stopped using the shampoo for a while simply because I ran out of it and didn’t have time to make a special trip to Whole Foods, and when I started using it again, I had several friends who asked if I had colored my hair again because it looked so rejuvenated.
The Soap & Paper Factory Shea Butter Soap (Bouquet)
Price: $8 for a 4 oz. bar at http://beautyhabit.com
My sampling of this product was a complete accident, but thank goodness for unexpected happenings. I actually bought one of these soaps to go into a gift basket for a friend, but when I got home, I realized I already had two soaps in the mix I intended to give her. I didn’t want to seem as though I was hinting that she had a hygiene problem, so I decided to try this soap out for myself and find something else to top off her gift.
First of all, the scent is so authentically reminiscent of fresh flowers that I could fill a vase with soap bars and receive the same effect as if I had set out the real thing. Packed with shea butter, the soap is as hydrating as it is cleansing. Plus the beautiful packaging, made entirely from recycled products, is so lovely that it feels like Christmas whenever I tear open a new bar.
What are the natural/organic products that you always keep stocked in your home?
I strive to be honest and open on Veggies and Glitter, so I’m going to share with you one of my biggest pet peeves. Are you ready?
As most of you know, I grew up in the Midwest and moved to the Carolinas back when I was in high school. While I’m certainly not approaching my golden years and the number of gray hairs I possess can still be counted on one hand, it has been quite some time since I graduated from high school. You would think that after a decade’s passing, my loved ones back in Minnesota would comprehend the fact that we do indeed experience all four seasons here in the Carolinas.
I’m not delusional; I know the Southeast is a warm weather oasis when compared to Minnesota or Wisconsin during the winter months. I won’t even begin to compare our mild winters to those that are filled with salted sidewalks, snow plows, and “moon boots.” However, despite what most of my relatives back in the Twin Cities presume, I can’t remember the last time I left the house without a jacket. Okay, I did so to take my “Street Style” picture today, but I was really cold!
Even if I am not battling temperatures that make me wonder if I’ll will make it through the winter alive, I can still assure my loved ones that I won’t be doing any of the following anytime soon:
- Sipping on mixed drinks beside my apartment complex’s pool
- Wearing a maxi dress and sandals
- Ordering iced or blended coffees
- Buying oodles of popsicles and ice cream
- Opening my windows or turning on my a/c
- Strolling along the beach in a bikini
- Using the tank-and-shorts pajama sets that you have sent me as Christmas presents (I’m not complaining! I use them in June, but turn on The Weather Channel, people!)
Believe it or not, one of my favorite trends this season has been the puffer vest, and yes, I am currently experiencing temperatures here in Charlotte that are cold enough to beckon this type of style. Despite facing cold Minnesota winters when I was younger, I tended to stay away from puffer vests and jackets because I felt as though I was rocking Gore-Tex a la George Costanza or was about to start a microwave fire. Thankfully in 2014, there are sleeker options available to those of us who love rocking winter vests with practical insulation.
I’m so glad I decided to snag the Free People Nylon Denim Puffer Vest during their Black Friday online sale. Not only is my size now sold out, I paid much less than the $89.95 price tag currently attached to it. I love how this vest combines two of my favorite trends, the summery denim vest that I wore over countless maxi dresses in July and August and the cold weather puffer with which I’ve been obsessed lately.
Top: Arizona Jean Company (JCPenney)- Similar Style
Scarf: The Limited- Similar Style
Shoes: LC Lauren Conrad (Kohl’s)- Similar Style
Here are some other puffer picks with fun variations that make for a sleeker, classier fit than what you were probably used to donning during your youth:
You have no idea how tempted I was to scratch this post because I am still deliberating over whether to purchase this little gold gem from Anthropologie; there’s a selfish part of me that didn’t want to share it with you in case it sells out before I can decide whether to buy it. At $69.95, it’s certainly more than I would like to pay, yet it’s not out of this world for a quality piece of outerwear with such positive reviews. This is rather embarrassing, but I even took a detour on my way home from the dentist’s office yesterday so I could see if my local Anthro store had this vest in stock so I wouldn’t have to pay the outrageous shipping charges. Unfortunately, my local store’s sale room was only filled with leftover New Year’s Eve dresses.
To splurge, or not to splurge?
This is another pick that has me drooling, especially because I snagged the pink sweater over which the vest is layered in this photo during an amazing Anthro sale
earlier this year in fall of 2013. With my stock of dark skinny jeans, I could easily recreate this look. However, if I had to choose, I would purchase the corduroy Pilcro vest over this one simply because of its versatility to coordinate with more items in my closet, but I do love its chambray fabric and vintage print.
While I wouldn’t personally choose to wear it with yoga pants as the model is doing here, the marled fabric on this puffer vest from Victoria’s Secret makes it a classier, dressier alternative to more casual puffer vests on the market right now. I could imagine it looking gorgeous paired with black or gray skinny jeans and layered over a slim-fitting sweater in a bold, bright color.
Which of these puffer vests is your personal favorite? If you have found one of your own that you think beats these styles, make sure to tell all about it! Share your thoughts below! :)
You have probably noticed that I’m already not doing too well with this whole “blogging regularly” thing now that the new year has begun. While most bloggers have been feverishly putting out posts on a daily basis, I haven’t posted since New Year’s Day. In my defense, I have had a few things on my plate over the past week, so give me a chance to explain.
Up until yesterday, my dear friend Brynn has been visiting me here in Charlotte. She was my best friend until I moved away from the currently frozen tundra of Minnesota after finishing ninth grade, and while we have kept in touch over the years, we started growing close again only after we had both finished college. Minus a childhood trip to Florida, which I don’t count because the culture there is so different than it is here in the Carolinas, this was Brynn’s first trip to the southeastern region of the United States. It was so fun introducing her to the places I frequent and the life I have been living since moving away from our mutual hometown over a decade ago. While I have been able to picture her life (to a point) over the years because I am so familiar with the area where she and her husband are building their home together, she has had virtually no concept of what daily life is like for me here in Charlotte other than what I have shared on social media, which we all know isn’t truly representative of reality. It’s a great feeling to know that she will now be able to envision the places to which Chris and I are venturing whenever she and I share updates on our daily lives.
I considered making this soup while Brynn was here because the weather was extremely cold for the entire duration of her trip, but I ended up skipping it, being that I also wanted to introduce her to as many Charlotte-area experiences as I could during the four days she spent here. Instead of eating soup in the confines of our apartment, Chris and I took Brynn out for authentic Southern barbecue at Mac’s Speed Shop, a breakfast featuring the best grits around at The Flying Biscuit Cafe, and house-made pasta at Vapiano. The three of us also took in two comedy shows at both the Charlotte and Fort Mill locations of The Comedy Zone. While the three of us are all fans of comedy, we are also newbies when it comes to attending comedy clubs, so it was fun being able to try out something that was new to all of us.
I really wish that I could somehow transport a batch of this incredible soup to Brynn and her husband, Kevin, right about now, being that it currently feels like -23 degrees in the Minneapolis area. No matter where in the U.S. you currently reside, this recipe for tomato soup from The Novice Chef will be a lifesaver for you over the next few days as extreme winter weather continues to take over the entire nation. Not only is this recipe pretty easy to execute, it makes 6-8 hearty servings of soup, perfect for sharing with a crowd or freezing for later.
What do I need?
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 4 tsp. minced garlic
- 1 small-medium yellow onion, sliced
- 2 (28 oz.) cans peeled tomatoes
- 1 cup low-sodium vegetable stock
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1/4 cup fat-free half and half (I simply used the fat-free version to cut down on calories, but I have also made it with organic, full-fat half and half; the soup turned out the same either way.)
- 6-8 large fresh basil leaves, roughly chopped
- 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
- Salt and black pepper, to taste
What do I do?
- In a large pot, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add garlic and stir over heat for about 30 seconds, or until fragrant.
- Add sliced onion to the pot and cook until the onion slices are translucent, which is usually about 8 minutes.
- Add the peeled tomatoes (DO NOT DRAIN!), vegetable stock, and sugar to the pot. Bring to a low simmer and cook for about 12 minutes, or until the mixture has thickened.
- Add the half and half, basil, and oregano; then season to your liking with salt and pepper. I use two cranks each of salt and pepper grinders, respectively. I would highly suggest using a grinder versus a regular shaker, as it provides more control for the cook.
- Using an immersion blender or food processor, puree the soup until there are no chunks left. Personally, I like to use my Ninja Kitchen System; just a few pulses makes the soup’s consistency creamy and savory. If you are using an older blender or one that doesn’t work very well, you may want to check carefully that there are no large onion chunks left before serving!
- Serve immediately with grilled cheese, crusty rolls, or any other cheesy carb you may be craving.
With the arctic temperatures that are currently whipping across the entire U.S., most of us will be cuddled up inside tonight. Chris and I will be eating tomato soup with grilled cheese sandwiches, but what will you and your family be eating to stay warm this evening? I would love to hear your thoughts below, as always!