Flexitarian Update

Good Morning!

How are you feeling on this last day of the year???

Me…I do not feel like it is the last day of the year.  I’m sure the sun has something to do with it or the fact that my week was thrown off by not working and planning for my vacation in 4 days.  I know Saturdays are usually busy and being the last day of the year, today will be even busier, so just a quick moment to check in with my December Goal for a meat and dairy free lifestyle.


My over all opinion, I like it!  I find that I don’t miss the meat.  I have eaten a lot of plant based main dishes and bumped up my grains. I am also eating seafood, so fish, shrimp, and scallops offer me options when I am dining out.  I went the entire month meat free except for a planned meaty dinner at Chicago q two days ago, where the only thing better than the BBQ was the company and conversation.  I went light on the meat, however, not sure how it would affect my body, and was happy to return back to my meat free ways the next meal.


The dairy is obviously MUCH harder.  It is in everything!  Although I avoided whole cheese and milk as I’m sure you could tell by Holiday Post Mania, there were plenty of sweats containing milk, chocolate, and butter that I nibbled on…mostly in moderation.  I did find that my tummy troubles disappeared for the month, but that I had more discomfort when I was eating more dairy and processed sugars.


Although I failed at the vegan lifestyle, I found that I do make a good Flexitarian (I like this term because it implies being flexible and not following a strict or rigid eating plan).  I enjoyed creating meat free dinners (like this one).  I do miss the convenience of being able to order meat out.  Most places, especially sports bars, don’t have good meat and dairy free options and I know I won’t want to cook two dinners every night for the BOY and I.  But I do think that I am (at least at this point) going to eat meat and dairy as a treat and continue to explore plant-based proteins.  I am not sure how long it will be before they have crept back into my diet or maybe they never will.  Although I am heading on a cruise ship where frozen yogurt (my number 1 favorite dessert) is available 24 hours/day, so TREATS may be allowed more frequently ; ).


My plan for January is to continue with a healthy lifestyle on vacation because I WANT to and to push myself to be an all-weather runner and exerciser when I return.  The day is too busy to waste time thinking about anything more specific than that.  And January is often wasted on too easily broken resolutions.  I am off…enjoy your day!


Have you made any lifestyle changes this year?  What was the result?

Vegetarian Alphabet Taco Soup

As the week comes to an end, I can’t believe how quickly it flew by!  It was an odd week because every day felt like Saturday.  Between an intense workout schedule, lunch dates, a little bit of gift card shopping, a trip to the dentist, some quiet time to catch up on reading, and some quality time with the BOY (we spent this afternoon at Whole Foods picking out our new year’s dinner), I didn’t get ALL of the cleaning and household jobs done that I wanted to.  For example, I have not organized the pots and pans cabinet that explodes on me every time I open it.  On the bright side, there are plenty of snowy Saturdays ahead perfect for tasks like this.  I did, however, find some time to make a quick and easy lunch to warm me on this drizzly day followed by a  Cookie Butter dessert.



When I came back from yoga this morning, the only thing I wanted to do was curl up on the couch with a movie like Center Stage and dig into a bowl of soup.   Unfortunately, I don’t have Center Stage on DVD, but I DO know some quick recipes for soup.  After a quick stop at the Target, I had the ingredients to make Taco Soup, well except for the onion, which I didn’t realize until I was home.


I proceeded forward without my onion.  Into the pot goes black beans, diced tomatoes, corn, diced green chilies, veggie broth, and taco seasoning, boil, simmer (40 minutes), and the soup is ready.  I was looking for a heartier lunch.  A search through my pantry revealed alphabet noodles, a childhood favorite of mine.



I cooked up the colorful noodles and added them to my soup.




To make Vegetarian Alphabet Taco Soup (wow…quite a mouthful!).  It sounds like an odd combination, but it was a filling and fabulous lunch!  See full TACO SOUP Recipe.

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Obviously, I have more than enough soup (some for the weekend and the rest went into the freezer), but I am happy to have extra noodles for tomorrow’s lunch!



I had a few extra minutes in the kitchen and I have been wanting to try Averie’s No Bake Cookie Butter Balls since discovering this dangerous jar of Cookie Butter.  I vaguely followed her recipe (except I didn’t really measure things out) using graham cracker crumbs instead of cookies.  The balls are definitely a little dry, so molasses (and I used some maple syrup) are a must.  Plus the squeezing method is the way to go to form the balls.




For the added chocolate, I melted the rest of my TJ’s Dark Chocolate Bar.  I have been reading about different techniques for dipping cookies in chocolate, but I don’t have the patience for many of them.  I attempted the toothpick method.

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But quickly abandoned it for the half dipped hand held method.



Topped with an extra chocolate drizzle.




They just look amazing!  Even after the drizzle, I had some left over chocolate…



Yes…you guessed it!  Chocolate dipped Oreos!  A Law & Order marathon proved to be a good enough second choice to Center Stage as I braved the dreary day curled up on my couch with a bowl of hot soup.  The BOY was happy to join me for some Tv and was a big fan of the cookie balls.

The Best of 2011

With a full year of blogging behind me, I thought it would be fun to share some of the best posts from 2011.


Favorite New Summer Appetizer

Grilled Feta


Tastiest Pre-Race Dinner

Pasta with Scallops and Grilled Veggies


Favorite New Tshirt



Best Veggie Meal

The Green Zebra Chicago, IL


Most Surprising Birthday Post

When Life Throws You Hurricanes…


Best Flashback

The BOY’s First Day Of School


Favorite CSA Recipe

CSA Soup


Biggest Fitness Achievement

Chicago Marathon


Most Inspiring Book

The Kind Diet


Favorite Crockpot Recipes ***It’s a tie!

Root Vegetable Tagine


And Two Ingredient Chicken


Most Exciting Outdoor Activity Post

Biking and Hiking in Door County


Best Way to Beat a Chocolate Craving

Christmas Candy


Best (And Only) Guest Blogger

By Emmy the Cat


Favorite New Fitness Trend

Hot Yoga


Best Birthday Dessert



Healthiest Way to Explore Chicago



Post that Makes Me Smile

30 Years of Good Stuff



Breaking a Sweat without the Gym

In the past few years, I have used my week off between Christmas and New Years to become a hardcore gym rat.  I would go to the good classes that those of us with full-time employment were not lucky enough to attend during the week and then bump up my sweat sessions with the TRAINER.  This year, things have been a little different.  With unseasonably warm temperatures and new winter-weather gear (I just ordered these shoes and am patiently waiting by the door for the postman to deliver them), it has been easy to get outside for a run.  On Wednesday, I got in a 5.5 mile run with no wild animal run-ins (just a friendly little cat) and I am planning on enjoying the 50 degree weather with a longer outdoor run tomorrow. 



On Tuesday, I fit in a HOT YOGA class and I am planning on doing the same tomorrow.  Tuesdays class was crazy hard and I think I am still sore today.  During a usual yoga class, I try to maximize my mind/body connection by setting an intention before the class (ie Mindfullness) that I hope to practice during class and then keep with me throughout the week.  On Tuesday, however, I found a more superficial meaning in the class and while we pulsed in a squat position alternating between chair and half chair for an entire song (at least 2.5 minutes I swear!), I found myself repeating to myself ‘bikini, bikini’.  And although my intention was slightly (ok…totally) superficial,  I was able to power through challenging vinyasas, difficult core work, and even negotiated my first standing split balancing with my hands on my calf instead of the block or floor that I prefer to use.  Now, I know in my head, I had a beautiful 180 degree split, when in reality I am lucky if I cleared 90 degrees, but either way, I was able to hold the pose for a few breaths feeling confident and in control.  What a success!



Pictures above are actually a reenactment done in my living room this morning with Emmy as my cheerleader.  It was with feelings of achievement that I awoke yesterday, enjoyed leftover Pumpkin Cream Pie Oat Bran (surprising good as leftovers…just microwave with a touch of almond milk…yum!).



And then headed back here for Bootcamp Round Two with the TRAINER.



If I thought Mondays workout was hard, this one was even tougher.  We ran through strength circuits honing in on my glutes, my quads, my core, and then ran out for a round of bleacher stairs.  Two by two up we went with my heart rate maxing at 175 bpm.  Then back into the weight room for more circuits, including that dreaded 40 foot rope that feels like it weighs 100 pounds.  After 60 minutes, I had burned 497 calories!  Wow!  This morning, I was headed back to the yoga studio, which worked out well considering the rainy day ahead.  My intention was Wellness for the new year and a healthy and active upcoming vacation.  And although I was focused on a higher meaning, you know I was whispering ‘bikini, bikini’ to myself as I worked through those last  few bicycle crunchesSmile.


My a week of non-gym sweat sessions…


T-Hot Yoga

W-5.5 mile run

Th-Bootcamp Two

F-Hot Yoga

S-Planned Run


Definitely have me feeling ready for vacation!  I even went out and got a new bathing suit yesterday!

FYI, this is not be modeling it in the pictures, but there will be pictures of my new suit hanging on a beautiful beach SOON!

DKNY Swimsuit, One Shoulder Striped One Piece

Leftover Goodies

Even with all of my baking this holiday season, I ended up with some leftover goodies.  The BOY, despite claiming to be on a pre-vaca diet, has taken care of the extra M&M’s.  The bigger questions…what to do with loads of nuts and two open containers of Oreos??? 



Apparently, the BOY opened the regular, didn’t like them, and switched to mint. 

My solutions for the leftovers…


Mint Oreo Fudge

Pour 1 package of Nestle Dark Chocolate and Mint chips and 1 can of sweetened condensed milk into a saucepan.  Melt over medium to low heat, stirring often.



Once smooth, stir in 1 teaspoon vanilla and crushed Oreos (I used a mixture of mint and regular ~20 total).



Spread mixture onto baking pan sprayed with cooking spray and store in the refrigerator until set, about 1 hour.



Cut into small squares and serve.  Store in airtight container in fridge.



Homemade KIND Bars

And for the nuts, I tried out Mama Pea’s Homemade KIND bars from her book.  I had a lot of leftover nuts, including sliced almonds.  I added in a few chopped figs as well because they are so good.



The bars are easy to make loaded with nuts and dried fruit.



I was a little nervous about how thin they looked, but baked them anyways.



The sad thing is that I think I tried to cut them too early (Mama Pea warns against this).



Instead of a solid bar, I got a mishmash of gooey fruits and nuts.



I tried to push them back together with no luck, but ended up with a container of KIND bar chunks.




Just as tasty, but harder to control your portions.



With fewer ingredients crowding my counters, I am hoping to continue moving along on my kitchen clean up this week.

I still have some more almonds, pistachios, peanuts, and pecans left. 


Any suggestions on what to do with them???

I wanted to Tell you…

…That it was awful!



I wanted to tell you that it was definitely not worth your money or the extra trip to Trader Joe’s.



I wanted to tell you that it was totally overhyped.



I wanted to tell you that I would give you mine because I couldn’t possibly come up with anything to do with it.



I wanted to tell you that it was not the kind of thing that you would eat straight from the jar with a spoon.



And that you would have the self control to not eat 27 servings! 



Or create a new favorite after dinner snack.

Fig + Cookie Butter = Pure AMAZINGNESS!



But I can’t!

Because we are friends, and I don’t want to lie to you!

Your best bet to prevent adding Cookie Butter to your oatmeal (so yummy!), spreading it over graham crackers and chocolate bars, smashing it between dried fruit, and eating it straight from the jar all in the same day, is to find a recipe to make and share it with your friends!

A few that I found…


No Bake Cookies

Cookie Butter Smoothies

Gingerbread Cookie Dough Cheesecake Dip


Peanut Butter Cup Cookie Butter Cookies



It’s the only safe way to invite this unique and delicious treat into your home.

Consider yourself warned!!!

Breakfast and Bootcamp

After a few days of sugar and treats, I was looking to start the day (and the week) off with a healthy breakfast.  I made Pumpkin Cream Pie Oat Bran from Mama Pea’s Cookbook.

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It gave me the chance to use my new Hanukkah gift.  Tell me this isn’t adorable!  I love it!

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I used my immersion wand to create this creamy breakfast.




The oat bran was super tasty.  It was a nice oatmeal alternative.  With a scrambled egg on the side, it fueled me for this morning’s workout.  I met the TRAINER at a different location today.



With only 9 days to go before my cruise and two weekends of baking, I was in need of a killer workout.

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We did a boot camp style workout running up and down the bleacher steps, sprinting while pulling a tire (this is much harder than you’d think), lunges with said tire held overhead, and squats.  We finished with some serious core.  By the time I got home, I was exhausted and definitely ready for lunch.  I had some leftover Root Vegetable Tagine (one of my favorite crockpot recipes), rice and veggies.



After lunch, the BOY and I headed to an afternoon showing of Sherlock Holmes.  Since we both had the day off and neither one of us was brave enough to go near a store, a movie was the perfect afternoon activity.  Plus, you know I love me some popcorn!  Sherlock Holmes was Great!!!  I was totally into the first one and this sequel did not disappoint.  I have been a fan of Robert Downy Jr. since his Ally McBeal days, and he is a spectacular actor!  The BOY and I spent the rest of the day hanging together and making plans for our upcoming cruise.  After checking out pictures of St. Kitts and St. Lucia, I am more excited than ever!  Looking forward to the rest of my week off!

Christmas Crack

Somehow I found this recipe on Averie’s Website



The pictures had my mouth watering and I had leftover saltines from being sick last week.  I was warned that this toffee was as addictive as crack and after making my own, I must agree!  Hence the name…Christmas Crack.

From the start, it sounded simple enough.  Layer crackers…



Make toffee on the stove (quite the arm workout, but totally worth it!)



Layer toffee on crackers…



Followed by chocolate chips.



I ended up putting the pan back in the oven for 1-2 minutes before spreading the chocolate.



Into the freezer goes the pan (where it is truly best to forget about it) before breaking the toffee into pieces.



Chocolate Saltine Toffee is so crazy good and addictive that the name Christmas Crack fits perfectly.  And so far…nobody has disagreed!




You can find Averie’s recipe HERE or just hope that I am coming to your house today and bringing some with me.

     Ps I am definitely nibbling on some while writing this post!

     Pps This recipe also works with graham crackers, gluten free crackers, or matzah…Passover just got a whole lot tastier!


While I was on Averie’s website, I also come across this White Chocolate Puppy Chow. I happened to be looking for a gluten free Christmas recipe and this one caught my eye.



I’m not usually a huge fan of white chocolate, but I do love me some Puppy Chow.  I haven’t made it in years and found this similar recipe lots of fun!





And really yummy!  I followed the recipe but only needed 2 1/2 cup of powdered sugar (I used 6 cups Chex mix) and added in a few peanut butter chips because I had them in the house.





Call it Reindeer food or White Chocolate Puppy Chow or whatever you want…either way… you will call it GOOD!


Have a special day surrounded by family and friends!

Merry Everything!

Happy Always!

Just Can’t Get Enough

Remember when the BOY found me wandering the halls at Target with bags of chocolate looking like a girl who had just been dumped?!



I was stocking up on candies for my homemade holiday goodies.  Despite all of the baking going on over the past few weeks, I had more treats to make.  Pretzel rings and barks are always a favorite to make AND to eat.  What can I say???  I just can’t get enough!!!  Get ready for more sweet recipes!!!


Turtle Pretzels




These are super easy and always a huge hit!



Turtle Pretzels

Ingredients: circle pretzels, Rolos, pecans

Directions: Preheat oven to 300 degrees.  Peel all of the Rolos.  Place pretzels on baking sheet covered with parchment paper.  Place the Rolos on top of the pretzel and bake for 3-4 minutes until soft.  Remove baking sheet and immediately push pecan down onto pretzel.  Refrigerate until chocolate hardens.  Store in airtight container. ***I keep mine in the freezer.


Chocolate Pretzel Rings

What makes these so fun is all of the tasty options you can make.  The hard thing…deciding which Hershey’s Kisses (there are more and more each year) you want to pair with your favorite M&M’s. 



This year, I made the follow combinations:

Dark Chocolate Kisses +  Mint M&M’s

Milk Chocolate Kisses + Coconut M&M’s

Candy Cane Kisses + Plain M&M’s




It’s truly a pain to unwrap all of these kisses, so if you have an extra set of hands in the house, I suggest getting some help.




I love how cute these turn out!  And BTW, the coconut M&M’s were a nice tropical addition this year.




Chocolate Pretzel Rings

Ingredients: circle pretzels, Hershey’s kisses, and M&M’s (get creative with your flavors)

Directions: Preheat oven to 300 degrees.  Place pretzels on baking sheet covered with parchment paper.  Unwrap kisses and place them on top of pretzels.  Bake for 4-5 minutes until chocolate is soft.  (***NOTE: Milk chocolate will take longer to melt while white chocolate will melt quickly).  Remove from oven and immediately place M&M on top of chocolate.  Refrigerate until set.  Store in airtight container.  Can be stored in the freezer.


Chocolate Barks

Of the barks, brittles, and toffees, barks have always been my favorite to make.  A note on bark making…I tried using a few different brands of chocolate this year, including your basic chocolate chips.  In my opinion, chocolate chips are not good for barks.  They melt well, but I did not like the consistency of the final product.  I prefer Baker’s brand chocolate or Ghirardelli (which I don’t buy often because it is expensive).  Almond bark is another alternative, but remember that the white is vanilla flavored and not white chocolate.  This is more of a candy coating than actual chocolate, but still yummy!  I did try the Trader Joe’s Pound Plus dark chocolate bar, which I had heard great things about, and was pleased with the way the bark turned out. 

Do you have a favorite melting chocolate that you prefer to use?



This year, I made a few different bark combinations.  Some I found recipes for and others are just my creations (based mostly on what I have leftover in the kitchen).  Most of these recipes are fairly simple and following the follow this equation.  I use the microwave to melt my chocolate which tends to work out well for me.  I spread the melted chocolate across a cookie sheet covered in parchment or wax paper.  Then cover with toppings pushing them firmly into the chocolate.  Refrigerate or freeze until chocolate is set and then break into pieces.  Bark easily stores in a freezer bag in the freezer.  Enjoy!


Chocolate Nutter Butter Bark

Ingredients: milk chocolate and crushed Nutter Butter cookies




Peanuts and Pretzels Dark Chocolate

From The Wannabe Chef

I was unable to find gluten-free pretzels so I just used the regular kind.

*FYI…this was the bark that I melted chocolate chips to make, and turned out less solid than the others.






Holiday Oreo Bark

Ingredients: vanilla bark and crushed mint and holiday red Oreos







Vanilla Peanut Butter Bark

This one is a little different.  Melt half of your vanilla flavoring with 2/3 cup peanut butter and the other half with just vanilla bark.  Spread the vanilla layer down and freeze for ~5 minutes while you are melting your peanut butter mixture.  Then spread peanut butter mixture on top of vanilla mixture.  Use knife to swirl.  Because I had some in the house, I sprinkled the top with chocolate chips, peanut butter chips, and peanuts.  Love the sweet vanilla and peanut butter flavor!





Dark Chocolate Pistachio Cherry Bark

with Sea Salt

Ingredients: dark chocolate, pistachios, dried cherries, and sea salt





So what did I do with all of these delicious tasting treats???  Besides make a huge mess of my kitchen…



They became homemade gifts for my friends at work!  And one extra bag for the mailman!

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What is your favorite homemade holiday gift?

Any suggestions for new bark flavors to try?