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Valentine’s day shake

Happy Valentine’s Day, my friends! I hope you have all had a special day today. I know some people don’t like this holiday, but I do…any excuse for an entire day to say ‘I love you’ to your loved ones is a great day in my book!  Although I am missing my valentine this year, I’ve been able to ‘celebrate’ V-Day with him two days in a row because of the time difference…can’t beat that!  Plus, I’m spending the weekend with my sister and Mom, so that is helping to fill the void for me. We just popped some bubbly and cooked a dinner of roasted veggies and fresh haddock. Yum. Yum. Yum.
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I always find it fun on holidays to look back at the previous year and reminisce , so today I did just that in my camera.  On Valentine’s Day last year, Brandon made me my very own edible arrangement and cooked a wonderful coconut shrimp dinner. I much prefer eating in and celebrating together just the two of us on this holiday, so it was perfect.  I’ll never forget it! Love you, B.

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And just for fun, this was our first  official Valentine’s Day together:
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You know how college is…eating carbs before you drink your weight in booze….whoops, guilty! ; )

Anyway, since I’ve had a very busy last two weeks between three exams, applying for grad school, and maid of honor duties, I just haven’t had the opportunity to blog. I’m planning on doing  a catch-up post this week for sure, but with a spare few minutes tonight, I wanted to share this delicious Valentine’s Day protein shake I made this morning for my Mom and me as pre-workout fuel. It’s choc-full of strawberry and chocolate, gluten-free deliciousness, and I enjoyed every sip. I hope you do too!

Valentine’s Day Shake
(Serves 2 as a snack)
-2 scoops Arbonne chocolate protein powder (or any chocolate protein powder would do)
-1/4 cup-1/2 cup almond milk (plain or vanilla)-I used Almond Breeze vanilla, and started with 1/4 cup. Then I added a little more at the end of blending.
-1/2 to 2/3 cup ice water
-1 scoop Arbonne fiber boost (optional) 
-8-10 frozen strawberries
-1/2 tsp cinnamon
-handful of spinach
-1 tbsp flax (optional)
Crushed ice (to thicken if needed)

Instructions:
1) Put all ingredients into blender and blend until smooth. Add more almond milk or ice water as needed. (I tend to like my shakes thick, so I always add less liquid. To me, a shake is best eaten with a spoon!) However, if you prefer a more liquefied shake, just add more water or almond milk. If you’d like it thicker, just use less.
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2) Optional: Garnish with a strawberry to make more festive and enjoy!

What are you up to this weekend?
Did you have a fun valentine’s inspired meal today?

We are cheer’sing our girls weekend tonight, and tomorrow we are off to go veil shopping. Yay! Oh, and we are snuggling with the puppies : –) I will also be indulging in some Valentine’s Day caramels tonight…can’t wait!

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two weeks of cleansing: the good, the bad, the hungry

Hello, hello! How is Monday going for you? Today I am semi-celebrating because today I made it to day 14 of my cleansing goal. I am psyched. Plus, I feel great too.

I want to back-up for a minute and briefly explain why I started this clean-eating cleanse.  My Mom recently started a ‘clean-eating 30-day detox’ plan with her clients, and since it’s a part of her business, she practices what she preaches. Personally I think it’s wonderful that she participates in it right along with them, even though she doesn’t necessarily have to.  Anyway, at first, I really was not into the whole “cleanse” or “detox” idea. I never have been simply because I consider myself a pretty healthy eater. I always eat 3-5 fruits a day, I drink a lot of water, I do my best to eat healthy fats at each meal, etc.  You know the drill…however, after hearing multiple testimonials regarding how great people were feeling on the cleanse, I decided it might be a good idea for me to try. Besides, since I live with my parents right now and basically eat the same meals as my Mom anyway, it was a lot easier to do the cleanse than to not do it.
These are some of our cleanse-friendly dinners: (please excuse the Christmas plates!)
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Another reason this was important for me to try out was for health reasons. A couple of years ago I underwent serious testing for celiac disease (all of which came back negative), but some of my issues surrounding it haven’t gone away. I figured two weeks of this cleanse might help me self-diagnose myself. Am I gluten intolerant? Is my dry skin a result from that? Is dairy affecting my skin?
So I began. Two weeks of no gluten, no caffeine, no dairy, no artificial sweetener, no corn.
At first, I was like um…can I eat anything? Little did I know, I could eat a lot of things!
These foods became my staples:
-Almond milk
-protein powder
-gluten free oats
-fruit (blueberries, apples, oranges, pears, strawberries, grapes, clementine’s)
-Vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, parsnips, squash, cucumbers)
-Nuts (almonds and walnuts)
-grains (quinoa, brown rice, lentils)

The good of cleansing
-The cleanse forced me to try new things.
I am pretty much a creature of habit when it comes to food. For instance, I have eaten oatmeal and fruit with yogurt for breakfast about 6 days a week for the last 4 years of my life. I never imagined drinking a protein shake for breakfast would be appealing to me. However, after doing this for 2 weeks straight, I now look forward to making my daily shake. A few of my favorites are blueberry vanilla and pumpkin pie spice, both made with Arbonne vanilla protein powder (recipes coming soon!)
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Plus, I am now a fan of vegan cheese, gluten free pizza crust, rice chips, and more.
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-My skin improved
May I just say that this is the thing I am most happy about? The past few months I’ve had some skin issues, including breakouts, dryness on my face and hands, and unwanted bumps, all of which caused me serious frustration. Why was I have skin issues at 27? My answers: dairy and gluten. I’ve never had clearer skin and my dry hands are 10 times better. I’m certainly not going to cut dairy or gluten out of my diet completely, but I’m going to lower my intake of them, and stick to almond milk!

-I broke some habits
I was well aware I had a caffeine (iced coffee) addiction before this cleanse. It was such a habit for me to make a stop at Dunkins’ on my way to class. Well, not only have I shaken my caffeine headaches, I’ve also saved a lot of money by eliminating my coffee shop trips. Since coffee wasn’t an option for me on the cleanse, I branched out and drank a lot of caffeine free tea. Well, I am happy to say I now have a new favorite. Have you ever made a chai tea latte at home? I hadn’t, but now I am addicted. Here’s how:
Ingredients:
1 cup vanilla almond milk  ( I used almond breeze)
1 decaf spiced chai tea bag
Directions:
1) Warm almond milk until steaming on the stovetop.
2) Place teabag into mug, and then pour the steaming milk into the mug with tea bag. Let sit for 1-2 minutes.

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Voila, you now have an 80 calorie chai tea latte. You can thank me later! Smile

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-You become much more aware of what you’re putting into your body
I love meal-planning and food-planning, so I enjoyed this aspect of it. Plus, I’m now much more conscious of my choices and the nutrients I’m consuming.

The bad of cleansing
-Breaking food habits is HARD. For the first few days, I felt like I couldn’t be in the kitchen. I was having peanut-butter withdrawals, I just wanted a peppermint patty, and I really wanted to snack on my skinny-pop popcorn. Also, the lack of iced coffee in my life was not fun for the first few days. Caffeine headaches are some of the worst headaches in my opinion.

-You have to be prepared
If you’re normally an organized, prepared person, then this isn’t necessarily a bad thing! However, if you’re not, you have to be aware that preparation is a key to a successful cleanse. I packed my food bag for classes every night before bed.
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If I hadn’t prepared, I would have been hungry, and most likely would have deterred from the cleanse. Packing ample amounts of fruit, almonds, almond butter brown rice tortillas, overnight oats, gluten free crackers, and protein bites for my long days helped me to stay on track, even when I wasn’t home.
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-Socializing can be challenging
How hard is it to go out to dinner and drinks and not have your favorite cocktail or glass of wine? It’s pretty hard for me. Luckily, I’ve laid pretty-low socially for the last couple of weeks due to my exam schedule and family commitments, but there were a few nights in particular (ESPECIALLY on the Super Bowl, when I REALLY wanted a glass of white wine).

-It’s really  important to pay attention to food labels
I love reading food labels (guess I’m going into the right career!) but if you don’t, this might take some practice. Reading is key to see if a particular food or product contains dairy, gluten, artificial sweeteners, corn, etc. You will be very surprised at what certain things include…quite frankly it’s frightening!

The hungry (like my spin on the good, the bad, the ugly ? hehehe!)
-For the first few days, you might feel constantly hungry.
I certainly felt like I did, but looking back I think this was my mind craving the things I wasn’t eating (peanut butter, popcorn, chocolate,  yogurt, etc.).

-It may be a bit expensive at first
Buying gluten-free, dairy-free items can tend to be pricey, at least when stocking your cupboard and fridge. However, you won’t have to buy oatmeal, crackers and bread each week either, those things will last. The things you’ll buy weekly, things such as fresh fruits and vegetables ,cost A LOT less than boxed, processed foods, and since you’ll be eating in quite a bit, you’re saving yourself money there, too!
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Our gluten-free, vegan,  homemade pizza

-If/when you tell people you’re cleansing, be wary of the reaction.
People may be excited for you, or wonder what it is about, or may think you must be starving yourself or simply have no interest what-so-ever. That’s okay, everyone is entitled to their own opinion. Just stick to your goal.

Overall,  I truly never felt like I was food deprived or starving. I’m so happy I followed through with the cleanse, and I’m looking forward to continuing to implement the things that I learned, in addition to trying new cleanse-friendly recipes. Although I will slowly introduce dairy and gluten back into my diet, I’ll eat them in lesser amounts, and choose gluten-free when I can. Oh, and I am most definitely enjoying a margarita tonight with my Mom!

Have a great Monday, friends!

Have you ever tried a cleanse? If so, how did you like it? If not, would you do one?
Are you gluten or dairy intolerant? If so, have any fun recipes to share?

All smiles…and Cake Pops

Today I am all smiles because today’s the day Brandon arrives home from Australia. Hip hip hooray!!!  Can.not.wait. to hug him : )
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Confession: Ever since Brandon moved to Australia, I have a tradition of reading all the cards and notes he’s ever given to me each time we are about to be reunited. I’ve done this every time we’ve been apart and I even brought them all with me to Australia and did this when he went away on business trips. I like having them close to me because it just makes me feel like he’s with me.  Handwritten cards and notes=happiness in a box. They are the best gifts of all.

Truthfully though, I have a hard time stopping smiling around Christmas. Anyone else like this around this time of year? The joy in the air is absolutely contagious in my opinion! Last week I was all smiles in Connecticut with my sister and her puppies in Connecticut. Mostly we just shopped, did wedding-related, crafts, and baked, but I am pretty sure it was my favorite week of the year!
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I do believe that baked goods play a huge part in the joy of any time of year, but it’s especially apparent at Christmas. Baking and enjoying holiday goodies with my family is one of my favorite things about Christmas, so yesterday I decided I would devote a few hours to baking. Cleaning-up aside, baking is truly my favorite hobby. Cake pops were first up on my baking agenda since I’ve been excited to make them ever since I found a cake pop pan at T.J. Maxx. I’m pretty sure this pan is available at major stores, too, since cake pops are all-the-rage right now, but this was my first attempt using it and I absolutely loved it. Perfectly round cake pops, yes please!
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I am all about making desserts healthier, but for Christmas, I think the old-fashioned way is the best way, so real butter and real sugar make these cake pops a real winner! I opted to make chocolate cake with white chocolate and milk chocolate glazes, and lots of sprinkles of course. This homemade chocolate cake is super simple to make, too. Plus, with the help of the pan, it’s a fool-proof way to nearly perfect cake pops. I adapted this recipe directly from the pan wrapper itself, and it’s a definite winner. My Dad and I went crazy over the dough and the finished product.  If you make these, I think you will too!
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Christmas Cake Pops
Ingredients
3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup butter (1 stick)
3/4 cup sugar
3 TBSP unsweetened cocoa (I used Godiva brand)
2 eggs
3/4 cup flour
1/4 tsp. salt
24 holiday lollipop sticks ( or regular, but I couldn’t resist the holiday sticks I found at Michaels!)
white chocolate, milk chocolate, or any type of chocolate for melting
Assorted sprinkles for decorating (optional)

Directions
1) Heat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit, grease cake pop pan and set aside.
2) Combine semi-sweet chocolate chips and butter in a medium pan on the stovetop and melt over low-heat, stirring until smooth. Then remove from the heat and transfer to a medium mixing bowl.
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3) Add the sugar and cocoa  to the bowl and mix until well blended, then add the eggs in one at a time and mix until blended.
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4) Lastly, add the flour and salt to this and stir until well blended.
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5) Now add spoonful’s of the batter to the bottom of the cake pop tin (the side without the holes). Make sure you mound the dough over each hole, this way it forms a perfect circle!
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6) Place the top of the pan over the bottom half and secure the clips. Bake for 15-18 minutes. (Mine took about 17 minutes). Check them with a toothpick at 15 minutes to be safe! Once your toothpick is nearly clean, remove them from the oven.
7) Let them cool in the pan for 5-8 minutes, then remove from the pan and place them on a cooling rack.
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8) Now re-grease the cake pop pan and repeat steps 5-7 to use up the remaining dough.
9) While the cake pops are cooling, set out your bowls of decorative sprinkles. I used 4 different kinds because I have a sprinkles problem : –) Then use a double boiler to melt your chocolate (I melt about 1 cup of chips at a time). I started out with white chocolate first.
Side note: This is the biggest bag of chocolate chips I’ve ever used!
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10) Once melted, dip an end of your lollipop stick in the chocolate first, then stick it into the cake pop and roll in chocolate, shaking off any excess chocolate. Then decorate with sprinkles and place on parchment paper. Repeat this process until the cake pops are covered!
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These are perfect for any holiday party! I love them because they’re perfect if you’re looking for a  portion-controlled dessert and they are just so darn cute.
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Merry Christmas!

What’s making you smile today?

Do you have any traditions with your boyfriend/husband/significant other?

What’s your favorite type of cake pop?
Mine is vanilla with pink frosting (you know, the one at Starbucks!) but chocolate is a close second!

Simple Pumpkin-Spice Date cake

Hello and happy Veteran’s Day, friends!
Thank you to all who protect our country. We are truly blessed.

How was your weekend? I knew my weekend would be great when a lunch  with my boss on Friday concluded with homemade apple pie and chocolate-decadence cake. How could it not be a great weekend when you start it off with those two things??!
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After that epic lunch on Friday, the wonderful weekend continued thanks to family-time and birthday celebrating. My twin sister, her fiancé, and the puppies were home for the weekend to celebrate my Mom’s birthday a few days early, and we had a blast.  Plus, having today off from class is pretty great, too.
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These puppies melt my heart.
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Anyway, I’ve been doing a bit more baking lately, and whether it’s because I’m using the oven to get warmer or it’s just the cold weather inspiring me to bake, any excuse works for me!  I’ve  meaning to share this  recipe for months, and since I baked it just last week for my little Mem’s birthday, I had the perfect opportunity to take some photos in order to do just that!  This recipe is an oldie, but seriously a goodie. It originates from my Grammie’s recipe box and it’s from many years ago (just check out how old this recipe card looks!), but since the first time I tasted it, I loved it.  My Grammie was the sweetest little thing, but she sure knew how to make a mean dessert. This Pumpkin Spice Date Cake is definitely one of her best.
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I don’t know about you, but one of my most favorite things about fall is the abundance of pumpkin-foods sold everywhere. Candies, coffees, baked goods; you name it, I love it. However, buying these pumpkin treats in stores and coffee shops isn’t always the most waist-line friendly option, which is why I love this recipe.  I get my pumpkin-dessert fix, but as a healthier option. This cake has zero oil, zero eggs, and zero butter, and a cool-whip-inspired frosting makes it an even smarter choice.  Plus, it’s super simple to make and bake in no time.  You’ll use a boxed spice cake mix as your base, to which you’ll add pumpkin, skim milk, baking soda, walnuts, and dates. Then voila, make your cool-whip frosting and you’re done.  My Mem has always declared this as her favorite cake and for a non-dessert person like her, that says a lot!

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Two Layer Pumpkin-Spice Date Cake
Recipe from my Grammie Rowden

Ingredients for cake:
1 box 2-layer size spice cake mix
1 cup milk (I used skim)
1 cup canned pumpkin (Not pumpkin pie filling)
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 cup chopped dates

For frosting:
2 cups cool whip ( I used Lite, but regular or fat-free would be fine too!)
1 TBSP. molasses
1/4 tsp. nutmeg

Directions:
1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (176 Celsius). Spray two round cake pans or one 13x9x2 cake pan with cooking spray and set aside.
2) Combine cake mix and baking soda, then add milk and pumpkin.
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3) Blend at low-speed with electric mixer until moistened. Then beat at medium speed for two minutes.
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4) Fold in nuts and dates. (BEWARE, the dough is extremely delicious!)
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5) Pour mixture into greased pans and bake at 350 degrees F for 25- 30 minutes. Once baked, set layers  aside to cool.
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6) Once cooled, remove the cake from the pans, and set the first layer in the container that you plan on storing the cake. Now you are ready to frost!
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7) In a medium-sized mixing bowl, gently stir molasses and nutmeg into cool-whip topping. IMG_5094IMG_5096
8) Spread cool whip mixture onto first cake layer, covering it completely. Then place the second cake layer on top of the first, covering this layer completely as well. (Now you have frosting sandwiched in-between the layers, even better!)

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9) Refrigerate immediately and enjoy asap! (Don’t forget to add candles for a birthday cake!)
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If you’re looking for a healthier pumpkin treat, I think this will fit the bill! Mem’s face lit up when she saw the cake and as she ate it, too. Cake at 10 a.m.? Hey, you are only 87 once. I would do this all day everyday for her <3
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Cake + hugs + laughs + love…highlight of my month right there.

What’s your favorite pumpkin dessert?
Mine has to be this spice cake, or pumpkin chocolate-chip bread…it’s a close call!
I’m also obsessed with candy-corn pumpkins, but technically I’m not sure if that counts.

What did you eat this weekend? Any good desserts? Please share!

P.S. Happiest birthday today to my second-Dad, Brad! xoxo
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study bits and bites

Hey there!  I know I’m a few days late on this, but I can’t believe it’s October already! Sometimes I wish life would just.slow.down. A sure sign that time is flying for me is that my exams have begun. I feel like I just started fall classes here, yet somehow I had two exams last week, and I have two more this week.  Thankfully I did well on both of last week’s, and I’m attributing this mostly to the fact I had some trusty ‘study bites’ to get me through my long, late- night study sessions. Cookie Butter Oatmeal Energy Bites=greatest snack ever.

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Besides these energy bites, there’s a  few other things that consistently  help power me through study sessions, too. I thought it might be useful to share a couple of study habits I live by, in case anyone else out there is looking for a tip or two.  I have to admit, even though this will be my second degree, studying has not gotten any easier. Truthfully, I think in many ways it’s a lot harder the second time around because of additional responsibilities and time-management quandaries  that naturally occur as we get older. However, I also feel a major benefit of going back to school school when you’re older is that it’s likely you already know how to study. Knowing how to study is quite a talent if you ask me! To power me through daily study sessions, these are the top things that keep me in line and stop me from procrastinating: 

-Starting early
My mind is most responsive and most willing to learn in the early morning hours. By early, I’m talking 6a.m. to 3p.m. After that, my brain is toast. Since I know this, I don’t try to fight it. Instead, I just plan my study-times within those hours.

-White noise
I am so NOT a music-studier. For the life of me, I really wish I could learn while listening to my favorite tunes because I would be smiling the entire time if that was the case! However, its just never been that way for me. Instead, I turn my bedside fan on high and go from there.
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Sidenote: I have a basic, boring black fan. HOW CUTE is this pink one?! Must find a.s.a.p!

-Keeping Hydrated
Staying hydrated keeps my headaches away, my hunger at bay, and  helps me focus. My line-up of beverages includes iced-coffee/water in the morning, hot chocolate and flavored water in the afternoon, and water/tea at night.
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-Having an organized ‘study-zone’
Since I haven’t studied at home (where I grew up) since I lived here in high-school, I knew my desk area in my old bedroom would need some revamping. I hit up Target for some inexpensive cork-boards, thumb-tacks, mail organizers, and other cute trinkets to spruce up my desk area a bit, and it did the trick! I don’t know about you, but when things look organized, I simply feel more organized too.
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-Satisfying snacks:
This is where the  ‘study bites’ come into play.  I love these bites because they’re simple to make, satisfying, no-bake, require one mixing bowl, and are perfect for snacking on-the-go which is what I (unfortunately) have to do most days of the week due to my class schedule.  These are full of protein (in the form of oatmeal, nut-butter, & protein powder)  but they are sweet too, and I always appreciate a small sugar-kick while studying. It helps my brain!

If you haven’t tried cookie butter, I promise you, you’re missing out. When I was in Australia, I had my Mom ship me a jar each month because I simply can’t live without it. I hope I never develop an aversion to it because I will be devastated! Lately I’ve been buying the ‘Biscoff’ brand, but whenever I get to pop into a Trader Joes, I buy their version, too.  If you don’t have cookie butter or would rather use something else, any type of nut butter will work in these bites. The best part of making these is that you can use the ingredients you have on hand. Here’s what I used in mine:

Cookie Butter Oatmeal Bites
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Ingredients:
1 1/3 cup old-fashioned oats
1 scoop chocolate protein powder ( I used Arbonne)
1/2 cup cookie butter
1/3 cup light maple syrup
1 tsp.vanilla
2 tbsp. sunflower seeds
2 tbsp. chopped pecans
1/4 cup white chocolate chips
1/4 cup milk chocolate chips
1/3 cup raisins or craisins

Directions:
Combine all ingredients in one large mixing bowl, mix and combine until you form a large ball of ‘dough’.  
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Then cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30-45 minutes. Once chilled, roll into ball-formation and place in an air-tight container.
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Voila, study bites are ready when you need them!
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I’d like to say these lasted me all week but truthfully they only lasted about 3 days. Once my parents tasted them, that was the end of them!
Have a happy weekend : –)

Are you obsessed with cookie butter like me?

Do you have a favorite studying snack ?
Any fun plans this weekend?

Easy Low-Sugar Oatmeal Raisin Cookie Bites

The baking bug officially hit me this week and I  honestly couldn’t be happier about it.  It’s been so fun to find new recipes and experiment/adapt them to sugar-free and lower-sugar treats;  it’s becoming a new hobby of mine! So far, I’d say they’ve all been pretty successful, and these oatmeal raisin cookie bites were no exception. I stumbled upon these Cinnamon and Raisin Granola Cookies via Pinterest and was immediately intrigued.  Jennifer makes some great looking healthy recipes!

Anyway, since I’m a big oatmeal lover and an even bigger oatmeal-cookie lover, I  was excited to experiment with these, yet somewhat skeptical of how they would turn out due to the lack of butter and brown sugar in the recipe. An oatmeal cookie without brown sugar? Neverrr …or so I thought. I was proven wrong once I tasted the dough. These are chewy, full of raisins, and have just the right amount of natural sweetness. The only change I made was adding a half-tablespoon of protein powder in place of a tablespoon of maple syrup, since I thought this would bind the dough together a bit more. It worked! I’m calling these ‘bites’ because they’re a bit smaller than a traditional cookie, at least for my standards.
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The portion-size of the cookies can be whatever you want—I used an ice-cream scoop to spoon-out the dough for mine and simply flattened each slightly with a spoon before popping them in the oven. Remember, whatever portion you spoon-out for the dough will be the size of  each cookie, since they don’t spread.  I loved that these were easy to make and portable enough to eat pretty much anywhere, and you can enjoy a few without any guilt at all! I enjoyed mine with a side of vanilla ice-cream, but that’s an optional (excellent) addition.
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Low-Sugar Oatmeal Raisin Cookie Bites
Adapted from this Peanut Butter and Peppers Recipe
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Ingredients

  1. 1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce (I used store brand)
  2. 1 tbsp. maple syrup (sugar free)
  3. 1/2 tbsp. protein powder (I used chocolate by Arbonne)
  4. 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  5. 1 cup oats, ground (I used whole oats)
  6. 1/2 cup oats
  7. 1/2 tsp. cinnamon, ground
  8. 1/4 tsp. baking soda
  9. 1/4 tsp. baking powder
  10. pinch of salt
  11. 1/3 cup raisins

Instructions

  1. Preheat  the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit  (176 degrees Celsius). Then line your baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.
  2. In a large mixing bowl combine the applesauce, maple syrup, and vanilla extract. Mix well until combined.
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  3. In a blender or food processor (I used a blender), grind one cup of oats  until it is a flour-like consistency (this should take about 30-45 seconds max.)
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  4. Then add the oat-flour, oats, cinnamon, protein powder, baking soda, baking powder and pinch of salt to the bowl; mix until combined.
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  5. Fold in the raisins.
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  6. Scoop the amount of batter you’d like for each cookie bite into cookie-form and place on the cookie sheet, about an inch or two apart from one another. (I flattened each with the back of a spoon, so they weren’t so round). Then bake them for about 8-10 minutes or until bottom is lightly golden.
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We all loved these. Next time, I’m doubling the batch!
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Thanks again Jennifer for the recipe idea!

I’m off to enjoy the sunshine today, with the help of my new floppy hat.
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Another first for me, thanks to Sue! She insisted on getting it for me yesterday, and I’m already  obsessed with it! I just love the hat trend in Australia. Is it just me, or do big hats scream “royal”?! 
It might just be me…oh well, I love it!

Happy almost-weekend!

No-Bake Pretzel & Peanut butter fudge bars…OMG

I have to admit, I haven’t baked much since moving to Australia. I didn’t plan on this at all, especially since it is one of my favorite hobbies (second to shopping, of course). However, I attribute my lack of baking mostly to the fact that it is just so darn expensive to buy ingredients here. I’d also be lying if I didn’t admit that having a tray of desserts readily available for a household of two people is VERY dangerous. The mortifying realization of ‘where did all the cookie bars go? Oh wait…we live alone, I ate them’ has happened to me too many times to count. So when we have guests, I find it to be the perfect time to bake.
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Brandon’s Dad is a diabetic, so I was on the search of a low-sugar dessert that we could all enjoy. Did you think this was going to be a low-sugar recipe based on the title of this post? Probably not, but it really is! I found this recipe on Pinterest, and after I read the words ‘Peanut Butter Fudge Caramel Pretzel Candy Bars’ and saw the pictures, I figured it would likely be a winner. Pretzels, peanut butter, and fudge in one low-sugar recipe? SOLD. This recipe looks and sounds fantastic as-is, but I can say that adapting it to fit the ingredients I had on-hand proved to be pretty successful, too! I substituted chocolate protein powder for the vanilla, left out the butter extract, and opted to leave out the caramel swirl in favor of a sprinkle of sea salt on the top instead. Other than that, I followed the original closely.

I found these to be the perfect combination of salty and sweet. Oats & Pretzels on the bottom with peanut butter and chocolate on the top made each bite extra-special. Plus, these fulfilled my constant sweet and salty craving too, which seems to be a constant of mine this year. Seriously, a bag of pretzel m&m’s stand no chance around me. But these are WAY more fun to eat than pretzel m&m’s.
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  Obsessed, obsessed, obsessed. Make these as soon as possible!

No-Bake Low-Sugar Pretzel & Peanut Butter Fudge Bars
Adapted from Natural Sweet Recipes

Ingredients:

For the Pretzel Crust Base:
1 Cup Pretzels
1/2 Cup Oats (I used whole oats)
1/4 Cup Coconut Sugar
2 Tablespoons Chocolate Protein Powder (Or vanilla)
1/2 Cup Butter (very softened)

For the Peanut Butter Fudge Layer:
1 Cup Natural Creamy Peanut Butter
1 cup Sugar Free Chocolate (or any chocolate)
1/3 Cup Coconut Sugar
1 teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1 Tablespoon Cocoa Powder

For the Topping:
3-6 Tablespoons Crushed Pretzels (depending on how much pretzel topping you want)
Sea Salt

Directions:
1) Line a 8 by 8 baking dish with parchment paper or spray it well with canola oil cooking spray.
2) In a food processor or blender, blend the oats until they become a flour-like consistency. Add in the pretzels and pulse them together until fine. (I used a blender and it worked great!)
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3) In a mixing bowl, combine the oat flour, pretzels, coconut sugar and protein powder. Add the soft butter and mix to combine well. The dough should be moist, but not too sticky. (If it seems too sticky, add a little more protein powder and mix well.) Transfer the dough to your prepared pan and press firmly and evenly into the bottom of the pan. Place this in the freezer while you make the fudge, for about 10 minutes.
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4) In a microwave safe bowl, add the chocolate and coconut sugar. Microwave for 1 to 2 minutes, stirring every 30 seconds or until all the chocolate and coconut is melted and combined. (Keep an eye on it to make sure it doesn’t burn!)
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5) While the chocolate is warm combine I with the peanut butter. Allow the mixture to cool slightly for a minute or two and then add the vanilla and cocoa. Mix well. (Warning: this smell is intoxicatingly-good!)
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6) Pour the warm fudge mixture over the chilled base and return it to the freezer to chill for about 2 minutes. Meanwhile, crush up the pretzels. (I crushed mine up in a zip-loc bag!)  Sprinkle the pretzel mixture over the fudge layer, then add sea salt if desired. Return it to the freezer for about one hour. Then transfer them to the fridge, cut, and serve.
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The natural sweetness of these bars is shockingly delicious. Although this was my first baking experience with coconut sugar,  I’ll be using it again and again. I made these yesterday, and they are nearly gone today. A good sign? I think so!