Fall Bucket List 2013 Final Wrap-Up

Merry Christmas Eve Eve!

When I looked at my phone this morning and saw “December 23” I couldn’t believe it. Not only is it in the upper 70’s here in Charleston, but I’m working today and tomorrow. So it doesn’t quite feel like Christmas yet. Although, Greg and were super productive and in the holiday spirit this weekend. We finished our Christmas shopping, wrapped all of the presents, and I cleaned almost the entire house in preparation to go out of town for several days.

Side note: When I was younger, I never understood why my mom spent so much time cleaning right before we left for vacation. What was the point?! I get it now!! I absolutely hate coming back home to a messy house when I already have a suitcase full of dirty laundry and am too exhausted from the travel to even think about cleaning. Nowadays I make a point to wash as much laundry, clean as many dishes, and vacum as many floors as possible before leaving town. Like mother like daughter! …almost. I’m not quite as clean as my mom.

Okay so enough with that. Now that it is officially WINTER, I want to do a final wrap-up of my Fall Bucket List. Remember this?:

I already went over #1, #3, and #6 here.  
So how did I do on the rest?
#2. I made pumpkin donuts and double chocolate pumpkin cupcakes. No pumpkin muffins this year, but I can’t complain. 
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#4. Greg and I fulfilled this dream of going to a Panther’s game last weekend when they beat the Jets! It was so much fun spending the day in Charlotte and seeing my our boyfriend Cam in real live action.
#5. We did roast marshmallows and make s’mores, but not over our own fire pit. Our backyard/patio is currently a much delayed work in progress as we wait for our patio stones to be delivered. 
#7. I made it to the Farmer’s Market once or twice this fall. It’s losing my interest though, unless I have a specific gift to buy or have out of town visitor’s. I have found the The Vegetable Bin (which I previously posted about here) has the same produce for much cheaper! 
#8. We took Zoey to the beach on Thanksgiving Day. Oh my goodness, she LOVED it. The beach that is, not the water. So you can imagine her fear when she accidentally chased another dog into some standing water and refused to move for 10 minutes. It was in the low 30’s outside, so the water was freezing as well. What a little baby!! Gotta love her. 
#9. Okay so how terrible is it that the one thing I did NOT do on my list was volunteer? Ugh. #ImNotABadPersonIPromise!
Skipping right ahead…
#10. Although I love dates of all kinds, breakfast dates always feel so special to me. It’s nice to spend a lazy Saturday morning sipping coffee and eating a pastry with Greg by my side. With the hustle and bustle of our lives right now, it doesn’t get to happen often. I am happy to say we got to do this a few times this fall.
And that’s it! Fall 2013 is history. Bring it on, Winter! (just as long as temperatures remain in the 60’s/70’s, even though I know that’s not happening). 
On another note, you may have noticed my serious decline in posting recently. To be honest, I don’t anticipate that changing for a few more weeks. Part of it has been due to the fact our wireless internet modem broke last week, so we’ve been disconnected whether we like it or not. And the other part of it is simply due to the extreme craziness of the holiday season. 
I’ll re-evaluate when we get back from visiting family in North Carolina and Ohio this week and next. Until then, MERRY CHRISTMAS, HAPPY NEW YEAR, AND VERY SAFE TRAVELS!!!!

Holiday Travel Snacks

With the holidays upon us, I know I’m not the only one with travel plans. I’ll be driving everywhere this year, as opposed to flying. The most important part of a road trip, besides gas in the car, is an assortment of SNACKS! I suppose these are all great for airplane travel too (just make sure to buy the liquids after you get through security, but you already know that).

Here are my favorites.

Peanut Butter Puffins
I discovered Puffins a few years ago while babysitting for a family who always kept them stocked in the pantry. I don’t eat cereal often, but when I saw these a couple of months ago on sale at Target, I figured I’d switch up my morning routine with something new. They have original and peanut butter. The PB is divine. Perfectly crunchy and if you ask me, best eaten dry by the handful – no milk required!

I love scooping a cup into a plastic baggy to take on the go.

Clif Bars
Oh look! More peanut butter. I am usually not fond of protein or nutrition bars like this, mostly because I’d rather consume 200-400 calories differently. I just have never found a bar that is really “worth it.” I still have to be in the right mood, but when I am, Clif Bars are my go-to bar. I have only tried a few flavors, but the Crunchy Peanut Butter has been my favorite.

Fresh fruit like apples and bananas
Light, healthy and guilt-free. Need I say more?

Frosted Animal Cookies
Okay, these are going to be the death of me. I have such a love-hate relationship with this giant bear jug. Another Target gem, I could eat these things forever. They are dangerously addicting. There is no such thing as “just one” with these. Portion control is key and road trips allow you to practice that control. By only packing a small handful in a ziplock bag, when they’re gone, they’re gone. No sneaking back to the pantry for more when you are hundreds of miles away speeding down the highway.

Bottled Water
Stay hydrated! Water is my best friend. So are bathroom breaks.

Coffee.
Gas station coffee is nice and cheap (the gas station by my house sells any size cup for just 60 cents!). But it’s also nice to treat yourself to something special on the road with Starbucks.

Why, yes. I found the most tempting picture I could 😉 I never get whipped cream on my lattes, but when the barista accidentally put it on my peppermint mocha this weekend, I was not about to complain. It didn’t quite look like that picture though. Sigh.

Sugar Free Red Bull.
When it’s the middle of the night and coffee doesn’t sound good, I resort to Sugar Free Red Bull. I know it’s not good for me, but desperate times call for desperate measures. It does the trick, no denying that.

There you have it.

What are your road trip or airline must-haves?

Happy Valentine’s Day 2013!

I wish you all a very happy, love-filled Valentine’s Day! Eat some chocolate. Give someone a hug or kiss. Tell someone, “I LOVE YOU.” Eat more chocolate…

Vday1 final

I love each one of you who pays any attention at all to the words I write and the food I bake. I love each one of you who takes the time to comment on a post and tell me your thoughts. THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU! I wouldn’t be here in this blogosphere without you.

So, I have to ask – Will you be my Valentine?

Recipes for the food shown above:

Chewy Ginger Cookies

Cookie time!
Pretty much synonymous with Christmas time, huh? 
Frosted sugar cookie cut-outs and snickerdoodles are always at the top of my Christmas cookie list, but this year I was ready to invite a new guest to the party. With the same flavor of a gingersnap, I was tempted to call these “gingerchews.” The spices warm your soul, especially if you eat one along with a hot cup of chai tea. Or a glass of milk. Either way, you’re living the good life. 
Speaking of the good life…
A puppy sleeping on my lap. The Christmas tree lit up behind me. My fiancé by my side. How the Grinch Stole Christmas on TV. 
Yeah, that’s good. 

Chewy Ginger Cookies
(Adapted from The Baker Chick)

Makes 2 1/2 dozen cookies

Ingredients:
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1 tablespoon water
3 tablespoons honey
Additional 2-3 tablespoons sugar for rolling

Directions:
1. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. Set aside.
2. In the bowl of a stand-alone mixer, beat butter and sugars until smooth. While on low speed, incorporate the egg, water and honey (one item at a time). Beat until well incorporated. Gradually add flour mixture to the butter mixture while beating continuously on medium-low speed. Stop as needed to scrap down the sides of the bowl. Turn up speed and beat about one minute.
3. Place bowl in the fridge to chill for at least 15 minutes.
4. When ready to bake, heat oven to 350 degrees and spray cookie sheets with nonstick spray. Roll dough into balls, about one tablespoon in size, and roll in sugar. Place dough balls 2-3 inches apart on cookie sheet. Gently press down with the bottom of a glass (or any other flat, smooth surface). Bake 10-12 minutes. Remove from heat and let sit on pan for about 5 minutes. Transfer to cooling rack to cool completely.

Chocolate Peppermint Donuts

How festive am I today?

Very. Very festive, would be the answer to my question. 

I may or may not even be wearing a tacky Christmas sweater t-shirt all day. Maybe it’s because I live in the South, but I was very surprised to find Walmart didn’t have any Christmas sweaters. Only t-shirts…in case your were curious.
I have never been to a Tacky Christmas Sweater party and honestly was never one to be too amused by the whole thing anyway. 
But you know what? Things change. People change. And when your office is throwing a potluck holiday breakfast and asks people to show their spirit by wearing a holiday sweater (or t-shirt), you do it for goodness sakes. 

Ha! Now I’m just being weird. I think I might be a little slap-happy right now. Or maybe you call it ate-too-much-peppermint-frosting-happy. 

These are hands down the best baked donuts I have made so far. The cake is moist, but not too moist. The frosting is the star of the show though. The thickness of the frosting helps it not to absorb right into the donut overnight, as I have experienced with other donuts in my day. Then, they are topped with crushed White Chocolate Peppermint M&Ms.

Yup. I need to go for a walk now.
 

Chocolate Peppermint Donuts
(Donut recipe adapted from Sutterbean)

Makes 6 donuts

Ingredients:
For the donuts-
1 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup almond milk
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1 egg, lightly beaten
3 tablespoons butter, melted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the frosting-
2 cups powdered sugar
2 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled
2-3 tablespoons heavy whipping cream
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon peppermint extract

For topping-
1/3 cup Peppermint M&Ms, crushed

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Spray donut pan with nonstick spray and set aside.
2. In a medium bowl, combine flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt. Whisk to combine.
3. In a separate bowl, combine milk and lemon juice. Stir and let sit about 2 minutes. Add brown sugar, egg and butter and vanilla extract. Whisk well to combine. Add wet mixture to dry mixture. Stir until there are no more lumps.
4. Pour into a large ziplock bag. Cut off one corner at the bottom of the bag and squeeze batter into donut pan.
5. Bake 9-11 minutes or until toothpick inserted in the donuts comes out clean. Let cool in pan for 5-10 minutes. Transfer to wire cooling rack to finish cooling completely.

To prepare the frosting and assemble the donuts-
1. Add powdered sugar and butter to the bowl of a stand alone mixer. Beat about 1 minute until combined. Add cream, vanilla and peppermint extracts. Continue to beat until smooth.
2. Use a butter knife to spread frosting onto donuts. Immediately, sprinkle M&M crumbs over the top of the donuts.

Southern Living’s Utterly Deadly Pecan Pie

Hey y’all! 
That’s my Southern speak for ya. I wonder if there will come a day when I don’t think twice about saying “y’all” versus “you guys.” I grew up in Ohio addressing a group of people using, “you guys” but living in the South for more than five years now has changed things. It seems natural to say “y’all” when I’m down here in Charleston (which is obviously the majority of the time). 
Then I go back to my hometown. If “y’all” slips out of my mouth, I suddenly feel self conscious. I will even try to catch myself and say “you guys” instead if I can help it. 

Funny how that happens. My siblings seem to think I’m just trying to be cute or something when I say “y’all.” 
What’s not funny is this pie. I followed a recipe in Southern Living and let me tell you, Southerners sure know how to make a pecan pie. 
As if I didn’t know this already

The name itself made it hard to resist. “Utterly Deadly Pecan Pie.” Um, yes. I think so. It really was almost the death of me on Thanksgiving. I think I ate half of it by myself throughout one single day. 

While I made this pie for Thanksgiving, I think it would be equally enjoyable at Christmas time. So, y’all go make this pie!! Bring it home for Christmas, your family will love you. Or just save it all for yourself. Either way, I won’t judge.

Utterly Deadly Pecan Pie
(Recipe from Southern Living)
Makes about 8 servings
Ingredients:
1/2 package refrigerated piecrusts
1 tablespoon powdered sugar
4 eggs
1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup butter, melted
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup chopped pecans
2 tablespoons all purpose flour
2 tablespoons milk 
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups pecan halves
Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Fit piecrust into a 9-10 inch pie pan (Southern Living calls for a cast-iron skillet, which I don’t have.) Sprinkle piecrust with powdered sugar and set aside.
2. In a large bowl, whisk eggs until foamy. Whisk in brown sugar and the next six ingredients. Pour mixture into piecrust and top with pecan halves. 
3. Bake for 30 minutes, then reduce oven temperature to 300 degrees. Bake 30 more minutes. Turn oven off and let pie sit in oven for up to three hours. 
4. Remove from oven, slice and serve!

Sunday Blessings – Waiting Patiently

Now that Thanksgiving is over, I am completely in the Christmas spirit! I love it. I even told Greg this morning that “I just want it to get cold and stay cold!” That is crazy talk for me. I get cold so easily and stayed here in the south for a reason! But, Christmas isn’t Christmas without chilly, jacket-wearing, boot-stomping, see-your-breath-in-the-air weather. And as much as I normally do not like the cold, I am ready for it to come and stay for a while.

While I was sad to see my family go this weekend, I know Thanksgiving is only the beginning of the holiday season and there is so much more to come!

I only wish I could decorate our tiny condo with a tree like this (This is Greg’s family tree from a few years ago). We are going shopping later today for a small one. It might be reminiscent of Charlie Brown’s tree, but it will be better than nothing!

The sermon at church this morning was all about how today, the start of advent, is our (Christians) period of waiting for Christ to come on Christmas day. We need to be patient during this time, but instead of waiting quietly and idly, we should use this waiting period to serve God by serving others.

While it is easy to get caught up in the shopping, traveling and stressing over the holidays, I need to remember to make this time about the one who gave it all to us in the first place.

This week I am praying for patience through these weeks leading up to Christmas and for God to show me how I can better serve Him during this time.

What are you most looking forward to this holiday season?