Sunday, March 29, 2015

Birthday Oysters: Thoughts on Becoming a Full-Fledged Adult

Another year, another birthday, more celebrating! Growing up we didn't do 'birthday week' celebrations but in college, I had some friends that were all about birthday week so I decided to hop on the bandwagon. That's not to say I want to be the center of attention for an entire week but I like to take some time to enjoy things that I enjoy without over-thinking things.

I should tell you in all honesty that this post does not actually talk about literal oysters. So if you were looking for some oyster recipes (I don't think there are any, you eat them raw), you may have better luck elsewhere.

Graduating from 25 to 26 (we aren't aging here, we're progressing) is strange. 25 is a solid quarter century, it's smack in your  mid-twenties and you're solid in your post-college self. 26, however, is entering the confusing years of pre-30. It's like middle school for adulthood--it's awkward. I'm a planner and when I was in college, I couldn't really plan my life further than 25. That's when you no longer have those prescribed societal milestones like high school graduation, college graduation, first job etc. The future just became a black hole of unknowns. 

Low and behold, said post-25 black hole of unknowns is in fact, an oyster. The post-25 world is my oyster. A friend of a friend has recently started a blog around this topic on turning 27 and how you start to worry about the next round of life events and your expectations for being on the road to marriage by that time, freaking out if you're not at the right level in your career etc. And it occurred to me that the plan I didn't have in this unknown black hole of post-25 is behind schedule.

But I think I'm right on track.

So let's focus on some great things that are part of this awkward phase of life. This includes but is not limited to moving back into a grown up apartment where I can eat a jar of Nutella and no one has to know (quiet, Kitty, no one asked you).


Once upon a time, I found new things intimidating. If I wasn't inherently awesome at it, it wasn't worth my time. I also founded a stereotype of spin class attendees that went something like girls wooing during class in racer back tanks. If you have extra air to 'woo', you're not working hard enough! That was then, this is now:

I've fully converted to the racer back tank woo clan. And also taking sweatie selfies because yeah, I woo'ed but I also worked my butt off.

So let's be open to new things. Because without being a novice at pilates and struggling to look graceful, how will I ever be able to do this:

Side note: It's my new mission to attend more pilates classes because like spin, it seems like a good choice and I tried it at Endurance Pilates and the woman is amazingly cheerful and awesome. Game time!


Like I have any problem diving into peanut butter and Nutella jars (see above) or doing some online shopping. However, if you do something frequently, it's not really a treat. So I dug through a variety of coupons/GroupOns/gift certificates and booked me some treats. Such as getting my hair done for my birthday because I wanna look pretty and I don't want to try or get frustrated in the process. Also, massage and chocolate lunch because it's my birthday and I love chocolate and not hunching at my computer.


I've always loved traveling but have mostly done small trips in the last few years. This year, I realized a very long dream of going to London and it was amaaaaaazing. And so, the maps and lists are coming back out for more journeys that need to be taken. Amsterdam is definitely up there (and not because of The Fault in Our Stars). I know that the time of settling down is sooner rather than later for my age group which means taking the chances and the trips now before it becomes a regret or lost opportunity. Previous regrets definitely involve reading spoilers on Downton Abbey but now, I think the stakes are a little higher.

Where will this impulsive Carpe Diem attitude take me? Who knows! But like I said, the black abyss of unknowns has become my oyster.

And of course, there was cake! So if you've made it this far, your reward is chocolate cream cheese frosting and vegan chocolate cake:

Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting
  • 4 oz. (half stick) of unsalted butter, softened
  • 4 oz. (half a block) of plain cream cheese, softened
  • 1/8 cup of cocoa powder
  • 1 cup of powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Pinch of salt
  1.  In a medium bowl, beat the softened cream cheese until smooth.
  2. Add the softened butter and beat with the cream cheese until combined.
  3. Add the salt and vanilla extract along with the cocoa powder and mix until smooth.
  4. Gradually add the powdered sugar, it creates a bit of a sugar dust storm.
  5. Frost as desired (using piping or just spreading) and add sprinkles for extra flare. 

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Roasted Carrots and Sweet Potatoes

We're continuing our healthy eating theme. Plus, orange is a fantastic color and the combination of carrots and sweet potatoes together in bright goodness makes me want to eat them even more.

I've discussed previously my love of sweet potatoes and how I should just eat them plain at Thanksgiving because they taste delicious on their own. I was considering trying to make home fries with my remaining sweet potato but alas, an experiment for another day.

This ended up being a snack rather than a side but you could do either. I think the veggies would also be great as a salad topper. You chop two carrots and one sweet potato (more if you're more than one person) into bite sized pieces. While the oven is preheating, the vegetables are tossed with a little bit of corn oil, honey, cumin, and pepper. I mixed the marinade in a separate bowl before pouring over the veggies and doing some shake 'n bake action.

You can roast these spread out on a baking sheet or in a Pyrex dish, whichever you prefer. But make sure they aren't in a giant pile. These cook in about 20  minutes but keep an eye on them, they're done when you pierce them easily with a fork. The carrots will take a little longer than the sweet potatoes so try to test on the carrots. Mine came out a little under-cooked but I didn't mind so it's really up to you!

These are best when warm but I also enjoyed them cold. So again, with your preference. So far so good on this whole non-baked goods front but my birthday is coming up so there will, of course, be cupcakes in my future!

  • 2 large carrots
  • 1 medium sweet potato
  • 1 Tablespoon honey
  • 1 Tablespoon vegetable oil (or olive or corn)
  • Sprinkling of pepper
  • Sprinkling of cumin
  1. Preheat the oven to 350. Set aside your baking dish or Pyrex, whichever you are using.
  2. Peel and chop the carrots and sweet potato into bite-sized pieces. Place in a mixing bowl.
  3. In a small bowl, combine the remaining ingredients to make the marinade.
  4. Pour the mixture over the vegetables. Toss to coat. I used a mixing bowl with a lid so I could really shake this up but gentle stirring works too.
  5. Pour the coated vegetables into the baking dish, spreading out so they aren't on top of each other.
  6. Roast the vegetables for about 20 minutes. If the carrots aren't soft yet, continue to bake.
  7. Remove from the oven when the veggies are easily pierced with a fork.
  8. Enjoy warm or serve cold. Great as a snack or as a side! 

Monday, March 23, 2015

Moroccan Chickpeas

It's getting to that point where it's almost spring, it even felt like spring for a little bit there. Enough so to offer hope for warmer weather, sun dresses and melting piles of snow. Some people are worth melting for but Jack Frost ain't one of 'em. And with this promised warmer weather, I'm reminded that it's been a gluttonous winter. I'm perfectly happy to indulge in all the Christmas cookies I want (almost) and Valentine's Day chocolate but then March comes along and reminds me it's time to get my butt in gear.

So we're shifting said gears and looking at some healthy recipes. Yes, there will likely be protein shakes, I can't help myself. I need my chocolate fix and if it comes in a healthy liquid form, I'll take it. But let's start slow, let's start with healthy snacks.

Admittedly and proudly, I ate Star Wars mac and cheese to christen my new apartment. I didn't mention that I ate the whole box. Didn't the boxes last longer before? Were they smaller? No, no my stomach isn't bigger, that's nonsense. Well now I want some salmon, get me some omega 3's to go with this healthy eating thing. Plus salmon is delicious. Chickpeas are also delicious and this recipe caught my eye as being satisfactory in both the healthy and tasty departments.

When I did my first big grocery store run, I stocked up on canned beans. Black beans, kidney beans and garbanzo beans are a must have. You never know when you're going to make some chili or hummus. Or just chickpeas.

We're tossing the chickpeas with a smidgen of Parmesan cheese, some rosemary, garlic, and pepper. That's all! Spread out on a pan and roasted until crispy, these suckers are then good to go. Quick and easy side dish!

If you don't like your chickpeas roasted, or if you're looking for an entree with this side, here are some ideas on how we've used chickpeas in the past:

  1. Butternut Squash Curry
  2. Carrot Soup and Roasted Eggplant with Tahini Sauce (pardon the early blogger photos)
  3. Slow-Cooked Salmon 

adapted from The Skinny Fork

  • 1 can of garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
  • 2 Tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 teaspoon rosemary
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced
  • Salt & pepper to taste
  1. Preheat the oven to 400. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and spray with non-stick spray. Set aside.
  2. Drain and rinse the chickpeas and place in a medium bowl.
  3. Mince the clove of garlic into small pieces. Set aside.
  4. In a small bowl, combine the rosemary, cheese, salt and pepper.
  5. Add the garlic and spice mixture to the bowl with the chickpeas. Carefully toss to caot the chickpeas. 
  6. Roll the chickpeas onto the prepared baking sheet and lightly spray with non-stick spray.
  7. Bake in the oven for 30-40 minutes, rotating the peas half-way through. Cook until crisp.  
  8. Allow to cool slightly before eating. These make a great side or salad topper!

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Irish Potatoes

I have very distinct memories of making Irish Potatoes when I was in elementary school and it being a tradition for St. Patrick's Day celebrations to have Irish Potatoes. But every year when I say "I should make Irish Potatoes", I'm met with confused looks and "what's that?" remarks. I wondered if this was actually something that I made up and didn't actually happen, like the unicorn (or leprechaun?) of St. Patrick's Day treats. After years of doubt, I finally Googled it.

So let's set the record straight: I did not make up the existence of these "Irish Potatoes", they're a real thing! Apparently they hail from my native region of Philadelphia which may explain why no one else has heard of them (get on it, Boston).

Some key facts about these treats:
  1. There are no potatoes involved in Irish Potatoes, it's actually a candy of sorts.
  2. Apparently no one outside of the Philadelphia area has ever had or heard of Irish Potatoes--until now!
  3. Irish Potatoes are basically made of frosting formed to look like potatoes.
So there we have it. I did not make them up out of thin air, they were a staple of my March's. And they're remarkably easy to make. The butter and cream cheese are combined to make a creamy base (sounds like frosting to me). Vanilla extract and powdered sugar are added next, continuing to make the recipe sound like frosting. The consistency of the batter is much thicker than frosting though so it should form a solid ball before you fold in the coconut.

The last part is very hands-on and messy. You form the dough into little bite-sized 'potatoes' and roll them in cinnamon to get the earthy potato color.

It's dawned on my you could roll these in bright sprinkles to be Easter eggs too or (as the linked recipe suggests, you can roll in melted chocolate).

Irish Potatoes
based on's recipe

  • 1/4 cup of softened butter
  • 4 oz. softened cream cheese (half a brick)
  • 16 oz. powdered sugar (1 package) 
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 1/2 cups coconut flakes (if you reeeeally don't like coconut, you can probably skip this)
  • 1 Tablespoon of cinnamon
  1. In a medium bowl, cream together the butter and cream cheese until smooth.
  2. Slowly add the powdered sugar and vanilla to the butter and cream cheese until incorporated. This will form a ball of dough that's thick.
  3. Fold in the coconut to equally distribute throughout the dough. If you're making these for Easter, you can add food coloring at this point (or you can add some green food coloring for St. Patty's Day).
  4. Roll small amounts of dough between your hands to form a bite-sized potato. These are very rich so shouldn't be larger than a chocolate truffle.
  5. Roll the potatoes in cinnamon (or sprinkles for festiveness) to cover.
  6. Makes a lot of potatoes, 5 dozen

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Pear & Chocolate Scones

Moving to a new apartment is a lot of work, at least for a day. There is a lot of organization and careful packing and back-breaking hauling. I always swear off my large couch but then it's so comfortable once it's unburied of boxes that it nestles its way back into my heart. Your days are numbered, my monstrous friend.

I consider my most recent move a great success for a number of reasons.
  1. I didn't crash the moving truck. Granted, it got stuck in some snow and ice and it was looking not so good there for awhile but ultimately, all was well. 
  2. Nothing broke. At least not during the move. One item was dropped during the packing process and one plant was knocked over within a week of the move due to early morning grogginess but technically speaking, nothing broke as a direct result of the move. 
  3. Nothing was lost. I lost my coffee cream pitcher for 36 hours, wracked my brain, dug through two garbage bags of newspaper to make sure I hadn't thrown it away and then found it carefully packed inside a saucepan. So ultimately, nothing was lost (to the best of my knowledge). 
Now, the newly unpacked kitchen must be christened. I did my darndest to use up as much food and supplies as possible before moving so we're starting with a new bag of flour and a new bag of sugar, clean canisters and fresh chocolate chips. So naturally, the first thing I cooked was Star Wars mac and cheese from a box. It was delicious, it was childish, I found it ironic (to be in my  new grown up solo apartment eating kids dinner).

So the second thing I made really solidified my relationship with my oven (okay, it was actually the third thing, there was a batch of chocolate chip cookies in there). We're best of friends now. Scones are rapidly becoming a staple in my diet, for better or worse. Last time, we did some healthy twists of yogurt scones. Now, we're throwing all healthiness to the wind and adding lots of butter and chocolate to the mix.

These are adapted* from Joy the Baker's recent cookbook, Homemade Decadence. I highly recommend checking it out, especially if you love ice cream. And breakfast. And cake. And delicious things in general. If you're not a pear person, you can substitute strawberries, blueberries or nothing, really.

We start with the dry ingredients, mixing them together before doing my least favorite part: cutting the cold butter. I'm always concerned it won't get mixed enough. I should worry less about that and just enjoy the final product. Once the butter is cut in, the milk and egg is added.

This is where things get shaggy. And by that I mean, make it shaggy and mix together to make the dough sticky but if it's too sticky you can add some flour. Carefully fold in the chocolate chips and pear. Once incorporated, dump the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead 10-15 times. My dough was pretty sticky here so definitely added some flour.

You can either use a glass or biscuit cutter to shape the scones or cut into squares. Regardless, you'll want to brush a second egg across the tops of each scone. The scones are baked until golden for 10-15 minutes. They're delicious warm but can also be preserved in a container for 2 days, tops.

*Note: usually when I say "adapted", it means I've forgotten enough ingredients or steps to no longer warrant following the recipe. 

  • 1 cup chopped pear (or other desired fruit)
  • 3/4 cup of chocolate chips (I used semi-sweet but you can also use dark chocolate)
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup of refined sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 1/2 sticks of butter, cut into cubes
  • 1 cup of milk (I used soy milk but you can also use buttermilk or regular milk)
  • 2 eggs (one for mixing, one for brushing)
  1. Preheat the oven to 400 and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
  2. In a medium bowl, mix together the flour, sugar, salt, baking powder and baking soda.
  3. Next, carefully mix in the cold butter cubes. You can use your hands or a pastry cutter or in desperate situations, a butter knife. Combine the butter and flour mixture until it is crumbly.
  4. In a small bowl, beat together the milk and one egg. Add this mixture to the flour-butter combination and carefully stir to combine.
  5. The dough will start to get tough so I recommend using a large spoon or rubber spatula to fold the dough to help incorporate everything. You want it to be damp and shaggy. 
  6. Fold in the chopped pear and chocolate. Once they are incorporated, dump the dough onto a lightly floured surface.
  7. Knead the dough about 10-15 times. This is where you can add flour to your hands and the dough if it's too sticky. Press the dough into a 1 inch thick block. 
  8. Cut the block of dough into scone-sized shapes. Place these individual scones onto the parchment-lined sheets.
  9. Lastly, whisk the second egg and using a pastry brush (or your fingers or by drizzling), lightly coat the scones with the egg wash.
  10. Bake for 10-15 minutes until golden brown and firm.
  11. Enjoy warm or save for up to two days. 

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Cherry Chocolate Almond Bars

I've talked about the cost-efficiency of making things from scratch before. Sometimes, when I make a sandwich wrap (is that an oxymoron?), I think to myself "This is a delicious lunch I just made that would be about $8 at a deli" and yet, it just cost me the cost of all ingredients divided by the 10 lunches I'll get out of it. My math skills are sub-par but I think it works out.

When I was involved in college athletics and discovered Cliff bars, it was magical. Except it was really a magical treat because those things are at like $5 each. I have a theory on what food trends will be popular in 2015 and homemade energy bars are right up there.

I guess I shouldn't call these energy bars since they're more like granola bars, I'm not adding fancy Whole Foods materials to them like flax seeds but making a sticky glue to combine nuts and berries. These are great when you're going to travel and want to bring snacks instead of paying $10 for a bag of trail mix at Hudson News.

Based on the contents of my pantry, I collected a variety of nuts and dried fruit that I thought would taste good together. For the glue to hold it together, I used maple syrup and coconut oil. I still had my hair dryer handy so I thought it would work to just melt the coconut oil. If you try this at home, skip the hair dryer and use the stove. The coconut oil took a little longer to melt with the hair dryer and ultimately, the two glue components separated. I think more heat will help them stay together.

Chopped almonds and cherries are mixed together in a square pan lined with parchment paper. This would be very messy if it weren't lined. I sprinkled in some sunflower seeds for good measure too. Carefully pour the syrup-oil mixture over the nuts and berries until it is completely covered. I also added some melted chocolate on top for added sweetness.

Allow the pan to chill in the fridge until the mixture hardens. Ideally, it just hardens and you cut up the bars and enjoy. But what actually happened was the syrup separated to the bottom and the coconut oil separated to the top. Don't get me wrong, these guys are still delicious but they're messier than I would have liked.

I think this problem can be solved in a number of ways. Personally, I just kept it in the freezer and chopped off pieces when I was hungry. Alternatively, next time, I plan to reduce the amount of syrup and heat the syrup and coconut oil together instead of using a hair dryer. I think this will help (recipe listed below reflects these hypotheses).

In retrospect, the syrup and chocolate probably negate the health value but up the delicious factor. You can't really go wrong with cherry and chocolate so enjoy!

  • 1 cup of nuts (almonds, pecans, peanuts, whatever you prefer)
  • 1 1/2 cups of dried cherries (or other fruit)
  • 1/2 cup of maple syrup
  • 3 Tablespoons coconut oil
  • Melted chocolate for topping
  1. Line a square baking pan with parchment paper, leaving some overhang to assist with removing the final product.
  2. Mix together the nuts and dried cherries and pour into the pan.
  3. In a small saucepan, combine the syrup and coconut oil over medium heat until the mixture is combined and not as sticky.
  4. Carefully pour the syrup mixture over the nuts and berries.
  5. Lastly, melt the chocolate in the microwave or double broiler (or with a hair dryer) and pour over the top of the nut mixture.
  6. Allow the pan to set in the fridge until firm. 
  7. Carefully remove the bars from the pan by pulling out the parchment paper. Hopefully, everything is set but if not, you can put them in the freezer. 
  8. If like the picture above, the ingredients have separated, I assure you they are still delicious. Keep them wrapped in the freezer until you're ready to eat to minimize the mess.