Random Friday Loves

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You should know that the title of this post is meant to be taken quite literally…

It’s Friday and I’m sitting at one of my favorite coffee shops downtown. It’s drizzly and gloomy outside but cozy and relaxing in here. Pretty much perfect for the way I’m feeling this afternoon, which is a little worse for wear after this week. So I’m soaking it up. I usually stay at school on Fridays so I can get a head start on whatever mountain of work I’m attempting to tackle over the weekend. Not today. Hours 1, 2, and 3 of Civil Procedure left me drained. It was a full and productive week, the best kind in my book, but today couldn’t have come soon enough.

So I decided to cut myself loose and slip downtown to recharge a little and get my head together. Some people don’t love working at coffee shops but for me it’s perfection. I love the vibe. I’m energized by the hum and buzz of the espresso machine and milk frother, the clicks of the keyboards, the quiet but friendly chatter. The people staring out the window, following a thought as it bobs and weaves through the crowd. And I find it so comforting to be alone–able to reflect and chase my own thoughts around a bit–surrounded by a bunch of people doing the same thing. Plus, people in coffee shops always seem to be in such great moods… which may or may not have something to do with the easy access to caffeine.

They’re a good fit for my personality–happiest alone in a crowded room. There must be a name for us, the people stuck in the grey matter between introvert and extrovert. You’re energized by people? You’re an extrovert! You’d rather be alone? You’re an introvert! I love people–I’m totally intrigued by them, but also totally overwhelmed by them at the same time. Know what I mean? So as I said, I’d rather be doing my own thing in a room full of people doing their own thing, than say, doing a group activity with a bunch of people. That kind of gives me hives.

So here I am, sitting alone enjoying a gloomy Friday afternoon with my stranger/best friends and sipping my favorite tea. I thought I’d share what’s new and exciting my life lately and some random thoughts, to keep in line with what seems to be the theme of this post thus far. Ready?

Random Thought No. 1: Harney & Sons Hot Cinnamon Spice. This tea is crack.

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I guess that’s not very random because I’m drinking it as we speak, as I do everyday, because I have a full-blown crack tea addition. What do they put in this stuff? If it’s wrong I don’t want to be right. It started when I was studying for my first round of law school finals last fall and now I’m hooked. I’m buying it in bulk on the regular from local coffee shops and I beg you to heed my warning if you don’t want to find yourself doing the same: this tea is addictive. It’s black tea with three types of cinnamon, orange peel, and sweet cloves, with no sugar added. Divine. Sometimes I think I should be a more sophisticated tea-drinker and dabble in the loose-leaf teas and the artisanals and the herbals and Rooibos but I’m just too hooked on this stuff. It gets me out of bed in the morning. Bottom line: you’ve been warned.

Side bar: Caribou Coffee (a chain we have in Michigan, or had, many of them are closing because I think they sold out to some west coast franchise) also has a remarkably similar-tasting (read: tastes the exact same) “Hot Cinnamon Spice” tea. I’ve asked multiple Caribou barristas whether it’s the Harney & Sons tea under the Caribou label and I’ve never gotten a straight answer. They claim it’s a special Caribou blend but I have my doubts. Anyway, it tastes just like the real stuff so I don’t discriminate.

Moving along…

Random Thought #2: I mentioned in my last post that B and I are enjoying the seasonal summer fruits lately. I should have clarified. It’s full-blown-berry-mania over here.

IMG_1124B and I made our way through 4 large containers of organic strawberries and 1 large container of organic raspberries within the last week. Yesterday, we restocked at Trader Joe’s. I’m curious to see how long it will take us to make it through another 2 containers of strawberries and 2 containers of raspberries. B is away this weekend visiting a friend, so I have my work cut out for me. Don’t be surprised if you see a berry recipe in the near future! We need to eat them by next Wednesday because we’re going out-of-town for the 4th of July! (More on that later, it’s an impromptu trip, but I’m SO pumped.)

Random LOVE #3: This happy little puppy dog.

IMG_3302I took this picture on our way home from the vet the other day. Stella had to get the bordetella vaccine because we joined a local dog park! The vaccine is required for many dog parks and doggie day cares as it protects pups from kennel cough. We took her to the park for the first time Wednesday night and she absolutely LOVED it! She had a great time chasing the other dogs around and she was acting like a baby puppy again. She’s only 4 years old, but on Wednesday she had the same “dog park spunk” she always had at her old dog park. Near our old house in Lansing, there was an unofficial dog park a few blocks away that I took Stella to when she was really little. Every night a bunch of us would show up with our dogs after work.

I wanted her to learn to socialize with other dogs and did she ever. If I’m a confused extro-introvert, Stella is a bona fide extrovert. She loves anything with a pulse: people, kids, other dogs, bunnies, cats… You name it. We would go to the dog park almost every night and she would chase the big dogs when they chased after tennis balls, and wrestle with the little ones. Pugs are a really social breed and Stella is definitely no exception. B and I really want another pug/sister/companion for Stella, as she’s SO happy when other dogs are around, but until we move this is the next best thing for her. I’m hoping this dreary weather clears up so I can take her again tonight!

IMG_0207Here’s a picture of a few of the dogs at the old dog park. Stella is the blur in front with the pink harness :)

And here she is with her buddy Mr. Biggles. We puppy-sat for him last weekend so these two friends got to catch up!

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Random Love #4: The “Frozen Yogurt Loop”

B and I have upped our fitness game a bit lately. It all started with a pedometer and a $25 prize but more on that later. Suffice to say we’ve taken some long walks and runs lately. Not only is it good exercise, it’s also a great way for us to spend some time together “unplugged” and to catch up on our days; our plans for the next week, month, year; wedding planning! and whatever else we’ve got going on.

IMG_1127On a recent walk downtown–we were retrieving an umbrella we left at a restaurant we had walked for dinner to the night before, like I said, lots of walking lately–we discovered Sweet Earth. Ooooh my…

IMG_1129The good news is, we’re using it as a good incentive to walk the ~4.6 mile round-trip downtown and back. The bad news is I’m a recovering frozen yogurt addict and am highly susceptible to relapse. We’ve been twice this week already.

Random Love #5 and I’ll call it a day: This TED talk. By Glennon Doyle Melton.

Having faced some of the same issues Glennon addresses, it’s nice to hear someone make such beautiful (or “brutiful” in her words) sense of it all. I think we’re all a little more alike than we give ourselves credit for sometimes. I also adore this piece by her: “A Mountain I’m Willing to Die On.” Different topic entirely, but written from a place of such thoughtful consideration, faith, and love, and timely in light of the SCOTUS opinions handed down this week.

Whew! I don’t know about you but I’m feeling relaxed and ready to head into the weekend–a few hours at a coffee shop will do that for you. Hopefully this rain gives us a break for a few hours. I’ve got a puppy to play with!

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Have an amazing and adventurous weekend friends!

-S

Quinoa for Breakfast

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New breakfast love… Are you ready for this? Quinoa.

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I know what you’re thinking, but hear me out. When I was little, anytime we had Chinese food for dinner, there was always leftover white rice. My sisters and I would heat the leftover rice and mix it with milk and sugar, either as dessert that night, or for breakfast the next day. So good.

Anyway, a few weeks ago I had a craving for rice and milk–but I didn’t have any rice, or milk. But I did have quinoa and almond milk! I warmed up some quinoa that was leftover from our Mexican feast the night before (again, no rice) and added an equal amount of almond milk and a little bit of sugar. It was amazing. I am obsessed. It tastes like my childhood, but it’s actually pretty good for you! Although that wasn’t my intention.

I’ve been eating this every morning for breakfast. I can’t get enough of it. It’s so quick and easy, I just make a big batch of quinoa a few times a week and then heat up a little in the morning and add almond milk. I don’t like it hot (especially with the 90 degree days we’ve been having lately), but with the addition of the cold milk, it ends up being about room temperature. It’s healthy–quinoa is a great pseudo grain–high in fiber and protein, and a pretty inexpensive breakfast option!

Want to know what the best part is?

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Toppings!

Bananas are an all-time favorite cereal topping–I take after my Grandpa– but the possibilities are endless.

B and I have been going nuts on the cheap organic berries at Trader Joe’s lately, so I’ve been enjoying the strawberry/banana combo and raspberries.

Here are some other combos I’m looking forward to trying:

- Peaches & cream
- Papaya (I have one ripening on my window sill right now) and banana or pineapple
- Apple with cinnamon and raisin. I’ll probably warm the apple to soften it first though
- Blueberries… pomegranate… peanut butter… coconut flakes… pureed pumpkin and cinnamon in the fall…

You get the idea.

Hope you give this a try! And please let me know how you like it.

P.S. Did anyone else do the rice and milk thing as a kid? I have no idea where it came from…

Happy Wednesday All :)

-S

Back.

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Friends,

I know it has been a while since we last met. Like whole year, almost. Wow–a year. It is amazing to me both that such a huge amount of time can pass so quickly, and that so many significant life events can be crammed into that same amount of time.

So much has happened I don’t know where to begin, so I’ll save that for my next post. But for now, I’ll say that you were always on my mind. I never forgot you. Not for a minute.

There were countless times over this last (almost) year that I though to myself… I should write about this / This would be a great recipe to share / I want to remember this moment… But I didn’t because I wasn’t quite sure how to segue from not blogging about anything to sharing my life again. That, and being a first-year-law-student happened.

I originally stopped blogging because some major life sh–stuff happened. It took me a LONG time to accept/digest/handle/come to terms with/recover from it all. It felt weird to not write about it but I wasn’t to the point where I could and honestly I had nothing else to say. That’s what was happening in my life. Posting another muffin recipe when so much else was going on wasn’t going to happen. I couldn’t force it. And there wasn’t a whole lot of muffin-making going on anyway.

But the whole time I missed coming here and doing this. Documenting my life. Finding the funny in it. Committing my memories to words. For myself, and anyone else out there who wants to come along for the trip.

So here we are. A year older, and hopefully wiser. I realized a lot in our time apart. Mostly, that I like doing this and I want to get better at it. And I don’t want to put any limitations or expectations on this. I’ll post when I feel like it and not feel bad if life sh–stuff comes up and I can’t write about it yet. I can always come back when I’m ready to share.

And I am.

Thank you for having me back :D

-S

Mac vs PC, Mackinac and a Cure for Homesickness

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Can I be honest about something?

After about 4 years with my trusty MacBook I am really starting to wonder if I’m more of a PC person at heart. At least for work and school related things. I’m not a computer expert by any stretch of the imagination but I do, many times, find myself fumbling around my Mac trying to figure out processes that are second nature to me on a PC like I have at work. After owning a Mac for this long you’d thing I would have a better grasp of its capabilities.

But then again my Mac is pretty and cool and stylish and I never really have to worry about viruses, or at least I haven’t had to yet.

I feel like my Mac nurtures my creative side. I can get around easily when I’m working on something like image editing or document design, but on the flip side, when I have serious work to do it can sometimes feel cumbersome…

Anyone else have this problem?

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately because I’m starting law school in the fall and have been considering turning in the old Apple and making the switch back to a PC. While I do have a hard time justifying the purchase of a new computer when mine still works well enough, I don’t want my own issues with its functionality to interfere with my performance in school.

So… I’m just mulling that over for now.

What else is new? Well a gorgeous summer is well under way here in Michigan. I can’t remember a summer recently when we had so much SUN! Lansing has a tendency to be really gray in the summer. Not every day, but we’ve had significantly more sun this year than in the recent past. I AM NOT COMPLAINING! I don’t think I got this much color the whole summer last year and I’m already sporting a healthy glow. For me, that is, I’m naturally pretty painfully pale. ;)

We had phenomenal weather on our recent annual trip to Mackinac Island! I think I’ve mentioned this in the past but every year for Father’s Day B and I go to the Grand Hotel with his family.

This year was especially memorable and special because both of our grandfathers (along with my grandmother and other grandfather) have recently passed. So it was definitely a bit more of an emotionally charged visit this year. But I suppose every year is for me. I always find myself taking a million mental snapshots throughout our trips together, and the annual Grand Hotel visit is no exception. I am constantly thinking Remember this! …Because one day you will be looking back on these memories or recounting them to your children so be sure to soak up the laughs and the sunshine and the toasts and the dances and the bike rides (daytime or late night!) and how good it felt to get away with loved ones for a couple of days. And how handsome B looked in his suit and pictures on the porch before dinner and how nice it is to walk into the room on his arm and how his face lights up the entire time we’re there because he’s been visiting every year for pretty much his entire life and has so many great memories.

I love how our visits have such a routine that after 3 years I’ve now come to expect. It’s always the same every year, as I can imagine it was for many years past. We usually arrive in Mackinaw City or St. Ignace the night before and get up early to catch the boat to the Island. After we dock, we hurry to catch 10:30 am mass at St. Anne’s. Once mass is over we make the trek up to the Grand Hotel for lunch at the Jockey Club. There B and his Dad drink cold drafts from their special mugs which have are engraved with the names of his father and grandfather.

This is usually where the teasing, jokes and banter, which have been suppressed since mass, resume in earnest. After lunch it’s usually time for a bike around the island and from there, it’s off to the beauty parlor for the ladies for a pedicure followed by afternoon tea service, while the men retreat back to the Jockey Club for a draft or the Audubon for wine and “guy stuff”.

We all regroup back in the Hotel room to get dressed up for dinner and then head down to the Grand Hotel’s famous front porch for family pictures. The Hotel is famous for its porch being the world’s largest and the view never disappoints.

We had such great weather this year! After pictures we make our way into the dining room to see what culinary delights await us. This year it was American Waygu beef for B and me. I don’t know if I’ve ever been so glad to no longer be a vegetarian. Seriously. Once dinner has finished we make our way into the Terrace Room for dancing! This is always my favorite part of our stay. This year the Orchestra was just breaking into Sinatra’s The Way You Look Tonight as we walked in… which I think was a sign they were glad to have us back. Doesn’t get better than that!


Us dancing.

After we sufficiently wear ourselves out on the dance floor it’s up to the tippy top of the Hotel’s Cupola Bar for a little unwinding and a nightcap. Unless of course you prefer to unwind with a late night bike ride around the island ;)

So although we’ve had quite a rough start to the year there has been a lot of good in the last 6 months too… And it really feels now like things are starting to settle down and fall into place. B just started a new job which he loves! I am SO proud of him. He moved in with my Mom a couple of weeks ago and I will be joining him at the end of the summer because I’ll be starting law school back in southeast Michigan. I can’t wait!

I’m so excited to move back home and actually, it’s a bit of a round-about answer to my prayers. A few months ago, before I knew we were both going to be moving in with Mom, I was remarking to B that I was really bummed that I will never again get to live in my childhood home. I loved our house growing up. It was very home-y but beautiful at the same time. My Mom has a real knack for interior design… and although I inherited a good deal of design genes, I don’t believe interior design is one of them. I was sad that when I finally moved out of my parents house years ago I never really realized that I would never live there permanently again. It was probably one of the summers that I opted to stay in East Lansing and work instead of going home for the summer but I didn’t realize it then and looking back now, it bummed me out. It’s one of those parts of growing up that you’re so eager to do at the time (being on your own) but at the time you also don’t fully realize what it means.

So I told B that I wish I was able to live with my Mom again, even for a little bit. I don’t know if any other 28-year-olds feel these similar nostalgic pangs, but I am so grateful to give myself a little closure and to be able to live with my Mom a little longer.

And this time I know I’ll take full advantage of the opportunity and be conscious of just how precious our time together is (:

xo

-S

Green Season… and Balsamic Roasted Asparagus + Quinoa

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I feel like I have been living off peanut butter lately…. (Thanks Mom!)

It’s actually a combo of peanut butter, sunflower seed butter (my favorite), almond butter and Justin’s chocolate hazelnut butter–yes, you heard me right, chocolate hazelnut butter. I haven’t actually been living off only said nut and seed butters, but let’s just say they’ve made an appearance at many a meal lately, primarily dinner. PB + J is just so easy, especially when B has to study all night and doesn’t care what I put in front of him as long as it’s edible (although the addition of honey scores major brownie points) and I don’t care to make an elaborate dinner if I can’t share it and talk about our respective days at the table with him. Plus we’re at that time of year when I am sick of heavy, rich, stick-to-your-ribs types of meals but the really good summery produce isn’t quite in season yet. It’s right around the corner, but not here yet. So here I am stuck craving ripe, fresh from the vine tomatoes, corn-on-the-cob, cucumbers, green beans and watermelon to name a few and we’re just getting into greens season people. What’s a girl to do?

I decided to settle for the asparagus that I already had on hand and made a quick meal that has just became a new favorite: Balsamic Roasted Asparagus + Quinoa. It’s so simple yet incredibly flavorful. And healthy! I almost hesitate to call this a recipe because I literally just mixed together two of my favorite foods, but the flavor does have a little complexity to it and I wouldn’t hesitate to serve this as a summer side dish or cold salad. Without further adieu…

Balsamic Roasted Asparagus + Quinoa

Ingredients:
1/2 bunch asparagus (roast the whole thing anyway, it’s amazing on it’s own)
2 tbsp olive oil, divided, 1 tbsp for quinoa and 1 for asparagus
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 cup quinoa
2 1/4 cups water
1/2 onion
2-4 tbsp finely minced parsley
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 garlic clove
salt + pepper

Preheat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.

We’ll set up the quinoa first because it takes just a tiny bit longer to cook. I used my rice cooker but you could easily prepare this on a stove top. First, rinse your quinoa with a fine mesh strainer. Always, always, rinse your quinoa. Quinoa has a bitter tasting residue that needs to be washed away, although I do believe some boxed brands pre-rinse it for you. Dice up your onion and garlic and add to rice cooker. Add quinoa, 1 tbsp oil, 1/2 tsp salt, and water. Give it a quick stir and let the rice cooker do its thing.

Wash asparagus and either snap or cut off woody ends. Have I mentioned I enjoy green things? It’s my favorite color. I have a good story about that, remind me to tell it to you sometime.

Spread out evenly on a baking sheet and drizzle 1 tbsp oil and 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar over asparagus. Mix gently to coat all asparagus spears. Next, sprinkle with salt + pepper to taste. Pop into the oven for 25-30 minutes. The asparagus will be fully cooked before then, but we really want to let the balsamic vinegar caramelize.

YUM. Once asparagus is done, chop into bite-sized pieces (about an inch long). In a large bowl combine quinoa, asparagus, parsley and lemon juice.

Garnish with a sprig of parsley (and maybe a couple leftover asparagus spears.

Enjoy!

You might also want to make these muffins. Can we talk about these muffins?

Banana Oat Muffins, vegan and gluten-free. They are perfection. I know I gave you a good muffin a few days ago but these blow the other ones out of the water. I used the same recipe but made a few changes. I think the biggest difference was eliminating the coconut flour. I was so eager to use it but having omitted it for this recipe, I can see that it made the muffins a little too dense. The same thing happened with the brown rice flour I tried before that. I guess Bob’s Red Mill GF flour is all you need! Live and learn. There’s a new sheriff in town. Recipe very soon…

So, I’m not sure if I told you that THIS HAPPENED.

Yeah, baby girl is not happy. But the good news is she’s down a little over 2 lbs! We had a vet appointment today to get Stella’s heart worm and flea and tick meds and they weighed her. Looks like our walking and the new food is paying off! I’m glad my girl is healthy :) On the way home Stella and I stopped by Fenner Nature Center because I wanted to see if dogs are allowed in the park. The sign at the center also had the word “dog” painted over it. Just like I saw at Francis Park the other day! Maybe the city is now letting dogs into more parks? When did this happen? I need to look into this.

Stella and I made it home just in time to beat the crazy storms we had tonight. Oh wow, do I ever love a good storm. It smells like summer in my house. Thunder and lightning are warring outside and rain is streaming down my big kitchen windows. Outside is a blurry sea of vibrant green against a dull gray sky. Drink up grass and flowers and trees.

Love that green.

Love these too. B graduates and I get flowers. I am not asking any questions :) Don’t you think daisies are the friendliest flower? Name that movie…

Happy almost Friday friends. Anyone have any fun weekend plans? I’m looking forward to some B & sister time and maybe a yoga class? It’s been a while.

‘Night kids!

-S

   

Thoughts…

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I’m feeling pretty random today, so let’s go with it…

I love walks. Today was beautiful and warm. B and I met up for frozen yogurt at lunch and I think the temperature reached the low 80s! Tonight was even better, a lightly breezy 72 degrees. Stella, B and I took a nice, long walk tonight and explored a new part of our neighborhood. We found a new park (!) and saw the house B’s dad grew up in. Stella made many new friends, including a puggle named Buddy. He was a rescue and I think Stella overwhelmed him a little, but I saw his tail wagging.

We’ve been walking more lately and I’ve enjoyed getting to know our neighborhood better. The more I take the time to get to know this area and the people in it, the more I enjoy it… I think I’ve had some sort of mental block on the idea of living in Lansing post-graduation for awhile. So many of my friends and classmates have moved away and I guess I always thought that once I graduated I would move away or back home or wherever… And I think part of me felt like I needed to move on, physically, in order to begin the next phase of my life. I never really considered the possibility that I would live and work here. Well news flash, I do live and work here. And I’m now realizing, that feeling might have been keep me from really putting down roots here and getting to know the place. You know that? I love my home, I LOVE Royal Oak. And I miss it, a lot. But Lansing is growing on me… a little… don’t tell B that. And this time of year, it’s really quite beautiful. I think maybe the most important part of this discovery is knowing that I have exactly what I need to be happy, wherever I am :)

I didn’t take any pictures of our walk tonight. As beautiful and sunny and golden as it was, I just felt like walking and taking it all in. But here are a few from my walk with Stella the other night. It was just she and I so we headed to Francis Park. I’m happy to report that dogs are now allowed in the park! The sign at the front of the park which read “No Dogs or Alcoholic Beverages” has been repainted to read “No Alcoholic Beverages”. It’s the exact same color paint so I’m pretty sure it’s legit. I hope so because Stella and I have been enjoying the new park!

Imagine Stella’s excitement when she saw a field full of fuzzy dandelions! These might be her favorite thing ever. Well, aside from the dead rodent remains I’m pretty sure she got into at the park tonight. I’m sorry, even more sorry if you are eating. That was gross. Back to pretty things.

She immediately took off running, tearing through and darting around and getting herself covered in fuzzies in the process. The same can be said for me and my poor choice of footwear…

At least they are cute (and well weatherproofed). I spy something else tiny and cute…

We stopped for water…

And to smell the roses… Not sure if those are actually, need to brush up on my botanicals.

Ah, tulips…

And we continued around the trail where we could see sunlight bouncing off the Grand River and beaming through the trees.

I have to admit, Lansing has been laying the charm on a bit strong lately.

And it’s making me really excited for summer! I’m looking forward to…

Watching these lovely ladies grow. I can’t wait for my Easter Lily to bloom. After it blooms I’m going to try to save the bulb and plant it outdoors. What a happy bunch.

I spy paint samples. I’m thinking of painting the living room and a few other rooms… Maybe… But aside from that I’m looking forward to all sorts of sprucing up around the house.

My baby sister! She’ll *hopefully* be living with us this summer. SO excited. She’ll intern for me and another office and work part-time here for summer break. This will mean that I have lived with each of my sisters individually after moving out of our parents’ house. Meg and I lived together in college and Colleen and I lived together right when I graduated and started working, and now Grace will live with B, Stella and me. How awesome is that? Love my girls.

I’m also looking forward to more walks, more runs, Saturday morning farmer’s market runs for fresh eggs, fruit and veggies and B’s (soon to be famous) omlettes, Lugnuts games, running and exploring Fenner Nature Center, golf league, pool days, knocking doors, organizing events for our networking group, Saugatuck, visits with cousins, the fact that B is not taking 10 classes, camping trips (Nordhouse Dunes!), the absolute blast that has become our annual trip to the Grand Hotel for Father’s Day. It is a tradition in B’s family. A whirlwind of fun, family, delicious food, awesome conversation, chuckles, jokes–so many jokes! B’s family is hilarious, and they have a sense of humor very similar to my family’s. You don’t get away with much!– horses, bike rides, incredible views, the straights of Mackinac, bright colors, and patterns, tea cakes and toasts, pictures on the porch, rocking chairs and the scent of 2,500 geraniums, dancing (so much dancing!) and that extra special touch on everything. All in under 48 hours. It is a marvelous place and I love visiting.

I’m also looking forward to visiting B’s mom who has a place in Manasota Key this summer, getting together with girlfriends back home–I miss my best friend and her little girl!–preparing for law school, hanging out with my Grandma, bonfires, lots of time with mom and the girls, art festivals, fireworks, patios, corn-on-the-cob, watermelon, my dear friend Steph’s annual pilgrimage from Vegas back to the Motherland, DAVE MATTHEWS BAND (for my girls:)), and reading this book. I am making my way through her blog right now and WOW. Hers is one of the most beautiful, devastating, inspiring and heartbreaking stories I have ever heard. I am simply in awe. What a courageous woman, although I know she would not call herself that.

I am also looking forward to more cooking, baking, awful picture taking (work in progress) and sharing it all with you. Fun stuff.

On that note, I’ll segue not so smoothly to an idea I’m thinking about for a number of future blog posts. When B and I went to Iceland last year, we kept a daily record/journal detailing our activities, new discoveries and people we met, food we ate, places we visited and new, interesting and funny things we experienced. The journals, which are written mostly on random notepads and pieces of paper, have been in my nightstand for about a year now and it’s driving me crazy. I’d like to use them to make somewhat of a digital scrapbook/journal about our trip. It was such an adventure! I haven’t quite figured out how I’ll put it all together but I will be sure to include most, if not all, of our 600+ photos from the trip. I’m pretty excited about it and I hope you’ll enjoy a first-hand account of our backpacking trip through Iceland. It’s a strange, beautiful and utterly fascinating place that not many people really get the chance to visit. Should be fun recounting it!

What are you most looking forward to this summer? I’d love to know!

Whew, I’m exhausted after all that. Goodnight friends!

-S

Coconut Banana Mango Muffins (Vegan and Gluten Free)

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The name is a mouthful but I promise you these muffins live up to it.

Coconut Banana Mango Muffins
Cook time: about an hour (I set a timer and didn’t hear it go off… My kitchen timer and I are working through some things. I’m pretty sure my muffins were about 15 minutes over cooked (burnt) when I finally rescued them from my oven’s fiery throws. The fact that only half of these remain today despite their browned tops is testament to how good these things are. You might play it safe and check them after 45 min.)
Yields 12 muffins


Ingredients
:

Dry
1.5  c gluten-free all-purpose baking flour
1/4 c coconut flour (If you don’t have either of these just substitute white or wheat AP flour)
3/4 c organic cane sugar
1/4 c unsweetened, dried, shredded coconut + 2 tbsp reserved for topping muffins
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp (sea) salt

2 tbsp flax meal (+ 6 tbsp hot water, combined to form 2 “flax eggs”)
2 ripe bananas
1 ripe Champagne mango (or 1/2 ripe regular mango)

1 tbsp vanilla extract
1/2 c unsweetened almond milk
Splash water, if needed when combining batter

Directions:

This recipe comes together really quickly if you prep a few things first. First things first, preheat your over to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. And grease your muffin tins.

Check. Next, combine the ground flax meal with 6 tablespoons hot water, stir, and allow to set (which they need to do, so I always do this at the very beginning of a recipe). Flax eggs are essential in vegan baking and also contain the highest amount of omega-3 fatty acids from a vegetarian source. Flax meal is rich in Vitamin E and B complex and contains protein. Not too shabby.

Now, peel your bananas and mango and remove the pit. Add both to your food processor and pulse until you reach the consistency of apple sauce.

Or, if you prefer chunks of mango in your muffins, puree the bananas separately and just chop up your mango finely. I chose to do the latter in this recipe but next time I’d like to try pureeing the two together.

This is actually a Champagne mango, known in our house as a “champango”. Speaking of… I bet these would be delicious with champagne. Mango Bellinis, anyone? Ok, let’s not get ahead of ourselves here.

Next, in a large bowl combine all dry ingredients, except for sugar (flours, coconut, baking powder, cinnamon and salt).

I like whisking my dry ingredients together to get everything distributed well. That way, I’m not tempted to over stir the batter (resulting in tough muffins) when I combine the wet and dry ingredients.

Now let’s combine our wet ingredients in a medium bowl. To your banana/mango mixture (or just banana if you kept mango separate) add sugar, flax eggs and vanilla.

Add almond milk and whisk to combine. Add wet ingredients to dry and mix until just combined (try not to over mix!) Fold in mango at this point if you didn’t add it earlier. Now, this batter will be quite thick, probably thicker than you’re used to if you don’t often bake vegan. If you’re having trouble getting all the dry ingredients to combine, add a tiny splash of water. But if you don’t need it, don’t add it. Again, it will be thick.

Pour muffin batter into 12 well greased muffin tins and sprinkle tops with a little extra coconut. Pop into the oven for about one hour.

Once tested with a toothpick, remove from oven and turn over onto rack to cool for 10-15 minutes.

Best served hot with butter (or soy free Earth Balance.)

The best part about these muffins is they are actually quite good for you! Instead of oil, eggs and a bunch of sugar, these muffins rely more on the natural sugars in the fruit (about 2 cups in the whole recipe) to sweeten them and the bananas also work double duty in the place of a fat like butter or oil. Furthermore, using a gluten-free flour like the one I used (Bob’s Red Mill) is an additional nutritional punch (+ fiber) because the flour is made primarily from garbanzo and fava beans. These muffins have about 160 calories a piece and have only 1.7 grams of fat per serving.

Enjoy!

 

 

Friday.

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Fridays are good for a lot of reasons…

Birthday breakfast bagels… For my good friend and coworker down the hall. From this bagel shop which features Lansing’s own unique spin on the bagel. Unlike any bagel I’ve ever had and honestly better than any bagel I’ve ever had. Sorry, New York.

Ordering a hot tea and getting a gigantic iced tea instead. I was pleasantly surprised! There’s iced tea and then there’s good iced tea. It tasted very springy. (Go Green!)

Speaking of spring and green… I’m loving my $8 spring green maxi dress. The fact that it feels like I wore pajamas all day has absolutely nothing to do with it.

Multitasking. Ran 4+ miles at the gym today while reading this book by fellow Michigan native and blogger, Kelle Hampton. I’ve followed Kelle’s blog for some time now; she is an incredible writer, photographer and mother. Her perspective on life, as well as her ability to articulate it are a constant inspiration to me. The running went well too, I even ran a mile or so in the high 7 minute range! I’m starting to run faster than I have in years, which is really motivating. I just joined a new gym (for $10 a month!) so I ran there today. It was really nice to not have to worry about weather interference. It was rainy all day and got pretty cold this evening.

Stella toughed it out on her walk tonight in the rain and cold. Good thing she had a GIGANTIC umbrella/tent to keep her dry… I’ll spare you the details surrounding how many times this thing almost took my eye out.

<3 him.

I told you it was huge.

I am loving my new journal…

This classic memorykeeper is the perfect way to track the ups and downs of life, day by day. The 365 daily entries appear five times on each page, allowing users to revisit previous thoughts and memories over five years as they return to each page to record the current day’s events. (Barnes + Noble)

I’m so excited to read my thoughts on this day a year from now, or two or five.

Tonight after the gym I stopped at the store to pick up a very special ingredient…

Why so special? Well this ingredient just happens to be the only one I was out of and needed in order to make those muffins I promised to make you yesterday

Recipe tomorrow… :) Happy Friday!

Hello again.

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Hi, I’ve missed you.

Life is funny. Just when you think you’re hitting a good stride and things are moving along smoothly WHAM the Mack truck doing ten over steam rolls you. On the one hand, it’s good to shake things up every so often. On the other hand, months like the last 1-1.5 I’ve had tend to side-line you for a bit. All of a sudden you’re yanked out of the game… It reminds me of when I used to play soccer. Guaranteed once every year or two I’d sprain my ankle badly enough to have to sit out for a week or two. One wrong move or step or collision with another player and you’re riding the pine, forced to sit and watch all the action happen around you while you deal with your injury…while you heal.

And that’s where I’ve been these last few weeks, sitting on the side line, taking stock, trying to make sense of it all and most importantly healing. I still have a way to go and it still hurts, but I’m ready to get back in the game.

I’ll start at the beginning…

A little over a month ago, on Sunday, March 11th I woke up ready to run. It was the day of the Cork Town 5K race, the first I’ve ever run with my Mom. I was so excited! (And nervous.) B, Stella and I (and all my sisters) stayed at my Mom’s house the night before so we could all get up and head to the race together. We said goodbye to Stella the next morning and headed downtown (Detroit) to join our fellow Irishmen and women at the starting line.

Mom and I ready to race! We might be related…

The race went really well although I was horribly over dressed. It was so much fun to run with my Mom. Can’t wait for the next one!

After a much needed lunch we headed home. Little did we know there was a huge surprise waiting for us (and not the good kind). We walked into my Mom’s house and immediately discovered that Stella had eaten not only what should have been a lethal dose of chocolate but also onions! Two things that are HORRIBLE for dogs! Probably one of the scariest moments of my life. Long story short she ended up staying in the veterinary hospital that night for chocolate toxicity. Although scary, her reaction to the chocolate was actually not as severe as we expected considering the quantity she ate, 2 ounces of pure cocoa. She was able to come home the next day which was a huge, albeit expensive, relief.

Once home, Stella seemed to be out of the woods, but we noticed she was still moving slower than normal and not eating normally. Figuring she was still recovering, we watched her closely and took things extra slowly for the next day or so. The next day we came home from work to find her in our bed which was unusual. Usually, she is perched on top of the couch in front of the big picture window, eagerly waiting for us to come home from work. When we entered the room she stood up on the bed to greet us and wobbled a bit before collapsing. We weren’t quite sure how it happened the first time and thought she might just still be weak from the chocolate episode. Over the next 24 hours or so she seemed to just get worse with dizzy/collapsing spells every time she got up too quickly. The rest of the time she was laying all over the house, as close as possible to either one of us.

It was so heartbreaking and scary to watch because I just knew something else was wrong with her, she seemed to be getting worse. The doctors told us to hold off and see if she improved but after a particularly bad collapsing episode we decided to take her to the Michigan State emergency vet hospital.

Stella checking out the rooms at the MSU hospital.

Turns out the onions she had consumed almost a week prior had made her very anemic, hence the collapsing. My poor girl ended up staying three nights in the hospital and receiving a blood transfusion before she was well enough to come home. Luckily I was able to visit her while she was in the hospital and she has made a full recovery. But it was so hard to see her like this…

Her little IV hookup… it’d be cute if it wasn’t so sad.

My best friend <3… She really is an amazing dog, so very sweet.

The week Stella came home from the hospital was also the week that I found out my Grandpa was losing ground in his courageous battle against cancer. I had four days with him before he passed, days so full of love and memories and gratitude, I will cherish them for the rest of my life. My whole family spent nearly every waking moment at my Grandparents’ house talking and reminiscing, petting dogs and passing around babies, eating, teasing each other, pouring through what must have been thousands of pictures, supporting one another, laughing, crying and finally mourning. Most of all, we quietly celebrated the life that was so crucial in bringing us all together. My Grandfather’s greatest gift to his family was just that, a huge family. He gave us enough people to lean on when our rock was finally gone.

My Grandpa was very, very special to me.  He was my hero and my knight in shining armor, as well as the most genuine person I’ve ever met (well aside from my Grandma, but don’t even get me started on her :)). I am forever thankful for the very special relationship we shared. I miss him dearly, every single day, and I think I probably always will. Though these days I carry him with me, honoring his memory through hard work, compassion for others, and really trying to live every moment. Writing that still stings quite a bit so I think we’ll leave it at that for now.

Lastly, before I come up for air, I’ll also mention that B and I will not be moving to DC in May as planned and possibly not at all. I won’t go into the details but I will say this, I was really, really bummed about this. And maybe that’s part of the reason it’s taken me so long to write about it, because I didn’t want it to be real. But honestly, I’m okay with it now. If things end up working out and we move, great, but if not that’s okay too. One thing B and I are good at is coming up with a Plan B! Or C or D! And we have quite of few back up plans that we are exploring at this point. Honestly, if we can’t be in DC at least we get to enjoy a great Michigan summer. I’m excited to have all my sisters in Michigan! And B and I already have a few trips and other plans in the works and I’m looking forward to some traveling and fun, new things this summer.

So there you have it. It’s been a tough month or two. But you know, that’s life. Sometimes you’re up and sometimes you’re down. And that’s okay with me, really. As they say, without the bitter, the sweet just isn’t as sweet. Tough times show you what you’re made of, your guts. And for as confusing and at times overwhelming things can get, times like these also show you what really matters and what’s important in life. I may be a little bruised, but I’m definitely stronger… and I’ve learned, a lot.

I hope that wasn’t too much of a downer. I really debated discussing it at all (I have an amazing muffin recipe I was tempted to post instead… later this week…) but first and foremost I want this blog to be an accurate representation of me, and something that I can use to document my life, interests, my feelings, and essentially my story, or history. If there is one thing that I learned looking through my Grandma’s pictures, newspaper clippings and scrapbooks it’s that your posterity really does appreciate the history lesson. Knowing where you come from is like a little key that helps us understand ourselves better.

The GOOD news is….!!!

1) I’m back.

2) Despite the lack of blogging about the 30 Day Clean”er” Eating Challenge I’ve actually done quite well keeping up with it, all things considered. Although I expected to be a little closer to my fitness goals by now, I’m also really proud that I maintained (mostly) healthy and clean eating habits and continued to exercise (fewer times a week than I’d planned but still constently!) over the last month or so. I think that has definitely made this time much easier and now I am really motivated to kick things up a notch. I just joined gym this week! Joining the gym is actually a reward for getting back into a regular exercise routine and sticking to it. I’ve been doing a good amount of stairs and cardio, but have really wanted to start more strength and weight cross-training as well. I really like the new gym so far! More on that later.

3) Even though I haven’t been blogging this last month, I’ve still been cooking and baking (and picture snapping)! I have a lot to share! Starting with a new recipe this week: Coconut Mango Banana Muffins. I know. Plus, they are vegan and gluten free and contain no oil or butter. I KNOW. :)

I’ve got a puppy next to me who has been trying to sleep on my lap/computer for the last 20 minutes… time to sign off but before I do… I just want to say, thanks for listening and sticking it out. Now back to the fun stuff.
<3
-S

Chicago Weekend

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Hi Friends!

So I just realized I never told you about my trip to Chicago for my baby sister’s birthday! I’m holding off on another 30 Day Clean Eating Challenge recap because I have a special dinner guest tonight– well, make that 2 special dinner guests– and I want to show you the meal I prepared for that. So you’ll have to wait until tonight or tomorrow for that. In the meantime, let’s talk about the fun I had with my sisters (minus one)!

As I mentioned, it was our baby sister, Gracie’s, birthday so we had to celebrate in style ;) We bought a bunch of pink decorations and a delicious chocolate cake from Bake N Cakes in Lansing. <—UM, SO GOOD. We wanted to surprise Grace so as soon as we pulled into Chicago, we raced upstairs to drop off our bags and decorate CJ’s place. Luckily, she was a really good sport about it :)

Did I mention we stayed with our friend CJ who has a great apartment right on Michigan Ave? Such great views and very accessible to SHOPPING! Thanks CJ!

Even the lobby was beautiful!

Being in a big city like Chicago made me SOOOO excited for our move to DC!

We dropped off our car at my cousin’s house in Wilmette and took the train to meet up with my sis and her best friend at Loyola. It was my first time seeing her dorm room and the campus since she started school. So cute! It did make me a little sad to think of my baby sister all grown up though ;(. I know, I know I’m a sentimental mushpie (<–word?) but I was really glad to see she’s adjusting well. The city definitely suits her!

We got a quick late dinner as both CJ (my sister, not to be confused with the other CJ with whom we stayed during this trip… stick with me…) and I hadn’t eaten in hours. Two fully tummies (and bellyaches) later we headed back downtown to CJ’s place. We called it an early night because we were all exhausted and wanted to get up bright and early the next day for a full day of shopping and checking out the city! We couldn’t go to bed without some cake though…

The next morning we were up bright and early to hit the stores. Here’s a peek at the spoils of my shopping excursion.

OBSESSED with this blazer. I bought it from the Urban (Outfitters) Surplus store. It’s from their Urban Renewal line. It was already marked down to $9.99– I repeat, $9.99

I noticed a tear in the seam and one of the front buttons was missing so after talking with the manager at the register I scored this for $4.98. Probably one of the best deals I’ve ever gotten on an item! After $10 of tailoring to fix the seam and sew the button back on, it’s good as new! $15 for this blazer altogether, seriously.

I’ll add a side note here…. I LOVE clothes. Like, love love them. I was an apparel design major in college for a bit before realizing the fashion industry wasn’t for me and that I’m more of a fashion hobbiest than professional. BUT I hate buying anything full price. To me, the most exciting part about shopping and fashion is finding the hidden gems, the dirt cheap vintage items, and the diamond in the rough cast-offs that have been over-looked, and making them your own. I really dig that. I have a whole post planned with some new spring looks I’ve put together with some new (to me) items I’ve purchased recently and some items I already have in my closet so stay tuned for that!

Moving along… This little gem was $5 from Belmont Army surplus. I’m thinking this with lots of summer sundresses and black + white + coral/mint/metallic ensembles. Or navy. Yes please!

I also scooped up this adorable vintage apron for $6 at Ragstock. Brace yourselves for another digression… So my oldest little sister, Meg, got me a vintage apron which I absolutely adore for Christmas last year. I love it so much that decided I was going to start collecting vintage aprons! There are so many great ones out there. So this is my newest addition to the collection! (Mind you it is also my second vintage apron, but hey it’s a work in progress here.)

My last purchase of the day was another amazing steal. I’ve been looking for a nice size envelop purse in a high quality fabric– something with a little color that would go with a lot and that could also be used as a neutral. Well, I’m happy to say, my prayers were answered. This gorgeous suede bag was over 50% off and I got it for about $30 from Topshop. It’s beautifully made, has a strap and is large enough to be functional, and has just a little bit of a girly frill. I’m in love.

I also bought one other sweater from Urban which much to my dismay ended up getting snagged in my suitcase on the way home :( Oh well. I guess it wasn’t meant to be. I’m wearing the shirt in the pic of us at dinner below. SO after all that shopping and a great Mediterranean lunch we were once again starving! We headed out for a pizza dinner with the girls. So good! After that we headed out on the town for a little bit and I got to meet a bunch of my little sister’s friends. It was great to see that she’s found a solid group to hang out with. They were all so nice! Makes this slightly over protective big sis happy. :)

Love my sisters (-one)! Missed you lots Meg!

Have a great night!

-S

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