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love and peanut brittle

Not too long ago, sometime before the chaos of the holidays set in, I packed the twins up one day and headed east.  My grandpa and grandma live just far enough away that we don’t get to see them as much as we’d like, but not too far for a day trip visit.  To some it may sound silly, but before I got pregnant one of the things I was extremely excited about at the thought of having a baby was giving my grandpa and grandma their first great-grandchild.  And the day we told them there was a baby on the way was up there on my list of best moments.

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So not only did I want to take the twins for a fun visit, I had something else in mind as well.  To me, my grandpa has been known for many things.  Among them are working on planes at Tinker Air Force Base for most of his life, loving snickers bars, being able to fix any problem on a car, and making the best peanut brittle you’ve ever tasted.

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As far back as I can remember, every year as the weather starts to turn cold and festive decorations begin to appear, everyone who knows my grandpa begins to anticipate the day they’ll receive their package of peanut brittle.  And believe me, it’s not just any peanut brittle.  It’s a recipe that was passed down from my great-grandma Loise.  Super thick, light, and fluffy – it really is in a league of its own.  But it’s not just the taste that makes it so special.  With my grandma overseeing and hopping in to help when needed, my grandpa spends hours in the kitchen watching the sweet, peanutty mixture begin to brown, dumping in the special ingredient, and then “stirring the fire out of it” before dumping it onto a baking sheet.  He makes nearly 20 batches a season, with each batch taking about 45 minutes…it truly is a work of love.

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While the peanut brittle tradition is something I’ll always think of when I think of my grandpa George, I had never actually seen him make it.  This year when the time drew near I realized what an injustice it is that I’ve never had the chance to see how it’s done.  Helping him was every bit as interesting and fun as I knew it would be; seeing him work and having him teach me each step of the process was far better than just reading it on the recipe card.

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While I told my grandpa he should hide away his recipe so that no one can ever make peanut brittle just like his, he insists that the recipe should be shared with anyone who wants it.  But I have a hunch that it’s not just about following the recipe, rather it’s about the perfect peanuts, the special pot that he uses, the certain way he stirs it and how he knows just the perfect moment to take it off the fire before it burns.

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Our visit was a highlight of the holiday season for me, and as the twins get older I can’t wait to take them out to help their great-grandpa.  And it’s always a bonus to get cuddled by great-grandma in between batches.

 

Peanut Brittle

  •  1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup white karo syrup
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 cups raw peanuts
  • 1 stick margarine
  • 1 heaping teaspoon baking soda

 

Boil together sugar, karo syrup and water. Stir constantly until it spins a thread (about 12-15 minutes) (see spoon photo above). Be sure it spins a good thread. Add 2 cups raw peanuts and 1 cube margarine. Continue to cook and sitr until it turns the color of peanut brittle and peanuts begin to pop (about 10-15 minutes). Add one heaping teaspoon baking soda and stir rapidly. Let it foam up, then pour into a greased 9X15 inch pan while it is still foaming. Don’t press it down. Just let it roll into the pan and settle on its own.

 

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cinnamon rolls!

Well, in true Candice fashion I was up until 2am last night baking away.

But first, let’s back up for a second.  It’s time for a little honesty.  Over the last couple of weeks I have really been slacking with my workouts and with putting energy into eating clean.  My workouts have consisted mainly of the classes I teach and a couple sporadic short treadmill runs, and my eating has included a few too many Amy’s frozen burritos.  There has been so much going on here as of recent, and I’ve been hanging on by a thread as far as taking care of myself.  I’ve been getting an average of about 6 hours of sleep a night among other things….and it’s really starting to wear on me.

So this morning I got up with the best intentions of really making the extra effort to treat my body really well and start replenishing my energy. As many of you know, I believe that just because you slack a little in any area of healthy living for awhile, doesn’t mean that you should give up or be discouraged. It’s all about whether (and when) we get back on track.  There’s no way I’m going to eat, sleep and exercise perfectly for the rest of my life, so I’m adamant about cutting myself some slack when life gets crazy.  But there is definitely value in getting back on track when you feel like you’ve derailed a bit.

So, things started off really well this morning in regard to eating; I made up a bowl of oats cooked in water, and then added a few spoonfuls of soy yogurt and a sprinkle of Kashi Go Lean Crunch.  It definitely was lacking a bit in the fruit and veg department, but otherwise made me pretty happy.

The rest of the day continued on a pretty good track, but then I started feeling a little crazy, oh…sometime after dinner.  I got this serious craving for a cinnamon roll. How do these things happen? lol.

Even though it was nearing 9pm and I still had some tasks to complete before bed, I naturally started brainstorming how I could get some vegan cinnamon rolls stat.  Oh boy.

After a few moments I suddenly remembered this recipe from Project Food Blog several weeks ago.  At the time I thought it looked awesome, but I just wasn’t feeling cinnamon rolls. But this is the kind of thing that I tuck safely back in my mind to be pulled out on a perfect night such as tonight.  While I realized that this recipe would no doubt be outrageously delicious, I didn’t realize just how involved the whole process would be.  Let’s be real…do I ever?

But once I get started on an idea like this…there’s nothing that can stop me.  And for the next 3ish hours I was mixing, chopping, kneading, sifting, stirring, rolling, flossing and of course baking.  And man oh man was it worth it.

These rolls were like everything that is good in the world being wrapped up in a soft and doughy little spiral, baked at 350 degrees and coming out just the right shade of golden brown.  They were chewy and hot, with the mingled flavors of pumpkin, cinnamon and butter baked into the inside.  To. die. for.

I used this recipe…and only made a few changes like maple syrup instead of vanilla extract, organic cane sugar instead of regular white, soy milk instead of almond milk. I also replaced two cups of white flour with bread flour, and I did not put Earth Balance in the Pecan Cinnamon Streusel filling (I was buttered out!).  It still worked just fine!  Lastly, instead of the cream cheese frosting on the recipe, I simply mixed a little bit of powdered sugar with some soy milk for a nice, thin glaze.

Hey – at least I did have a green monster on the side this morning.  I am trying to clean it up around here after all.

Obviously my biggest problem now is how to not eat the entire pan in the 48 hours.  Thankfully, I do have a few ideas up my sleeve.

So, aside from sabotaging myself by staying up until 2am making cinnamon rolls, I am really trying to step it up and take better care of myself, even during these crazy times.  Because when it seems that so many things in life have been turned upside down, my health is the one thing I can still control. The one thing I can still hold onto that makes me feel sane.  And vibrant.  And like I can take on anything.

So tell me, what are your tricks for keeping these things in order when life gets crazy?

Are you a cinnamon roll fan?  What’s your favorite morning baked treat?


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party at the mccoy’s

Yesterday I played hostess for Jonathan’s team-members from work – they all came over during lunch for their annual Christmas party.  I love hosting people at our house, and it doesn’t really happen that often for some reason.  Maybe that’s why I like it?

Anyway, I spent about 5 hours Monday night making the infamous sugar cookies that had actually begun to feel like a thorn in my side.  I wasted so many batches of cookies, and in the end I went with a tried and true recipe that was posted on Jenna’s blog a couple weeks ago. The funny thing is that it’s almost exactly the same as another recipe I had found on a different blog awhile back (Jenna adapted it from there) – I guess it was meant to be!

Once I found said recipe, I thought it would be smooth sailing the rest of the way.  That is until 9:30 pm, when I realized that I was 1/2 cup short of Earth Balance. Nooooo!  It’s unbelievable how many trips I made a across town in order to finally accumulate all the ingredients necessary for these cookies.  The thought of making one more almost killed me.  Besides that I didn’t think our main grocery store in town carried it, and the health food stores were all closed.  Sigh.

So I called Food Pyramid, crossed my fingers while I waited on hold about 3 different times, and then begged the guy on the other end to “puh-lease tell me they had Earth Balance.”  Praise the Lord, they had it!

So by the time I got home, I already had invested an hour in cookie making, and there wasn’t even any dough mixed up yet!  It was about 15 minutes after that that I realized these cookies have to chill in the fridge for an hour before being rolled out.  It was just not my night.

Finally, with a lot of time and even more hard manual labor (rolling out that dough is a challenge!) I finally came out with a decent sugar cookie at about 1:30 am.  The only part left at that point was the decorating.

Let’s just say I am a very amateur decorator.  As in, I’ve never done it before. It’s funny how this little fact didn’t really cross my mind until 1:30 am Monday night, when I began mixing up the icing.  Honestly, the icing part came out looking pretty bad, but the cookies tasted great and by the time I got them all tied up in their little bags, the icing wasn’t that noticeable.  Next time I might would try a different recipe….this one was a little bit thin and soft…but after a little fridge time it hardened up enough and ended up being okay.

Vegan Holiday Sugar Cookies

originally and only slightly adapted by Jenna from here.  I also made a couple slight changes.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup Earth Balance buttery spread
  • 1 cup organic cane sugar sugar
  • 2 whole egg replacements (Ener-g brand)
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3 3/4 cup all purpose flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 cup vegan cream cheese (Tofutti brand)

Directions

  • Cream together the Earth Balance and sugar.  Add one “egg” at a time as you continue mixing.

  • In a medium sized bowl, combine flour, baking powder and salt and mix well.
  • Slowly add dry mixture to wet mixture and mix thoroughly.
  • Add the vegan cream cheese and mix only until combined.
  • Allow dough to chill for one hour.  Note: the dough will be very crumbly!  This is normal.

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  • Remove dough from fridge.  Knead the dough on a floured surface so that it begins to stick together.  This is the part where you need some serious arm muscles.
  • Divide the dough into two or three sections.

  • Roll one section out to about 1/4 inch thick.  Use cookie cutters to create shapes.

  • Repeat with other sections of dough.
  • Bake for twelve minutes or until light brown around the edges.
  • Decorate with pretty (or not so pretty) icing!
  • Cookies may be stored in a tightly sealed container or placed in the freezer for up to 2 months.

For the icing (recipe found here):

  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 2 tbsp almond or soy milk
  • 2 tsp light corn syrup
  • 1/4 tsp almond extract

Mix powdered sugar and milk until smooth.  Next, beat in (by hand is okay) corn syrup and almond extract until icing is glossy and smooth.  Divide icing between bowls and add drops of food coloring until desired color is reached.

After cookies are decorated, place them on a cooling rack and put them in the fridge until icing hardens.

For the main meal, I made vegan chili (yes, again), but I used a different recipe than I have used in the past.

This was hands down the best vegan chili I’ve ever made or tasted.  I put a little more time and effort into it, and it showed.  I don’t know what everyone at the party thought, but the husband and I are seriously loving it.  If you need to make a vegan chili, don’t hesitate to try this one – it’s fantastic

The World’s Best Vegan Chili
adapted from this recipe

  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 2 tablespoons dried oregano
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 1 green bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 red bell pepper, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 (4 ounce) cans chopped green chile peppers, drained
  • 1 (28 ounce) can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 (15 ounce) can low sodium diced tomatoes (not drained)
  • 3 tbsp chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon ground black pepper
  • 1 (15 ounce) can kidney beans, drained
  • 1 (15 ounce) can pinto beans, drained
  • 1 (15 ounce) can black beans
  • 1 (15 ounce) can cannelini/navy beans
  • 1 (15 ounce) can whole kernel corn

Directions

  • Heat olive oil in a medium sized skillet.  Add onion, bay leaves, cumin, oregano and salt and saute until onions are tender.  Next add bell pepper, garlic and green chilies and mix thoroughly.
  • As vegetables are cooking, combine crushed tomatoes, diced tomatoes, beans and corn to crock pot.
  • Stir in vegetable mixture and then add chili powder and black pepper and stir until combined well.  Allow to cook on low for several hours.

The cookies and chili weren’t the only thing that ended up being a success, the party was pretty fun too!

Let’s be honest though.  In the midst of my hosting duties, I really spent a lot of time holding this pretty baby, Sophie.  She’s my husband’s boss’ baby girl, and she is an absolute doll.  I really wanted to just keep her…but unfortunately it didn’t work out:(

All in all we had a great time.  I was so happy that the cookies finally were a success. I’ve put so much time and energy into them, and it felt so good to see the finished product.  Now I just need to make a couple more batches…

This week has been crazy so far and is only getting crazier!  I’m trying to finish up last minute Christmas shopping this week because we’re having Christmas with my family on Sunday.  Then next week it will be off to south Texas to see Jon’s extended family!  It’s sad that this season has to pass by so quickly – I can’t believe it’s already almost here!

What is one thing you’re hoping to get for Christmas this year or the one thing you’re most excited about giving?  I know it’s not about the gifts, but it’s still fun to give…and receive!

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happy happy friday

Happy Friday!!

I’m so excited that it’s the weekend finally.  Like I mentioned earlier this week - we are having Christmas with the husband’s side of our family. We’re heading out tonight and staying until Sunday.  There will be food.  There will be caroling.  Enough said.

I had lots to do today to get ready, so I started off this morning with an energizing juice.  I used more veggies this time than I ever have before, and I have to admit I was a little nervous for my first sip.

(don’t worry, the cucumber isn’t bad – the red spots are from the beet:)

The more veggies you use, the worse the color gets – this one had parsley, swiss chard, 1/2 a beet, 1/2 cucumber, 2 carrots, small piece of ginger and 1.5 granny smith apples.  Honestly…it wasn’t good or bad.  It was kind of a neutral taste, which I’ll totally get on board for because this thing was packed with vitamins and nutrients!

As soon as I guzzled it down, I headed out the door to PiYo.  I came “this close” to not having any students show up today.  I guess it’s just that time of year where everybody is busy and it’s cold outside so people don’t want to get out.  Anyway, at about five after, 2 girls, whom I had never seen before in my life, walked in.  Praise the Lord!  It was kind of fun leading a class of two new people as opposed to my new regulars.  I felt like I was kind of looking at my class through a fresh lens.

Anyway, after PiYo I met with HeyKyoung for tutoring and then I headed home to get some baking done!

For lunch I decided to break open this bag of dry soup that I randomly picked up at the store one day.  It’s Bob’s Red Mill brand, so I figured I couldn’t go wrong.  I added 1 cup of soup mix to 2 cups of water and 2 cups of organic vegetable stock.

I also tossed in:

  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp onion powder
  • 1/2 tsp oregano
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt
  • 1/4 tsp ground red pepper

I let it simmer for about an hour while I got busy on some cookies!  And just as I was finishing up my last batch, it was piping hot and ready to go!  I also dug out some leftover cornbread from earlier this week and spread some Earth Balance on it. Yum!

I highly recommend this soup for a quick and healthy meal.  Even though it had to simmer for an hour, it took all of 5 minutes to throw it all in the pot…plus, you can make a big batch and have it for leftovers too!  It was tasty:)  I love soup in the winter.

Now back to those cookies.

I knew I wanted to make the classic Super Charge Me Cookies – they’re a no brainer because they’re vegan, healthy, energizing, delicious…and they have chocolate!  What more do we need to say?  Oh, also every non-vegan who has ever tried them has given them two thumbs up.  Especially the husband.  They’re his favorite:)

Besides the SCM’s I wanted to make a new and slightly different recipe as well.  So, I cracked open my trusty old copy of Eat Drink and Be Vegan where I found a recipe for oatmeal raisin cookies.  Perfect!

By the time I subbed in dried cranberries for the raisins and added just a sprinkling of vegan chocolate chips, they weren’t exactly oatmeal raisin anymore, but I think they were even better!

Dare I say I like these just as well – maybe even better – than Super Charge Me’s? gasp.

They are good.  Really good. I can’t wait to see what the husband thinks.

Now that I’ve got all my baking done I’m off to get packed, do some last minute Outbox work and load up the car before we leave.  We finally got all our wrapping finished up, and I just have to tie on a few last minute bows (the best part).

By the way, I’m still on a vegan sugar cookie mission, but I’m waiting on our health food store to get in vegan cream cheese.  Oh, the joys of living in a small town.  I’m hoping to have my first batch done by Tuesday.  I’ll keep you posted:)

Have a great weekend everyone! And thanks for reading ChiaSeedMe:)

What is your favorite tradition that your family does during the holiday season?

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getting back on track

Amidst the busyness of the last few days, there have been some really sweet highlights.

Yesterday I received a mysterious box in the mail.  I always get so excited when an unexpected package comes, but usually I open it to find junk mail of some sort.  But not this time.  I opened the box, peered inside and saw this:

and this

My mom, step-dad and sister bought me this cute little scarf and mailed it to me as a surprise.  How sweet is that?  It totally brightened my entire day and made me feel so loved and happy. I have the best family:)

Another highlight came today when I finished a project that I’ve been working on.  My friend, JJ, facebooked me about a week ago and asked me if I could make a couple of tag blankets for some friends of hers who are having a baby shower this week.  I made a tag blanket for JJ’s baby right before he was born, and she says he takes it everywhere with him, so she thought it would be a great gift for her friends!

I of course happily obliged, but unfortunately my sewing machine was not quite as willing.  Yesterday took all the patience I could muster as my machine jammed over and over and over.  Finally, after about 4 hours of working, I finished them up!

tag blanket numero one

and numero two

If you’re wondering what a tag blanket is, allow me to explain.  It’s a small, soft blanket for babies that has loops of ribbon coming off of it – it’s great for cuddling, pulling, chewing and just all around good fun:)

Anyway, regardless of my frustration with the sewing machine, you really can’t beat an afternoon of sewing while jamming out to Christmas music and sipping a hot latte on a frigid winter day.  Can I get an amen?

Another thing you can’t beat?

baked apples with cinnamon and a splash of agave

and spinach lavash wraps with hummus, chia seeds and veggies.  with a side of ceramic birds:)

So, I mentioned yesterday that I would be back to talk about getting back in a healthy groove after veering from it for awhile.  The last couple of weeks or so I have just gotten a little lazy with eating clean.  Between the stresses and busyness of the everyday and the extra craziness of the holidays, I’ve been eating a few too many chips and cookies, and not nearly enough veggies.

I definitely have my ups and downs when it comes to living healthy.  I go through phases where it seems I just get on a roll of eating too much junk and not making it to the gym.  And once I start slacking, it can be sooo hard to get back on track.

But no one can be perfect all the time, and the important thing for me is to focus on the fact that I do always get back on track. Instead of beating myself up and regretting what I’ve done, I am so much more successful overall when I just dust off my behind and jump right back in the game.  Dwelling on what I’ve done in the past only serves to drag me farther down, killing any remnants of mojo I have left and leaving me feeling discouraged and sad.

Over the last couple of days, I’ve really stepped it up and gotten back on track with food and exercise.  Tonight I was thinking through a few things I’ve done to help, so I thought I’d share them with you!

  • I re-read a book that has been motivating to me in the past.  This renews my energy and refreshes my perspective of why it’s important to me to make healthy choices.  This time around it was Tosca Reno’s Eat Clean book.  Absolutely love this book – if you haven’t read it, put it on your Christmas list stat!
  • I took a few minutes to write out some goals/reasons why I want to do what it takes to feel great and be healthy. These change from time to time, so it’s really important to me to keep them fresh and current in my mind.
  • I got a partner! Turns out I’m not the only who has been slacking since the holidays started.  Talking to someone else and sharing ideas, struggles and goals together really pumps me up to make some changes.  Plus, I get instant accountability for my choices!
  • I wrote down a mantra and memorized it! Every time I start to fall back into bad habits, whether by skipping the gym multiple days in a row or by eating another handful of chips rather than some raw vegetables, I immediately repeat my mantra in my head.  It focuses me instantly!
  • I perused blogs and jotted down some new fun meal ideas that I can get excited about! Sometimes I just get in a rut and become tired of the same foods I always eat.  There’s no better place than blogs to get new inspiration for workouts and meals.
  • I pretended I felt better even before I did.  Sometimes it really does work to “fake it till you make it.”  Even though I felt sluggish and kind of weighed down, I began to act and think like I felt healthy and alive.  This got me through for a couple of days until I really did start to feel better!

These are just a few of the things I did – nothing groundbreaking, but yet these never fail to help me get back on course when I seem to have strayed far away.

I’d love to hear any ideas you have for getting back on track after being in a rut.  What do you do when this happens to you?!

Hope you’ve all had a great Wednesday!  Onward!

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