Sunday, May 19, 2013

The Moistest, Most Scrumptious Gluten-Free Chocolate Cake You Ever Tasted!

You all know I strive for good health... especially when it comes to my intestines. As it turns out, they don't like gluten very much. One might even say they despise it... and me by extension when I ingest it.
As a result I've been increasingly choosing gluten-free options. Now, there are lots of good products out there that make going gluten-free simple, and just as delicious as their gluten-full counterparts.

Cake, unfortunately, is not one of them. Every gluten-free cake mix I've ever tried has either been grainy (yuck!), heavy (more like eating a rubbery sponge), or just bad... just... so bad.

Enter my knight in shining gluten-free armor:

It's called Cup 4 Cup, and it is glorious. It's an all purpose mix, that can substitute regular flour without any strange measuring or weird ingredient additions. I actually saw this product on Martha Stewart years ago, but my local supermarket just started carrying it (bless you, Wegmans).

 I (skeptically) decided to put this mix to the test. I made the recipe for chocolate cake that's always on the back of Hershey's Cocoa, thinking --Yeah, right. This'll work...-- And you know what? It freakin' did.
On top of that, I decided to make it with Truvia Baking Blend, which lowered the sugar content by 75%. To my amazement, the result was a moist, decadent chocolate cake. You literally cannot tell that it's gluten-free, let alone that it contains mostly stevia. Technology is a beautiful thing!

No-Way-This-Is-Gluten-Free Chocolate Cake

2 cups regular sugar, Or 1 cup Truvia Baking Blend
1 3/4 cups of Cup 4 Cup
3/4 cup Hershey's Cocoa
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 eggs
1 cup milk 
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup boiling water 

Preheat oven to 350. Spray some Pam on two 9 inch cake pans. Mix together the dry ingredients in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, oil, and vanilla. Pour unto the dry ingredients and stir until combined (it will be thick and sticky). Pour in the boiling water, a little at a time, whisking until the batter comes together. Ok, so at this moment the batter will somewhat resemble slime... it will be kind of slimy. Don't freak out. That's just the tapioca flour. Go ahead and pour it in the cake pans and bake it 30-35 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean. This recipe will also make some killer cupcakes. It makes about 30. Bake them for about 20 minutes. 

Ganache Frosting, ya'll!!

The frosting for this cake could not be any simpler!

12 oz semisweet chocolate chips 
1 cup heavy cream

Heat cream over medium heat until it starts bubbling at the edges. Pour over chocolate chips and stir until glossy and smooth. Stick in the fridge for a while (maybe 20 minutes?) until it's firm, but spreadable. Spread that goodness all over your cooled cake and eat it! EAT. IT. Serve this cake at room temp. It keeps in the fridge for a few days. Nuke it for like 20 seconds if the frosting gets too hard. 

You're welcome.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Confessions Of The Omelet-Challenged

Ok, so I can't be the only person in the world who simply CANNOT make a freakin' omelet. It's baffling how terrible I am at it. It's either a runny mess, or an overcooked piece of rubber. Most of the time I just resign myself to the fact that I'll never ever master the elusive art of omelet making. Never the less, I still love an eggs-cellent creation for breakfast... *wink wink* (you heard me). So I've circumvented the entire process, and made it so easy, it's like, super nuts..

Omelet For The Omelet-Challenged Or: Did I Just Make A Frittata?

4-8 eggs
Frozen Veggies
Some kind of cheese component
salt & pepper

Preheat oven to 425. Grease or spray some Pam on an 8x8 baking dish (or any kind of deep baking dish you have will do. Pie tin? Sure! Bread pan? Go for it). Whisk eggs in a bowl. I use 2 eggs per serving, so start with 4 and add 2 more for any additional peeps. Add a splash of milk and whisk. Add a dash of salt and pepper. Pour the egg mix into the greased dish and sprinkle in all your ingredients. **I add the veggies frozen. No need to defrost them first** For this recipe I added frozen onions and peppers, spinach, and frozen diced potatoes (aka hash browns, or home fries). They look like this:

And a whole lot of goat cheese. I love goat cheese! If you want your eggs to have melty cheese on top, simply add whatever cheese you want in the last few minutes of cooking. It might burn if you add it now. Throw in the oven and bake away. Check it after about 15 minutes, and every few minutes after that, until it's fluffy and golden around the edges. Add more salt if it needs it. This recipe keeps in the fridge pretty well, so stick the leftovers in some tupperware and nuke it tomorrow morning.  Enjoy!

Thursday, May 2, 2013

How To Love Yourself. And No, That's Not What I'm Talking About

It's the subject of thousands of self-help books. It's what your mom always says... it's what your therapist keeps telling you... "love yourself", or: "you know what your problem is? You don't like yourself!" No shit. Or the classic: "You can't love anyone until you love yourself."

Thank you. I feel much better now... Sarcasm! 

We've all heard it, but what the hell does it mean? How does one actually go about loving one's self? Please, put your hand down, Señor Vibrator... that's not the kind of love I'm talking about. I'm talking about unconditional, warm, accepting, I-got-your-back-no-matter-what kind of self love. The kind of love you wish you had with your parents? That's the kind of love you need to have with yourself. But how, when no one has ever loved you that way? Well, it's a process. 

I know because I work on this every. single. day. Every single minute, more like. It's the process of learning how to treat yourself the way you would treat a beloved friend. Would you ever call someone you truly loved fat? or stupid? or unworthy? Of course not. Because you love them! You think they're the cat's pajamas (what?). You want only the best for them, and you accept them so hard, that you don't even notice their "flaws". I put flaws in quotes because I'm using it to describe things we perceive as bad, or imperfect. When really, they're neither. They just are what they are (ie cellulite). You don't care if your best friend is a little pudgy, because that's not why you love them. You love them because they're fun, because they make you laugh, and because they're there for you, as you are there for them. 

Now, answer me this. Who has been there with you every second of every day since you were born? Who has seen you through the worst of the worst, the "I'm gonna kill myself" moments, and the best of the best, the "OMG I can't believe this is happening to me" moments? YOU. You, you silly person! So give yourself a little credit. 

So wait.. How do you love yourself, then? Here are some easy bullet points to get you going:
  • Don't Be A Jerk. Simple, right? Well, it's harder than you think. Next time you find yourself staring disdainfully at your thighs, stop it. Just say, "yeah, I got a little jiggle... but I'm still ok. I still deserve to go and live and have fun. So suck it, brain!" Put your pants on, and get on with your day. 
  • Listen. If you're feeling upset and you're not sure why, take the time to have a talk with yourself. Just like you would if you noticed a friend acting weird and grumpy, go to a quiet place and ask, "Are you ok?" The answer will be a huffy "No!" So breathe, and take the time to talk through what you're feeling. I emphasize, feeling. As in, "I'm hurt that Erica forgot my birthday. It makes me feel like she doesn't care about me." Not, "Erica is such a bitch! I'm never talking to her again!" The latter doesn't help anything, it's merely a defense mechanism to keep you from being vulnerable. If you're angrily insulting someone in your head, take another breath and find out why. It will always lead to your true feelings. 
  • Honor Yourself. You have a right to feel whatever you're feeling, and it is up to you to honor that. If someone makes you feel bad or mistreats you, it's up to you to respect yourself enough get out of that situation. It's your job to rescue yourself. Be your own hero! You can't change other people's behavior. You can only change your own behavior, so get your heels and get out of there. You're too good to put up with that.
  • Live For You. Do things you want to do. Wear clothes that make you smile. Eat some ice cream once in a while. Don't eat things that make you sick (duh!). Put down the ice cream if you're lactose intolerant, for god's sake! Get you some Tofutti. Dance if you feel like it. Do the things you want, even if you're afraid you'll look crazy, or like a weirdo. Other people's criticisms say more about them than they do about you. It says they're unhappy sourpusses. You should pity them, not tone down your awesomeness for them! Poor, poor little haters. They must be so sad inside.
  • Follow Your Own Path. Don't ever let anyone tell you what to do, or how to feel, or who you should be. No matter how much they claim to love you. No one knows you as well as you. You should listen to yourself first. Always. Listen to those you trust, of course. Carefully consider their point of view, but if after that you still disagree with them, do what you want. Those who truly love you, will love you still. Even if you don't follow their advice. Even if you do the exact opposite thing they want you to do, they will still love you. You do you. And let them do them. That's what real love is all about.
  • Give Yourself A Break. Perfection is an illusion. It is unattainable, which is why so many of us spend our lives relentlessly pursuing it. It's the one thing you can never achieve, because it doesn't exist. You will fail. A lot. But that's not a bad thing. No one ever learned anything from success, I don't know who said that... but they were right. Failure isn't bad! It's just what happens when we're learning. Anyone who is out there in the world, truly living, taking risks, will fail at one point or another. When this happens to you, and you hear yourself saying "God, I suck! I'm the worst. I'm such a failure!" Stop it. You're not a failure, because you're still here. You being alive is success in itself. You're already ok! So have yourself a good cry and try again tomorrow. That's the beauty of it.
This whole self love thing is tough. Especially when we've been taught otherwise. It's way too complex to fix in one blog post. It's an every day kind of thing, something you gotta work at. I'll let you know when I figure it out... I'm gonna leave you with some words I wrote a long time ago. Maybe they'll help you out a little bit, the way they helped me. 

Air flows in and out of your lungs without cessation. Your heart keeps beating no matter how sad you are. That, in itself, is hope.  Sometimes it’s really difficult to see the light at the end of the tunnel. When you feel this way, put your hand over your heart and breathe. Just breathe and feel your heart working away, always pumping for you. No matter what.
That is the essence of unconditional love. Your heart is there for you, it keeps you alive. Who knows what will happen tomorrow? Your heart keeps pumping to make sure you’re there to see. 

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Don't Throw Away That Jar!

How cute are glass jars... seriously, I think they're adorable. Not to mention they come free whenever you buy marinara, or jam, or salsa, or pretty much any pre-made sauce ever... Growing up I was accustomed to throwing away/recycling these jars, and one day it just hit me... What the hell am I doing throwing these away, and then spending money buying receptacles for things?

It's ridic, is what it is... Now we've all seen them used as lemonade glasses at country style establishments (Roadhouse Grill?), but what we don't realize is that the very jar that holds your BBQ sauce can make a really pretty vase. Just follow some simple steps. 

Ok, so the main obstacle for me was that damn label. That glue they use is tough to wash off, but I found an easy peasy way to get rid of it.. and it's simpler than you think. All you gotta do is soak the jar in some super hot soapy water and leave it overnight, if not for a couple of days (the longer the better), and the label should slide right off. Scrub off the left over glue with a rough sponge, and you're good to go! Here's a pic of some of the jars I'm repurposing right now:

I used an old pasta sauce jar for the cotton balls, and a lemon curd jar for the Q-tips. I'm also using some in the kitchen, to make a quick salad dressing, to keep sugar handy, and as drinking glasses, of course. I use them to hold pencils and paint brushes, to organize odds and ends, and to make little terrariums. Worry not, I'll be posting more on those terrariums futurely. Every day I find some new use for the jars I've kept. So stop throwing those jars in the recycling bin, and start soaking them in some hot water, you'll never have to buy a toothbrush holder again!

Sunday, April 14, 2013

About Dams, and That Thing Called Fear

Maybe it's not your heart that's breaking, 
but the walls you'd built around it. 

I don't think a heart can break. It is an infinite fountain of emotion. It flows and flows, pumping love juice into our bloodstreams with each beat... it ain't just blood, baby...
But I think we're afraid to trust this, we're afraid the fountain will run out, and we won't have anymore. Not for ourselves, not for others. So we carefully build a dam around all that goodness. We fortify it. We watch it very carefully, not letting anything (or anyone) that might compromise its structure get close... And not letting anything out either, keeping it all encased in concrete and stone. I know this is a somewhat convoluted analogy, but stay with me.

And then, something you didn't prepare for happens: someone dies, or you feel some new human's fingertips on the back of your hand... you look up and... BAM. There goes the dam. Your brain (aka the dam operator) screams, "This wasn't in the training video! WE HAVE NO PROTOCOL!"

So the dam bursts. It crumbles... and all that wonderfulness you were jealously guarding comes flooding out, in tears or in laughter... sometimes both at the same time.
This isn't a bad thing! This is, in fact, the best thing ever. You get to be open again. You're broken, you feel destroyed. You think to yourself, "There's this giant hole inside me now, and I can't control my feelings anymore."

Good! There is  a giant hole inside you, and if you stop trying to fill it with alcohol and day-old pizza, it will fill back up with love and yeses, and even flow out of you. The way it was always meant to be. Crying is good, laughing is good, any feeling in general is awesome, and right. So feel away, and stop trying to frantically rebuild that dam... 'cuz honey, it's unnatural, and it's bound to break again.

If you're lucky enough to recognize this dam-breaking as it's happening, you'll notice for that moment in time, you were simultaneously as powerful, and as fragile as you'll ever be. That's the yumminess right there.

What if our hearts don't need protecting? What if we were to just let emotion flow in and out... What if we didn't try to control it so much? If we loved freely (damless), maybe the possibility of pain wouldn't be so scary. Because we'd realize it's only temporary, that the good stuff always wins out. If we let it.

Feelings won't kill us, even if it feels like they might. Once you look that scary feeling right in the face, you'll see that it can't hurt you. It can only teach you something vitally important about yourself. No one ever learned anything from looking away.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Just Make Some Tea Instead

Next time you're worried about some mundane thing, just think... At this very moment, you're standing on the surface of an incredibly beautiful giant rock, hurtling through space at inexplicable speeds... being part of an infinite universe, where everything is made of everything else...

Not such a big deal that you're out of coffee now, is it? So smile, and make some tea instead.

It's the truth, I can prove it!

Sunday, March 10, 2013

The Real Kind Of Self-Esteem Or: What My Toilet Taught Me

It's 12:13 am. I'm just drifting away to sleep when I notice a familiar sound... the toilet is running... Now, I'd grown accustomed to the soft whisper of trickling water over the past few days. I knew deep in the recesses of my head that something was up with it, but I did nothing. Hoping it would magically fix itself. "It just needs to adjust..." I said to myself, completely aware of how irrational I sounded.

But this wasn't the light trickle I'd become so good at ignoring. This was a loud, perpetual swoosh! that could be heard from every corner of my apartment. It'd been muffled by the TV, but now that I was trying to get to sleep, it invaded my ears like... like some loud infuriating sound... stay with me.

I got up and paced up and down my apartment. Then I did what I always do when I don't know what to do, I opened the fridge and ate some pudding (I refuse to admit to emotional eating... but yes, I was emotionally eating). My mind raced with frustrated thoughts, "This doesn't happen to people on TV!" Like only things that happen in sitcoms are acceptable in life. "Friends didn't prepare me for this! Where's Joey when you need him?!" I was actually fighting back tears. Nothing makes you feel more helpless and alone than when an appliance you took for granted breaks down. The world stops making sense. It's like everything you knew for sure is up for debate now... Is the sky really blue? Are leggings pants? Do spiders think?! I didn't want to be that girl who cries when something inconvenient happens. "I'm not five years old!" I yelled in my head.. "I'm completely capable of handling this. I'm an adult. Adults do this kind of thing all the time, right?"
So I called my dad.

Being the wonderful patriarch he is, my father told me to shut off the water valve, the location of said water valve, and which way to turn it, "remember honey? Righty tighty... lefty?" ('cuz apparently I'd become a bumbling idiot). And came over a few hours later with a new toilet repair kit.

I was incredibly thankful he'd come to save the day, but I couldn't shake a feeling of regret. I kept apologizing to him. I was angry for some reason. Still, he came, he fixed, he conquered. Like always. Since I was a child, my dad was my hero. He could fix anything, he always kept his cool when my emotions got the best of me, and I loved him for it. But this time was different. I was mad at him. I wished he hadn't made it so easy for me... I'd wanted him to tell me to fix it myself.

It was at that moment I realized the biggest thing ever. I didn't want to be dependent on other people anymore! I didn't want to be the damsel in distress any longer. Could it be, that I was finally growing up? I'd wanted to open the toilet tank and get my hands dirty. I'd wanted to make a mess, and google toilets, and drive to the hardware store myself, and figure it out! For me.

But I didn't. It was easier to pick up the phone. And now I hated myself for it. Still, the toilet was fixed. And isn't that what matters? I tried to let it go.

Luckily, that night the familiar trickling sound was back. This time I left the phone on the night stand and did it myself. It was gross. Have you ever seen the inside of a toilet tank? Not lady-like. But who's to say what ladies do anyway? So I straddled the toiled tank and got to work. I tinkered, I tested, I googled and shmoogled, until finally the trickling sound was gone. I flushed the toilet and watched it fill back up. I took a shower to get the gross toilet smell off me. And I felt amazing. Who would've guessed something as mundane as learning to fix a running toilet could go so far for my self-esteem?

I think we put waaayy too much emphasis on the way we look. When we hear "self-esteem", we automatically think it's about liking how we look. "You feel bad about yourself? Let's do a make-over! What you need is.. to get your nails done, girl!"

While the healing qualities of a good manicure have been well documented, maybe what we really need is to learn to trust ourselves. To know that we can tackle anything that comes our way. That we can do all those gross, difficult things we were taught were "dad's job". That we're people, and we can do anything we have to.

 I guess I hadn't realized just how entrenched these gender roles were inside me until I had to fix a toilet. Thank you, annoying toilet that keeps breaking down. You've taught me so very much. I hope my sink gets clogged next week.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Happy Little Things

I'm not a big shopper. I don't go on weekly shopping trips or spend money on frivolous things... usually. But! Money is, after all, just money.. and if you happen to have a little bit extra, I say spend it on something that makes you smile... life's too short not to, people!

So this week I went on a celebratory online shopping semi-spree. That is, I bought 3 things. Three things I don't need, but really wanted. Three things that made me say "Yay!" when I saw them, and "Yay!" again when they arrived in the mail. It was glorious. I want to share these three things with you, to encourage you to reward yourself once in a while. We all work super hard for the things we want in life, we should give ourselves some room to have fun too. A little frivolity never hurt anyone. Actually, it can go a long way to reaffirm our humanity.

This cute little mouse ring!

Aww! It arrived this morning.. so cute! I had a pet mouse named Zesty when I was in high school. I found him while browsing at PetSmart one day. He had a skin condition and was losing his fur. I asked the guy if I could buy him, and the cashier let me have him for free. After a vet visit and some ointment, he was good as new. This ring reminds me of him. The little guy lived a happy mousy life and would always help me clean his cage. He would push all the straw to one end of the cage so I could pick it up easily... This one's for you, Zesty!

Pink Metallic Oxfords... what?!

Brands Christian Siriano for PaylessWomen's Margo Oxford

I got these at Payless... yeah, I did. Christian Siriano does not play games... I cannot wait to wear these.

Finn sweater!

Adventure Time Finn Sweater - 335583

It's no secret that my favorite show of all time is Adventure Time. My affinity for it borders on unhealthy. I just, like it a lot! I don't normally buy clothes depicting things I like. I feel like it shouts stuff... "Aaah! Ilikethisandyoushouldlikeittoo!" But you know what, I really enjoy this sweater, so I bought it. It makes me smile every time I wear it, and how could that be bad?

I hope next time you find something you really really like (and can afford), you just go ahead and buy it. Who cares, you know? The point of being alive is to be happy... it's in the Constitution, for god's sake.. so let's make our forefathers proud and buy the next silly thing that makes us all jolly inside.

Monday, February 25, 2013

The Awesomeness Of Being Human

We all struggle to with self-worth. With the idea that we're not living up to the imagined version of who we should be. Like, "I'm (insert age here), I should be (insert goal here) by now!" and that because we haven't achieved said goal yet, we automatically suck. This would be true, if our inherent value was directly correlated with our achievements... a lot of people think it is. I'm here to tell you, It Ain't! Let go of all that "should" crap.

Who we are has nothing to do with what we've achieved. It's the trying that matters. What's that saying? It's the journey, not the destination? We can't treat life like it's a race to the finish... 'cuz you know what's at the finish line? Death.. and we're all gonna get there sooner or later. So you might as well try to have a little fun while you're here. Who wants to waste their life feeling bad about things they haven't accomplished yet? It seems like a losing battle to me. It's like crying because you expected it to rain... enjoy the sunshine, silly!

We are all human (ie imperfect), and in fact, it's those imperfections that make us awesome. Picture a world where everyone is perfect. Everyone's super successful in their chosen field, anything they want just magically appears in front of them... there's never any uncertainty, or tension, or suspense. It would make for a very boring movie, and I believe, a very boring life.

It's the weird, painful, uncontrollable stuff that makes life worth living. It makes you get up every morning, because who knows what the hell's gonna happen.. maybe something good, maybe something awful, and maybe, something you couldn't even fathom! You might turn your head and meet the love of your life. You might turn the corner and fall down a manhole... and that's the fun of it. Embrace the unknown, because darling, you really don't know anyway.

**Sidebar:  I'm reading this book, it's called "The Gifts of Imperfection" by Brene Brown. If I were to recommend a book to all of you, this would be it. Along with her other book, "Daring Greatly". They've helped me understand feelings I didn't even know I had. But most of all, they've taught me that the best thing I can ever do is be my weird, awkward, imperfect self. And seriously, it's paying off... so read it, you guys... I'm telling you.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Importance of Eyeballs

I was sitting on the couch, ranting about something to my very good friend... talk talk talk, look up, look down.. and then suddenly I caught eyes with him and burst out laughing. The truth was, the problem I was ranting about wasn't a problem at all... it was just me being a dramatic idiot, as I've been known to be, and watching my best friend's eyeballs staring back at me showed me that. It showed me a reflection of myself,
all agitated and silly, shouting about some inane situation... and it really made me laugh.

That's the importance of eyeballs. They show us who we are. And it really doesn't matter if they're a person's eyeballs, or your dog's, or even a stuffed animal (yes, I've spent hours explaining the complexities of my life to a stuffed frog pillow named Sherman). The point is, sometimes we need to look at someone else to truly see ourselves. Especially when we're overwhelmed by emotion. There are few things more comforting than seeing a trusted face looking back at you, saying "ok."

But why is that? Why is it not enough to talk to ourselves? I think it's because sometimes we can lack perspective. We live inside our own bodies 24/7, and it can all get a bit convoluted after a while. Ideas become reality, all those what ifs, all those goals we set for ourselves, what we think we're supposed to be, our failures and our successes.. All those feelings can get jumbled up, and before we know it we're sitting in a corner, chewing our own hair (not that I've ever done that).

Sometimes it takes someone else to remind us of who we really are. Just one look at someone who thinks you're pretty all right, and things start looking up. The fog clears, and that thing your boss said yesterday sounds really petty... because actually, it kind of was.

So let's not ever take eyeballs for granted, you guys. Let the owners of those eyeballs you hold dear know that you appreciate them, that the green specks and blue irises are highly regarded by you, and have in fact made a real difference in your life. That the subtle golden notes around the pupil are not lost on you. Except maybe don't say it like that, you might make them a bit uncomfortable...

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Open Mic Night: The Good, The Bad... and the Really Bad.

It's happened to all of us. You're at a bar, and unbeknownst to you someone with a guitar steps on stage and starts to perform. You feel inconvenienced, intruded upon, "Who is this person, and why are they interrupting my relaxing conversation?" You suddenly realize it happens to be Open Mic Night... and you remember why you never come to this bar on Tuesdays. Next time you find yourself in this situation, may I suggest having a little compassion for that guy with the guitar.

It takes a lot of guts to get up there and expose yourself emotionally to an audience who didn't necessarily come here to see you, or see anyone for that matter. In fact, most of them are here to get drunk and hang out with their friends. They have no interest in you or the art you've worked so hard to bring to them. Still, you pull yourself together and get up there.

Scary, huh? All I'm saying is, give the guy a chance. Listen to a couple of his songs... If after that you conclude he really does suck, and don't get me wrong, there's a strong possibility he'll have no talent what-so-ever, then feel free to ignore his attempts at stardom.

I've attended lots of these performances, and I gotta say, more often than not, I leave having experienced something new and at the very least interesting. So next time you stumble upon an Open Mic Night situation, sit back and let whatever's coming hit you right in the face. Who knows, you might enjoy it.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

The Crazy Dance Workout?

nothing like some high kicks in the morning!
I think the main reason most of us don't work out is because it just seems really complicated. We're constantly bombarded with this workout, or that workout, or join this gym, or try this new "thing"... and by the end of it, we're like, "forget it! I'll just go get a cookie."

Who wants to look like one of those muscle-bound people on TV, anyway? Ok, maybe you do... but do you really? You wanna look like the guy from P90X? 'Cuz he seems really tense... but I digress. Let's get real for a minute. Unless you're training for some kind of athletic event (i.e. a marathon, or the Olympics) there's simply no need to pursue fitness like a relentless lunatic. What I'm saying is, it's not that serious, you guys. There's enough strife in this world, why do we have to make working out such a chore? Isn't it supposed to make us feel good? I mean, isn't that the idea here, to feel better?

So I propose a brand new way of exercising. I'm calling it: The Crazy Dance Workout. It basically consists of you playing your favorite music and letting your body do whatever it wants. Let the music move you, baby! Declare a Dance Party in your living room and shake off the stresses of the day. Joanne in accounting got you down? Shake it off! You'll be sweating, --and smiling, before you know it.

It's the most natural thing ever. Our bodies want to move, but the pressure to do it "right" gets in the way. Who hasn't shown up to an aerobics class and completely hated it? I know I have... Not only do you feel like everyone's watching you, but you're too freaked out to follow the steps, and this "expert" next to you keeps glancing at you like you're awkwardness incarnate... because in that moment, you kind of are. Not because you can't dance, but because you're not allowing yourself to. The fear of doing it wrong keeps you from doing it at all... not fun.

So I say, forget about all those inhibitions. No one can tell you you're doing it wrong, because there's no right way to do it! This is especially fun to do with kids.. and those who are too self-conscious to try will be emboldened by your reckless abandon and probably join you. If someone walks in on you and laughs, laugh with them, 'cuz dancing like a crazy person is funny! Dance over to them and see what they do.

Don't worry about calories, or heart rate, or any of that other stuff. Just dance. Stop when you're tired. Stretch a little if you want. I promise, you'll feel so very much better the next day. So good in fact, you might want to try again in a couple of days, and you may dance for even longer.

Exercise doesn't have to be scary. It doesn't have to follow a specific plan. As long as you're moving, and doing something you actually enjoy, it will enrich your life in ways you're not even aware of. So press play, close your eyes, and watch what happens.

*Image by Nemo

Friday, January 25, 2013

The Perfect Falafel, ya'll!

I love falafel, you guys... I love it so much I'm willing to drive clear across town to get a decent wrap. For years I toiled with endless recipes, trying to get the texture and flavor of these delicious, yet unexpectedly tricky fritters. After fiddling with countless recipes and box mixes, I finally got it! It wasn't easy, but Oh Dear was it worth it. 
This recipe will beat any box you can buy, and dare I say, I like it better than my favorite falafel place. No joke.
Best Falafel Ever:

  • 1 lb. dry chickpeas (don't use canned, or you'll end up with mush)
  • 1 small onion 
  • 1/3 cup of parsley or cilantro (I used cilantro, as we know I'm a fan)
  • 4-5 cloves of garlic
  • 1 1/2 tbsp flour
  • 1 3/4 tsp salt (seems like a lot, but trust)
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1/4 tsp pepper 
  • pinch of cayenne (optional)
Soak chickpeas in water overnight. They will double in size. Stick everything in a food processor and blend away! You may have to do it in batches. No biggie, just stir everything together in a big bowl when you're done.
 ** The big trick, which took me a few tries to get right, is to blend the chickpeas enough. They should look similar to couscous, or just super tiny grains of rice. Don't be afraid to do this, or your falafel will fall apart in the fryer. Just keep going until they look teeny tiny and uniform, but stop before you make a paste, cuz that's just hummus... unless you want hummus, in which case... but I digress. Refrigerate for about an hour to set.
Heat about an inch of oil in a skillet on medium/high heat. Form little balls or patties, pressing hard, making sure it's compact. Is this a messy thing? You bet it is. If you have an ice cream scoop, press that batter in there and go to town, but any concave surface will do. I used a large ladel and pressed the batter down with a butter knife, then slid it into the oil. Try a few things, see what works for you.
If your falafel are too hard, you are frying them too long, or they are too small, make them bigger. They should be light golden brown. Taste the first one, add salt if necessary. I know it sounds complicated, but once you get the hang of it, it's super easy. I suspect I'll have a much easier time now that I've worked out all the kinks.
** You can bake them at 400 degrees, 10 minutes on each side. I tried this. They're good, but also a little dry. 
This makes a lot, but you can freeze them and re-heat them in the oven for a quick meal, or make a wrap for lunch tomorrow! I suggest slapping some tzatziki on there, hummus is good too. Enjoy!

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Beat The Flu With This Easy Soup!

As I sat on the couch shivering and sniffling for the fourth day in a row, I decided to take my health into my own hands. I went into my pantry and concocted a soup that had me back on my feet before I could say, "I hate you, Flu!" Being sick is not fun, but a cup or two of this yumminess will have you laughing at your favorite sitcom in no time.

“I Hate You, Flu!” Chicken Soup:

1 cup pre-cooked chicken (I used frozen grilled chicken strips)
1 large onion, roughly chopped
2 large carrots, thinly sliced
½ tsp thyme
½ tsp rosemary
3 cloves garlic, minced or grated
½ cup each of any frozen veggies you got on hand (I used spinach and shiitake mushrooms)
½ cup brown rice
3-4 cups of chicken broth
Splash of vinegar (about 1 tbsp)
2 tbsp oil
Salt and pepper

In a large sauce pan, add oil and sauté the carrots and onions over medium heat until the onions are semi-translucent. Add garlic, herbs, salt and a generous sprinkling of pepper. Add rice, vinegar, frozen veggies and chicken. Stir for a moment. When everything smells awesome, (about 1-2 minutes) add broth. Bring everything to a boil, then lower the heat and let simmer for 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

The beauty of this recipe is that you can alter it to your taste. Personally, I like to add about a tablespoon of fresh ginger. It gives it a kick and soothes the tummy. Feel free to use noodles instead of rice, or different spice combinations. Comment below and let me know how you make your “I Hate You, Flu!” soup.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Excerpt From: Mississippi Clouds

This kid, Jeffrey, had been bugging me all day. His little bucked-toothed face kept appearing in my head, then I saw he was holding a bunny....So I decided to write him down

“Put it down, Jeffrey.” His mother said, in the patient tone only mothers have. The small gray rabbit he was clutching in his hands was still, probably hoping not to die.

“But mama!” Jeffrey exclaimed, madly in love with the tiny creature he’d found under the house.

“Those things carry rabies. Put it down right now.” But Jeffrey knew she was wrong. Something so small and fluffy couldn’t be capable of hurting him. He clutched it tighter and took off running in the opposite direction. “Jeffrey Freedom Collins, get back here!”

His middle name was Freedom. His mother had named him in a daze of pain killers right after giving birth. She seldom regretted her choice, hoping it would be a reminder to him never to let himself get tied down. Tied down like she was.

Jeffrey Freedom Collins was born on a cold November day in the great state of Mississippi. Cold by Mississippi standards. He was twelve years old, a skinny little thing, his teeth way too big for his head. He did indeed look like a bunny, or a mouse, perhaps the reason for his rodent affinity. He was clumsy, and whiny, and kind of sweet too. His mother loved him, and he could tell she really did. He could tell by the way he caught her looking at him when she thought he wouldn’t notice. His mother resigned herself and walked back into the small house. It was white and well kept. It had a garden and a chicken coop, but no chickens. The washer and dryer were in the shed, and there were clothes lines attached to the side of it. His mother didn’t trust the dryer, thought it would burn up her clothes, and how could it not? So she always hung up the clothes, even though everyone told her it was a waste of time in this day and age.

It was just her and Jeffrey now, since Jeffrey Sr. had left. He was a drunk and most days she was glad he was gone. Today was not one of those days. She felt angry and alone and now that Jeffrey had run off with that varmint in his arms, she could really feel it. She stepped into the kitchen and opened the refrigerator. There were three slices of pie left in the pie tin. Rhubarb strawberry. She picked it up along with the can of whipped cream and sat at the kitchen table. After hearing the cooghh of the whipped cream landing foamy on the crust, she absent-mindedly stuck her fork into it, and brought a big bite of sweet and tart pieness to her mouth. The taste didn’t comfort her, but it was all she had at the moment. She stared out the screen door into the hills and fixed her eyes upon a single cloud in the sky. It was a sunny day, but this particular cloud was dark gray. A lone rain cloud floating in the bluest sky. She chewed and swallowed and scooped up another bite. Chew, swallow, feeling the loneliness rise from the depths of her belly and up into her throat. It was not an empty feeling, but rather an unbearable fullness, keeping her from swallowing the pie in her mouth. It made her suddenly nauseous. She swallowed the bite anyway and felt it almost come up again, but it didn’t. She noticed she’d been rocking in her chair. Moving back and forth, she could feel the wooden chair hitting her back over and over. She willed herself to stop and took another bite. She spit it back into the tin and got up to throw the evil thing away. She angrily thrust the pie into the garbage can, upset at herself for once again trying to sublimate her pain with sweets. She squeezed her sides, feeling the extra flesh that had built up over the last three years and slammed the cabinet door shut. “Goddamnit.”

She thought about Jeffrey and how he would not let go of this rabbit thing. She pulled her shirt down over her behind and went into the shed. It was dusty and smelled of oldness and laundry detergent. To the left of the door was a stack of boxes. She remembered she’d put the old birdcage in one of said boxes after Jeffrey‘s first pet, Russell the Parakeet had unexpectedly died. Maybe the little rabbit could live in it for the time being. Then she thought about the chicken coop. If he still wanted that damn rabbit when he got back, she’d tell him he could keep it there, but he’d be responsible for feeding it, and cleaning it. She didn’t like pets. They were dirty and adorable and they made her love them, only to die. A useless endeavor, loving a pet. She smiled to herself when she pictured her little man holding on to the furry thing, defiantly looking at her, ready to defend his love. She would have to let him keep it. He was a courageous little guy, even if a brisk wind could knock him over. She wanted to encourage this, to teach him to stand up for the things he cared about, even if the world told him no. And it would, she could tell he would hear that word a lot, seeing as he’d been doing everything backward since he was born. Her smile grew wider.