Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Healthy Brownies and Positive Changes in your life

I was driving home today after work and I was reflecting on my life and the lives of people that I know, and the decisions that we have all made for our lives and our futures.  I was thinking that some people have a really hard time making good decisions for their lives ...why does this happen?  I mean the way I see it is that there is good and then there is bad...this line is very stark and all this mumbo jumbo about the grey area is total crap.

For example:  Killing a baby at 2,3, or 8.5 months in the womb is seen as acceptable and okay by some (this is the grey area), but then killing a baby at 9 months outside the womb is seen as unacceptable by all.  Yeah - no grey area there or anywhere- murder is murder no matter the circumstance, no matter the situation, no matter the story, no matter the location - inside or outside the womb.

I was thinking about why some people have an easier time distinguishing between the good and the evil, and why some people can't seem to see that line at all.  I think this line of thought came about after I read this reflection yesterday in a daily devotional I occasionally read.

"Because of all of the following that we do, a lot of mixed messages can buzz around us.  Still, Jesus wants to be the main one we follow, and we need to tune into His voice.  God speaks to us a lot; messages may come through nature, Scripture, dreams, our sacramental and communal lives and in the whispers deep in our hearts.  We are invited to transform and trust.  Ultimately, we must have a habit of listening to Jesus so that we can discern what is of God and what is not.  We are called to be people who know Jesus so well that we can recognize his voice and follow Him above all else."
Sr. Julia Walsh, F.S.P.A

As I look back on my life and the decisions that I have made (I'm not saying they have all been good - because they have definitely not been), but I see that I was able to make the bigger and more important life changing decisions and the little ones with confidence and peace because I was trying to listen to what God had planned for me.  As I look around me and see so many people struggling and making poor life decisions it seems clear that the root of their being stuck in the grey area is due to the fact that they can't hear the voice of Jesus and see His plan for their lives.  Oh how beautiful it would be if everyone could hear the voice of Jesus in their lives and see how much He loves them and wants them to be happy.  I pray for a lot for people in my life who struggle with making good decisions, usually I pray for an exact thing or an exact problem they are facing...I think it is time I also start praying that they can tune out the world around them and instead hear the clear and commanding voice of Jesus telling them that they are loved and pointing them in the right direction.

It is never too late to make a positive change in your life...no matter how big or small it is never too late.

Speaking of positive changes...really this is connected, I swear :)

Today I went through a few boxes of "too big for me now, but one day I will surely fit back into them clothes" from 3 years ago.  Got rid of them all.

I was feeling guilty for eating to many cookies recently...they are truly my arch nemesis...then I tried on a pair of my pants from 3 years ago and they almost fell off they were so big and baggy on me.  I guess it has never really registered with me how much weight I have lost in the last 3 years.  Seeing clothes that are 3 sizes too big on me now was such a shock and the encouragement I needed...I went and threw the plate of cookies away immediately.

This was a positive change in my life.  Eating healthier, working out more intentionally, and feeling better about everything in my life.

Make a change.  A big one or a small one.  We all need to change somehow...trust me I know...I have so much to work on!  Ask God what needs to change in your life and listen for His instructions.

Gluten/Refined Sugar Free Brownies 
adapted slightly from the Deliciously Ella blog
2/3 cup honey
1/2 cup melted unsalted butter
1 Tbsp. vanilla extract
3 eggs
1 cup almond flour
1/2 cup cocoa (I used raw cacao)
1/4 tsp. baking soda 
1/4 tsp. sea salt

Heat oven to 350 degrees.  Mix honey, butter, vanilla and eggs until smooth.  Add almond flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt. Stir to blend. Pour into greased 8x8 inch pan. Bake for approximately 25 minutes, until center no longer jiggles and top feels cakey.

Cool on a wire rack before cutting.  Yum.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Italy vs. France in a food showdown...who wins?

My hubby and I just returned from a 10 day adventure to Italy and France.  I had traveled to Portugal when I was a kid, but haven't been back to Europe since then.  Andrew had never been to Europe.  So this was a real experience for us, totally put us out of our element being in a country where we didn't speak the language.

These are some things that I learned from our trip:

1)  Have comfortable walking shoes - this is a must...and find them many weeks before you leave for your trip, not the day before.

2)  Travel light.  We really tried to pack light, but as we went from place to place we kept acquiring more stuff and our bags expanded.  We were going in and out of airports, subways, trains and buses a lot - which was difficult with heavy bags.  I think I wore everything I packed, but we had access to laundry throughout the trip - so in retrospect I would have packed even lighter.

3)  Learn a few key words from each language of the country you are travelling to..such as: Please, thank you, water, bathroom, yes, no, etc...

4)  Pace yourself.  We tended to overbook our days, and by then end of the day we would almost collapse out of exhaustion.  Oy.

5)  Bathrooms are really hard to find in Italy and France. There aren't really any public ones, and most of the time you have to eat or drink somewhere to be able to use their bathrooms...ended up paying $6 one time for one coffee just so we could use their bathroom.

6)  Look up the customs and etiquette of the country you are travelling to.  Do you tip at restaurants?  Learn the basics of the menus and courses they typically serve.  For example, in France a lot of the restaurants had price fix menus with 3-5 courses.  Also, most restaurants in Italy didn't open for dinner until after 7:30pm.

Okay - let's start out with the most important thing from our trip - the FOOD!


We stayed at an apartment in Trastevere  that we found on airbnb.  The place was great, hosts were awesome and gave us lots of information before our trip, and we recommend it to anyone travelling to Rome.  My sister lived in Rome during college for a semester and suggested this part of town as a good place to stay.  She was right.  It was set apart from the hustle and bustle of the city, but still in walking distance to all the big tourist sights, plus there were lots of cute restaurants nearby, and tons of Churches.

L'Antica Salumeria, Rome

We stopped by this place that is located in the piazza that the Pantheon is in.  Got these yummy chewy cookies that were rolled in pine nuts.

Mama Ristobistro, Vatican area

We ate lunch at this little cafe near the Vatican.  It was clean, service was great, and the food was fresh.  We had zucchini and eggplant fritters, and then a shrimp, vegetable and couscous dish.  Pretty good!

Hostaria Luce, Trastevere

This was by far our most favorite restaurant in Italy!  We stumbled upon it after trying to get into 2 other restaurants that had good reviews online, only to be turned away since we didn't have a reservation.  We were tired and so hungry, and then we found this little gem.  They had a real lemon tree with lemons on it in front of the place so we decided to give it a try.  The owners and hosts were so gracious and kind to our weary souls, and they made us feel most welcome.  The took the time to explain some things on the menu and tell us about their specials.  The owner was a legit old Italian guy that was so happy and kind, and made us feel right at home.

They served us fresh bread with this yummy whipped ricotta topped with some sort of artichoke mousse - delicious! 
 Fresh greens and fruit salad - simple, but so fresh!  The owner said they got most of the veggies from their farm that very morning.
 Boiled broccoli, romanesco broccoli and cauliflower
 Fresh pasta with a lamb ragu
 Fresh artichoke ravioli
 Baba au Rhum cake - amazing!
 La Torta “Caprese” cake - chocolate and almond - scrumptious!
 A welcome sight to weary travelers!

Vechchio Forno, Florence

This was the best bakery we found during our time in Italy.  We went there twice in the 2 days we were in Florence.  Cute little place with sweet ladies working there, always a line, but worth it!

 Some kind of Spinach and ricotta pastry - so flaky and simple, but really good!
 Pan au chocolate - again, he really stuck to getting the same thing everywhere : )
Super moist carrot bread, eating on the steps of the San Lorenzo market area

Borgo Antico, Florence

Our first day in Florence we happened upon the Santo Spirito market - super lucky we caught it since it only comes around once a month!  There were a bunch of cute restaurants in that piazza, so we returned the next day and found this place.  Had some yummy pizza and a fresh shaved artichoke and Parmesan salad there.

Gelateria Carabe, Florence
I was on a mission to find a cannoli before I left Italy...they are really Sicilian, so it is not common to find them in bakeries near Rome and Florence.  The first night we passed the place right up and ended up getting sub par gelato somewhere close by.  The second night we were determined we would find the place and thanks to Andrew's navigation skills we found it!!!  Totally worth the search, added bonus their gelato was the best we had!  The cannoli was so delicious and fresh!  The key to finding a good cannoli is to find a place where they fill the cannoli after you order it, otherwise the shell can get soggy.  If you are in Florence seek this place out and thank me later.

That's about it for Italy Folks!  This post has gotten too long, so I am going to talk about the Food in France in a separate post soon to come...stay tuned!

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Homemade Almond Milk and Peach Cobbler Smoothie

We just returned from a 10 day trip to Europe...such a whirlwind!

My body is really hating me right now after I forced as many Italian pizzas, gelato, and French pastry and baguettes as I possibly could into it...oy...my tummy hurts.

I am glad to be home and to be getting back on track with eating healthy and my workouts.

Woke up this morning with a jet lag headache, pushed through a 30 minute workout - I felt like my body was full of lead - so hard to move!  Then I made this nice light smoothie for breakfast - such a nice change after eating straight up bread and pastry for breakfast every morning for the last 10 days. 

 I am craving fruits and vegetables - someone find me a garden!

I usually make my peanut butter banana smoothie with cacao a lot during the warm months, but I am getting a little weary of that recipe - so onto some new ones!  I have also been making my own almond or nut milks recently - so delicious and easy!  I have also done this with pecans and it was delicious!  Then I tried cashew milk, which is essentially the same recipe you just don't have to strain it.  So good!  You can basically make a milk out of any nut or seed!  Hemp seeds, flax seeds, sunflower seeds, peanuts, walnuts, go to town!!! 

Homemade Almond Milk

There are many recipes for homemade almond milk out on the web - play around with the recipe and find out what taste you prefer.  I don't like sweet almond milk, but if you do add a little bit of honey, maple syrup, or a pitted date to your milk and blend.
Soak one cup of almonds in a bowl covered with water for at least 6 hours, overnight, or up to 2 days. 

Drain and rinse the almonds thoroughly after soaking.  
Place almonds back in blender and add 5 cups cold filtered water, a pinch of salt, and a splash of vanilla.  
Blend until frothy and almonds are well ground.  
Pour almond milk through a strainer.  If you have a cheese cloth you can strain this even better - I tried a cheese cloth, but it fell apart, so I am order a nut milk strainer bag - I will let you know how that works out.  Don't throw away the pulp leftover from straining the milk!  You can add it to smoothies, dry it out in the oven to make almond flour, or add it to baked goods.
Voila!  Homemade almond milk!  Most recipes call for 2.5-4 cups of water, but I found the milk to thick, so I upped my water to 5 cups - better consistency for me and gives me more almond milk in the end!

Peach Cobbler Smoothie
makes one large smoothie

1 cup homemade almond milk (or store bought works too!)
1/2 frozen banana
1/2 cup frozen peaches (or fresh if you have them)
2 TBSP Old fashioned oats
1 tsp chia seeds (optional - can also use flax seed if you want)
1-2 tsp. honey (depending upon how sweet you want it)
1 tsp almond pulp from making almond milk, or a few whole almonds if you have them

Blend until smooth and combined.  If it is too thick for you add more almond milk, if it is too thin add some ice cubes and blend.