Sweet Potato and Cranberry Muffins

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays.  It has a special flexibility and ease, and I love the opportunity to share food and try new recipes.  This recipe for Sweet Potato and Cranberry Muffins is perfect to use up any leftover sweet potatoes, cranberries, or nuts you may have.  Use this recipe to make 24 vitamin packed muffins. Spread a bit of orange-fig jam on top for extra yum.

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INGREDIENTS

  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 small sweet potato (mashed)
  • 5 oz. vanilla greek yogurt
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup cranberries (diced)
  • 12 whole pecans
  • cinnamon sugar

DIRECTIONS

1.  Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees.

2.  In a mixing bowl combine the dry ingredients: flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg.

3.  In a separate mixing bowl combine the wet ingredients: mashed sweet potato, milk, greek yogurt, and an egg.

4.  Stir the wet ingredients into the dry until combined.

5.  Fold in the cranberries.

6.  Grease a 1 dozen muffin tin.  Fill each cup approximately half full with the sweet potato-cranberry batter.  Sprinkle with cinnamon sugar and top with a pecan.

7.  Bake at 375 degrees for approximately 20 minutes.  Check the muffins are done by inserting a toothpick.  If the toothpick comes out clean, the muffins are done.

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Nutty Carrot and Cauliflower Soup with Toasted Sesame

Soups are the perfect comfort food.  Fall and winter produce such lovely root vegetables, and this recipe takes advantage of the great carrots and cauliflower that is currently available.  Using sesame oil, white sesame seeds, and tofu adds a warm, nutty flavor to the soup, and the color is so beautiful!

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INGREDIENTS

  • 3 tablespoons sesame oil
  • 1/2 onion (diced)
  • 4 celery stalks
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 1/2 head of cauliflower (chopped)
  • 8 carrots (peeled)
  • 3 cups of water
  • 2 tablespoons bouillon
  • 1 soy milk
  • 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1/4 teaspoon dijon mustard
  • 4 ounces tofu
  • white sesame seeds
  • salt and pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS

1.  Heat a large pan on medium heat.  Add 3 tablespoons of sesame oil.  Saute onions, celery, and garlic in a pan until slightly translucent and aromatic.

2.  Add in cauliflower and carrots and continue to cook for 2-3 minutes.

3.  Add in 2 cups of chicken broth and 1 cup of soy milk.

4.  Bring your mixture to a boil then reduce the heat and simmer until the vegetables are fork tender about 10 minutes.  Add in salt and pepper to taste.

5.  Let the mixture cool and transfer to a blender.  Add the tofu, apple cider, and dijon to the blender and puree until smooth.

6.  Season with salt and pepper and top with toasted white sesame seeds.

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Tips For Exploring A New City

For me, few things are more exciting and intimidating than setting foot in a totally new city.  I love unlocking a city’s secrets and the feeling you get when you start to understand its routines, how it operates, and what it values.  Here are my tips for exploring a new city that will expedite your journey toward find a city’s heartbeat.

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Get a business card from your hotel

  • You might even want to take it a step further and take a picture of the business card and hotel.  If you’re venturing from place to place, it’s easy to forget where you’re staying, and the last thing you want is to be miles away from your hostel or hotel with no idea what the name is or where it is.

Pay attention to your 5 senses

  • Get observational and actively pay attention to your senses.  Each city has a unique smell, sound, taste, texture, and look.  I always journal these aspects of a city because they immediately bring me back to the place.  I’ll never forget the sound of metal spatula hitting metal wok at a outdoor stir fry stand in China or the creamy, aromatic cappuccino smell in Rome.

Vary the ways you see the city: walk, ride, drive, etc…  

  • Exploring a city through various modes of transportation, will allow a city to reveal its different layers.  You’ll notice different things on a motorbike than you will on foot so take the opportunity to explore in a multitude of ways.

Prepare for weather variables

  • As a traveler, you’re going to have limited time, and you don’t want your trip to be stopped in its tracks due to rain or heat.  Get use to carrying around an umbrella, sunglasses, fan, sunscreen, and water bottle to ensure you can keep exploring despite weather variables.  

Start early and end late

  • By taking advantage of all the hours of the day, you’ll get to see amazing and unexpected city routines.  For example, if you’re exploring Thailand, getting up early enough will allow you to take in the processionals of barefoot monks walking through the city collecting food and praying with local people.

Bring a tour book but don’t keep your nose in it the whole time

  • Having a guidebook is invaluable.  It will provide you with real information and great recommendations about the city and sites you’re taking in that will help you understand the place you’re exploring.  However, don’t let yourself get caught up in the guidebook. Make some of your own selections about places to eat, streets to walk down, and hostels to stay in so that you’re experience is unique.  Allowing yourself to travel unguided will help you grow and likely lead to some of the most inspiring and unique experiences of your trip.  

Ask both locals and travelers for suggestions

  • Locals and travelers alike have amazing knowledge so tap into both.  Locals will be able to guide you to hidden gems and point of aspects of a city you might not notice.  Travelers can give you first hand tourist information.  They are your most up-to-date resource on accommodation, sites, and restaurants and may have done exactly what you’re trying to do just the day before!

Take pictures of people, objects, scenery, and architecture

  • Make sure to vary the type of photographs you’re taking.  I always struggle with this so I actively review my pics to ensure I’m getting enough variety that I can remember all the nuances of a place.  Take photographs of locals’ faces, beautiful food, signs, unique buildings, and of course, yourself! Even if you don’t love to have your photograph taken, get over it because sometime in the future, you’ll be devastated by the fact that you don’t have pics of yourself in these amazing places.

Take Notes

  • Just like in school, you think you’ll remember, but you won’t.  Get a little notebook and write down all the tips and tricks that locals, guides, and fellow travelers impart: this information is uber important.  You’ll be amazing how often you reference your little notebook, and it’s also a great travel keepsake.

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  • It can be a bit of an adjustment to realize you are not the first to visit the city, see the site, or eat the food.  In fact, you are far from the first, which is totally fine.  The fact that others have done it before means it’s worth doing.  If a cafe has a huge line, get in line.  If a fellow traveler recommends a guide, use him or her.  If a hostel has great reviews, book a night.  This may not work 100% of the time, but it is a good base plan that can take care of quite a lot of logistics leaving you more time to seep in the experience.

tips for exploring a new city... these make so much sense and will definitely enhance any travel experience

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Roasted Acorn Squash Seeds

Whether is be acorn squash, pumpkin, or butternut squash, toasted seeds are, for me, like the cherry on top of a sundae. This extra little treat is quick, easy, and creates less waste (yay!).  You can eat these as a snack, sprinkle them on top of soup, or mix them in with roasted veggies.

Roasted Acorn Squash Seeds -- Can't believe I've been throwing away seeds all this time!

INGREDIENTS

  • acorn squash seeds
  • non-fat butter cooking spray
  • salt

DIRECTIONS

1.  Pre-heat oven to 275 degrees.

2.  Remove seeds from the acorn squash.  Separate and throw away any bits of squash, membranes, or strings.  Rinse and dry seeds.

3.  Spread seeds on a non-stick baking sheet.  Spray with non-fat butter cooking spray and sprinkle with salt.

4.  Roast for 15 minutes.

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15 Holidays / Family Celebrations With The One Must-Do Activity For Each

It’s so important to recognize holidays and other special occasions, but between gifts, decorations, food, family, and everyday life, things can get a little overwhelming.  Here is a list of holidays / celebrations along with 1 simple activity that is sure to make the day memorable.  Also, in order to make the remembering easier, pencil the activity into your calendar at the beginning of the year for easy reference. 

a list of holidays : celebrations along with 1 perfect and simple activity that is sure to make the day memorable

Birthday: Miscellaneous: Tape Ball

This looks hilarious!! "Play this every Christmas, but using gloves, makes it way funnier. Have everyone who is playing get in a big circle, one player gets the tape ball and the player in front of them a pair of dice. The player with the ball removes tape as fast as they can and anything they dislodge is theirs to keep. The player with the dice is trying to roll doubles as quickly as they can so they get a turn. As soon as they get doubles they pass the dice to the person next to them...

Losing A Tooth: Miscellaneous: Write Miniature Letters

Tooth Fairy

New Years Day: January 1: Make New Year Pancakes

New Year Pancakes -- Use The Batter To Write Out The Year -- Special And Fun Plus As Kids Get Older They Can Participate More and More

Martin Luther King Day: January 20: Read A Picture Book Of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Martin Luther King Jr.  Day

Groundhog Day: February 2: Watch the actual ceremony live or replayed online

Groundhog Day

Valentines Day: February 14: Eat Heart Shaped Foods

Valentine's Day

Presidents Day: February 17: Read Duck For President

Duck For President - Presidents' Day

St. Patrick’s Day: March 17: Drink Green Drinks

St. Patrick's Day

Easter: April 20: Make glow-in-the-dark eggs

Glow Eggs - Easter

Cinco De Mayo: May 5: Make Guacamole

Cinco De Mayo

Mothers’ Day: May 11: Show True Gratitude

Mothers' Day

Fathers’ Day: June 15: Watch Father Of The Bride

Fathers' Day

Halloween: October 31: Get Creative With Your Costume

Halloween

Thanksgiving: November 27: Enjoy Apple Pie

Thanksgiving

Christmas: December 25: Watch Elf

Christmas

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Espresso & Vanilla Truffles

Truffles are so astonishingly easy and versatile.  I love this recipe for Espresso & Vanilla Truffles, but I have so many more combinations I’m drying to try like pumpkin pie, pistachio & honey, goat cheese & cherry, and nutella & sea salt. What truffle combinations would you like to try?

INGREDIENTS

  • 12 ounces dark chocolate chips
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream
  • 2 shots of espresso (if you don’t have an espresso machine just go to Starbucks and order a double shot of espresso — aka a doppio)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup cocoa powder

DIRECTIONS

1.  Over a double boiler, combine chocolate chips and heavy cream.  Using low heat, melt the chocolate chips and stir constantly until the chips and heavy cream form smooth, silky melted chocolate.

2.  Remove the melted chocolate from the heat.  Add espresso shots and vanilla extract.

3.  Cover the chocolate mixture and place in the refrigerator for 2-3 hours.

4.  Remove from the refrigerator, and use a small spoon to scoop out truffles.  Each truffle should be about 1 tablespoon.  Roll into 1/2 inch balls.

5.  Place each truffle in the cocoa powder and roll around.

6.  Store in an airtight container or place on a serving try.

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Tomato Gorgonzola Soup

I made this soup after a friend brought my family an entire bag of tomatoes from the farmers’ market.  I hate for produce to go bad so I knew we needed to make something that would use a lot of tomatoes.  Luckily, this recipe for Tomato Gorgonzola Soup does just that.  Its flavors also compliment the changing of the seasons.  Enjoy!

Tomato Gorgonzola Soup -- it tastes like the end of summer and beginning of fall in my mouth

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 4 tomatoes (peeled and diced)
  • 1/2 red gala apple (peeled, cored, diced)
  • 1/2 yellow onion (diced)
  • 2 tablespoons garlic (minced)
  • 2 teaspoons bouillon
  • 1 cup tomato juice
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 tablespoons Delallo sweet basil tomato paste
  • 4 ounces Gorgonzola cheese (crumbled)
  • salt and pepper

DIRECTIONS

1.  In a large pan, heat the olive oil over medium high heat.  Once hot, add onions and garlic and saute until tender.

2.  Add in the peeled and diced tomatoes and peeled apple and saute for another 2-3 minutes stirring consistently.

3.  Add  the bouillon, tomato juice, milk, and tomato paste.  Bring the mixture to a boil then turn the heat down.

4.  Simmer for 10 minutes.

5.  Add in the gorgonzola cheese stirring until melted and mixed.  Simmer for another 5 minutes.

5.  Take the soup off the stove and let it cool.  Transfer to a blender and pulse until smooth.  Season with salt and pepper.

TO NOTE:  If you are looking to extend the shelf life of tomatoes, check out my post on how to store tomatoes.

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