Comfort and Joy

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I’ve been lucky enough to have my brother here helping me nest for the past 2 weeks, but he leaves on Monday. Besides spending time with his [sassy] goddaughter, he’s been helping me clean, organize, and been cooking us meals from scratch. If you’ve followed my blog for more than a year, then you know winters are especially tough on this former Southern California girl, but having my brother here has really helped me from feeling overwhelmed and isolated.

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Another thing that has helped, is baking! [My blog is named after a cookie for goodness sake…] While I’ve been trying to take care of my [and baby’s] health, winter time always calls for comfort foods. See, my brother never left the golden state after he turned 18, like I did, instead he stayed there for college and wasn’t expecting the winter wonderland that appeared here over night when he planned this visit. He too, has been needing comfort food during his stay, and so after my kale smoothie in the morning, the day usually progresses with either some fresh baked cookies, or a pan of baked mac’n’cheese. I’m not going to go as far to say that is a “balanced” nutritional diet, but it’s all about survival here in the winter. J got me a fitbit for Christmas, and that in and of itself has helped me to be more aware of my habits and how to improve on being a little more active.

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Though I’ll be sad to see my brother go, as I’m sure Sophie will be sad to see her playmate disappear, I rest assured knowing my mom will be here in less than a month for the birth of this new baby! In the meantime, I have J’s birthday to look forward to, as much as some well-deserved alone time I’m planning for us.

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Despite having a pretty mild winter here overall, it is still hard for me to cope when the snow starts falling. How do you all survive the winter months?

Peace Valley Apple Orchard

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Some of you may have seen our adorable family photos from the apple orchard up on facebook, but I saved some of them specifically for this blog post. That’s right, EXCLUSIVE adorable photos, right here. Now, up until last year, I had only really dabbled in photography and blogging. It wasn’t until our last trip to the apple orchard that I decided I had enough skill, time, and dedication to commit to this as a hobby, Our latest trip out to Peace Valley only reaffirmed that I love food, photography, and my babies, and have an indefinite amount to say about all three.

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The weather in Ohio is actually pretty nice this time of year. We occasionally get some rain and blustery days, but for the most part the sun is out and its warm without being humid [a huge relief for people in this area]. It was supposed to be cloudy yesterday and a bit “chilly” but it turned out to be sunny for most of the afternoon and warm, with just the faintest breeze.

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These orchard are a good 45 minute drive away from us. I thought our little town was “rural” when I first arrived some 5 years ago, but was I so wrong. We have things like a kroger and Walmart! Out in the boonies, where the farms and orchards are, you’re lucky if they have a Dollar General and you can expect to see a decent amount of Amish.

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OK, by “decent amount” I really mean you might see a horse and buggy, but hey – I’m guessing that’s more than you’d typically see in your hometown. Rural though it is, the drive is actually quite nice. Twists and turns through the Ohio valley, with the leave just beginning to change, was the perfect way for us to kick off fall.

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Since the orchards are among farms, there is a cute country store on the property that sells seasonal produce as well as jams, salsas, and preserves made locally. We ended our little adventure with warm apple dumplings served a la mode. YUM. Even though it’s a bit of a drive “just for apples,” I still like that our trip to the orchards has become a little tradition.

Spaghetti Squash Casserole

Since it’s still spring time here in the Ohio Valley, the weather can be a bit unpredictable. we have 80 degree afternoons that turn into rainy 65 degree evenings. I always love a warm casserole, but I especially love them on dreary evenings.¬†Casseroles are often heavy, requiring dense ingredients such as heavy cream, tons of shredded cheese, etc. During one desperate, cold evening, I stumbled upon this concept, a spaghetti squash casserole. Now, I’m not a big veggie-crazy person, and I had never tried spaghetti squash previous to attempting this recipe; but I’m glad I did! It’s surprisingly light, for a casserole, and it tastes the delicious while fulfilling the need for a hot meal! Its a little involved, but well worth the effort. It’s the perfect recipe for spring as it satisfies the comfort food craving during the colder weather, while remaining light, thanks to the summer squash.

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What you’ll need:
1 spaghetti squash
6 ounces of breakfast sausage
4 slices of bacon
1/4 large red onion
6 eggs
1 teaspoon season salt
1 teaspoon garlic
1 tablespoon of hot sauce
1 cup of shredded cheese [whatever your favorite is!]

I started by preheating my oven to 375. Cut your squash in half [length wise], spray with oil, and place face done on the backing sheet. Bake for 40 minutes.

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While you’re waiting for the squash, cook the sausage, onion, and bacon on the stove top [in that order]. Set meats aside in a separate bowl when finished.

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When the squash is finished, set aside to cool for a bit because you will need to pick it up with your hands later on and we don’t want any injuries! While you’re waiting on your squash again, mix your egg, seasoned salt, garlic, and hot sauce in a bowl and whisk!

Pick up your squash and rake the flesh into the frying pan you previously used to cook the meats. cook the squash in the frying pan for about ten minutes or so, until it becomes soft [sort of like pasta].

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When the squash is done cooking on the stove top, add it to the bowl with the meat and fold the meat into the squash mixture. Also fold in 1/2c. of your cheese at this time.

Pour the squash/meat/cheese mixture into a 9×11 pan. Sprinkle the rest of your cheese on top and back for another 45-55 minutes. this makes 6 decent sized servings, or 8 small ones.

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ENJOY.

Homemade Applesauce

Believe it or not, this apple sauce has no refined-white sugar. I used 2 Honeycrisp apples and 2 Buckeye Gala’s which are both naturally sweeter. Then I used Organic Coconut Sugar [naturally less-sweet than white refined sugar…] to balance out the sweetness of my apples. The result was awesome!

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All you need:

-3/4 c. water
-4 apples
-1/4 c. coconut sugar
-1/2 tsp. cinnamon

First, I peeled all my apples. I then put the water, sugar, and cinnamon in a sauce pan on the stove over low heat. While the water was warming up, I cored each apple and cut them into 1/2 inch pieces. Place all of your apples into the sauce pan and bump up that heat to medium-high. Let all the apples simmer in cinnamon goodness for 15-20 minutes, until apples are soft. When the apples are done cooking they will look a little brown, this is mostly due to the brown coconut sugar.

before:

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after:

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This recipe only makes around 3-4 cups so I was able to throw it in my nutribullet, instead of mashing it by hand.

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It can only handle a few pluses before the apples become too thick for it to blend. For me. I only needed a few pulses for it to be the texture I wanted.

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Chill in the fridge for an hour, at least. Enjoy!

Quick, Easy Side

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When I was almost 41 weeks pregnant, My mother had come out to help me do simple things that are not so simple for a 9 month pregnant woman. She taught me how to make this side, which is so stupid-easy and delicious, I wish I had been making for far longer. Now, Its my go-to side for most dinners [and a side that Hubby actually requests!]

Ingredients:
Potato medley
Organic, Extra Virgin Olive Oil
your favorite Season Salt

I’ve been doing a little more research on nutrition lately, and almost¬†every source stresses the importance of eating many vegetables in a variety of colors. While this side isn’t the healthiest, it definitely is colorful!

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Preheat your oven to 450, then start by cutting your tiny potatoes, into even smaller pieces.

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Next, drizzle the olive oil over your purple, red and golden medley.
Then sprinkle your potatoes with your favorite season salt [I use Tastefully Simple]. Mix potatoes with your hands [or a spoon if you’re not in the mood for greasy, food fun…] so that all pieces are coated in olive oil, salty goodness.

Spread on a baking sheet with a rim [in case any of your olive oil spreads during the baking… don’t want to have to clean that off of the bottom of your oven later!]

Bake at 450 for 20 minutes. Enjoy!

Favorite Banana Bread

This is my own gluten free recipe, but you can substitute the gluten free flour for regular, if you prefer. Either way, it’s great with a cup of coffee!

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Ingredients:
2 cups of all purpose, gluten free flour
4 eggs
1/2 cups of dark chocolate chips [or chunks, i use a mix of both]
1/3 cup of organic coconut oil, melted
1/2 cup of unsweetened apple sauce
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking powder
1 cup coconut sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 ripe bananas

Sugar Plum wanted to help in the kitchen… and by “help” I mean she wanted to sit on the floor and grab her feet in my presence.

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I like to freeze my bananas over night, and then thaw them the next day. They don’t look very appetizing after this process…. but its easier than mashing them with a fork. Personally I feel this technique gets you a more intense banana flavor.

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Preheat your oven to 350.
Combine Dry ingredients first, then add wet ingredients such as the extract, bananas, applesauce, etc.
Spray 2 loaf pans with coconut oil or PAM.
Pour mix into pans and bake at 350 for 45 minutes.

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This is by far my favorite g-free banana bread recipe and I hope you enjoy it too!

Note: If you do not plan to eat this within 1-2 days, I highly recommend refrigerating it. I microwave refrigerated pieces for 20 secs in the microwave, covering the slice with a paper towel. Enjoy!