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Thursday, August 22, 2013

Vegan Carrot Walnut Muffins

If you follow me on pinterest (what? You don't follow me on pinterest? What the heck is your problem? I pin cool stuff.) you may have noticed recently that I have been pinning a lot of vegan recipes. I invited over some friends for dinner the other night, one of whom had noticed this trend, and was concerned she may be served some kind of crazy hippie vegan meal! I assure you this is not the case.
However, one of my loved ones has recently adopted a low fat vegan diet for health reasons, which has piqued my interest and challenged my cooking chops. I've started experimenting with various vegan recipes, more specifically baked goods, and a lot of muffins!
Because who doesn't love a muffin? Muffins are great. They are like a dessert people don't judge you for eating at breakfast. I've been tinkering with a couple different muffin recipes, banana, blueberry, pumpkin... and today, it happened. This guy here. He's the winner.

This is by far the most delicious muffin I have made. A little bit sweet, a little spicy, good texture (a lot of them tend to be very dense), and plenty of carrot-y goodness. This Carrot Walnut muffin is completely vegan and also low in fat. But it doesn't have any strange ingredients in it. So many times I find a vegan recipe that looks like a winner, and I have to google half the ingredient list just to know what it is and where to get it. No fun. Likely, you already have every ingredient here in your pantry. Or you at least won't be scratching your head reading the list. You're welcome.
And bonus... your kitchen is going to smell awesome while they are baking! You're welcome again.

Vegan Carrot Walnut Muffins
  • 1 cup white flour*
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour*
  • 1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1 cup shredded carrots
  • 1/4 cup carrot puree**
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened apple sauce
  • 1/2 cup pure maple syrup
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1/4 cup raisins
  • 1/8 cup finely chopped walnuts (for topping)
Preheat oven to 375.
Whisk together dry ingredients.
Mix wet ingredients (+walnuts and raisins)
Add dry to wet, and stir until combined. Batter will be quite thick.
Scoop 1/3 cup into 12 lined muffin pans. Sprinkle tops with walnuts.
Bake 18-20 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean.
*I like to go half and half on my flour... whole wheat flour makes them hearty, white flour makes them a lighter pastry.
**I shred my carrots in a food processor. I cooked down about 1/3 cup of shredded carrots then threw them back in the food processor with the blade and a little water to make the puree... it seems like a lot more work, but it's not really, and it makes them very carrot-y and delicious.

Try and wait until they have cooled a smidgeon before digging in... because you can't fully appreciate the yumminess if your mouth is blistered. AHEM I've heard... I wouldn't do something so compulsive as putting a lava hot muffin on my tongue because I'm impatient.
I really hope you enjoy these. My family definitely did, they were a huge hit! Tasty enough you might not even guess they were low-fat and vegan... if you didn't know!
But you do know... and don't you feel good about it. :)

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The Yard to Be and the Foxen

So we bought a house. And we moved. And since then we've been busy busy busy trying to make the house look presentable. I mean, the house is lovely, and we moved in and unpacked quickly and actually the inside is nothing to complain about. But the outside could use some... curb appeal?

This is what she looked like the day we bought her... not... awful. But not much of a yard to speak of. A crazy, lumpy, uneven, gravel-y lot full of weeds and chiggers! Oh the chiggers are bad.
See that gorgeous lush lawn? Try not to be jealous.
Even though it was 90% weeds and chiggers, we knew it would be a few weeks (or months) before we could get some real grass in this place, and in the mean time, we couldn't be overrun. Plus we also have a puppy we had to let out to go potty, who is terrified of anything teller than a cricket. (Scratch that-- he's scared of crickets too...) but the tall scary weeds were not doing it for him, and we were not really fans of him pottying in the house, duh.  So Z diligently mowed down the weeds twice a week.
We knew we had plenty of work ahead of us, but on top of our weed infestation and our chigger infestation, we also had these guys that liked to hang out in our yard...
Those are one, two, three little foxes that liked to play in our backyard every morning. Which would maybe be acceptable or expected if our house backed up to some woods, or acreage, but our lot backs up to someone else's fence? And there is an empty lot next door. However our house has been empty for 5 years, and these guys made it clear that this lot was THEIRS.
We actually found them quite entertaining and delightful at first. Every morning about 7:00 am they would be out frolicking, jumping, running, and playing in our yard. Right outside out windows, just a few feet from our back door! Sam especially enjoyed watching them in the mornings. But then I started to get a little nervous, becuase they didn't seem to be willing to give up their space. And when we saw this:
The little dudes jumping over a full size fence! I started to get nervous. I didn't know if they would ever act maliciously or territorially if we or our kiddo or our dog was outside, likely they would probably run and hide, but I wasn't sure. I didn't want to risk it. Especially knowing they could hop fences, I was a little concerned.
So I started researching wildlife rescue organizations around us to see if they could be relocated to a safer location for everyone. I didn't want to call animal control, because I didn't want the little guys to be captured and euthanized. It was unfortunate that our homes overlapped and we couldn't live comfortably together, but even still that wasn't their fault.
I was getting ready to make some phone calls, but we started seeing less and less of them. They didn't play in our yard in the mornings anymore, and we didn't even see them darting through the empty lots next to us anymore.
About a week later we brought in the machinery and graded and tilled our lot to prepare it for grass and landscaping and fencing. Now our house looks more like this:
 And it stayed like that for a couple weeks, and without a speck of vegetation around, I think the foxen (as I lovingly called them) decided to relocate themselves to a nicer neighborhood. We have seen no evidence of them around for more than a month now, so I feel confident they have vacated the premises and I like to believe they found a much nicer home, away from cars, people and other weird stuff that would disrupt their way of life. But they were our little buddies for a couple of weeks and that still makes me smile.
So here's the house in the naked lot just waiting and ready for some love. And if you are perceptive or know anything about fence building, you've noted the load in our driveway and can take a guess at what the first order of business will be...

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Maybe a Haircut will Help...

Here's a dramatic before and after that gets me every time:

Dirty, shaggy, shapeless mutt...

...into handsomely groomed, bright-eyed puppy.

This is our dog Charlie. Charlie is about a 4 year old mutt, 'rescued' from an overwhelmed family. We got him when he was about a year old-- we think-- and he was kind of a mess. He was a shaggy, crazy, matted, but loveable guy... and we gave him his first haircut before he even belonged to us. Yup. We groom our dogs ourselves. Or I groom our dogs I guess.
I grew up with cocker spaniels, and my parents always cut their hair on the back deck. Before I got my westie, Winston, I had never thought much about dog grroming, or the fact that my parents had always done their own dogs, but I took him to the groomer once or twice and I was all... uhn-uh. That is highway robbery folks.
Simple bath and grooming for a small dog was costing me $40-$50 bucks a pop. And half the time my westie came back to me looking like a Schnauzer, and I was all, really professional groomers? REALLY? So I started doing my dog's grooming myself, and never looked back at those crazy over priced groomers.
I've been doing my own dogs, my parents dogs, and my friend's dogs on occasion for several years now, and while I am FAR from a professional, I have picked up some skills and a few tips a long the way that I thought I'd like to share with you, if you think maybe you'd like to save yourself the cash and try your own hand at it...

1. Invest a little... You will need to make an initial investment in a pair of good quality clippers and grooming supplies. Most pet pet supply stores should have everything you need. Expect to pay $100+ for a good quality pair. But when you start to divide that cost between hair cuts... they will easily pay for themselves within a year. Even faster if you have more than one dog you are regularly grooming. I have these clippers by Wahl and have been very pleased with the quality/durability... and also they have an extra long cord which is a lot more important than you might think.  If your clippers do not come with a set of gaurds, you will want to get those as well. You will also need a good pair of scissors/shears and a comb/brush/matt rake.

2. Do a little research... Before I cut my Westie's hair for the first time I hit the internet and watched several videos on youtube about how to groom a westie. Look up your dog breed, or several dog breeds and get a general idea of what you want it to look like, and how to accomplish that! Sometimes your clippers might come with a book/manual/dvd with instructions on basic cuts, so read through that! You can go to PetsMart and watch them cut dogs through the windows at their grooming salon, witness a few haircuts before you make your maiden voyage.
Have a plan, and even print off some pictures to refer to as you cut.

3. Work Smarter... not harder. Make it easier on yourself. Start with your pooch brushed out and free of matts and tangles. This will make your clippers and/scissors glide right through, and make the whole process easier for both of you.
Any undesirable task is easier in small chunks. If your dog's fur becomes especially matted over time... give him a quick brush out daily, or every couple of days. He will be more comfortable, and it can eliminate hours of painful picking through matts before you every get to the haircut.

4. Chill out... grooming can be strange and stressful for your dog... try to reduce the stressors in the environment for both of you. Play some music that you like. Have some water on hand for both of you. Try to do it in an environment free of distracting or stressful kiddos. Have a spouse or family member the dog likes and trusts on hand to help hold, pet, or comfort and encourage your dog if he starts to get too upset. Try to remain positive in tone, even if the dog is not entirely compliant. You want to make this a positive experience if at all possible-- scolding and frustration will just make them fearful of it.
And treats for everyone when it's done! Some good play time and a rub down, or snacks and a snuggle... whatever you do to enjoy each other, enjoy each other once you are all cut and clean!

5. Suck it up... We cut our dog's hair on the back porch or in the garage in inclement weather, and we keep the shop vac close at hand to suck up the hair as we go. The larger the dog, and the more you are cutting, the crazier and messier that pile of hair gets. take a break every couple of minutes to clean your work space of fallen hair. This will make the process and the cleanup much more manageable and enjoyable!

6. The difference between a good haircut and a bad haircut... is about 2 weeks. Or that's what my dad used to always tell us when we were teenagers. (and who didn't have a devastating haircut in their teen years?) You probably won't perfect the craft the very first time, and if you make a few mistakes, or the pup's ears are lopsided, or you forgot to put the guard on and the pooch is looking a little bald on one side... hair grows back. Give your pooch a little extra love, and yourself a little extra grace for the bad haircut, and give it a few weeks to grow out. Odds are your dog won't even notice, and you will find it amusing/endearing over time. :)

I hope that gives you a place to start, or maybe some encouragement to try something new. Pets are a part of your home and a part of your family, so of course you want to keep them looking great just like everything else! Let me know if you have any questions, or if you do decide to try your hand at some grooming, take before and afters and share them! I'd love to see your handiwork and your furbabies! :)

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Sam's 1st room-- TOUR!

We moved, and I know you all are anxious to see pics of the new house and all that... but there was something important I needed to do before we left the town home behind. Something I promised you years ago and never followed through on.
Sam's room was my favorite room in that house. I put a ton of effort and thought into making that room special, and before we left it for good, I really want to document it and share it with you-- in it's complete form.
Before I packed a single thing in that room, we gave it a good clean and pick-up and then took pictures so we would always have documentation and something to remember Sam's first room. The room we brought him home from the hospital to. The room where we spent countless hours rocking, feeding, playing, reading, and growing up. It was the only thing about the old house that I had a bittersweet pang leaving. But here it is, for you-- but mostly for me-- to enjoy and for posterity.

This is the view looking in the door. The chair is a rocking overstuffed chair we purchased at Babies 'R' Us. (Talked about our purchase here). The curtains were made by me. Bobble throw on the chair was made and given to us by my good friend Amy Lee. The P pillow a gift from another friend. White shag rug from target. Trunk has been mine for years. And the bureau is part of the furniture I refinished for the room. The awesome bear painting on top of the bureau was a gift painted by my Aunt. (It is SO COOL.) The letters spelling his name came from HomeGoods.
The crib was purchase at Nebraska Furniture Mart. Bed sheet (white with green polka dots) and the crib skirt were made by me. The chevron quilt I made for him is over the side of the crib. The three small canvases above the bed were taken by Kim Joyce Photography, and the canvases purchased from ArtsCow.com. The corner shelves are from Target. We have an AngelCare monitor (on the right) that we LOVE. Blocks that spell Samuel (corner shelf on the left) are from Little Sapling Toys. The leaf mobile above the crib was made by myself and my friend, of etsy inspiration. To the right of the crib is Sam's hamper, and in the top middle of the photo you can see a little 'sweet pea' ornament that my mom gave us, we hung it from the fan pull, and it became part of Sam's goodnight ritual, touching the sweetpea before bed every night.
This dresser was another piece that I refinished for the room. The changing pad was purchased from Babies 'R' Us, and the changing pad cover I made. The elephant lamp on the right was purchased at HomeGoods, and Amy Lee and I recovered the lampshade. Peeking around the corner (on the floor on the left) you can see the bag holder I made, and also the wet bags for Sam's cloth diapers hang there. Above the dresser is the tiled round miror I purchase at HomeGoods, as well as pictures of Z and I, the puppies, sam's sonogram and framed hospital bracelet. Above the changing pad as pinwheels from the Baby P shower my friend Erin threw. Sam loved those hanging pinwheels!
The view from the other side of the room... My favorite part! Sam had a regular old boring closet that was dingy and had broken sliding doors on it. We removed the doors and painted it this happy bright green color. My dad built the shelf going up the middle, and I painted that and all the other shelving (going up the sides of the closet you can't see) a bright shiny white. We installed the wooden clothing rods. The green tubs along the top shelf and the green kids hangers came from Target. We added a ton of storage, and made the room feel more open bright with out closet remodel. I was so happy. The large ruler to the left of the closet I made as a growth chart for Sam's first birthday. (Meant to put that project on the blog, but... oops.)
 And I think that's about it. If you saw anything in there I didn't mention that you are curious about, please ask, I will answer to the best of my ability! I was so proud of this room, and felt so happy in this space.
Goodbye, Happy Room! We will miss you, but we gotta move on to bigger and better things!

It's a little weird to go back through all those older posts as we were preparing this room for Little Sam... especially since we now have a Baby P II we are preparing for. Oh, we have Big plans for his first little room! I can't wait to get started and share with you along the way. :)

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Popcorn Trail Treats

It's not like there are a million things going on at my house right now. A million things that I am dying to show you, but haven't had the energy to blog about. In the mean time, you can have this recipe. This recipe and a promise that good things are coming!

Sam has recently discovered popcorn. And he is delighted. Who wouldn't be, really? I mean, you show me a person who says they are meh about popcorn, and I will show you a person who is dead on the inside. Popcorn is awesome.
It's awesome because it's tasty. It's awesome because it can go sweet or savory. It's awesome because it's not innately bad for you... but you can definitely take it there if you are feeling sinful. We love popcorn.
We also love granola, dried fruit, trail mix, and rice krispie treats... I was thinking about all those things that we love and all of a sudden went, DUH. This has to come together. And it did. And it was awesome.
Salty and sweet, crunchy and chewy, yummy and not too sinful. All the things we love in a treat, no?
Okay, enough talk... Go make some!

Popcorn Trail Treats

4 cups popped white popcorn (1/4 cup unpopped should do it) (Dude, do this oil free method too. Bet you didn't know you could do that, eh?)
1/3 cup of dried mixed berries chopped (mine had cherries, blueberries and strawberries)
1 cup oats

1/2 cup dry roasted peanuts (or any nuts you prefer!)
1/2 cup roasted coconut 

1 1/2 cups mini marshmallows
1/2 tablespoon coconut oil
1 tablespoon honey

Mix the first 5 ingredients in a bowl.

In a large saucepan over med-low heat, stir the marshmallows, coconut oil, and honey until melted. Dump the dry stuff into the melted mixture and gently stir until thoroughly coated. Press into a greased 9x9 pan, and pop into the fridge to firm up. Cut into bars, store in an airtight container.  

*This is not an exact science... use whatever dried fruit you like, raisins? Apricots? Craisins? I don't care. I also feel like some dark chocolate chunks could be delicious. Or throw some flax seed or wheat germ in there to beef up some healthiness. I use these big gorgeous roasted coconut flakes that I get at Trader Joes, but you toast up some regular shredded coconut.
*You could likely swap out butter or margarine (gah, but why would you want to?) for the coconut oil. But I had some and coconut oil is good stuff... go with what cha got.
*Add a pinch or two of some good sea salt if you enjoy things on the saltier side. We try to omit salt where we can for health reasons... but I know that sweet/salty contrast is very appealing.

I hope you enjoy! But warning... with little toddler hands around they may not even last long enough to take a few pics for your blog...