Thursday, December 29, 2016

Holiday Flower Show at Garfield Park Conservatory

My new family of three spent a few hours at the Garfield Park Conservatory earlier this month to check out the 2016 holiday flower exhibit. I hadn't visited the Conservatory in years. I don't know why it took me so long to go back - it's a beautiful place, especially during colorless winter months. Today I'm sharing a photo recap of our visit to the Holiday Flower Show: Sky Forest.

This year's Holiday Flower Show is open until January 8, 2017, so if you're in the area you still have time to squeeze in a visit!

The Fraser fir tree is highlighted in the holiday exhibit with over 100 trees on display. This happens to be my favorite Christmas tree - I love love the smell and look of it. We have a small Fraser fir in our dining room right now.

Trees are displayed at various heights, including suspensions in the air. Super impressive.

The holiday show house is also full of flowers, such as exotic colored poinsettias.

We checked out the rest of the Conservatory during our visit, which is one of the largest in the U.S. - a fact I just learned while reading up on its history for this post! The Conservatory has been open since 1908, and holds 4.5 acres of plants - including indoor and outdoor displays.

The Garfield Park Conservatory is open every day of the year, and admission is free {a donation of $5 per person is suggested}. Baby C enjoyed his first conservatory visit at 2 weeks old. This is a great place to take a baby for a visit in the winter, especially since many of the plant rooms are very warm. Walking through the rooms feels like taking a beach vacation. :)

Besides the holiday show house, my favorite rooms included cacti:

A koi pond:

And huge, towering palm trees:

We can't wait to go back this winter for another visit and may even check out the holiday flower show again with visiting family over the New Years weekend.

The Garfield Park Conservatory is operated by the Chicago Park District, Garfield Park Conservatory Alliance, and Garfield Park Community Council. The Conservatory is located at 300 N. Central Park Avenue, Chicago, IL, about 15 minutes west of downtown via the expressway.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Flourless Gingerbread Chocolate Chip Bars

This flourless recipe for Gingerbread Chocolate Chip Bars is a healthier take on a holiday dessert, with the warm gingerbread spices of cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and cloves.

This post contains affiliate links.

Last December I posted a healthier dessert recipe for Peppermint Mocha Brownies, using no butter or oil and almond flour instead of white flour. I experimented in the kitchen yesterday with a gingerbread version and I think it turned out very tasty!

I have been inspired by holiday flavors lately, especially gingerbread. K and I visited the Museum of Science and Industry last week, to take in the Christmas Around the World exhibit. It's a beautiful display inside the museum, with a four-story Christmas tree and over fifty smaller trees decorated to represent the holiday traditions of countries around the world. I picked up this Gingerbread Wonderland cookbook at the museum's holiday store, and immediately made the Dark Gingerbread shape cookies.

Making gingerbread cookies is so labor intensive! As a follow-up to my cookie baking, I decided to create a recipe using gingerbread flavors without the hours of work. These Flourless Gingerbread Chocolate Chip Bars include a secret ingredient, the same as my Peppermint Mocha Brownies - pumpkin puree. Pumpkin puree gives the bars a lot of moisture and you don't need to add any butter or oil.

I had a helper in the kitchen too - this little buddy napped the afternoon away.

These bars include my favorite gingerbread flavors - blackstrap molasses, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and cloves. I'm also a big fan of adding chocolate to gingerbread desserts. I used semi-sweet chocolate chips for this recipe, but I think dark chocolate chips would be delicious too.

These bars are fudgy and spicy, with the consistency of a brownie instead of a cookie. They are also gluten free since I used almond flour instead of white flour.

Flourless Gingerbread Chocolate Chip Bars
Yields: 12 bars

Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 40 minutes
Total time: 50 minutes

1 cup almond flour
1/2 cup old-fashioned oats {ground into flour} or oat flour
1/2 cup pumpkin puree
1/2 cup light brown sugar + 2 Tablespoons
1 egg
2 Tablespoons blackstrap molasses
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips + 2 Tablespoons
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

How to~
*Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
*Mix dry ingredients - almond flour, oat flour, brown sugar, baking powder, spices, and salt.
*Add wet ingredients - pumpkin puree, molasses, egg, and vanilla extract. Mix until combined.
*Stir in 1/2 cup chocolate chips.
*Add batter to a 9x9 pan {or equivalent} pan.** Top with additional chocolate chips.
*Bake for 35 minutes, or until a toothpick or fork comes out clean.

**Note: I used a 10x7 pan.

These bars need to be refrigerated or frozen due to the fudgy texture.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Holiday Gift Guide: Runners

This Holiday Gift Guide for Runners includes a few of my favorite things - this is a great last minute gift list for a favorite runner in your life.

This post contains affiliate links.

I recently posted a Holiday Gift Guide for Foodies and today I'm back with a Holiday Gift Guide for Runners. I stopped running during mid-pregnancy, so I haven't logged any miles since the end of June. I can't believe it has been close to six months since my last run! I miss it and I'm looking forward to getting back out there in the new year and logging some chilly miles.

Below are six of my gift ideas for the favorite runner in your life.

A running belt - the FlipBelt Zipper {$34.99}

I have been using a FlipBelt for two years and I love it. This running belt stretches to fit around your waist or hips and can hold keys, tissues, my cell and headphones, and anything else small that I might need during a run.

Medal Hanger - Runners INSPIRATION Race Medal Hanger {$39.99}

I bought a similar medal hanger as a Christmas gift for my friend S a few years ago to commemorate the many races we have finished together. I think it's a great way for your favorite runner to display medals!

GapFit Breathe Tee Shirt {on sale, starting at $19.99}

I am a huge fan of these GapFit t-shirts, especially for workouts. I have this shirt in several colors. It's  super soft and washes really well! GapFit also has a long-sleeved version.

{Image via Gap}

Smartwool Women's Run Socks {$17.95}

I love Smartwool socks, especially the thinner, low cut version for workouts. This women's running sock is available in a variety of colors.

{Image via Amazon}

Bose SoundSport Wireless Headphones {$149}

I'm still using my old school headphones {the free pair that comes with your iPhone}, but I'm thinking about upgrading to a wireless Bluetooth version in the new year after reading so many good reviews. This pair from Bose is at the top of the list for 2016, according to

{Image via Amazon}

Born to Run {$9.59}

I actually bought myself this book a few years ago and still haven't read it {I know}. It's on my list to finish this winter while I'm on maternity leave. Born to Run looks like a great motivational story!

{Image via Amazon}

What's on your holiday wish list this year?

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Baby Makes Three + December Lately List

Happy Saturday! This post is coming to you on the other side of having a new baby - we are just over two weeks in and loving every minute. Baby Cade Lyle decided to join our family a few weeks early, surprising everyone. I thought we were going to have a Christmas baby but he decided the week before Thanksgiving was a better time to arrive - he didn't want to miss out on any holiday celebrating! Baby C arrived on his grandma's birthday too - I can't imagine a better gift.

This post contains affiliate links.

Things are going well, and we are lucky that he's a very chill baby so far {knock on wood}. I'm also sharing a Lately List for highlights of what we are up to right now. I shared this list for the first time back in November 2014. If you copy/paste this list on your own blog, please leave a comment with your link! I would love to read what's going on in your world this month.

Lately List - December 2016

Making: Holiday photo gifts of baby C. Bella Baby Photography takes the most amazing newborn photos!

Waiting: For my baby to wake up.  :)

Feeling: Motivated to finish decorating for the holidays.

Cooking: Nothing at the moment. Our sweet neighborhood group set up a meal train to celebrate baby C's arrival, and we have been enjoying delicious meals {with leftovers!} every night.

 {Chicken Enchiladas with Cowboy Churro Beans and Charred Corn Salad}

Wanting: To bake Christmas cookies. I have a major craving for gingerbread flavors this weekend.

Sewing: Nothing. My sewing skills are still lacking!

Wishing: For a healthy and joyful holiday season.

Drinking: Stumptown Coffee - my absolute favorite. Find the Winter Cheer cold brew if you can - it's made with mulling spices + milk and it's sooo good. I found this at Whole Foods.

Reading: Fates and Furies on my Kindle and What to Expect: The First Year in paperback.

Looking: For a few final items to finish baby C's nursery. How cute is this Alphabet Canvas?

Wasting: Time on Pinterest.

Enjoying: Snuggling with baby C.

Liking: This set of LED string lights - these lights are battery powered and perfect to decorate small corners of your home. I just got mine in the mail yesterday!

Loving: The generosity of our family and friends in celebrating baby C's arrival. We are SO grateful for the well wishes, baby squeezes, visits, meals and gifts!

Thinking: About signing up for a spring race as motivation to get back into running - the Shamrock Shuffle 8k in April is at the top of my list. I ran this race last year while 4 weeks pregnant!

Hoping: For good weather to walk outdoors with baby C - 40 degrees with no wind would be perfect, Mother Nature.

Needing: To finish addressing and mailing birth announcements + holiday cards.

Wondering: When the first big snowfall will arrive this season. Tomorrow there is a 100% chance of snow in the forecast...

Knowing: I need to finish buying Christmas gifts for family.

Smelling: Our Balsam Fir Christmas tree - my favorite part of holiday decor. We picked up this tree last weekend but it's still naked. I think today is finally the day for decorating!

Wearing: "Athleisure" - aka leggings as pants every day.

Following: New accounts on Instagram. Who do I need to add next?

Bookmarking: Crock pot recipes. I'm planning to experiment with the crock pot this season, since I'm home and have plenty of time. I received this cookbook as a wedding shower gift a few years ago - it's time to put it to use.

Marveling: That baby C is here - this weekend would have marked 39 weeks of pregnancy for me, and today he is two weeks + 1 day old.  We are so grateful for his safe arrival!

Monday, November 28, 2016

3 Tips for Meatless Monday

This shop has been compensated by Collective Bias, Inc. and its advertiser. All opinions are mine alone. #MyWaytoVeg #CollectiveBias

At my house, we aim to have "Meatless Monday" lunches or dinners on a weekly basis, at a minimum. Incorporating meatless meals into our routine is important to me because it benefits the environment and promotes sustainable living. Going "meatless" isn't just for vegetarians! Today I'm sharing three tips for incorporating Meatless Monday meals into your weekly routine, including new flavors of MorningStar Farms® Veggie Bowls.

1: Plan your Meatless Monday Meals

A little bit of planning goes a long way. Search your favorite cookbooks, food blogs and Pinterest {linking to my Delicious Vegetarian Recipes board} for inspiration. Every weekend I write up a meal list with my grocery list before we shop at the store on Sunday mornings. Since we only cook for two adults, I try to choose meals that will last and result in tasty leftovers.

2: Experiment with New Veggies

For additional motivation to try Meatless Mondays, experiment with a new vegetable every week by incorporating it into your meatless meal. For us, winter squash makes a great hearty base for a meatless meal. Acorn, butternut, and spaghetti squash are my favorites. This is the perfect time of year to try every kind of squash! A few examples of other winter seasonable vegetables in Illinois include brussels sprouts, mushrooms, and cabbage. Check out this seasonal food guide for more info on your state.

3: Stock Up on Easy Meatless Options

For hectic days and meals where you need a fast lunch or dinner, keep delicious frozen options in your home such as MorningStar Farms® Veggie Bowls.

MorningStar Farms has five new varieties of Veggie Bowls available, including Chik'n Pot Pie, Chik'n Tikka Masala, Italian Sausage Bake, Japanese Soba Noodles, and Moroccan Medley. I found these new flavors at my local Jewel store, in the frozen foods section {aisle 10}.

I tried the Chik'n Pot Pie Veggie Bowl for lunch on a busy day last week. This Veggie Bowl includes Veggie Chik'n Strips, peas, carrots, corn, red potatoes, and a biscuit on top.

This vegetarian Chik'n Pot Pie Veggie Bowl made a very easy lunch for me, because it was ready in less than 5 minutes in the microwave. The Chik'n Strips in this Veggie Bowl are 100% vegan.

I have enjoyed MorningStar Farms products for years, so I'm excited to have a new option for vegetarian dining through these Veggie Bowls. Veggie Bowls are great for families, busy working people, and anyone wanting to stick to a healthier lifestyle.

For more veggie inspiration, check out the MorningStar Farms My Way to Veg page. Find MorningStar Farms on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, and Instagram.

Do you eat vegetarian meals? How do you incorporate Meatless Mondays into your weekly meal routine?

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Candy Cane Mascarpone Dip

This holiday recipe for Candy Cane Mascarpone Dip is a delicious and easy dessert with only a few ingredients - my favorite mascarpone cheese, crushed candy canes, and peppermint extract.

#GetReliefFromtheFeast this season by checking out Walmart's website and their delicious holiday recipe ideas!

Make this Candy Cane Mascarpone Dip for a family party or gathering of friends this season. It would be a great easy dessert for your Thanksgiving meal this week. The best part is this dessert only takes 5 minutes to whip up in a food processor.

The star ingredients of this recipe are mascarpone cheese and crushed mini candy canes. Mascarpone cheese is Italian cream cheese. It's very smooth and slightly sweet, with a tangy flavor at the end. I have really learned to appreciate mascarpone cheese after marrying into a northern Italian family - for example, my sister-in-law often posts delicious Italian-inspired recipes on her food blog.

I love desserts that include dairy like mascarpone cheese, especially around the holidays, but I have been lactose intolerant since I was a baby so I need a little something to help me enjoy my favorite dishes. I always have Lactaid in my cupboard for times like this. I recently stocked up on Lactaid at Walmart.

Make sure to check out Walmart's website for more options to help you enjoy your favorite recipes this season. You can find LACTAID® supplements for dishes you can't control at holiday gatherings this season, LACTAID® dairy products for cooking, IMODIUM® for fast relief from digestive symptoms, and PEPCID® for heartburn. Make sure to stock up on these helpful essentials during your next visit to Walmart.

I served this dip to my family with mini vanilla wafer cookies, but I think it would be delicious with chocolate cookies or graham crackers. 

Peppermint is one of my favorite flavors around the holidays, especially in the form of a candy cane.

How cute is this mini cookie topped with dessert dip?

I suggest crushing an extra mini candy cane to use as a topping on your Candy Cane Mascarpone Dip. It gives this dessert dip a satisfying crunch!

Candy Cane Mascarpone Dip
Yields: 6+ servings
1 container of mascarpone cheese
1 splash of peppermint extract 
11 mini candy canes, blended in a food processor 

*In a food processor, pulverize 10 candy canes until they turn into a powder.
*Add the mascarpone cheese and peppermint extract.  Mix until well blended.
*Top the dip with 1 chopped mini candy cane as a garnish. Serve with your favorite cookies.

What's your favorite holiday dessert recipe? How do you deal with digestive trouble at this time of year? Remember to visit Walmart's website for relief options this season!

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Holiday Gift Guide: Foodies

This Holiday Gift Guide for Foodies is a great way to get inspired for Christmas and other holiday shopping, with a range of gift ideas $100 and under. This "foodie" list is perfect for your favorite friend or family member that loves cooking or baking in the kitchen.

This post contains affiliate links.

I'm getting my holiday shopping done early this year since our baby will be making his appearance next month. As I've been researching gifts for family members, I thought it would be fun to create a "foodie" gift guide from items that I have and love using in my own kitchen. I can't believe I've never posted a holiday gift guide on this blog before!

Below is a list of ten gift ideas, ranging in price from $8 to $100.

Brownie Bar Pan {$8}

I received this pan as a gift from my sister-in-law a few years ago. This brownie pan is a great way to make sure your brownies all have crispy edges {my favorite part}!

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Madagascar Bourbon Pure Vanilla Extract {$12}

I have a mini collection of vanilla extracts for baking, and this Madagascar Bourbon flavored extract is one of my favorites. I received this as a gift for Christmas last year, and it's still at the front of my spice shelf.

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Silpat Non-Stick Silicone Baking Mat {$19}

I have a few different non-stick baking mats, but this Silpat version is the best one in my opinion. It cleans easily and you never have to worry about cookies or other food items sticking to your baking sheets. The siplat comes in a variety of sizes/prices - I have the half sheet version.

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The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook {$21}

Deb's cookbook from 2012 is still one of my favorites. Her smitten kitchen food blog is one of the first I started reading. She also has a great round-up of Thanksgiving recipes on her blog that I'll be looking over in the coming week!

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The Complete America's Test Kitchen TV Show Cookbook 2001-2017 {$27}

America's Test Kitchen has every kitchen and cooking tip you can think of, and their complete "TV Show Cookbook" summarizes them all. The latest version of their cookbook was released in early October, covering shows from 2001 - 2017. I have the 2015 version and it's awesome - full of hundreds of wonderful recipes.

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Le Creuset Stoneware 1-Quart Utensil Crock {$30}

I received two Le Creuset crocks as a wedding shower gift a few years ago, and they are still going strong in my kitchen. The one quart size is perfect for holding kitchen utensils while not taking up too much counter space. This comes in a variety of colors - "Caribbean" is pictured here.

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Amazon Echo Dot {$50}

K and I actually have the full-sized Amazon Echo, but this Echo Dot would also be a fun gift for someone that loves spending time in the kitchen. We use our Amazon Echo every day to listen to the radio, play podcasts, and our favorite music. It's featured on our counter next to the spice rack and I can't imagine a better place for it.

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Emile Henry Baking Dish {$80}

My hands down favorite item in our kitchen is this "BBQ fish pan" baking dish from Emile Henry. We purchased this using wedding gift cards a few years ago on a recommendation. We use it mostly for roasting vegetables and squash, but it's main use is supposed to be for seafood. See the grill marks? Nothing sticks to this baking dish, food heats evenly, and it cleans very easily.

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Capresso Conical Burr Coffee Grinder {$87}

For your favorite coffee lover, I highly recommend this conical burr grinder. I received this as a Christmas gift last year from my brother and use it almost every day. There is a range of options for grinding beans, from extra fine to course. I used to have a $10 coffee grinder - I promise you this upgraded version is worth every penny.

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Le Creuset Mini Cocottes with Cookbook {$100}

These Mini Cocottes from Le Creuset are so cute and perfect for a baker or cook in your life. I received these as a Christmas gift last year and I love them! Each cocotte holds 8 ounces and is made of Le Creuset stoneware. This set of four also comes with a cookbook including 25 recipe ideas.
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