Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Favorite Things: Fall Decor at Home

This post includes a list of my favorite fall decor items for your home including pumpkin decor, a seasonal blanket, a print, candles and more. I have been looking for new fall / autumn decorating ideas since the calendar rolled over to September - I hope this list provides inspiration for you too.

This post contains affiliate links.

Mother Nature is bringing warm, summery weather to the Chicago area this week, with temperatures in the mid-to-upper 80s and sunny skies starting tomorrow and through the weekend. But fall is just a few days away - the autumnal equinox is coming this Friday, September 22. I started decorating for the fall season early this year, but there are a few more things I have my eye on. I prefer to keep fall and Halloween decorations subtle and not too wild. This list includes ten fall decor items I would love to add to my home.

White Gourds and Pumpkins
I always pick up a few white pumpkins in various sizes to display around the house. I haven't found any for sale yet this year, so I am tempted to buy the artificial kind to use for multiple years.

{Image via Amazon}

Glass Pumpkin Jar
I have two ceramic pumpkins that my mom bought me several years ago, in pale yellow and orange. They are perfect to use as candy jars. I think this clear glass pumpkin is a perfect addition to my collection.

{Image via Amazon}

Fall Pillow
This is such a cute addition to a couch or chair. If you're friends with me in real life {or on Pinterest or Instagram} you will know I am obsessed with pumpkin this season. I'm not a huge fan of pumpkin spiced lattes {sorry!} or savory pumpkin foods but I'll try any dessert or breakfast-themed pumpkin recipe. I would add this pillow to my front porch furniture.
{Image via Amazon}

Farmhouse Cider Wood Wick Soy Candle
I love burning scented candles in the fall and winter, but prefer soy wax for a 'cleaner' burn. It can be difficult for me to find soy candles that aren't ridiculously expensive, especially in seasonal scents. This one sounds like it smells amazing in a "Farmhouse Cider" scent. I also appreciate the sound of a crackling wood wick candle since we don't have a fireplace.

{Image via Amazon}

Rainy Day Wool Blanket
I love nothing more than a cozy blanket on a rainy or chilly fall day. This wool blanket looks warm and I love the gray/white striped color combination.

{Image via Amazon}

Hello Fall Print
This handmade fall print caught my eye right away. I love the white frame! This would look great as part of a bookshelf display.

{Image via Amazon}

Copper Baskets
Copper is popular right now for home decor, and you can find this element at almost every home store. These copper baskets can be used year-round but I think they make the perfect fall accessory too. I can picture a basket full of my white pumpkins

{Image via Amazon}

Fall Twig and Puff Ball Wreath
We recently upgraded the front of our home with new concrete and brick steps. I love the new entrance and I have been looking for a fall-themed wreath to hang on the door. This Fall Twig and Puff Ball Wreath is from World Market; I love the color combo, especially with dark purple and cream.

{Image via World Market}

We have a fairly large dining room table that was passed down from my in-laws. They found it at a farm sale 30 years ago and re-finished it multiple times for their own use before gifting it to us after we moved into our house. I never quite know how to decorate the center of the table and it looks naked with nothing there. Adding this birch centerpiece is a good start.

{Image via World Market}

Metal Pumpkin Lantern
I love pumpkin decor but try to mix up the colors so everything doesn't scream orange when you walk in the door. I love the industrial look of these metal pumpkins and might even display them all year.

{Image via World Market}

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Pumpkin Chai Slow Cooker Oats

This seasonal breakfast recipe for Pumpkin Chai Slow Cooker Oats combines my favorite fall flavors, including pumpkin pie and chai spices, with healthy steel cut oats. This is an easy recipe made in a slow cooker or crock pot.

It was hard to wait until this week to share my first pumpkin recipe of the year. We purchased two large pumpkins for our front steps over the weekend, and I already finished one container of Pumpkin Pie Spice by baking several batches of pumpkin muffins. No shame. The more pumpkin spice the better.

I start craving oatmeal daily once the temperature dips below 60 degrees in the evening. I love using steel cut oats, but rarely have the patience or time to spend 30 minutes stirring the pot. A few years ago I realized how delicious steel cut oats can be made in a slow cooker - check out my Chai Slow Cooker Steel Cut Oats and Blueberry Pie Slow Cooker Oats for other ideas.

This slow cooker oats breakfast recipe uses pumpkin puree, pumpkin spice, and chai spice. This combination of flavors made my house smell amazing! I have been enjoying these oats for breakfast {and sometimes snacks} every day this week.

Pumpkin Chai Slow Cooker Oats
Yields: 6-8 servings

1 1/2 cups steel cut oats
2 1/2 cups water
2 1/2 cups unsweetened vanilla almond milk*
3/4 cup pumpkin puree
1/3 cup pure maple syrup or packed brown sugar**
1 Tablespoon pumpkin pie spice
1 Tablespoon chai spice
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cinnamon stick

1. Add all ingredients to a slow cooker / crock pot and stir.
2. Cook on high for 2 hours and 15 minutes. Stir as needed.
3. Remove cinnamon stick before serving.

*Any milk will work in this recipe. I prefer the flavor of almond milk.
**This is a lightly sweet breakfast recipe. Add extra sugar if you want it sweeter.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

How I Deal With My Fear of Flying

If you have ever traveled by air with me, you know I experience a fear of flying. Heart racing, nervous, take a deep breath this plane is not going to crash with every bump flying anxiety. Did you know fear of flying is extremely common? It feels indulgent to complain about this with other problems around the world these days, but estimates are that 25 percent of Americans deal with some level of fear or anxiety about air travel. This post includes five steps I take to deal with my fear of flying.

This post contains affiliate links.

My fear of flying has improved over the years and I'm slowly chipping away at it with every flight. After a recent trip to Seattle, I researched how people deal with flying fear/anxiety and thought more about the steps I take to reduce mine. Traveling with baby C makes me want to resolve this issue for good because I don't want him to figure out that mama is stressed for no reason.

1: Don't wait until the last minute to pack.

Scrambling at the last minute makes me feel even more stressed for air travel, so I try to pack all of my luggage the day before a trip. This involves making lists, laying out my clothes, and packing everything but the daily essentials in advance.

2: Schedule non-stop flights {if possible}.

The most anxiety-producing moments of a flight for me are takeoff and the time it takes to reach cruising altitude. Scheduling a non-stop flight means I only have to go through this once per leg of travel.

3: Practice deep breathing.

Using deep or meditative breathing exercises is a significant help for dealing with fear of flying. During takeoff and any bumpy moments on a flight, I start taking deep breaths and count back from 100 slowly. The combination of counting and deep breathing works well for me. Berkeley offers a short guided meditation online to practice something similar - click here to check it out.

4: Invest in quality noise cancelling headphones.

I figured out a few years ago that my fear of flying is greatly reduced if the sounds coming from the plane are dulled with noise cancelling headphones. I have a pair similar to this and they work wonders to reduce my flying anxiety. I wear them throughout the entire flight even if I'm not listening to music or watching a movie. I can still hear well enough to order my standard ginger ale from the beverage cart.

5: Learn basic facts about air travel.

It has been helpful for me to read about air travel and airplanes, to learn basic facts. Below is a list of air travel articles that I found interesting to read. Two of my favorite stats: You are more likely to get struck by lightening than suffer a fatal plane crash; and commercial planes can land without any {working} engines.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Fall Races in Chicago + Running Recovery

Are you looking for extra motivation to run this fall? I'm sharing a list of twenty upcoming road races in the Chicago area in September, October and November. This post also includes recovery tips that I'm planning to try to ease back into running.

As I mentioned in this post, my relationship with running has changed significantly over the past year since baby C joined our family and I'm still working on getting back into a regular routine. I'm one of those people that doesn't enjoy humid/hot weather for working out. With 60 degree mornings and September around the corner, I have fall on my mind this week. Running in the fall is my favorite time of year to register for a few races. I'm hoping signing up for a race or two helps motivate me to get back out there.

My favorite Chicago area race options are listed below. If a race is schedule outside the city of Chicago, the location is noted next to the registration link.

September Races

Run Mag Mile 10k and 5k - Sept. 9
Naperville Trails Half Marathon {Naperville} - Sept. 10
Brookfield ZooRunRun 5k {Brookfield} - Sept. 10
The Great Pumpkin Run Chicago {Oswego} - Sept. 16
Bucktown 5k - Sept. 17
Chicago Half Marathon and 5k - Sept. 24
The Halloween Hustle 5k {Elk Grove Village} - Sept. 30

October Races

Rosehill Cemetery Crypt 5k - Oct. 7
Ditka Dash 5k - Oct. 14
Scarecrow Scramble 5k {Lisle} - Oct. 14
World's Largest Corn Maze Run {Spring Grove} - Oct. 15
Pumpkins in the Park 5k - Oct. 21
Monster Dash 5k, 10k and Half Marathon - Oct. 21
Pumpkin Spice 5k - Oct. 22
Frank Lloyd Wright Races 5k, 10k and Youth Mile {Oak Park} - Oct. 22
Chicago Costume Dash - Oct. 28
Hot Chocolate 15k and 5k - Oct. 29

November Races

Hot Cider Hustle - 8 Mile Run and 5k {Wheaton} - Nov. 4
Turkey Trot/Turkey Day Run 8k and 5k - Nov. 23
North Shore Turkey Trot 5k and 10k {Highland Park} - Nov. 23

I'm considering signing up for the Bucktown 5k, Chicago Costume Dash, and/or Hot Cider Hustle. All three would be new races for me. Since I am trying to run on a regular basis again, it's going to be important for me to prioritize recovery this fall. Three ways I'm planning to recover from runs and other fitness activities include:

1) Staying Hydrated

I carry a water bottle around the house when I work from home, and fill up a large bottle every morning in my office. It's difficult to recover from running or other workouts when your body isn't hydrated! Re-hydrating yourself immediately following a run or workout is also important to promote muscle recovery.

2) Incorporating Active Rest Days

I wear a Fitbit Alta everyday and try to keep track of my steps to make sure I'm getting 10,000 per day {or more, if possible} on days I'm not running or doing another workout. Active rest days are important, especially for someone like me with a desk job.

3) Using PROcure Epsom Salt Gel

I find myself much more sore than usual from running since I haven't been working out on a regular basis. PROcure recently sent me a tube of Epsom Salt Gel to try. This gel includes safe, guilt-free ingredients and helps with aches and pains. I appreciate the fact that the gel is free of fragrance and so easy to use, versus taking the time for a salt soak/bath - I have a 9 month old baby who just figured out how to army crawl. The faster I can get relief the better!

PROcure also offers Bruise Remedy gel. This offers a new way to think about First Aid - and if you're like me and bruise easily, this is going to become a staple in the bathroom cupboard.

You can find PROcure products at Walmart in the First Aide Aisle, or online at Amazon. Click here to check out the PROcure coupon page.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

3 Days in Cinque Terre, Italy

Cinque Terre, Italy is the most beautiful and scenic place I have ever visited. I flew into Rome and traveled by train to Cinque Terre, spending two nights in Vernazza and one night in Monterosso al Mare. This post includes a recap of how to spend three days in Cinque Terre.

I organized a box in my home office a few weeks ago, and found the short travel journal I kept on trip to Italy a few years ago. Keeping a travel journal is a good way to remember details and highlights of big trips that can easily be forgotten. I have traveled to Europe three times and kept a brief journal on each of those trips. K and I spent three nights in the Cinque Terre region of Italy, three summers ago. We flew into Rome, saw the sights, got adjusted from jet lag, ate pizza, and stayed overnight. The next morning we traveled by train to Cinque Terre. We visited four of the five villages of Cinque Terre on this trip: Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, and Manarola. It's easy to travel between them, as the villages are connected by train.

Day 1

{View of the harbor on the hill above Vernazza}

We arrived in and spent the most time in Vernazza - this is Rick Steves favorite village in Cinque Terre, and I completely agree. Vernazza is very charming and filled with scenic views of the ocean and hillside vineyards. We stayed in a small room on the main street of Vernazza, hosted by Ivo Camere. The accomodation was simple but lovely, with a mini refrigerator and stunning window view of houses on the hill. What more do you need than a simple room when you spend all day and evening exploring? Ivo himself meets you at the train station to show you to the room. Find the details on Trip Advisor.

After exploring town to get settled in, we found ourselves hiking up a tall flight of stairs to a restaurant with a beautiful sunset view of the water - Al Castello. Honestly, I have had much better Italian meals, but the view was gorgeous. My favorite part was a small glass of dessert wine at the end of the meal with complimentary "dunkable" cookies {look for Sciacchetrà wine}.

Day 2

The second day was our {first!} wedding anniversary and we spent it on an adventure hiking through the hills above Cinque Terre. But first, coffee. We found Il Pirata della Cinque Terre up the hill past the train station in Vernazza. It has a pirate theme which made me skeptical but it's a must stop! They offer amazing pastries and iced cappuccinos. I'm only sorry we didn't make it back for dinner another night - our waiter raved about the homemade cannoli. The restaurant has excellent reviews as the #1 rated restaurant in Vernazza {per Trip Advisor}.

We hiked from Vernazza to the village Monterosso al Mare. It's a steep hike at times, with beautiful views of the coast. The hike took us around 2 hours, including stops to check out views like the one below. This is the most northern trail in Cinque Terre, and the most difficult. When we visited the region, most of the trails were still closed from the mudslide in 2011. Several are still closed as the paths need to be re-built.

You can also get up close and personal with local vines on this hike, perched high above the villages.

We ended up getting caught in a crazy rainstorm at the very end of the hike, which would have been treacherous on the steep stone path further up. We ran to the closest restaurant and shared pizza for lunch while the storm passed. Later, meandering back to Vernazza by train, we stopped for a cappuccino in the village of Corniglia and briefly walked around town. The day ended with a lovely dinner outdoors at Gianna Franzi, located on the main square/plaza in Vernazza near the harbor.

Day 3

The third morning started with cappuccinos and a view at Bar Ananasso in Vernazza. K normally doesn't drink coffee but he makes an exception in Italy.

Monterosso is the only Cinque Terre village with a traditional beach. A few hours were spent there with rented umbrellas. K reminds me that I refused to swim in the Mediterranean and lounged on my chair instead. What can I say, the water was chilly :)

We spent the afternoon wandering the village, including the beautiful water views walking along the boardwalk. I found Monterosso to be the largest and most touristy of the Cinque Terre villages, but still charming with gorgeous beach views.

We stopped for focaccia pizza, sampled olive oils in a local shop, and had gelato. While wandering Monterosso, we stumbled on a beautiful a lemon grove and walked a short trail called Valley of the Lemons {Valle dei Limoni}. The village was known for its lemon groves for centuries and still produces lemons today. Lemons are grown in valleys to give the trees additional access to water and protection from the wind. {source} If you can find the Valley of the Lemons trail I highly recommend it. It was a lovely and extremely quiet inland walk. 

We ended our third day with a visit to the village of Manorola. A walk through town around the harbor led us to a park at the top of a hill and a late afternoon glass of wine and bar snacks at Nessun Dorma, with an unbelievable view of Manorola.

I wish I could dine outdoors on a patio like this on every vacation. This view of Manarola now lives in a frame in the entryway to our home and I look at it everyday. I loved our time in Cinque Terre and hope to visit again someday.

After Cinque Terre, we traveled to Florence, Italy; Zurich, Switzerland and Germany, including Frankfurt and Berlin.

Looking for more travel posts?

Monday, July 31, 2017

5 Ingredient Banana Pancakes + Baby-Led Weaning

This healthy breakfast recipe for 5 Ingredient Banana Pancakes will start your day with spinach, bananas and protein. This recipe also works well for babies starting solid food with baby-led weaning.

This post contains affiliate links.

I used to LOVE green smoothies. I have posted several smoothie challenges on this blog, where I had a smoothie every morning for weeks on end to increase the greens in my daily diet. When I was pregnant last year I stopped craving smoothies for some reason and I have only had a handful for breakfast since. I eat yogurt bowls or healthy muffins in the morning instead of a smoothie.

I'm adding green pancakes to that list for the rest of the summer. This pancake recipe includes a few key ingredients from my green smoothies {bananas and spinach} as well as eggs, white whole wheat flour, and cinnamon. I think this is a more filling way to start your morning. If you think spinach in pancakes is odd, I promise you can't taste it! The key is to mix the batter in a food processor. Make sure to process the batter long enough that you remove any chunks of spinach. I processed mine for ~1 minute.

I cooked these pancakes in unsalted butter on my large skillet and topped them with a splash of maple syrup and nut butter.

I serve these pancakes to baby C plain, cut into pancake strips so it's easier for him to eat.

We started baby C on solid foods around 6 months, following baby-led weaning. This is not a new idea but it has gained traction in the past few years in the U.S. as an alternative to traditional weaning. I was given this book by a friend and I learned so much from it: Baby-Led Weaning: The Essential Guide to Introducing Solid Foods. Essentially, parents' following baby-led weaning {BLW} skip purees and rice cereal and begin offering solid foods around 6 months, once the baby can sit unassisted for at least one minute.

Babies following BLW are never spoon fed by adults, nor do they eat pureed food that is not naturally in that form {for example - BLW babies eat applesauce and yogurt but not pureed carrots}. Babies are given foods cut into finger-sized shapes, to encourage picking up and tasting food on their own. Offering foods through BLW gives babies the opportunity to explore different textures and learn how to chew/mash food with their gums and teeth as they come in. Foods that can't be cut into finger shapes can be smashed {such as blueberries and chickpeas} or offered in smaller pieces {such as quartering strawberries}. Some babies eat a lot from the very beginning, and others take awhile to consume much more than the occasional bite. Baby C is somewhat in the middle - but he seems to love experimenting with and trying new foods. We know this because he is the most talkative while sitting in his high chair! His favorite foods so far are broccoli, sweet potatoes, apricots, Cheerios, and these pancakes. Without the maple syrup, that's for me ;)

5 Ingredient Banana Pancakes
Yields: 14 small pancakes*

2 large handfuls of spinach
2 ripe bananas
2 eggs
1/2 cup white whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons cinnamon

*Add spinach, bananas, eggs, flour, and cinnamon to a food processor.
*Process until you get a pancake batter consistency {approximately 1 minute}.
*Add pancake batter to a skillet on medium-low heat. Flip when bubbles start to form.
*The pancakes are done cooking when the top is lightly browned.

Note: I used 1/4 cup of batter per pancake.

If you're interested in learning about BLW, I recommend joining the Facebook group "Baby Led Weaning for Beginners." Here are a few helpful articles about the topic:

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

BLT Sweet Potato Noodle Bowls

This easy recipe for BLT Sweet Potato Noodle Bowls includes the best parts of a bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich without any bread. I used spiralized sweet potato noodles and added avocado to make this fast and healthy dinner. This recipe can be made gluten free, paleo, or Whole 30 compliant.

This post contains affiliate links.

I finally started using my spiralizer for something other than zucchini. I can't get enough of these vibrantly colored sweet potato "noodles."

Spiralized sweet potato noodles bake fairly quickly {30 minutes} and are almost as fun to eat as curly fries. I admit my digestion feels much better after eating the sweet potato version.

K and I have been making simple recipes for dinner lately, to maximize our time with baby C and recover from the inevitable sleep deprivation. C has been a champion sleeper but the 8 month sleep regression is no joke! Thankfully this recipe takes only a few steps to put together.

I baked a pan of nitrate-free turkey bacon and spiralized sweet potatoes while prepping the other ingredients. Halved cherry tomatoes, crunchy romaine lettuce, avocado and a simple dijon vinaigrette dressing is all you need.

BLT Sweet Potato Noodle Bowls
Yields: 2 servings

2 sweet potatoes
4-6 slices turkey bacon
1/2 cup grape tomatoes
1 cup chopped romaine lettuce
1/2 avocado
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper

Optional: 1/2 teaspoon Hatch chile powder

Dijon Vinaigrette:
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 Tablespoon red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper

*Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
*Spiralize two sweet potatoes. Toss with olive oil, salt and pepper. I also added a few shakes of Hatch chile powder. Bake for ~30 minutes.
*Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Add bacon to a cookie sheet/pan lined with parchment paper. Bake for 20 minutes.
*Make dijon vinaigrette by whisking the ingredients in a small bowl until combined
*Top sweet potato noodles with bacon, halved tomatoes, chopped lettuce, and avocado.

Looking for more spiralizer recipes? Try:

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Tart Cherry Cobbler

This summer dessert recipe for Tart Cherry Cobbler is delicious warm or cold, with a slightly crunchy cake topping and almond glaze frosting.

Phrases I searched this morning = "what is a cobbler?" I wanted to make sure I was naming this dessert appropriately. The answer: A cobbler is a dessert consisting of fruit baked in a deep dish with a thick, cake-like crust on top. Thanks Google.

I can't think of a better fruit to use in a cobbler than tart cherries, especially those harvested in Door County. I actually made this dessert at the beginning of summer for a friend's barbecue, using a jar of my favorite Door County cherry pie filling from Bea's Ho-Made Products.

I waited to share this recipe until the start of cherry picking season in Wisconsin, which began mid-last week in southern Door County. Cherry season in Door County is typically from mid-July to mid-August. Around 2,000 acres of montgomery tart cherries grow in Door County. Click here for a map of orchards.

I used cherry pie filling since I made this before the start of cherry season. The filling I used was purchased from my favorite jam store in Door County, and only lightly sweetened - not the gloopy, "pie in a can" that you usually find.

I think this cobbler would be even more delicious using fresh tart cherries instead of pie filling.

I rarely make desserts like this for K and I to have at home. It's much better to wait and share the pan with friends and family. This also helps me avoid dipping my spoon in for one last bite before bed!

Tart Cherry Cobbler
Yields: 10-12 servings

32 ounces tart cherry pie filling or pitted tart cherries
1 cup all-purpose white flour
3/4 cups white whole wheat flour
1 cup sugar + 3 Tablespoons
1 and 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
2 eggs
1/2 cup melted coconut oil or butter
1/4 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt

Almond Glaze:
1 cup powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1 Tablespoon milk

*Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
*Add flour, 1 cup of sugar, baking powder, eggs, melted coconut oil, milk, vanilla extract, and salt into a bowl. Gently mix with a fork until the ingredients start coming together and finish by mixing the dough with your hands. Be careful not to over-mix the dough.
*Add cherry pie filling to a 9x13 inch cake pan or baking dish. Add the dough on top of the cherry filling in small clumps.
*Sprinkle the extra sugar {~3 Tablespoons} evenly over the dough.
*Bake for 35-40 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean.
*Prepare the almond glaze while the cobbler is cooling. Whisk powdered sugar, vanilla extract, almond extract, and milk until you achieve the desired consistency. Add milk one Tablespoon at a time, if needed.