12/31/15

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year!
I’m excited for the start of a brand new year, and I hope you are as well!
2015 was a VERY good year. PicMonkey Collage

I truly have a lot to be thankful for, wonderful memories to keep in my pocket, and moments to be proud of. I completed my first 1/2 marathon, traveled to some beautiful places, raced in memory of my mom, spent time with friends volunteering and enjoying each other’s company, and bonded even more with my main guy. I know that 2016 will be just as awesome!  Continue reading

12/23/15

4 Holiday Lessons

I’ve learned a lot over the past four years of holidays without my mom. 

Even as I type that I’m shaking my head at the overwhelming feeling that rushes over me when I read “four years”. It will be four years this spring since she left us, yet some days it still feels like yesterday.  Continue reading

11/15/15

My favorite #Thanksgiving recipes

October came and went in a flash! 

But that’s ok, because I’m ready (oh-so-ready) for all of the fun the holidays bring! 

We have so many fun things planned over the next couple of weeks that each morning I wake up with an extra pep in my step knowing that I’m one day closer to camping trips, cooking Thanksgiving dinner, a cabin in the mountains getaway, and of course, CHRISTMAS! Continue reading

12/23/14

Holiday cheer (and recipes!!!)

Happy Holidays!!!!
Can you believe Christmas eve is TOMORROW!

Are you stockings hung?
Is your hall decked?
Are the presents perfectly wrapped under the tree?
Is your holiday meal planned and now your’e just sitting on the couch sipping hot cocoa?

Of course you answered YES to all of those, right? I mean the holidays are supposed to be “all is calm, all is bright”, right? πŸ˜‰

I got most of my holiday shopping done while we were up in Blairsville, so it was just a matter tackling the project of wrapping it all!

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Mission accomplished!

In all of the craziness the holiday brings, I hope you have found a way to savor the beauty of the season. The lights, the togetherness, the spirit of giving, and the joy in the eyes of those who receive- especially those in need. The sweet thoughts of our loved ones who are here with us in spirit, the hopes and goals of a brand new year right around the corner.

I’ve always loved the holidays, so much that once they were over, I would dissolve into an awful sadness, yearning for just one more sprinkle of glitter, or one more Hallmark Christmas movie. Luckily in the past few years I’ve learned to appreciate every single day. Understanding that every day is special- not just the ones covered holiday cheer.

Living a full life is such a gift. A gift so large it could never fit under a tree, or be stuffed into a stocking. And that is the type of gift I have learned to cherish all year long. 

In the spirit of giving, and togetherness I have spent some time with my nearest and dearest celebrating the season. 

My chicas and I got together last week for our annual holiday dinner. 

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And on Sunday I hosted our annual cookie swap! 

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10882200_10152997303897474_1175828563132902648_nThe smell wafting out of my house was enough to induce a sugar high, for real! It was SUCH a blast, as usual! In between the bites of sweet treats we also had some savory snacks to munch on including this delicious a cheesy squash dip that was to die for (recipe below)!

And while I tasted ALL of the goodies (those Jamaican Plantain tarts were ridic!), I was really saving up my sweet tooth for something in the fridge I had made earlier that morning:

10385570_10152996388057474_6052073305451556421_nOn the last day of school my co-teacher presented us with beautiful mini-trays of her signature dessert: tiramisu. I had been hearing about this concoction, but had never tried it. She got the recipe from her host mom when she studied abroad in Siena. Let me tell you- it was SOOOOO good. So of course, I needed to play with the recipe to see if I could whip up a reduced carb, grain free, refined sugar free version that was JUST as delicious and satisfying.

And I did. And it’s amazing. And I need you to make this ASAP. And it would be perfect to take to your holiday dinner. And it’s awesome. And make an extra tray to hide in the back of your fridge so at midnight when you’re craving a slice and it’s all gone, you’ll thank me when you realize that you have an untouched tray all for yourself. 

You’re welcome. I love you too.

Tiramisu
Serves 8
Made with almond and coconut flour lady fingers, and sweetened with raw honey, this tiramisu will NOT disappoint!
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Prep Time
15 min
Prep Time
15 min
Ingredients
  1. For the filling
  2. 4 egg yolks
  3. 4 egg whites
  4. 16oz marscapone cheese
  5. 1/2 cup raw honey
  6. bowl of brewed espresso (I used TJ's coffee concentrate)
For the ladyfingers
  1. 3 large eggs (divided)
  2. 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  3. 1 cup almond flour (
  4. 2 tbsp. coconut flour
  5. 1/4 cup raw honey
  6. 1/2 tsp. of baking powder
  7. Topping
  8. 1/2 cup Enjoy life chocolate chips
  9. 1 tbsp. unsweetened cocoa flour
For the filling
  1. Beat egg whites until they form and hold stiff peaks. Set aside.
  2. In a large bowl stir egg yolks and honey until well combined.
  3. By hand, mix in room temperature marscapone cheese into the egg and honey mixture until smooth.
  4. Carefully fold the egg whites into the marscapone mixture until just combined.
For the ladyfingers
  1. Pre-heat oven 375 degrees.
  2. Divide eggs into 2 separate bowls. Beat egg whites until egg whites form stiff peaks. Set aside. 3. In a separate bowl, beat yolks with the honey. Mix in vanilla.
  3. Fold almond flour and baking powder into the bowl containing the creamed egg yolks.
  4. Add coconut flour 1 tbsp. at a time
  5. Carefully fold in the egg whites. Make sure to not over-mix.
  6. Put the batter into a gallon zipper bag. Using scissors, snip off one corner of the bag and pipe the batter onto a greased baking sheet into cookies the shape of lady fingers.
  7. Bake for 8-10 minutes until they are golden brown.
Building the tiramisu
  1. Spread a layer of filling on the bottom of an 8in x 8in sized tray (or 9 x 9).
  2. Dip cooled lady fingers into the espresso and gently place them side by side on top of the layer of filling.*the cookies will be a bit dense. I soaked mine in the espresso for a minute or so to get a stronger coffee flavor in my tiramisu.
  3. Repeat this process until all of the filling is gone, making sure to end with a layer of filling, not cookies.
  4. Sprinkle with a dusting of cocoa powder and chocolate chips. Refrigerate and enjoy later- the longer it sits, the better it gets!
http://orangespoken.com/
 And about that cheesy squash dip….unnamed

Hot cheesy squash dip
Warm, gooey, cheesy- what could be better?
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Cook Time
35 min
Cook Time
35 min
Ingredients
  1. 2 roasted acorn squashes (seeded and diced)
  2. 8oz marscapone cheese at room temperature
  3. 1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
  4. 1 egg
  5. 1 tsp. salt
  6. 1 tsp. black pepper
  7. 1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
  8. 1 tsp. smoked paprika
Instructions
  1. Combine cooled roasted acorn squash with the other ingredients. Mix until smooth (I used my Kitchen Aid with a paddle attachment).
  2. Place into a greased pie dish or pan and smooth to even.
  3. Bake at 400 degrees for 35 minutes or until brown and bubbly.
  4. Serve with veggie sticks, crackers or anything you'd like!
http://orangespoken.com/
Wishing you a joyous (and fun!) holiday season! 

Love, Steph 

12/17/14

Our weekend getaway to Blairsville, GA

Last week was FABULOUS.

1488679_628562840599773_8688649441795156692_nA few months ago a group of my nearest and dearest got together and planned a long weekend trip up in the North Georgia mountains. Back in 2004 my mom and I were looking for a place to go camping during our winter school break (both my parents worked for the school system, so we always had the same time off!). I can vividly remember sitting at the kitchen counter at my parent’s house scanning a map of the southeastern United States looking for a place that would be a) A day’s worth of driving distance and b) A change of scenery from our regular beachy Florida views. 

We ended up putting our finger smack on a city called Blairsville; in the Appalachian Mountains of North Georgia. After a quick Google search we learned that this town was only an 8 hour ride from Tampa, boasted beautiful views, wasn’t commercialized and “touristy” like other mountain towns (i.e. what Pigeon Forge has become) and was home to Brasstown Bald Mountain- the highest peak in Georgia.

SOLD. So much that we’ve returned almost every year since. 

When my mom passed away, I wasn’t sure I would ever be able to return to the area, but in 2012, Brian and I did just that. And it was an amazing time, especially being able to visit spots I had visited with my mom just years earlier. We didn’t make it out there in 2013, but knew we would not miss another year. 

This past September I began searching for the perfect cabin for a long weekend getaway with friends. I wanted to find a cabin with mountain views, one that was dog friendly (one of my girlfriends was bringing her pup), close to all of our favorite places and restaurants, and one that had lots of room to stretch and play- both indoors and out. I started searching Craigslist rentals of Northeast Georgia, then moved on to looking through Vacation Rentals By Owner (vrbo.com). There wasn’t much listed on Craigslist, but as soon as I began scouring VRBO, I knew I would be booking something that day. There are SO many beautiful cabins for rent in the area, but just 1 caught my eye. 

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This lovely cabin checked off all of our boxes AND came complete with breathtaking views of Brasstown Bald and other surrounding mountains. When I contacted the owner she informed me that it was available for the days we were looking at. So we promptly sent in our deposit and locked in the dates! Throughout the next few months we made our plans, solidified check-in procedures with the oh-so-accomodating (and patient!) owners and built up a LOT of excitement! 

After waiting, and waiting, and waiting, the weekend had FINALLY arrived! We packed up all of the necessary items we’d need for a (COLD!) four days in the mountains and hit the road. We arrived early on Wednesday morning and were just blown away by the incredible views of the sunrise as we walked in the house. 

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IMG_1441And while the views were my favorite part of the house, the rest of the cabin did not disappoint! Between the comfortable beds, a kitchen with all the essentials, spotless accommodations, fireplaces, wrap around porches, wi-fi and so many other comforts of home, we were on cloud 9!

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IMG_1458We spent the next four days relaxing, hiking, sight seeing, eating (biscuits and gravy!), stargazing, roasting marshmallows by the fire, enjoying the cold weather (and ice and snow!) connecting and just being in the moment. It was everything I could have hoped for and more. 

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And I may or may not have spent a bit *too* much time in these 2 positions:

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IMG_1533When I read the reviews for the cabin, and was thumbing through the guestbook at the house, everyone mentioned how lovely it was to watch the deer eat in the backyard. And after 3 not-so-patient days of feeding, using deer calling apps, and having binoculars on my face way more often than I would have liked to, we FINALLY saw deer on Saturday morning, which I may or may not have scared away from my cries of excitement. 

IMG_1768And on that same day, before we prepared to pack up and head south, we ended our vacation by chopping down our third Christmas tree together at a local tree farm just down the road. 

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We were sad to say our goodbyes, but excited to get back home to hug our cats and decorate our fresh mountain tree. 

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We had such a fun time and would recommend visiting Blairsville if you’re looking for a wonderful and relaxing getaway. If you’d like to rent this cabin, click here for more details. The owners, Mike and Jaynee, will answer all of your questions and help to make sure you have the time of your lives! 

And while you’re planning your trip to the North Georgia Mountains and Blairsville, keep these places in mind!

Helton Creek Falls (just a short hike from the road!)

Desoto Falls (1.50 miles round trip to see the upper falls; .50 miles round trip to see the lower falls- both easy hikes)

Vogel State Park (camping, wildlife, holiday events, horseback riding)

Trackrock Stables and Campground (camping, wildlife, hiking, horseback riding)

The Sawmill Place (Farm to table, best biscuits and gravy in town!)

Dan’s Grill (Great Cuban food from Miami transplants)

Jim’s BBQ (only open Th-Sat- great bbq!)

Alexander’s (Blairsville’s “mall”) πŸ˜‰

Muffy’s (quick bites, sandwiches, burgers and more)

Brasstown Bald Mountain (highest peak in Georgia, gorgeous views, hiking, geocaching)

Pappy’s Trading Post (shops, tubing, fudge, restaurant, outdoor fireplace, riverside)

Sunrise Grocery (local treats, gas, fresh eggs)

Logan’s Turnpike Mill (freshly ground grits, pancake mix, jams, jellies, baked goods)

Hiawassee Antique Mall (just a short drive from Blairsville- HUGE!)

Victoria’s Mall (antiques, hobby shop, thrift store, coffee shop)

Cook’s Country Kitchen (cheap and great breakfast!)

Historic Courthouse (museum, beautifully decorated around Christmas)

Sundance Gallery (unique gifts, art, local crafts, pottery, decor)

Southern Tree Plantation (chop your own Christmas tree, hayrides, petting farm, pumpkins in the fall)

Anna Ruby Falls (just a short drive from Blairsville in Helen)

11/27/13

Give thanks

β€œTo express gratitude is to put into words a beautiful sense of wholeness. Recognizing the people, the experiences, and the extraordinary gifts of life which feed our souls.” 

Life is empty when there is no purpose. Everyday I ask myself what I’d like to accomplish that day to improve some aspect of life. 

Whether it’s a small task, like routine chores to help make our house a home, or a significant task, like giving  my time to improve the lives of others, I try to assign meaning to everything I do. It may not make sense to you, but it’s how I live. 

I know that life can be cut short. Therefore I will continue to live a meaningful life. These day to day experiences make me who I am. They fill my mind with memories and moments that I will cherish until I can no longer remember them, and hopefully make a difference in the lives of those I interact with. 

For the week of Thanksgiving, I got an opportunity to give back to my community in two ways. On Saturday, I rounded my chicas together for an afternoon preparing and cooking dinner for the families currently residing at the Ronald McDonald House. Read more about our experiences volunteering at the House here.

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On the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, I was invited by Denise, the organizer of The Tampa Bay Bloggers, for a day of giving back at the Metropolitan Ministries Holiday Tent in Tampa. I had never volunteered for MM before, so I was excited to see what it was all about. I was able to bring some guests with me to help out for the 4 hour shift. Volunteering is always, ALWAYS better with friends πŸ˜‰

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The Metropolitan Ministries tent is located at 400 West. Palm Avenue in Tampa (behind Blake High School near the Hillsborough River). It is set up seasonally, to aide families during the holiday season. Additionally, there are donation tents set up in Largo and Holiday. However, MM accepts donations and assists families and individuals in need all throughout the year, not just during the holiday season! Read more about their mission and services here.  

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We spent our shift directly working with the clients receiving services at MM. When clients qualify for assistance, they are able to come directly to the holiday tent to “shop”. We acted as personal shoppers for the clients, and it was such a rewarding experience getting to interact with them on a one-to-one level, instead of behind the scenes. Metropolitan Ministries is extremely organized, and has a seamless system paying attention to even the smallest details. The shopping area was divided into about 10 identical aisles and the volunteer would stand at the end of the aisle with a cart and a box, waiting for the client to be sent down to us. When they arrived, we’d guide them through their shopping experience, directing them to the different sections and telling them how many of each item they could choose. The quantity of the items they could choose depended on the size of their family.

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The shelves of each aisle were divided into sections: cereals, starches (rice, pasta, potatoes), stuffing, yams/pumpkin, canned vegetables, beans (dry and canned), canned fruit (including applesauce), cranberry, sweets and miscellaneous items. As they chose their items, we would bag them, then walk them to the area in the front of the tent to pickup either their turkey or chicken (individuals and couples received a whole chicken). Then we would return to our assigned aisle to meet another client and help them shop once again! IMAG3814

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I helped close to 20 clients during my shift. Some quietly shopped along, while others engaged in conversation with me. Some were nervous, some were teary, claiming they had always given before, but they just couldn’t this year. Some were embarrassed, hoping to not be seen by someone they knew. Some were pregnant, some were immigrants experiencing their first Thanksgiving. Although they were all very different, the one thing they had in common was the fact that they were grateful for the help they were receiving this year from Metropolitan Ministries. They were grateful for the kindness of the volunteers, and the generosity of their community.

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My experience at Metropolitan Ministries was such a rewarding one. I’ll be returning to volunteer some shifts before Christmas. If you’d like join me, please let me know! The tent will also be open for donations throughout the remaining holiday season. For more information on the drop off locations in the Bay area, click here.

In addition, here is a list to refer to regarding the items that are needed the most for the holiday season.

Shopping-List-2This year I’m thankful for so many things. I’m thankful for the experiences that mold and shape my own life.  I’m thankful for my family and friends who are always there for me to lend an ear or provide a laugh. I’m thankful for my career, and my education, for it has given me a way to make a difference in the lives of students and teachers each and every day. I’m thankful for my health and my strength. I’m thankful for our home and yes, even our cats. πŸ˜‰ I’m thankful for my parents, for they never let my brother and I do without; even when times were tough. I’m thankful to have 32 years of memories of my mother that forever live in my mind. And most of all, I’m thankful for Brian; my love and my best friend. The first person I see when I wake up in the morning and hear “I love you” from.

Wishing you a wonderful holiday and a happy Thanksgiving!

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How do you make life meaningful? What are you most thankful for this year?
Steph

PS- Read all about Christy’s experience volunteering at Metropolitan Ministries. πŸ™‚

03/31/13

Happy Easter!

Happy Easter! But more importantly….. HAPPY WALKING DEAD SEASON FINALE DAY!

Obviously you can tell where my enthusiasm lies.

Truth be told Easter has always been one of those holidays centering around baskets, food and togetherness. When my grandmother (Abuelita) was alive, she’d force invite us to come to church with her on Easter Sunday. My brother and I would reluctantly don our Sunday best and spend an hour with her listening to the sound of our feet as we’d tap on the pews. I didn’t grow up in a religious household, and as much as my devote baptist grandmother tried, when we got old enough to refuse to go, we would.

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