Foodie Friday – Homemade cranberry sauce

I’m working on a couple of posts about Christmas and New Year’s, but I’ve been busy this week so they aren’t ready for publishing yet. I’ll finish them this weekend. For now you’ll have to be content with this recipe for delicious homemade cranberry sauce!

On Christmas Eve I cobbled together a batch of cranberry sauce from a couple of basic recipes I found on Pinterest – one from Cooking Light and one from McCormick’s. I used elements of each one, but pretty much just threw a little bit of this and a little bit of that (including some ingredients that nether recipe called for) into the pot and hoped for the best. Fortunately it turned out great! It was the perfect complement to the smoked turkey we had for Christmas dinner, and the leftovers refrigerated really well for leftovers a couple of days later. I liked it so much that I made another batch of cranberry sauce on New Year’s Eve after I got back to California. Hey, the holidays aren’t over until I have to go back to work! (Which was actually today, but that’s another story.) I’m going to enjoy this cranberry sauce over some baked chicken this weekend. So if you have a hankering for cranberry sauce even though Christmas 2014 is over, try this recipe! Otherwise, save it until Thanksgiving 2015 and try it then!

12 oz fresh cranberries
1/2 apple, diced (or more, if desired)
1/2 pear, diced (or more, if desired)
1 c orange juice
3/4 c brown sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp allspice

In a small or medium saucepan, combine all ingredients and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the cranberries pop and the mixture starts to thicken. Remove from heat and cool completely. The sauce will thicken more as it stands. Serve over turkey or chicken, or as a stand alone side dish. Enjoy!

Based on Cooking Light’s Basic Cranberry Sauce and McCormick’s Homemade Cranberry Sauce.

My Disney pin collection (i.e., New Year’s Eve 2014)

With all of the crazy stuff that’s happened in 2014 I figured I’d end the year on a lighter note. With Disney pins! I first wrote about Disney pin trading back in 2011, but back then my collection was barely a fraction of what it is now. Regular trips to Disneyland over the last two years via my beloved annual pass have led to an exponential growth in the number of pins I own. They definitely don’t fit on a lanyard anymore! I don’t buy a new pin every time I go to the parks (I’d have tons more if that were true), but anytime I see one I like I make sure to take it home with me. You never know when certain pins will sell out or get discontinued, and I’ve missed out more than once. I don’t hesitate anymore. (Case in point, I bought almost all of this year’s Christmas pins in mid-November when I was at Disneyland for the Avengers Half Marathon. And it’s a good thing too because when I was there yesterday the pins I liked were all gone!) That’s probably obvious from the above photo, though. Back in 2011 I wrote, “Now that all of my pins are together at last I need to figure out a way to display them. Any idea where I can get a stylish corkboard for our game room?” Well, I no longer live in the house with the game room, but last year I found a simple little corkboard at Pottery Barn to display my pins in my apartment. It’s hanging in my bedroom, and as you can probably tell, it’s almost completely full now! Luckily, I bought a second corkboard when I realized how quickly I was going to run out of space on the first one. I think it might be time to make use of it! I’m the first to admit that my pin collection is kinda out of control, but I really love it. It’s like a scrapbook of all of my years of Disneyland enjoyment. Especially the Run Disney race pins. I only have two so far, but I will be adding more very soon (thanks to FOUR races in January). And as a friend told me recently, the pins are a relatively inexpensive souvenir compared to all of the other available merchandise. I’d break the bank if I bought Disney shirts as often as I buy pins! Unlike my Mickey Mouse sweatshirt which I only wear every once in a while (like today – it was cold is SoCal!), the best part about my collection is that I get to enjoy it every day. So much happiness from something so small. If only everything in life was that simple.

2014 resolutions revisited

As the year is drawing to a close I thought I’d write a little recap of my 2014 resolutions. I was surprisingly successful! The combination of realistic resolutions and hard work really paid off!

Resolution #1: Eat good breakfasts
Win! I now eat breakfast everyday, and it usually consists of some sort of fruit smoothie concoction. Since attempting to go grain free (and I’d say succeeding about 75% of the time), I’ve been trying to make egg concoctions to alternate with the smoothies. Unfortunately I haven’t made anything particularly good yet. I might need to try to scramble some eggs before going to work, even though it will mean getting up a little earlier. I’m generally against extra work in the morning, but this might be worth the trouble. Especially since swinging by the McDonald’s drive thru for an Egg McMuffin isn’t an option anymore! I have a few additional goals related to my breakfasts that I will be working on in 2015, such as making them healthier without sacrificing taste, but in general I did pretty well in 2014!

Resolution #2: Take care of my skin
Win! I took my last dose of Accutane on December 14th and I’m absolutely thrilled to be done with it after nine months. I won’t miss the monthly dermatologist appointments and all of the red tape associated with actually getting the prescriptions, but my skin has looked great since I started the medication. Taking the Accutane was a last resort for me since topical treatments and oral antibiotics weren’t working for me. I’m so glad I did it, though. Despite the side effects (very dry and sensitive skin, periodic rashes, and extremely chapped lips), it was worth the hassle. Now that I’m done taking the Accutane I’ll hopefully never have to take any more. There’s always a chance that I will sometime in the future, but we’ll see what happens. For now I’m enjoying my clear skin and the added confidence that comes with it!

Resolution #3: Run a race
Win! Not only did a run one race, but I ran twelve! Can you believe it? And that number doesn’t even include the two races in October that I signed up for but didn’t actually participate in (one due to work and the other due to oversleeping). How crazy is that? And the even crazier thing is that I’m already registered for twelve races in 2015 (4 in January, 2 in February, 2 in March, 3 in May, and 1 in October) and I know there are going to be many, many more! It’s so hard to believe that a year and a half ago I couldn’t run more than a block or two without getting seriously winded and now I’m running half marathons! I’m not competitive in any sense, but signing up for of these races challenges me and gives me something definite to work towards. And even when I run very slowly or feel terrible after crossing the finish line, I still have a sense of accomplishment for reaching a goal. All of the awesome medals I have hanging on my cubicle wall at work aren’t bad either!

Resolution #4: Wear shorts
Win! I actually wore shorts on a regular basis over the summer due to the prolonged hot weather in Los Angeles that lingered well into October. The only thing I miss about the relentless summer weather is wearing shorts. On the weekends it was so easy to throw on a pair of shorts, a tank top, and my cushy Nike Free shoes and go about my business. It was the perfect outfit for Disneyland, shopping, or just running errands when it was hot outside (and inside too since my apartment doesn’t have air conditioning). Now that it’s winter and we’re enjoying much cooler temperatures, the Nikes that babied my feet all summer don’t really pair well with my drawer full of skinny jeans. It’s a shame. Luckily I have big plans for wearing shorts in 2015. If all goes well I’ll be headed to Maui in June with some friends, and shorts are practically mandatory in Hawaii! I’ll be looking for some new pairs before then, though. I only have three pairs of shorts that fit, and I’m using that word loosely. I’ll be doing some shopping as soon as spring clothes hit the stores in 2015!

Resolution #5: Visit as many new states as possible
Win! In March I took a little side trip to West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Delaware while on a business trip to DC. That added three states to the list of ones I’ve visited. And then in May I set foot in Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho during a family vacation to Yellowstone National Park. Six new states in one year – not bad! My total right now is 33 out of 50 states, and I already have plans to increase that number in 2015, but it might take more than a little planning to cross some of the states off my list. I’ll cover that more when I start posting about my 2015 New Year’s resolutions in January. If I’m lucky I might even make it to New Jersey when I’m in DC for work again! (I can’t believe I missed it last time.) I’ve decided that trips and experiences are better than presents (based on all of the races I’ve traveled to, that’s probably obvious), so in December I made a travel wish list that I fully intend to make some progress on in the coming year.

Resolution #6: Read every night before bed
Fail! While I did ramp up my reading after making this resolution back in March, I definitely haven’t been reading every night. More often than not I find myself tapping away on my laptop or watching TV on my iPad as I’m sitting in bed. This is a very bad habit. A couple of weeks ago I wrote about decreasing my overall screen time in 2015, but I still want to encourage reading at bedtime. I have always loved to read, but it’s a hobby that has sadly fallen by the wayside over the last year. Now that I’ve installed a blue light filter on my iPad Mini I should be able to utilize my Kindle app to my heart’s content at night without disturbing my sleep patterns. Hopefully. I have no idea if the filter will really work, but it certainly can’t hurt to try. I’ll write more about this next year in relation to my 2015 resolutions. I have quite the backlog of interesting books that I’ve downloaded so I’m excited to start reading them!

Foodie Friday – Chocolate chip cookies #40

Chocolate chip cookies #40: Based on Cooking on the Weekends’ Olive Oil Chocolate Chip Cookies. Baked on 12/31/13.

More holiday-themed chocolate chip cookies! Well, not really, since the sprinkles are the only thing that make them holiday-specific, but I took these to the New Year’s Eve party I went to. One of my friends requested cookies (and since she is now cancer-free after a fight against lymphoma I’ll pretty much give her whatever she wants) so I took my last legitimate opportunity of the season to add some Christmas sprinkles to the top of the dough before baking. Pretty! With or without decoration, these olive oil chocolate chip cookies are perfect for when you’re out of butter. Or when you don’t want to wait for the butter to soften. Or when you don’t want to break out the electric mixer to cream the butter. (Not that I ever use my electric mixer anymore. Leaving the butter sitting on the counter overnight usually makes a wooden spoon sufficient for mixing cookie dough.) I consulted two different recipes before making these cookies – 1) this one from From Which Things Grow which didn’t seem to have a large enough proportion of olive oil compared to amounts of the rest of the ingredients, and 2) this one from Cooking on the Weekends which seemed more reasonable, but still wasn’t quite right. In the end I used my recipe for perfect chocolate chip cookie bars and just replaced the butter with extra light olive oil. Note that this is NOT the same as extra virgin olive oil. The extra light variety is great for baking – the extra virgin variety is not. The bottom line here is that these cookies are delicious. Try them for yourself!

2014 Resolution #1

New Year’s Resolution #1: Eat good breakfasts

I’ve been slowly putting together a list of resolutions for 2014, and this is the first one that I thought of. Food would be the first thing that came to my mind, wouldn’t it? Well, eating breakfast is a relatively new thing for me, but after I started running last summer I realized it was an essential meal. On nights that I run I can’t eat a lot beforehand (stomach aches, you know), and I have very little appetite afterwards, so dinner is pretty much nonexistent. That means my breakfasts and lunches on running days need to be a little more substantial. Special K protein shakes just don’t cut it on those days! Jimmy Dean Delights frozen breakfast sandwiches have been my go-to on weekdays when I’m in a rush because I can heat one up in the microwave when I get to work. They get old kinda fast, though. When I have a little more time (usually weekends since I can’t seem to get up as early as I’d like during the week anymore) I get breakfast someplace like McDonald’s, Panera, or Corner Bakery. Egg sandwiches are my new favorite thing, but going out to get them can be annoying. So when I saw an ad for the Hamilton Beach Breakfast Sandwich Maker I ran right out and got one! It wasn’t expensive and it doesn’t take up a lot of counter space so I’m hoping I’ll be able to use it to make delicious homemade breakfast sandwiches. I haven’t used it yet, but today I bought eggs (well, MORE eggs since I already had a bunch in the fridge for cookie baking), English muffins, ham, and cheese to give it a try tomorrow morning. Fingers crossed! And since I can’t live on egg sandwiches alone, yesterday I ordered a Cuisinart Compact Portable Blender to try my hand at homemade smoothies. I found a few recipes on Pinterest that look good, but I have a feeling it’s going to take several failed attempts before I figure out what works best for my picky taste buds. I’ll let you know how it goes. There will be some interesting experiments to share, if nothing else!

Beginning of 2014

New Year’s Day was extremely productive since I went to bed at a fairly decent time the night before. But evidently everyone else stayed up to ring in the new year because when I went to Target the morning of January 1st it was empty. I’ve never seen so few people at a Target in Los Angeles! My original plan was to just pick up one item and then head right back home, but after seeing how deserted the place was I grabbed a basket and bought quite a few things. The reason I went to Target in the first place was to buy a bathroom scale. I haven’t had access to one in over a year (which was liberating, actually), but I joined a 2014 weight loss challenge that forced me (reluctantly) to buy one. On my way home from Target I got a breakfast sandwich at Panera for breakfast. Of course I didn’t eat it until after I got home and weighed myself on my brand new scale! For the weight loss challenge I have to weigh myself and post a photo of the scale’s reading every week. Let me tell you, I’m not looking forward to it, but it will be a degree of accountability that I haven’t had for a while. For the last year or so I’ve just been going by which pairs of pants fit at the moment! I suppose time will tell which method works better for me. Using the scale will be an interesting experiment. After seeing how empty Target was that morning I was encouraged to go to the Block at Orange to do a little outlet shopping while everyone was still sleeping off their New Year’s Eve hangover. I didn’t have much luck, but I did buy some workout clothes at Old Navy which will be just as helpful for the weight loss challenge as the scale. If I want my weight to take a downward trend in 2014 I will have to exercise regularly. But more on that in a bit. When I got home from my second shopping expedition I tackled the one New Year’s Day tradition that I don’t enjoy – taking down my Christmas tree. It’s always so wonderful decorating for Christmas (usually while watching a Christmas movie or listening to Christmas music), but putting everything away when it’s all over can be really depressing. But it had to be done, so I dismantled my tree and packed up all of the trimmings as quickly as possible to get my apartment back to its pre-holiday state. I hate leaving Christmas behind me, but it’s nice to have everything done and put away. My last task for New Year’s Day was to jump start my 2014 running regimen. I had no expectations for my first run in three weeks, but I knew it would be a victory if I just got out the door and tried. And so I put on a brand new running tank top from American Eagle, donned my New Balance running shoes (which I’m still not sure about), queued up the Christmas playlist on my iPhone for the last time this season, and ran. Although it was my slowest run ever (which was intentional because I didn’t want to get tired too quickly and get discouraged), it was a success as soon as I got started. For me the most difficult part of exercising is getting out the door. It’s all downhill (metaphorically, of course) once my running shoes hit the sidewalk and I don’t ever consider stopping until I complete my usual circuit. I just have to keep reminding myself of that when I’m tempted to stay on the couch and watch TV rather than burn some calories. My goal for 2014 is to run at 6+ miles about every other day and to run the Seal Beach 10K in April. It won’t be easy, and I know there will be setbacks, but I’m determined to do it. It’s definitely going to be an interesting journey. Well, I don’t know if I was trying to start 2014 in the best way possible or just trying to make up for my laziness in the last couple of days of 2013, but I sure got a lot done on January 1st. Here’s to a great year!

Ending of 2013

It’s only the fourth day of 2014 and I’m already behind on my webpage posts! Not that I haven’t been still been updating it every day, but I have yet to write anything about New Year’s. Terrible! So let me back up a few days and get at least partially caught up.

New Year’s Eve was mostly devoted to preparing for the party I was invited to that night. The host tasked me with making a dessert and I got requests for both cake and cookies from two of the other partygoers. No problem! After a trip to the grocery store (my sugar stores were dangerously low), I quickly whipped up a batch of olive oil chocolate chip cookies (recipe to come) which my friend Joelle asked for. This was my second batch of chocolate chip cookies made with olive oil and I really like them, but more on that in a future post. When the cookies were done I got started on a chocolate pound cake, using this recipe that I found on Pinterest a while back. It’s incredibly sinful with three sticks of butter (one more than I’m used to in a bundt cake), 8 oz of cream cheese (the key to a dense and moist pound cake), and more sugar than I’d like to admit (twice what I usually use). Based on the slice I had at the party the cake itself was very tasty, but everything fell apart when I tried to frost it. The fudge icing did NOT turn out as advertised. It was more like a glaze – thin and watery – not at all “thick and rich” as the recipe described. I should have just thrown it out, but against my better judgment I poured some of the icing over the cake anyway. It didn’t make the cake any less tasty, but it made a huge mess and didn’t really improve the cake at all. But anyway, on to the party! I had a great time. Since there were so many families in attendance the party started at 6 PM and we celebrated the New Year on East Coast time so the kids could go to bed at a decent hour. And honestly the adults didn’t stay up that much longer! I was home by 10:30 PM and asleep before midnight. Party animal, that’s me. The photo I posted on January 1st is me with my friend Joelle (who finished chemotherapy back in October which should explain her very short hair!) and her daughter Sara at the party. We were coloring at the time, meaning I was removing caps from markers so Sara could use them and then replacing the caps when she was done with each one. Shortly after I took that picture Joelle took the opportunity to escape and talk to adults. I didn’t get much of that since I kept getting dragged back to the playroom by a couple of the kids any time I tried to extricate myself. At one point Joelle said, “Lauren, you’re hired.” I swear my friends invited me to their party so I would babysit! But with kids that cute I didn’t mind at all.

Come back tomorrow for a New Year’s Day recap. Exciting!

New Year’s Eve 2013

“The holidays are over. Boo! My birthday is approaching. Ugh. But I was still happy when I woke up this morning because it’s a new year and that means new beginnings. I thought I knew what kinds of things 2012 would bring, but I was so wrong. So as 2013 dawns I’m not even going to try and guess how it’s going to unfold. Hopefully it will be much better than I could ever imagine.”
01/01/13 webpage post