Today: Summer rolls with a spicy vegan aioli.

I’m a salad-for-lunch person.  Always have been.  I keep a big container of spring mix in my office mini-fridge (which reminds me, that thing needs to be defrosted #amIstillincollege?), bottle up a simple homemade dressing (olive oil, vinegar, lemon juice, salt and pepper) and grab cooked lentils, tofu, and veggies at the market near my office a few times each week.

Inevitably, I spill half of the aforementioned dressing on my desk, end up schlepping home sixteen different reusable containers on Friday — some more science-project looking than others — and manage to lose at least two forks in as many days.

Summer rolls are a good alternative to this not-so-efficient system.  They come in their own little edible container, require no silverware, and are perfectly pre-portioned.  I worked from home one day this week, waiting for a contractor to arrive (which he never did…), and whipped up a couple for lunch.  Easy, mess-free, delicious.

Summer rolls with a spicy vegan aioli

Summer rolls

Ingredients:

  • 2 Vietnamese brown rice spring roll wrappers (gluten free)
  • 1 cup cooked red lentils
  • 1/2 English cucumber, thinly sliced
  • 2 cups spring mix with herbs (or your favorite lettuce)
  • 1 carrot, cut into thin ribbons
  • 2 small sweet peppers, thinly sliced

Directions:

  1. Cook lentils (or beans of your choice) per package instructions and allow to cool.
  2. Set out two dinner plates on your work surface; add a bit of warm water to one, while leaving the other dry.
  3. Carefully dip your first wrapper into the warm water, being sure to soak both sides, and move wrapper to your dry plate.
  4. Fill the center of your wrapper with vegetables and lentils (you can add anything to your rolls… YOLO), gently tucking in the sides of your wrapper and rolling.
  5. Repeat with your second wrap.  Obvi.

While waiting for my lentils to cool, I made a spicy vegan aioli using Nayonaise.  I received two complimentary jars from Nasoya recently and was looking forward to giving the product a try.  The taste and texture are great, and the vegan, gluten-free ingredient list (all non-GMO) makes it a great alternative to regular ol’ mayonnaise.

Spicy vegan aioli with dill

Ingredients:

  • 1/3 cup of Nasoya Nayonaise
  • 2 tsp Thai chili paste
  • 1/4 cup fresh dill
  • juice from 1/2 a lime
  • a pinch each of kosher salt and black pepper

Directions:

  1. Blend ingredients in a food processor until smooth.
  2. Add more lime juice as needed, until you reach your desired consistency.
  3. That’s it.  There is no step 3.

This spicy aioli is the perfect dip for my summer rolls.  It’s spicy, but not too spicy as the dill and lime help take the edge off a bit.  You might take things up a notch with a pinch of cayenne pepper or a bit more chili paste.

Leave your forks at home.

I received complimentary samples of Nayonaise.  I was not compensated for this post, and all opinions are my own.  Don’t ask me how I feel about the no-show contractor. 

Also On Tap for Today:

  • Packing, packing, and more packing
  • We could all use a little panda cam
  • Clark thinks this weather is perfect for napping

What is your favorite utensil-free meal?

 

 

Today: The weekend according to Instagram XIV.

What a lovely weekend.  Good food, good friends, good hockey… and welp, a few other things too.  I lost my phone (behind the sofa, naturally) at some point, but did manage to capture most of the highlights.

The weekend according to Instagram XIV

  1. I mean, come on.  Two Stanley Cup finals in three years?  We’re spoiled.   I couldn’t sleep Friday night; it was just too exciting.  The finals start Wednesday, which means I will be napping until then.  Toodles!
  2. Sleep or no sleep, Nick and I hit up CrossFit Southie bright and early Saturday morning.  He competed in our box’s internal throwdown (5 workouts between 9 AM – 2 PM) and took 3rd place in the men’s scaled division.  I came in 1st place in spectating.  In all seriousness, it was so fun to watch Nick and some of our friends compete.  I’m so proud of them all!
  3. Speaking of being proud, last week was Pride Week in Boston.  We wanted to make sure all our friends knew they were loved and supported (every week of the year), so we tweeted out this little message from Clark.
  4. Nick enjoyed a well-deserved rest day Sunday while I hightailed it back to CrossFit Southie (this time, in workout gear).  I love working out together, but I find a solo workout every now and then helps nudge me out of my comfort zone.  I got a PR in power cleans (83 lbs… that’s like… three Clarks!) and finished the workout in just over 17 minutes.  It was a tough one!  There were 10 rounds with reps descending each round (10-9-8-7-6… etc.), totaling 55 power cleans (at 55lbs) and 55 burpee lateral jumps (over the barbell).
  5. I got home to find some muscles peeking through.  Unfortunately, I do not excel at taking self portraits.  Want a blurry photo of our furniture? I’m your girl.
  6. I roasted a big batch of sweet potatoes of the week, and enjoyed a small bowl topped with Old Bay.  I love Old Bay.
  7. I also love summer, and being outside.  After working out, Nick and I picked up some groceries at the market on K & 8th Street and headed up to the roof with our friends Tina and Mal.  We’ve got a great little community herb garden up there.  I know where I will be planting my windowsill herbs once they outgrow their space!
  8. I whipped up a simple green salad, a fruit salad with fresh cherries, and my roasted sweet potato salad.  Nick took care of the meat like a good carnivore, and Tina and Mal brought a delicious homemade guacamole and some hard cider (this is one of the many reasons we get along so well).
  9. Good weather, good food, good friends.  What more could you ask for?  Perhaps good friends that you can trick into helping you (finally) complete your puzzle.  Muhahaha.

Also On Tap for Today:

What was the highlight of your weekend?

Today: Vegan roasted sweet potato salad and secret Pinterest boards.

Some things you want to keep secret.  Like, say… surprise party plans.  Or the fact that you have owned a home for nearly four years and still don’t know how to clean an oven.  Other things, like a fail-proof recipe for a delicious roasted sweet potato salad, are too good to be kept under wraps.

Vegan roasted sweet potato salad (gluten free)

Serves: 10 – 12 people

Ingredients:

  • 6 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • 2 stalks of celery, finely chopped across the rib
  • 2 green onions, chopped
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries, raisins or currants
  • 1/2 cup red onion, diced
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper

Directions:

  1. Preheat your (recently cleaned?) oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Toss sweet potatoes with a drizzle of olive oil, and a sprinkle each of sea salt and freshly ground black pepper on a rimmed baking sheet.
  3. Cook sweet potatoes until they are fork tender and slightly brown (stir occasionally) – approximately 35 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, mix celery, cranberries (or your choice of dried fruit – I’ve used both raisins and currants), and red onion in a large serving bowl.
  5. Once sweet potatoes are sufficiently cooked, mix them with other ingredients and top with green onions.

Notes:  This dish can be served warm or cold, and keeps well for up to three days in an air tight container, refrigerated (obvi).  Feel free to play around with other spices and seasonings.  I personally live to season everything with Old Bay, but am not certain everyone shares my love for the OB.  Got leftover sweet potatoes?  Why not whip up Alex’s spicy sweet potato lentil burgers?

While putting together the menu for Andrea’s shower, I found a few great ideas on the time vortex that is Pinterest, but didn’t want my sister to know what I was planning.  Ever the schemer, I created a secret board for keeping my ideas organized (and secret).  One secret board turned into two, two into three… and well, you get the picture.

How to create secret Pinterest boards

Secret  Pinterest boards come in handy when planning holiday gifts, gathering ideas for blog posts, or pinning chores that — as a 31 year old — you should know how to do without the guidance of the Internet.  They are only visible to you (unless you invite friends to collaborate — perfect for fellow bridesmaids and other co-conspirators), and appear at the bottom of your screen of boards.

 

To add your own secret board, simply click on “create a board,” as you normally would.

… and be sure to select “secret” before saving changes.

Two easy steps and you’re officially a secret (…Pinterest board) agent.  All I ask is that you don’t keep any tasty recipes to yourself.

Also On Tap for Today:

Where do you find the best recipes?

Today: Gluten free graham crackers… and Peeps.

If the Easter Bunny left you with a heap of Peeps, I’ve got a plan for you.  It involves making gluten free graham crackers (that’s the only hard part, and it’s really not that hard… I mean, I was able to do it), committing Peepicide in your microwave and consuming 14,000 calories in the span of mere seconds.  You with me?

Gluten free graham crackers

Ingredients

  • 1.5 cups of brown rice flour (I used Bob’s Red Mill)
  • 1/2 cup cornstarch
  • 1/3 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 5 tbs cold, unsalted butter
  • 6 tbs almond milk
  • 3 tbs agave nectar

Directions

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper, lightly dusted with brown rice flour
  • Using a food processor or stand mixer, combine dry ingredients
  • Add butter, mixing until no large pieces are visible
  • Add almond milk and agave nectar and mix until dough is formed
  • Move dough to baking sheet and form into a rectangle and sprinkle lightly with additional brown rice flour
  • Add a second sheet of parchment paper on top of dough and roll out until the dough is approximately 1/4 inch thick (you may need to trim excess dough from the edges of the pan)
  • Remove the top sheet of parchment and score dough (I used a butter knife, but a pastry wheel or pizza cutter would likely work better), making graham cracker squares
  • Prick the dough all over with a fork or toothpick
  • Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until browned
  • Remove the graham crackers and transfer to a wire rack to cool, parchment and all
  • Once the crackers have cooled completely, break along scored lines

Notes: I adapted this recipe from glutenfreebaking.com.  I am sure you could play around with which gluten free flour  and milk you use, and substitute honey for agave nectar.  The dough is a bit dry, but it might make a good pie crust with the addition of some oil.

I found these tasty graham crackers to be less sweet than the graham crackers of my childhood (and non-gluten allergic adulthood), but in a good way.  Plus, Peeps are straight up sugar, so it all balances out in the end.  Sort of.  I melted a Peep in the microwave and sandwiched it, along with a bit of chocolate, between two grahams.  I recommend you do the same, but with one caveat:

There is a fine line between melty, gooey Peep and full on exploded Peep, so keep an eye on your microwave.  You have been warned.

I hope you enjoyed a very happy Easter.  We hit the road with Clark the Easter Frenchie (click the link for a video of him sitting in a basket, wearing rabbit ears, chomping on a carrot…) and spent a lovely, sugary day with our Peeps families.

Also On Tap for Today:

Are you a salty or sweets person?  

Today: Gluten free thumbprint cookies.

I hit the sibling jackpot when my younger sister was born.  She was smart, funny, talented and clever.  And then she grew up.  And somehow, she got smarter, funnier, more talented and more clever.  I am so lucky that she only lives a mile away and was only sort of kidding when she said she had given up speaking to me for Lent.

She swung by our condo before the parade on Sunday, and brought her fiance and one of her lovely friends, Amy, along.  And Amy brought along some of the most delicious cookies of all time, adapted from this recipe and her friends’ blog, The Feasting Freds.  With another storm threatening to derail work plans (and following through on that threat with several inches of snow before dawn today), I dug through my cabinets to find that I had almost all the ingredients on hand.  I put on my frilliest apron and got to stress baking.

The original recipe (for maple walnut jam cookies) calls for whole wheat pastry flour, which I swapped out for a mix of coconut flour and almond meal.  I found I needed additional flour mix, as the dough was a bit too soft.  I used agave nectar instead of maple syrup, and was sure to use certified gluten free oats.

Gluten free thumbprint cookies with raspberry preserves

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1 cup gluten free oats (I like Bob’s Red Mill)
  • 1/2 cup of almond meal (plus more, if needed)
  • 1/2 cup of coconut flour
  • 1/2 cup canola oil
  • 1/2 cup agave nectar
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • a pinch of sea salt
  • raspberry preserves (I like Bonne Maman, and not just because I was a French major)

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 F and prepare a rimmed cookie sheet.
  2. Mix chopped walnuts and gluten free oats in a food processor and grind until they’re combined.
  3. In a small bowl, mix the canola oil and agave nectar.
  4. In a larger bowl, combine the dry and wet ingredients, and stir.  Add additional almond flour if needed.
  5. Form the dough into small balls and drop onto cookie sheet.  Flatten each ball slightly and form a depression (or in happier terms, a raspberry preserves pocket) with your thumb.
  6. Add a small amount of preserves (or your favorite jam) to each cookie.
  7. Bake for 12-15 minutes and allow to cool slightly before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

These cookies can be a bit crumbly when they first come out of the oven, so it’s important to employ a little will power and allow them to cool and set up.  After a (very large) number of baking flops since forgoing gluten, this recipe was a real victory.  I’ll take ‘em where I can get ‘em.  These cookies were quick, easy, perfect for giving away and provided just the little project I needed to take my mind of this darn weather.

I’m grateful to Amy for sharing the recipe, and I am grateful to my sister for sharing her friends.

Also On Tap for Today:

Have you made anything tasty lately?

Today: Spicy sweet potato lentil burgers {a guest post from Alex Eats Green}

I was thrilled with Alex reached out with what follows.  We met at last year’s Healthy Living Summit and I’ve been smitten with her blog (and her lovely self) ever since.  Please enjoy her stunning photographs and delicious recipe, and be sure to head over to Alex Eats Green for more of the same. xoxo Gossip Girl Elizabeth

Spicy sweet potato lentil burgers

Hi guys! My name is Alex, and I’m over at Alex Eats Green, where I blog about being a vegetarian. Recipes, daily eating and restaurant reviews are all included in the fun, but it’s also a lot of photos of my good looking friends. Elizabeth was crazy kind enough to pass over the reins to me so that I could share this delicious burger recipe with you.

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Even before I went green, I was never the biggest fan of the burger. Growing up, I was definitely always a hot dog girl; all the bacon, blue cheese, and caramelized onions couldn’t change that. But now that I’m a vegetarian, burgers are a whole new ball game. The possibilities for combinations truly are endless: beet, bean, quinoa oh my and more.

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Each month, myself and a few friends get together to share our most recent life happenings. I was in charge of dinner for the most recent one (…you know where I’m going with this one), and I knew that the perfect companion to our conversations/giggling would be these burgers.

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I like them for a few reasons: they’re easy to dress up – you can get creative with the toppings, and make them as fancy or low key as you wish. I also like knowing exactly what is going into my burger, which can’t really be said for most veggie burgers that you pull out of your frozen foods aisle. And finally, they’re sweet potato burgers! You would be hard-pressed to find someone who didn’t enjoy what is essentially sweet potatoes on bread. Am I right, or am I right?

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You’re sure to impress at any BBQ, monthly dinner, bookclub, or just yourself with this recipe. Enjoy!

Spicy Sweet Potato Lentil Burgers

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup dry green or red lentils (I used green split pea)
  • 3-4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. chili powder
  • 1-2 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp. coriander
  • 1/2 tsp. black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper and mixed Italian herbs (each)*
  • 4-5 small organic sweet potatoes, baked, peeled, mashed
  • 1-2 cups fresh or frozen spinach or kale
  • 1 cup bread crumbs
  • 2 tsp. olive oil or parchment paper

Mashed Avocado Topper

  • 1 large avocado
  • 1 – 2 tbsp fresh squeezed lime juice
  • S&P
  • Optional: Add micro greens, sliced red onion, yogurt, or cheese!

*a note about the spices – I basically put every spice I had in my cabinet into this mixture. Feel free to take some liberties on the varieties/amount of spice, but the spices listed above is a good place to start.

Instructions:

  1. Combine lentils in large soup pot. Add enough water to cover about 3 inches above lentils. Boil until lentils are very tender, about 45 mins – 1 hour. Drain water from lentils. Transfer lentils to a large bowl and cool.
  2. Add the seasonings to the lentils. Stir with lentils until well blended. Cover lentils and set aside.
  3. Slice sweet potatoes in half, and bake at 375 degrees. Cool, peel, and coarsely mash. Add mashed potatoto lentil mixture and mix well.
  4. Chop kale or spinach then add to mixture. If using frozen spinach, squeeze out as much water as possible. Add 1/2 cup breadcrumbs to mixture (more if you still feel that the consistency is too sticky)
  5. Using a spoon or both hands, form mixture into balls and then flatten. Press breadcrumbs lightly onto patties. Cover and refrigerate 30-60 minutes. Don’t skip this step!
  6. After chilling, freeze any burgers that you want to save for later. 
  7. To cook burgers, heat in non-stick pan with small amount of olive oil for about 5 minutes or baked in oven on parchment paper until hot and crispy at 350 for 20-30 minutes. Flip over at the half-way point.

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For more food fun, and general ramblings about life as a vegetarian, come follow along at Alex Eats Green. Thanks for having me, Elizabeth!

Also On Tap for Today:

What is your favorite meal to make for friends?

Today: Vegan red lentil and lemon soup.

As someone who lives in fear of leaving home with the flat iron plugged in and at full power, I’ve always been terrified of crock pots, slow cookers, and similar devices that are intended to be left on, conducting heat, electricity and other fire starters whilst you’re out of the home. [That was a long sentence.]  The idea that I could return to our condo, though, after a full day of work to find hot meal waiting for me?  Well, that sounds like a miracle.  Especially if one assumes I have not burned down our building in the process.


Last fall, the team at Ninja Kitchen invited us to a demo of their new Ninja Cooking System, which is sort of like the mother of all crock pots.  It doesn’t just cook meals and keep them warm, it has settings for sauteeing, searing, and steam-infused baking and roasting.

Ninja Cooking System

The Ninja team (I picture them wearing all black, all the time) was kind enough to send me the product once it was released.  As soon as the box arrived, Nick was making all kinds of meat stews or ribs or whatever in it.  Meanwhile, I kept a safe distance.  And an eye on the fire extinguisher.  And a vow to not leave the condo while that thing was on.


And then Kelsey sent me a recipe for vegan Red Lentil and Lemon Soup.  First thought: Marcel the Shell.  Second thought: I need to make this.  I fired up the Ninja and (hiiiiiiiiiiiiiyah) got to work.

Red Lentil and Lemon Soup

vegan red lentil and lemon soup

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 4 medium carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced (I used 4 cloves… let’s be serious)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 1/2 cups dried red lentils
  • 6 cups vegetable broth (or water)
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice

vegan red lentil and lemon soup

Directions:

  1. [This can be done on your stovetop, if you're using a traditional crock pot.] Pour oil into pot, set to stovetop high and heat oil.  Add carrots, onions, garlic, and salt to pot.  Cook uncovered for 5 minutes or until vegetables are tender, stirring occasionally.  Stir in cumin.
  2. Stir in lentils and broth and heat to a boil.  Set to slow cook low for 5 to 7 hours.  Cover and cook until lentils are tender.  Stir in lemon juice before serving.

Notes: For my fellow gluten-challenged friends, Arrowhead Mills makes red lentils that are certified gluten-free, and slow cooker-friendly.  I included some fresh thyme when cooking the vegetables, and topped the finished product with a drizzle of chili oil.  The more kick, the better.  

Could I have made this on the stovetop in far less time?  Yes, probably.  Would our condo have smelled like cumin and garlic all afternoon?  Probably not.  While there was still plenty of hands on time involved, it was nice to sit back and relax while the Ninja did its thing.  One major bonus: there was only one pot to clean (and the Ninja’s non-stick interior made for an easy clean up), as I was able to saute my veggies and cook the soup right in the cooker.  My usual soup-making adventures are much messier.  And much more low-tech.

I am easing into the idea of leaving the cooker on while I am out.  With two weeks left in January (Slow Cooking Month, apparently), I just may get there.  If you’re looking for more slow cooker recipes, Julie is hosting a Crock Pot Challenge and has posted some great ideas.

For the record:  I received this product at no charge.  I was not compensated for this post, and per yoosh, my opinions are all my own.  Oh, and remember: safety first, fun food second.

Also On Tap for Today:

Are you down with the slow cooking?  Feel free to share a favorite recipe.  Or safety tip.

Today: The weekend, according to Instagram.

With work being crazy (in a good way), I’ve been making a conscious effort to unplug a bit more during the weekend.  I can’t seem to put my Instagram machine iPhone down, though.  Technically it’s only plugged in when it’s charging, so… I guess that still sort of counts as being unplugged.  Maybe.

The weekend, according to Instagram.

The weekend according to Instagram 1

  1. The Os Gemeos mural in Dewey Square, taken from a stoplight (safety first).
  2. View of Logan from the Seaport – I love living so close to the water.
  3. Spotted this so jelly mug (the reverse side features a pair of jelly fish) at Target while running errands.  And then I had Destiny’s Child stuck in my head for the rest of the day.  I don’t think you’re ready for this jelly.
  4. I whipped up a quick and (extremely) easy lemon artichoke pesto on Friday night.  I love throwing together ingredients with neither measuring, counting, nor caring.  Pestos are perfect for that.  I used two small jars of artichoke hearts (drained), added a generous helping of walnuts (~2 cups), a bunch of fresh parsley, a drizzle of olive oil, juice from one lemon, a pinch of nutritional yeast, and little salt and pepper.  You could probably chop up the ingredients and mash together in a bowl, but I went straight for the food processor.  Nice and smooth.
  5. Clark and I enjoyed the spring-like weather this weekend with a few extra-long walks.  I thought this tree was cute.
  6. I slept in on Saturday and missed the early class at CrossFit Southie, so I threw together a little at home WOD, after checking out a few of the workouts on The Traveling WOD.  That site is a great resource for workouts on the go, or at home – with very little, if any equipment required.  After six rounds of my made up workout, I got to work on pull-ups.  Practice makes progress.
  7. After taking some time a few weeks ago to organize my random collection of ribbons, mint and coral colored pens, and washi tape, I’ve been obsessed with little projects like this one: sprucing up my iPhone and iPad chargers with different tapes.  Here are a few more clever uses for washi.
  8. There was a time when I never, ever napped.  That time can be defined as my entire childhood.  Nowadays, if football is on and Clark’s feeling snuggly… the two of us are out like a light.
  9. I am finding my Polar FT4 heart rate monitor from h.h. gregg to be not only informative, but super motivating.  I’ve been wearing it to CrossFit and am amazed at how much harder I push myself at the box, than I do when I workout on my own.

But wait… there’s more.

The weekend according to Instagram 2

  1. Speaking of CrossFit, I left the box on Sunday feeling like a Mighty Endorphin Power Ranger after our rowing/DU WOD.  It didn’t hurt that “Beat it” (rock in peace, MJ) was playing on the radio on the way home.  While I’ve been able to do one or two double-unders here and there over the past few months, I’ve never been able to string them together before.  Usually I would feel or hear the rope pass under my feet for the second time, freak out, and then immediately whip myself in the shins.  I’ve been practicing, checking out YouTube videos, and watching other athletes and somehow… it just clicked during the warm-up.  One double-under turned into two… and then three… and during the workout, twenty!  I must have looked like a total goofball, but I could not stop smiling and Irish-whispering “I am doing it!”  When I went up to the board after class to give our coach my time, I started to say level one (which was scaled to 10 DU attempts), our coach replied… “What you did was not level one.”  Perma-smile.
  2. After class (and various leaps and spin moves about the condo while I described my jump rope glory and push jerk PR to Nick), we headed to Whole Foods River Street to stock up for the week.  Pomegranates: check.
  3. As soon as we got home, I traded my skinny jeans (no one should wear real pants on the weekend) for short shorts and ProCompression socks.  Much better.
  4. Yet another water view from the Seaport.  You will not be shocked to learn I am a Pisces.
  5. This was the mess I made while multi-tasking.  I perused Runners World for a spring half marathon to run, while painting my nails, while watching the Pats (I stayed mostly awake for that game).  I like to pick nail colors based on their names (seen above: essie eternal optimist, beyond cozy and miss fancy pants).  I’ve been reading Apartment Therapy: The Eight Step Home Cure and was reminded about the good having fresh flowers around can do.  Tulips are a favorite of mine.
  6. As of Sunday evening, I have successfully completed 13 out of 13 #fmsphotoaday challenges.  Yesterday’s theme was circle.  This was kind of a stretch, but the BC seal is a circle.  I recently joined a mentoring program at my alma mater and will be paired with an undergraduate student next month.  I think it will be a good way to reconnect with the Heights, especially with my 10 year reunion not so far off.  Yikes.
  7. An impulse purchase from the Whole Body department while grocery shopping: Biggs and Featherbelle Beauty Soak.  I love bath time.
  8. A nerd’s dream: French grammar review books.
  9. Clark and I headed out for another long walk (clearly, I put my pants back on).  It’s January in Boston, yet it was too warm for a jacket and real shoes, so I dug out my Toms.  Al Gore was right, people.

Also On Tap for Today:

Do you unplug on the weekends?

Today: Special made simple.

In my dreams, I am a younger, brunetter, shorter Martha Stewart.  I love to entertain, but in reality, I am a bit more frazzled than Martha.  I also lack her team of chefs, decorators, paint swatch consultants, and yoga instructors. I imagine you might too?  Few things make me happier than hosting friends for wine, snacks, and conversation, yet few things make me more harried that hiding that pile of laundry I forgot to fold (the one I have shoved back in the drier twice to, um, get the wrinkles out), dimming the lights appropriately, and putting my face on before guests begin arriving.  To ensure the happiness overrules the harriedness, I’ve developed a few tricks over the years to keep small occasions simple, but still special.  You can find last year’s tips for entertaining here.

special made simple

If you’re pressed for time, serve what you know.

If friends are due within the hour, now is not the time to whip up that Scandinavian sandwich cake thing you pinned from Kitchn.com.  It looks cool, yes.  And it’s probably worth trying at home.  Just not today.  Today’s a day to trot out your standbys, the recipes you know by heart.  If you’re like me, that might mean cheese and crackers.  I have that recipe memorized (cheese… and crackers… serve promptly).  I once almost poisoned my husband, my brother and my sister-in-law with under-cooked chicken (How’s a vegetarian to know?  You don’t really expect me to look inside it, do you?), so I rarely touch main dishes.  Appetizers and little bites are where it’s at.

A few of my favorites:

  • Lemon and artichoke pesto with gluten free crackers
  • A cheese plate with dried fruit and olives
  • Baked brie (you can add just about anything before or after baking: red pepper jam, fresh herbs, cranberries, apple slices)
  • Miniature desserts (baked or bought the day before)
  • Single-serve lasagnas (these can be prepped ahead of time, and popped in the over shortly before guests arrive – your condo will spell divine, and you will appear a domestic god or goddess)
  • Vegetables and hummus (or your favorite dip)

owl station sushi

This weekend we took an especially lazy simple route, and set out platters of sushi from our neighbors, Owl Station.  Sushi is always a crowd pleaser around here.

Make what you know a bit more special.

flavored water

With a few adjustments or additions here and there, it’s easy to elevate simple offerings to something a little more… welp… special.  And occasion worthy.  Sometimes I make my own hummus.  Most of the time, I go straight to the vegetarian cooler at Whole Foods River Street, grab two containers of 40 spices hummus and call it a day.  While you could simply peel back the plastic covering and place the container alongside some cut veggies, you could spend two minutes and trick your friends into thinking you made it yourself earn a few presentation points.  I like to scoop the hummus into a small white bowl, and top generously with freshly cracked black pepper and cayenne (and maybe a sprig of rosemary, if I’m feeling really sassy).  A little garnish goes a long way.

As for the vegetables, there’s no shame in purchasing them pre-cut.  I oddly enjoy chopping vegetables (except for the time I nearly lost a fingertip and donated quite a bit of blood to a nearly done pot of homemade arrabiata sauce), though, especially when I have fun gadgets laying around.  I found a crinkle cutter for two bucks at Homegoods and use it whenever I have the chance.  I can’t tell you how many people have asked how long it took me to carve my cucumbers (…fine I will tell you: it was one person, and one person only.  I think he thought I cut each slice, one by one, with a ninja star or something).  Regardless, it’s simple to make crudite a bit more special with inexpensive tools. I sort of feel like an inexpensive tool for having typed that last sentence.  Can’t win ‘em all.

Plan (and execute) what you can ahead of time.

If you can do something, or anything, ahead of time – do it.  Spend twenty minutes tidying each night leading up to your soiree.  If you live in less than 800 square feet like we do, your place with be sparkling by day three.  You’ll be eating off the floor on day five.  Maybe.  No.  Probably not.  Set out platters and serving plates, wine glasses and candles early in the day.  Make the perfect playlist while you pretend to listen to your neighbor talk about cat sweaters.  (Sorry.  That was rude.  Even cat People deserve our full attention.)

Make a list, but allow for flexibility.

Inevitably, the fire alarm will go off at the very moment you planned to create a cozy conversation nook in your foyer.  Somethings are just not necessary.  As I’ve mentioned before, no one should be looking inside your dryer or under your bed.  If you only have time to clean and tidy your living space and bathroom, that’s probably perfectly sufficient.

caprese skewers

One non-negotiable in my book: getting dressed and ready cannot be my final task.  This would ensure someone would show up early and catch me arranging cocktail napkins in one of Nick’s old tee shirts, fashioned into a mini dress, and a pair of compression socks.  Give yourself the time you need to be presentable and relaxed and maybe a tiny bit drunk? when company arrives.  I’m a much more welcoming hostess when I feel and look like a milli.  Or even a hundi.

But don’t take yourself so seriously.  Please.

I am constantly reminding myself of this.  Entertaining is supposed to be… entertaining.  For everyone involved.  I imagine my friends could care less that I threw Clark’s half-chewed octopus behind the sofa as the door buzzer rang.  Similar, I imagine the last thing people are thinking is, “Is this hummus store bought?”  (For the record: if you don’t have something better to think about, you’re uninvited.)  The key to a good get together is not lighting.  It’s not music.  It’s not adequate seating (though that helps).

It’s the company you keep.

Also On Tap for Today:

What’s your best entertaining tip?

Today: Pure Matters no-bake chocolate pea protein balls.

If you’re a vegetarian like me, you’ve likely been asked (in a somewhat alarmed, overly dramatic voice),

“But how do you get enough protein?”

The truth is, carnivores haven’t cornered the market on protein consumption. Many plants and other vegetarian options, from hemp seed to cauliflower, and asparagus to quinoa, pack as much protein as a steak and eggs.  Don’t believe me?  (And it’s okay if you don’t.  I am not a scientist.  Nor a doctor.  Nor a perfect physical specimen.)  Ask the vegan endurance athlete who was the first person to complete  5 Ironman-distance triathlons on 5 Hawaiian Islands in under a week.

Our protein needs are largely individual.  My RD has helped me a great deal with this, setting a goal for daily intake and recommending possible options for getting there.  It turns out, it’s not at all complicated.  Even, or especially, for vegetarians.  While many of the whole foods I consume are great sources of protein, when I’m in a pinch, there’s always protein powder.  There are only so many protein shakes a girl can drink in a day, though.

When Pure Matters sent me a container of their Chocolate Pea Protein, my first thought was to mix it with unsweetened almond milk and ice, maybe a few frozen berries.  (For the record: the powder is very tasty, has a great consistency, and blends beautifully.  And no, it doesn’t taste like peas.  At all.)

Thankfully, Pure Matters offers a number of great recipeas on their website for those of us lacking creativity.  It turns out there’s a whole lot you can do with protein powder besides shakes.  Their Chocolate Pea Protein Balls (click the recipe tab for details), a far cry from basic shake, immediately caught my eye.  Easy to make, and even easier to consume, these protein balls are a great way to sneak some plant protein into your day.

From purematters.com: no-bake chocolate pea protein balls

Yields 8-10 balls

INGREDIENTS
• 1 scoop Pure Matters® Chocolate Pea Protein Powder
• 1/3 cup nut butter
• 1/3 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
• 1/3 cup maple syrup (may substitute agave syrup)
• 1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
• 1 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
• 3/4 teaspoon sea salt
• 1/3 cup chocolate chips
• sprinkles (optional) 

DIRECTIONS
1. In a food processor or blender, pulse Pure Matters® Chocolate Pea Protein Powder, nut butter and coconut until ingredients are mixed well and start to clump.
2. Add maple syrup, vanilla, cinnamon and sea salt. Pulse until combined. Add chocolate chips and pulse again, incorporating chocolate chips into mixture.
3. Roll into golf ball-sized balls and place on a parchment-lined sheet or plate. Decorate with sprinkles.

While I am sure one could cut out the joy sprinkles altogether, I opted to add a bit of holiday kick with crushed peppermint candy.  I used gluten-free rolled oats instead of coconut, and miniature dark chocolate chips, but otherwise followed the recipe as written.  Like many of Pure Matters’ products, their Chocolate Pea Protein Powder is gluten free, vegan, non-GMO, dairy free, cholesterol free and contains no artificial flavors or sweeteners.  Each serving yields a whopping 25 grams of vegan protein.  And you wondered if I was getting enough?

Welp, I am.  And enjoying every bite.

I received complimentary products from Pure Matters, but was not compensated for this post.  My opinions are my own.  Obvi.  

Also On Tap for Today:

Have you tried a new recipe worth sharing?  Feel free to link below.