advent, the final part

The last few days of Advent have come and gone. I managed to fit in my last five activities, travel home to Jersey for Christmas, and experience some of the warmest and most peaceful days I've had in awhile.

We had our seven fishes on Christmas Eve. We had a rich Christmas dinner of standing rib roast, mashed sweet potatoes and turnips, Yorkshire pudding, and a seasonal salad. I indulged in snickerdoodles, chocolate chip cookies, and Lebkuchen.

My family does a good job of avoiding the commercialism of the season, but I have to admit that their thoughtful gifts mean a lot to me. My brother got me a beautiful vegetarian cookbook. My sister got me a needle felting kit (hello, new hobby). J got me a lovely, delicate gold necklace. My parents Santa got me a backpack I've been dying for, and a refill on my signature scent, Chanel Chance.

It's been amazing to catch up with some old high school friends, and bask in family time. And I've got more time with loved ones planned for this week. I'm also missing J and Maus, and will appreciate them all the more when we're back up north.

Hope you and yours are enjoying the remaining days of the season. A day late, I'm still wishing you a happy, happy Christmas!



advent, part iv

During the past five days, a few complications conspired to make advent a bit of a challenge. There was a terrible bout of stuffiness and sore throat for J. There was a visit from some lovely friends. There were painfully cold winds through our dear city. And there was no beeswax to be found in my supplies cupboard.

The only activity that made it from the original list was my cozy crochet project.

Any guesses?

So instead we turned up the Christmas music, put on the Christmas lights, and finally made time for another Christmas movie.

Life is short, and we've got to live in the present. And there's always tomorrow...


as promised

I have been so happy with my cleaning and purging efforts. The whole process resulted in the removal of 5 bags of sundry items, plus an old printer, and a small crockpot. They were sent to the thrift store...I like to support the institutions that support me. It's amazing how much stuff we had stored on the floor and how much better everything looks with a little more walking room. We also rearranged our office, and J and I now sit side-by-side instead of back-to-back...so much cozier.

Then there was a series of unfortunate events.

The freshly cleaned kitchen sink backed up with the garbage disposal waste from three floors of apartments above us.

The first time I finally buy ginger root, it gets moldly in the crisper.

And if that's not enough mold for you, I find a six inch patch of it behind my dresser, trailing for three more feet along the dustboard and behind our bed.

I'm shuddering to remember. I hate mold. Almost as much as I hate bugs. And yet we can't seem to escape it in this strangely moist apartment.

I needed a little recoop. So it's a good thing we still have lots of these around.

Before going into this, you should know a few things:
1. There is no refined sugar in this recipe.
2. Dark cocoa is one of the best things ever. You will want to put it in everything from now on.
3. These cookies are not chewy. They are not crunchy. They sort of...melt in your mouth. It's a cookie texture I'd never really experienced before. But...this means they are not so good served warm...sort of dry, actually. So as tempting as it is, resist the urge to nibble until they are at room temperature.


Dark Chocolate Orange Cookies

2 1/4 cups white, whole wheat, unbleached flour
1/2 cup dark cocoa powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup coconut oil
3/4 cup grade B maple syrup
1/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice (no need to strain out the pulp)
1 egg yolk
1 tbsp non-dairy milk
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp orange zest

Bring the oil, syrup, juice, egg, and milk to room temperature. If you skip this step, the coconut oil will clump and mix improperly. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Combine the flour, cocoa, and salt in a bowl and stir until mixed. In another large bowl, whisk the coconut oil until smooth. Then whisk in the maple syrup and orange juice. Finally, whisk in the last three wet ingredients (yolk, milk, and extract) and zest until well mixed. Add the dry mixture to the wet, about 1/4 at a time. Stir until smooth.

On parchment lined baking sheets, drop tbsp-sized dollops of the dough. This should make about 48 cookies, so you might need to do a few batches. Give each dollop a good smoosh before it goes in the oven; these don't really spread. Bake for 5 minutes, turn the pans, then bake 4 more minutes. Do not overbake!


boston bloggers holiday fiesta

internet meme: a catchphrase or concept that spreads rapidly from person to person via the internet

I present to you, the socially awkward penguin:

I love SAP because I am one. Last Wednesday I almost didn't get out the door to an amazing blogging event, because I was so nervous about meeting 30 strangers. And then this actually happened:

But somehow, I made it there intact...and had the most incredible time. Bloggers make up an awesome community. And as strange as it felt to find myself at a "blogging event," it was so wonderful to connect with people who have the same strange affection for this public-diary-of-sorts that we call blogging.

I finally met a new-old friend, whose blog I've been following for awhile: Anna, of Dear Friend. Um...so amazingly nice and warm. She puts SAPs like me at ease!


I was also happy to meet Smita, Megan, Courtney, Emily, Danielle, and many more!

And so maybe some of you will understand that I now feel like this:

(It's another meme...don't worry about it.)


advent, part iii


11. Make Christmas cookies

They don't look like much. But I'm working out the kinks in these dark chocolate orange cookies and I will share as soon as they're ready. But even the test ones were really good.

12. Take some flowers to a friend

Okay, I sent them. You kind of have to when your friend lives in another state. And I didn't send flowers. I sent a rosemary tree. So much more useful, right?

13. Donate to a food pantry

If this is something you'd like to do, visit the Greater Boston Food Bank's website. It's an over-the-top, huge organization. My contribution felt like a drop in the bucket, but I suppose they survive on drops!

14. Make a crockpot stew

Do it.

15. Clean the apartment

I got the itch for spring cleaning in the middle of December. This has turned into a massive project with a hopeful completion date before we leave for vacation. Closets are getting reorganized, crevices are being vacuumed, lots of stuff is being given away. It feels so good to simplify. And it will leave more room for presents!


advent, part ii


6. Leave a card for the postman

7. Make an orange garland

For instructions, visit The Magic Onions. This blog is also full of lots of other wonderful whimsy...worth a browse! The garland was so easy and looks really beautiful in the entrance to our kitchen.

8. Drink eggnog with Lebkuchen

Lebkuchen is surprisingly hard to find in Boston. I finally found some at Trader Joe's (which is apparently owned by the German supermarket chain Aldi). I rushed over to it gleefully and began hoarding as many packages as I could carry. A woman nearby came up and whispered, "Are those good?" Yes, they are.

I'm still keeping an eye out for more. The ones I found were delicious, but nowhere near as delicious as the Bahlsen brand.

9. Mail a few Christmas cards

A far cry from a mass mailing, I just sent out little notes to some who are near and dear to me, but who hear from me much less than I would like.

10. Make a seasonal stovetop potpurri

A clementine, cinnamon sticks, cloves, vanilla extract...brought to a boil in some water and simmered for hours. Ah, the comforts of the season...


christmas popcorn

Do you remember having fundraisers as an elementary schooler? We used to bring home Christmas catalogs full of candles and chocolates and wall plaques that said things like, "Joy and Peace." My mom called most of this stuff "junk." But she usually ended up buying a roll of wrapping paper or two, and if we were lucky, a tub of popcorn.

Do you remember that popcorn? It came in a giant tin with a Santa or wintry scene printed on its side. There were three types of popcorn inside: buttered (which was always finished last), caramel, and...cheese. Glorious, glorious artificial cheese.

I once read somewhere that real cheese has addictive properties. Artificial cheese is worse. I am ashamed to admit how much I love fake powdered cheese, purposefully designed to make me lick out the inside of the bag on the very rare occasion that I eat Cheetos.

This Christmas we're still eating cheesy popcorn, but this version is healthier. It uses the new and improved form of artificial cheese: nutritional yeast. Nutritional yeast is safe for vegans and those with gluten intolerance. It's not safe for those with candidiasis or a fear of eating foods produced by microorganisms. That being said, it is called nutritional for a reason. The label on mine says that one heaping tablespoon provides 3 grams of protein, almost 2 grams of fiber, and more vitamins and minerals than 20 bowls of Total cereal. (Someone check my math on that one?) It's delicious and nutritious.

Artificial Cheese Popcorn*
*With no artificial ingredients

2 tbsp popping corn
1 tbsp canola oil (or another oil with a high smoke point)
2 tsp nutritional yeast
1/8 tsp garlic powder
1/16 to 1/8 tsp salt (1/8 will be really salty, but I have to admit I kind of like it)

Mix the seasonings ahead of time and keep next to your stove, so you can add them quickly at the end. In a large pot with a well-fitting lid, add the oil and 2-3 kernels of corn. Cover, then heat on medium-high, tossing a bit to coat the kernels. When those kernels pop, add the rest of the popcorn. Continue to heat, shaking periodically, until all kernels have popped. (They will slow down to 1-2 seconds between pops, just like microwave popcorn.) Turn off the heat, add in the seasonings, and shake well. Transfer to a bowl (or tin!).

This makes one conservative serving.

I feel this makes up for my kettle corn fail.


advent, part i


1. Do a random act of kindness

This was way more exciting than I expected. I felt so sneaky!

I also let J slide on a few November chores. That counts too, right?

2. Put up the Christmas decorations

We didn't really do mistletoe while I was growing up...it's now my favorite Christmas decoration!

In the kitchen this year to keep Maus from tipping it over...

In the midst of end-of-semester stress, J and I put on some Christmas music and decorated our Charlie Brown Christmas tree. I crocheted. He read. We snuggled. It was nice.

3. Visit a Christkindlmarkt Take a winter walk

We had to have a sense of humor about this one. I found a German Christkindlmarkt run by a little German school in our neighborhood (I know...coolest thing ever.). But when we got there, it felt more like a PTA meeting with bratwurst. We awkwardly wandered away and counted it as a lovely winter walk. If anyone has suggestions for outdoor winter market, or seasonal grocery stores, I would love to visit some cozy Boston locales!

4. Watch a Christmas Thanksgiving movie

Planes, Trains and Automobiles

I just can't resist John Candy for a little heartwarming. We'll be revisiting this activity though. J has never seen  Love Actually or Home Alone 2, so we have some watching to do...

5. Snuggle with Maus

Ok, we do this a lot anyway. But Maus has been a needy little lady since we abandoned her during Thanksgiving (ha). So I wanted to devote some focused time to snuggling and kitty loving.

Unfortunately, she was too full of energy for snuggling. So we did one of her other favorite activities instead...

We also celebrated St. Nicholas Day this morning...gift ideas galore!

What have you done to celebrate the season so far?

P.S. I can't believe it's already two holidays ago, but as promised, you can now find a picture of our Halloween costumes at the end of this post.


holiday break

Okay, I'll admit it. The holiday season is a difficult time to stick to your nutritional guns. And it's not just about resisting all the temptations that arise spontaneously. It's also about the very deep relationships we build with food that we seek out during times like the holidays. I just cannot imagine a Christmas without a chocolate orange in my stocking. It's part of my Christmas paradigm.

And that is just fine.

But every once in awhile, when I've been indulging a bit too much, my body reminds me that if I don't take a break sometimes, I'm going to feel what I'm putting it through. And it might make me break out, or stress out, or freak out.

And so I listen. And I take a break.

I break for quinoa. Bumper sticker anyone?


Black Bean Quinoa Salad

1 cup quinoa, uncooked
3 cups black beans, cooked and cooled
1 cup corn, cooked and cooled
2 cups mango, diced
2 chives, chopped
2 tbsp lime juice
1 tsp ground coriander
salt, to taste

Rinse quinoa. Bring 2 cups of water to a boil in a saucepan. Add the quinoa, cover, and reduce heat to a simmer. Allow to cook for around 10 minutes, or until the water is absorbed. Remove the quinoa from the heat, allow to cool, and combine with the rest of the ingredients. Refrigerate until entirely cool, then enjoy as a salad.

Fiber, protein, vitamins...and real, good, unprocessed flavor. Merry mealtime!


the advent of advent

My mom is pretty crafty. She once made an Advent calendar out of matchboxes. Each box was wrapped in pretty paper, and decorated to look like a house, then mounted on a stiff poster with scenery. Each little house could be slid open to reveal a slip of paper with an Advent activity written on it. We visited dogs in the shelter, made paper stars for our windows, and ate Lebkuchen with hot cocoa.

My sister is pretty crafty too. Last year she did her own Advent activities, making pretzels and Christmas cookies and donating to the food pantry. Over Thanksgiving weekend, I combed her brain for ideas.

Because this year...I want to do it too.

I am so excited about Advent this year. Since around the time I graduated high school, it's been difficult to get into the Christmas spirit. There are no children around who believe in Santa, and my December days are usually fraught with the stress of finals. When I was teaching, I put Christmas lights around my whiteboard. The kids loved it. And that's all it took for me. A few souls joining in with my enthusiasm made the season so much brighter. And so Advent begins. This will be my little way of pouring some Christmas spirit into the world, with the hopes that some of it will be returned to me.

Only one rule: no stress. I don't want to ruin the whole thing by making it another check on my to-do list.

So here it is...

  1. Do a random act of kindness
  2. Put up the Christmas decorations
  3. Visit a Christkindlmarkt
  4. Watch a Christmas movie (this one will happen more than once)
  5. Snuggle with Maus
  6. Leave a card for the postman
  7. Make an orange garland
  8. Drink eggnog with Lebkuchen
  9. Mail a few Christmas cards
  10. Make a seasonal stovetop potpurri
  11. Make Christmas cookies
  12. Take some flowers to a friend
  13. Donate to a food pantry
  14. Make a crockpot stew
  15. Clean the apartment
  16. Visit the Faneuil Hall tree
  17. Drink some Gl├╝hwein with friends
  18. Start a cozy crochet project
  19. Make homemade (non-toxic) vapor rub
  20. Get coffee with a friend
  21. Buy myself a gift
  22. Donate to a charity
  23. Wrap presents
  24. Meditate
  25. Call a relative

I might be getting ahead of myself, but I'm already excited for next year too. I just know I'll get more ideas for great activities. Any suggestions are appreciated. ;-)

Until tomorrow, enjoy a few more of my favorite winter scenes...

sources found on my pinterest


giving thanks

A few sights from the home we give thanks in...

Apple iPie. 8 delicious Giga-bites!


a slightly less traditional pumpkin pie

Traditions are sacred in my family.

Don't you dare come to our house and tell us it's silly that we still had Easter egg hunts when the youngest of us was already in high school.

Don't you dare suggest that it is wrong to expect everyone in the world to wear green on St. Patrick's Day and enjoy a vicious pinch if they don't. (The pinch is also tradition, passed down through the family...you've been warned.)

Don't you dare tell my sister not to wake me up at 6:00 a.m. on Christmas morning. Trust me, I've tried.

And on Thanksgiving, don't you dare mess with our pies.

I'm all for keeping traditions as they are, even if they're sometimes silly or exhausting or *gulp* unhealthy. They are a reminder of the past: the good and the bad, the easy and the hard, the pains and pleasures.

But pumpkin pie? That's an easy one.

Traditionally full of sugar and dairy, a few key substitutions make a pumpkin pie that is refined sugar-free, dairy-free, and except for raw honey, free of animal products. It's so similar to the traditional stuff, eating it is...well, a piece of pie.

Mini Pumpkin Pies

dough for one pie crust
12 oz. silken tofu
1 can of pumpkin (15 oz.)
1/2 cup pure maple syrup
1/4 cup raw honey
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp corn starch
1/4 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp ginger
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp cardamom
1 can full fat coconut milk

I used whole wheat flour and Earth Balance to make an otherwise traditional crust. Have this on hand first. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Mix the silken tofu in a food processor or blender until very creamy. Mix with the pumpkin, syrup, and honey until smooth. Add in the salt, starch, baking soda and spices and stir until just mixed.

Split the crust dough into 12 pieces. Press each piece into the bottom of the cups in a mini springform pan (or mini muffin pan). Fill each compartment with the pie filling. Bake at 400 degrees for 10 minutes, then reduce the heat to 325 degrees and bake for another 25 minutes. Allow the pies to come to room temperature, then refrigerate overnight. This part is important...it changes the flavor and the texture.

Pour the coconut milk into a large glass and refrigerate overnight as well, uncovered. The next day, the coconut fat can be scraped off the top to be used as a super healthy whipped topping!

Update: See this recipe in a recipe round-up at lifeologia. Check out the other yummy features, including some of Ella's own great creations.