We have the opportunity on the daily to make a positive impact on the world around us.
Whether one goes through their day searching for good deeds to be done,
or simply takes advantage of random opportunities to spread love,
every action (or inaction) has a resounding impact.
The question is: Is your impact today going to be positive, negative, or indifferent?
I have been told that one person can't make a difference.
I affectionately call these people "dummies"...
Those who actively try to hold the rest of us down,
those who would rather watch you drown than help you soar, those who can't grasp the power of positivity to create change.
Whether it's a great recipe found, or an uplifting story to share, you can be sure to find it here.
Let's start a Positivity Revolution, and drown out the dumb!

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Layered Pizza Dip

Aaah, Football Season....The time of year when I willingly destroy any progress I made over the summer, and resort happily back to my fat pants. I wake up each Sunday morning excited to mix and chop and arrange hors d'oeuvres for us to munch on all day! This weekend, chili's on the crock pot, brats are ready to be smoked, and I made Layered Pizza Dip...I can't hardly wait for the Bears game in a couple hours!
(This dip was inspired by BJs Pizza Dip, which we devoured last week during a working lunch.)

I started with Neufchatel Cheese at room temperature, spreading it over the bottom of a shallow glass baking dish. I sprinkled it with garlic powder, red pepper flakes, and Italian seasoning.

Instead of using prepared pizza sauce, I used about 8 ounces of petite diced tomatoes for the second layer, and sprinkled with Kosher salt to taste. Then came shredded Mozzarella cheese, chopped pepperoni, and a sprinkling of more Mozzarella on top.

So easy! I'll bake this at 350 degrees F until melted and bubbly, I think it'll take about 30 minutes. Serve with crackers or toasted French bread.

Hooray for Football, Pizza Dip, and the pounds sure to follow!

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Everyone's Fave Breakfast Strudel

Breakfast is my absolutely favorite meal of the day, and when get to cook for other people, this recipe is a hit every time! I don't know if "strudel" is the absolute correct name for this meal, but it's how I think of it in my head, so Strudel it shall be named!

I make this in two stages: cook the filling the night before, and wake up super-early to fill and bake. I've found out the hard way that using a piping-hot filling in the crescents makes them soggy, and me grumpy. The first time I made these, I put hot filling right on the uncooked crescents, they didn't puff up, and I may have cried just a little. Lesson learned!

My go-to is obviously bacon, but when I'm making these for a group, I'll typically make 2 with bacon and 2 with sausage. The recipe that follows is for one strudel, which serves about 4-6, so multiply as needed.

Scramble 6 eggs (add some milk when whisking to make them fluffy) while baking 1/2 package of center-cut bacon in the oven at 350 degrees. If you're using breakfast sausage, a 1/2 pound should be enough, cook this until brown.
Chop 1/2 of a large green bell pepper (for a bacon strudel), or red bell pepper (for a sausage strudel); add to your eggs.
Chop bacon into bite-sized pieces, and add meat to egg mixture, along with about 4 ounces shredded cheese (I like cheddar or Monterey-Jack).
Put in fridge and relax!

Wake up early and make some coffee (duh!). Take 1 package Pillsbury crescents and separate, pressing them into a star shape on a greased baking sheet.
Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F.

Sprinkle the widest part of the crescent with a couple Tablespoons shredded cheddar cheese, then add your meaty-egg filling of choice. It will spill over, so don't worry about being neat. After your filling is piled onto the crescents, wrap each section over and carefully tuck underneath.

Make an egg wash by whisking 1 egg with a splash of water, this will add some shine and allow the cheese to stick...Speaking of...Sprinkle with cheese! I used cheddar for my sausage strudels, and parmesan for the bacon strudels.

Once your oven is preheated, bake for about 20-25 minutes, until golden brown. Remove and let cool.

I typically serve this in the ring shape, but you could also separate into servings of two sections and arrange on a platter for easy grabbing. Sprinkle with Parmesan or Cilantro, and take a giant step back to allow the stampede of hungry and grateful people who will quickly devour your creation.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

I love you, Makeup!

I betcha I say that almost every single morning; after I'm done plastering my face with the various items that make me look more...Alive? ...Pretty? ... Professional?

It takes me about an hour every single morning to style my hair and design my face before I feel like I can leave my house and attack the day. My boyfriend, on the other hand, can get ready in exactly 8 minutes. Eight! In the mornings when he knocks on my bathroom door to say goodbye and I look like a hot mess, it makes me miss the days of my shaved head. But only slightly, that was a one time dealio!

This looks-conscious person I have become is new to me; I have always been kind of a tomboy. I was one of those girls who used to brag about "only wearing mascara"... Maybe it was a condition of being in my early 20s, but I didn't feel the need to look so put together. I never gave it a second thought, and lived in PJs and messy buns.

Whatever the reason for my change (maturity?), I do adore contouring my face, making my eyelashes look full and long, and adding some gloss to my snackers! Although one part of me feels like my daily routine is utterly ridiculous when men don't have to take hardly any time to achieve the same result; the other part of me cherishes the fact that unlike a man, I can wake up ugly and make myself look however I want. I get to experiment on a daily basis to be the best me on the outside.

I have noticed a sort of stigma, however, surrounding a woman's decision to wear or not wear makeup. For example, if you refuse to leave the house without make up on, then you must be insecure. Or if you just don't want to put very much time into something that in reality doesn't matter, then you're sloppy.

This is only one of the many things that women get to deal with on a daily basis, something that doesn't make a difference if you look at the big picture of life, but likely something that we stress about constantly. In addition to being successful at our careers, loving caregivers for our families, and never showing our crazy, we are also expected to look beautiful. Deep down inside, I would love to fight this type of thinking, and stop doing my hair and make up and stop wearing pretty dresses to prove a point...but the fact is I like looking "pretty". And if that means spending 15 minutes on my make up every day, then so be it! But I do it for me, and no one else.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Smoked Macaroni & Cheese

The Goat hosted a hog roast last night, which means we got to enjoy smoked ribs, chicken, and pulled pork without all the wonderful hassle of smoking the food ourselves. It was just amazing, and we both tore through our giant styrofoam plates of BBQ heaven in record time.

One of the sides was smoked Mac and Cheese with Bacon. My mouth is watering. As wonderful as this cheesy goodness was, I knew in my head that I could do better (and we did).

I couldn't wait to prep this this morning, and have just added it to our smoker for the last two hours of cooking our pork shoulder.

I used shaped pasta because it makes me happy, and followed Tyler Florence's recipe for homemade Mac and Cheese...
I won't bore you with the recipe, which can be found here, but I do offer a couple tips...

Cook the pasta for only about 8 minutes...you want it to finish cooking in the smoker and not turn into baby food mush.
Before adding your cheese to the roux, toss it with about one Tablespoon flour. This helps to both thicken the sauce and make the cheese melt as opposed to turning into clumps.
Add more bacon! I made 6 strips, but accidentally ate two (or three). Beware of this happening!

That's all. This was amaze-balls. Enjoy, fellow bacon-cheese-BBQ fanatics!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Shovel Butt

There are few things I hate more than a shovel butt. I have a small derrière, but at least it's round-ish. At least, it always was, until I stopped working on my feet and started sitting at a desk for 8-10 hours each day. Over the course of two short years, my bum has become rather flat, a symptom of "Secretary Butt"...BOO.

I've taken decisive and immediate action to prevent this from getting worse. I'm still young, my bum should be up, not flat! And when I'm old, it should still be up! (We'll see how that goes.) I rigged myself a standing desk, with the help of some of my wonderful coworkers, who gave me grief at first, but then began to give it a try themselves. The thing is, sitting is the new norm; whereas standing or walking should be our default action, and sitting should be in-between. The average office worker spends almost six hours each day sitting (and that's just during the work day)! To some, sitting is the new smoking, and being on your bum for that many hours, day after day, year after year, has been linked to diseases like diabetes and cancer, not to mention that quite a few office workers are overweight. Do you think it could be linked to, I don't know, not moving?

I have noticed some good and bad consequences to my new work style.
First with the bad:
It took quite a while to rig something that was ergonomically correct, considering I wear heels almost every day. I'm sure I did some damage to my neck and wrists in those first couple weeks where I was slouching to try to get the perfect angle.
For the first two weeks, every single person who walked by my office stopped to ask if I was working standing up. Some were impressed, most think I'm a weirdo, and a couple feel the need to remind me that it's weird every so often, as if my standing is somehow offensive to their choice to sit.
I can't move my monitors around like I once did, so when people come into my office and we try to look at the same thing, they are also forced to stand. This doesn't really affect me often, but it makes for tricksier training.

Here's what I've noticed that's great about standing vs. sitting:
My hips don't hurt like they did when I was sitting all day, and my lower back doesn't hurt at all anymore. HUGE bonus points!
I can't remember the last time I had a "2 o'clock slump". I have energy all day, and my productivity has gone up. I sound more energized on the phone, and even my emails have more personality.
I get to move and dance when a good song comes on. I listen to Pandora all day, and before, it was just background noise to help keep me alert. Now, I'm more engaged in everything I do, and when a great tune comes on, I can't help but bounce around! (As long as my office door is closed, lol.)
In addition to making standing my new sitting, I've also made it a habit to take the stairs up to my fifth floor office, and occasionally, take a stroll at lunch around the lake. Although, since Dawn left, I haven't had the gumption or time to walk around the lake at all...sigh.

I love how the simplest adjustments in your day-to-day can make such an impact. It can be positive or negative, but it's up to each of us to create the change, and make it into a habit. What a powerful feeling!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Getting Pampered on the Reg

Note: I wrote this over the weekend, but did not want to publish it until I had tested the recipes. OMG, best stuff ever! My face is smooth and looks bright from the mask, and my body feels so fresh and so clean from the coffee scrub! I may add a touch more sugar to the scrub, it was a bit coffee-ish. PS – everyone is getting scrubs for Christmas!

What I can only assume was a drunk driver zoomed past the end of our "under construction" street last night and braked to a noisy stop well into the deep gravel beyond the finished road. This woke me up, and more importantly, woke my brain up. It was 2:30am. Drunk drivers are the worst. But, instead of shutting my eyes tight and willing myself back to what I knew would be an unrestful night, I picked up and went downstairs, where I ended up "Pinteresting" until 6am. How does time fly so quickly on that evil website?

Anyways, I found some terrific homemade recipes for body scrubs and face masks! I've never enjoyed paying for these beauty products at The Body Shop that I knew I could make at home, so this was my first activity of the day, and I can't wait to give them a try!

This face mask is one smushed banana, a couple Tablespoons of honey, and 1/2 teaspoon of lemon juice. Mix these together, place in a Tupperware and store in the fridge until ready to use...Smooth on your face and reap the benefits of this all-natural mask: Bananas moisturize and help to treat acne and dark spots. Honey can help reduce scars and keep your skin glowing. Lemon juice has antibacterial properties, and can help prevent and treat blackheads.

As for the body scrub, I read some articles about the benefits of caffeine for your skin, and the exfoliating properties of sugar is no secret. I added to a Tupperware container about 1/2 cup of white sugar and 1/2 cup of Hazelnut coffee grounds that I wasn't going to use. EVOO was drizzled over top, and a couple drops of vanilla extract added the most amazing aroma!

Boom! Face and Body Beauty for pennies.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Hangover Taters

I may have had just a splash too much vino last night. I woke up this morning completely unmotivated to do anything except sit on my couch and eat salty foods. But, I wasn't prepared to completely destroy how well I've been eating the past week, so instead of succumbing to McDonald's, I made these fries!

I strapped on my most-loved polka-dot apron and pulled up this recipe that I had bookmarked last week from Skinny Taste. I preheated my oven to 425 degrees, and thinly sliced 1/2 of a russet potato since I was cooking for just me. After rinsing and drying the slices on paper towels, I transferred to a ziploc baggie for seasoning.
I love this technique of seasoning taters in a bag, because it's fast and ensures everything gets some seasoning love. EVOO, kosher salt, pepper, and chopped garlic were added to the baggie, and after tossing around a bit, I transferred in one layer to my baking sheet, which had a light coating of cooking spray on it.
I could barely wait to taste these as the smell of roasting garlic wafted through my kitchen, but I let these babies cook for about 7 minutes on each side. My mouth watered as I drizzled a touch more EVOO over the fries and sprinkled with grated Parmesan and parsley. I took a fork (read: shovel) and devoured my creation immediately.

This one's a keeper, I can't wait to make it again! Maybe next time, with my dry rub sprinkled on top in place of the cheese and garlic...or even the spicy hamburger seasoning that we love...dill fries would be delish...so many possibilities!

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Feel Like A Real Chef

We cook a lot of chicken in my house, and my favorite thing (besides finding a whole free-range bird on sale), is to cook its bones into a rich and delicious stock. Homemade stock is easy to make, and this one is frankly, brag-worthy.

After you've done what you will with your chicken meat, save all those delicious bones and giblets, and place in a large crockpot. Add everything you have on hand (this is especially handy if you're like me, and buy a bunch of veggies to deposit into your trash can at week's end). Ideally, this would include: onion, garlic, celery, carrots, bay leaves, whole peppercorns, and fresh thyme. In a pinch, I'll use dried herbs, but this makes it much harder to strain, and you may be left with some pieces in your finished stock. Add about 12 cups water, to fill the crockpot nearly to the top. If you prefer an actual recipe (Whaaa?), here's a link to one of my favorite chefs, Tyler Florence, and his stock recipe.

Cook your concoction on low for about eight hours, periodically skimming the residual scum that will rise to the top (if you're unable to do this part, I've found it's not a huge deal to skip it). When the time's up, strain your broth into a large bowl and discard everything else. If you did use tiny things, like dried spices, you'll want to line your strainer with paper towels to catch every little bit. This is probably the most time-consuming piece of the whole process, and you'll want to be sure to have a ton of paper towels on hand.

Refrigerate your beautiful, tasty stock in individual batches (about 8 ounces). As the stock cools, some fat will rise to the top. This should be skimmed off, and then you're all set to freeze! You could also transfer the cooled stock to ice cube trays to freeze, I've used this method in the past and it works great.

Happy cooking!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Getting older is...

...simply amazing!

I may not feel this way when I'm sixty, but damn it, right now I am loving getting older. I love how my hair finally cooperates, my face doesn't break out (not all the time, at least), my taste buds have evolved to crave stinky cheese and black coffee. I love how my body immediately lets me know when I've done something terrible to it, whether it's working out too hard or not eating enough veggies. Unlike when I was 21, and could stay up all night and drink like a fish with (seemingly) no consequences; nowadays, my body either rewards or punishes me, and it's pretty immediate. Those sun spots and lines on my face remind me of carefree times had, but I am more committed than ever to cherishing this body of mine, and not just destroying it at every turn.

It's crazy what ten years can do to your body and mind. I used to be so reckless, not just with what I put in my body, but with what came out of my mouth. Cursing like a sailor or being uneducated wasn't any big deal, I was young and invincible. Eternity meant nothing, because I was going to live forever. I was always going to be young and pretty and skinny and popular...Aah, naïve youth!

I love getting older and acting (mostly) like a lady. I've started embracing my nerdiness and neuroticism, along with my A.D.D. These seemingly negative things make me high-energy, goofy, and creative; and I wouldn't trade them for anything. I love craving healthy food, and appreciate so many more foods now that I've opened my mind and become adult-ish. Mushrooms, green beans, spinach, and kale are now some of my most favorite foods, and I can't believe I went almost thirty years without appreciating these amazing veggies!

The best thing about getting older is coming into my own. Finally, I'm not afraid to stand up for what I believe in, and I refuse to be pushed into some box that society says is acceptable. I believe that I can still make a difference, that we all can. I believe that the world is a beautiful place, I appreciate its glory every single day.

I can't wait for what the next thirty years will bring!

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Starting my morning with dinner!

Mmmmm.....Mushrooms and Tapenade and Pasta...a few of my absolute favorite things to stuff in my face!

Olives are so good for you, part of those MUFAs that provide good fats for us ladies. Prevention magazine touts these foods as the key to a flat belly, and you can learn more here. I'll take any excuse to add more EVOO and olives into my diet, and this delish recipe was an experimental success!

I started with cooking Farfalle pasta (Matt's fave) to nearly al dente. I used the whole box, so we'd have leftovers for work lunches. While the pasta was cooking, I chopped half of a medium white onion, minced 2 Tablespoons garlic, 2 Tablespoons black olives, and sliced about 2 cups white button mushrooms.

To a large hot sauté pan, I splashed about 1 Tablespoon of EVOO, and added my mushrooms, olives, onion, and garlic, along with salt, pepper, and dried Italian seasonings, to taste. Let these cook for about 7 minutes on medium-high, until the mushrooms are yummy and brown, but not until the garlic is burnt.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees, and gently toss your pasta, 8 ounces of ricotta cheese, your mushroom mixture, and about 10 ounces of your chosen red pasta sauce. Sprinkle about 1/2 cup of Italian shredded cheese atop your masterpiece, and cook until heated through and melty, about 20 minutes. Yum-sky!

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Princess Leia Cupcakes

Star Wars nerds have got to be the best kind of people, especially when they're girls. I love finding those in my own tribe, ladies who love shoes and clothes and Yoda and light sabers...as long as they are of the Jedi variety, heehee!

My dad used to collect Star Wars toys (although he'll vehemently deny it), and when we lived in South Pasadena (a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away...), he had a yard sale and sold nearly all of his collectibles. Collectibles that if we would have held on to, might be worth a pretty penny nowadays. Money aside, there was a Yoda puppet that I fell in love with. It was new in the box, and I remember secretly wishing I could keep it. Here's a great lesson in "If you don't ask, the answer will always be no." I kept my mouth shut as I longed to hold that adorable little green monster, and someone snatched him up. I burst into tears when my pops told me that if I would have just told him I wanted it, he would have never sold it...Anyways, the point of the story is that I've been a nerd since the beginning of time, although I've only in adulthood begun to embrace it.

One of the ladies I work with has a little Yoda bobble head on her monitor, and I fell in like with this woman immediately. With her 30th birthday around the corner, I Pinterested for weeks to try to find the most adorable-yet sensible-for-our-busy-office Star Wars treats. No one has time for a forced office birthday party, so I was looking for something that folks could pick up, say happy birthday, and go on with their day. Pinterest has the most amazing ideas, but I have the habit of over-committing myself to projects found there, and needed a treat that wouldn't leave me in tears at midnight with a failed project of poo.

I found Princess Leia cupcakes, and decided to make mini versions, which turned out just adorable. I was still up till midnight, mind you, but totes worth it! Here's the recipe:

1) Wine, for you, not the cupcakes
2) 1 box Betty Crocker Super Moist cake mix (White if you want a pale face)
3) 1 container Duncan Hines Creamy Chocolate frosting (this is her hair color and face décor)
4) Mini cupcake liners
5) Mini Oreos (these are her buns)

Drink your wine while cooking the mini cupcakes according to the package directions. While the cupcakes are cooling, add your chocolate frosting to 2 small Ziploc baggies. One will be used for piping her hair, and one will be used for piping her face. Cut a 1/4" piece of the tip of the baggie out, and pipe her hair in a "V" shape, adding extra for the sides. Take two mini Oreos and lightly press them on each side of her "head". For her face, cut an even tinier piece of the tip of the second baggie off, and carefully draw her eyes and smile. Refrigerate to set the icing, and be prepared for delight from whoever is on the receiving end of these adorable little nuggets.

Have the most amazing Sunday Funday!

Saturday, September 6, 2014

TGI Saturday!

What a crazy couple of weeks I've had.

Two of the ladies I work with resigned, leaving our office in a bit of a panic with busy season just around the corner and every client scrutinizing us. Luckily, we've banded together like never before as a team to make shit happen; but it doesn't mean that we all aren't working ten hour days, skipping lunch, and working weekends. As a result, I've had zero energy to clean my house, go to the gym, make delicious dinner for my boyfriend who works just as many hours...I've been slacking on the things that make me happy and fulfilled.

This work-life balance is one of the things most people struggle with...How do you get ahead in your career without allowing it to take over your entire life? How do you keep your personal life in main focus while spending the majority of each day in an office? We figured out that on average, we get to spend about an hour and a half together each night, and the rest of our time is spent at work or work-related activities (besides the glorious weekends, thank goodness!).

Everyone knows that having a healthy work-life balance decreases stress and makes you a happier, healthier person. How do you cope with being successful and taking the time to nurture yourself and those you love?