good things : summer bucket list

Happy 1st day of summer, friends!!! I haven’t done any bucket-listing for awhile, but summer just begs to be bucket-listed. There are so many fun things to do and plenty of time in which to do them! Here are my top 10:

Cheesecake Frozen Yogurt Pops

pinned here via here

1 :: get ice cream at Lugia’s

2 :: go to Hamlin Beach

3 :: make my own greek frozen yogurt pops

4 :: spend a FULL WEEK at home

5 :: have corn on the cob, watermelon, and chicken on the grill

6 :: go for a long, hot run on the canal and/or Genesee River

7 :: take a day trip, complete with packed picnic lunch (Canandaigua? Pennsylvania???)

8 :: have strawberry lemonade

9 :: make s’mores

10 :: go to an outdoor concert/drive-in movie/summer festival on a warm night

and bonus!

11 :: have dinner outside with friends by the water

via martha stewart

What’s on your bucket list?! If you need any ideas…look no further than Martha Stewart’s definitive guide to all things summer. We’re talking 60 ice cream desserts, no-cook recipes, party ideas galore, and an index that makes it unbelievably easy to lose a few hours in summer planning. Have fun! And happy summer!!!

beka stays hungry : for new cookbooks

If I could fill a room with cookbooks from top to bottom, I absolutely would.

However, since I live in a space where the only room that actually has a door is the bathroom (seriously), this dream will not be coming true any time soon. Which is totally fine, since I supplement my cookbook-looking needs with regular trips to Barnes & Noble to page through cookbooks for hours on end.

Beautiful food photography + creative recipes = vortex in which time has no meaning.

I feel like there has been a deluge of new, wonderful cookbooks published lately. Here are just a few I’m pining after:

The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Food From My Frontier

I’m so glad Ree met Marlboro Man and started cooking delicious things in Oklahoma. Her first cookbook was filled to the brim with decadent recipes and gorgeous photography, and I’m sure this one is filled with more of the same!

Joy the Baker

https://i1.wp.com/blogs.seattleweekly.com/voracious/joy%20the%20baker%20cookbook.jpg
Joy the Baker is one of my favorite food blogs, so it only follows that her new cookbook will become a favorite as well. I mean, with a recipe for single lady pancakes, how can you go wrong?

One Girl Cookies

https://i1.wp.com/photo.goodreads.com/books/1320525381l/12249649.jpg

I kind of want to move to NYC just so I can go to One Girl Cookies any time I please. But since I don’t foresee a transplantation to the Big Apple anytime soon, I’ll have to settle for their cookbook instead…which is probably the better (and far less expensive) of the two options.

Weeknights with Giada

https://bekastays.files.wordpress.com/2012/03/giadacookboocover.jpg?w=239

For some awful, unfathomable reason, the Food Network moved Giada at Home from it’s previously schedule slot at 1:30pm to a new, far less convenient, time. (AKA, a time when the kids I nanny for are not napping.) I miss you, Giada! The only solution I can think of is to purchase this cookbook asap. (Or, Giada, we could just be friends in real life. That’ll work too!)

So, that’s the short list. Any others you guys would add to the roster?

good things : carmelitas

I’ve made three pans of these since Valentine’s Day with the intention of sharing them. “Intention” being the operative word.

carmelitas

pinned here via lulu the baker

Oh my word. These things are out of this world amazing. And since I don’t want to be the only one in a sugar coma want to share the love, here’s the recipe:

Carmelitas

slightly adapted from lulu the baker

Ingredients:

32 caramel squares, unwrapped
1/2 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup butter, melted
3/4 cup brown sugar, packed
1 cup flour
1 cup rolled oats
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup semisweet chocolate chips
½ cup bittersweet chocolate chips

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Combine caramels and heavy cream in a small saucepan over low heat. Stir until completely smooth and then set aside.

In a separate bowl, combine melted butter, brown sugar, flour, oats, baking soda, and salt.

Pat half of the oatmeal mixture into the bottom of an 8 x 8 pan.

Bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes.

Remove pan from oven and sprinkle bittersweet and semisweet chocolate over crust. Pour caramel mixture over chocolate chips. Crumble remaining oatmeal mixture over caramel.

Return to oven and bake an additional 15-20 minutes, until the edges are lightly browned. Remove from oven and cool completely before cutting.

Side Note 1: These are especially good just slightly warm with a glass of cold milk.

Side Note 2: On Monday I’m starting a new healthy initiative, new blog (with only nutrition/fitness focus) included! (It’s not because of the Carmelitas…but it kind of is.) (And beka stays is still staying – no changes there!) Stay tuned!

good things : breakfast quinoa

There are 10 other posts sitting in my drafts folder just waiting to see the light of day…but this one just can’t wait any longer…even though it’s a repeat.
IMG_0020
IMG_0032

This meal is magical. Honestly. It’s guaranteed to make you feel better about life. Maybe it’s the brown sugar melting into the cinnamon. Or maybe it’s the burst of blueberries in the dead of winter. But whatever it is…it’s good, soul-warming, comfort food. Perfect for the last Monday in January!

Breakfast Quinoa

lightly adapted from Martha Stewart Living, February 2010

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups milk, plus more for serving (I’ve been using Almond Milk and it works wonderfully!)
  • 1 cup quinoa, rinsed
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 and 1/2 tablespoons light-brown sugar, plus more for serving
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon, plus more for serving
  • 1 cup (1/2 pint) fresh blueberries, plus more for serving

Directions:

  1. Bring milk to a boil in a small saucepan. Add quinoa, and return to a boil. Reduce heat to low, and simmer, covered, until three-quarters of the milk has been absorbed, about 15 minutes.
  2. Stir in sugar, cinnamon, and vanilla. Cook, covered, until almost all the milk has been absorbed, about 8 minutes. Stir in blueberries, and cook for 30 seconds.
  3. Serve with additional milk, sugar, cinnamon, and blueberries.

beka stays real : kitchen productivity

Oh, Mondays.

Like the rest of the world, once Monday afternoon hits I am in a constant whirlwind of movement until Friday afternoon arrives.  Downtime? What downtime?! Preparing thoughtful, healthy meals?! Psssssshhhh, get out of town.

But over the summer when I was in a constant whirlwind of movement all of the time, I discovered a secret. Do the work once, just once!, and the week will go much smoother.

Case in point: this Sunday.

I usually break the 5 Things rule on Sundays because there is ample time to be productive after church so I try to make the most of it. I do things like returning all calls/texts/emails, paying bills, cleaning, and tidying up in general. Those things all set me on pace to have an effective week. There’s nothing worse than starting Monday in a mess.

But probably the most important thing that happens most Sundays is preparing food for the rest of the week. This makes healthy meal choices so much easier. If When I’m running out the door I don’t have time to put together a huge salad with homemade dressing. I’ll grab a Luna bar and a banana and bolt to work. But by making and packaging huge salads with homemade dressing on Sunday, all I have to do is stop by the fridge on my way out the door and I’m good to go.


See?

Those would have taken at least 10-15 minutes to prepare individually. Which, multiplied by 4, means I’d be working for an hour as opposed to 15 minutes. Not to mention I only cleaned one mess instead of four. Not to mention that during the week I wouldn’t have had time to clean up any of the messes in the first place which is why when I don’t do this on Sundays, my kitchen looks like it needs emergency relief from the Red Cross on Fridays.

Yesterday I spent about 2 and 1/2 hours in the kitchen, start to finish. It wouldn’t have taken quite as long if I wasn’t simultaneously watching the Ravens/Texans game, but hey, at least I had good entertainment. Here’s what I made in that time span:

1. Olive Oil Granola

Alterations: I only made 1/3 of the recipe, substituted apricots for figs and cherries for craisins, and added large flake coconut. Result: AMAZING. I think next time I’ll tone down the oil and agave just because it was a little too heavy for me, but all in all I’m totally enamored by this recipe. If you’ve never made your own granola I’m throwing down the gauntlet: you HAVE to try it! Seriously, it’s so much better than pre-packaged, so (SO) much cheaper, and infinitely healthier (in most cases). Plus, you get to pick all of the ingredients. Win-win-win-win! It’s like we’re living in a dream world!

2. Mixed Berry Lemon Oat Bars (Not Meatloaf…Which is Kind Of What This Looks Like…)

Alterations: I pressed the date mixture into the bottom of an 8×8 pan, then folded it into itself in thirds to create a rectangle, therefore making bars instead of squares (to-may-to, to-mah-to). I’ve done the strawberry topping (as suggested in the linked recipe) before and loved it, but since I already had a bag of Wegmans Frozen Mixed Berries in the freezer I decided to get a little crazy and make a simple compote:

Mixed Berry Lemon Compote:

Simmer until reduced by half. Cool, then spoon on top of bars.

Making your own compote is so gratifying. In addition to being healthier than most jams, it makes you feel like you’ve totally conquered the “I’m An Amateur Cook And I Usually Have No Idea What I’m Doing But Hey This Is GOOD!” world.

Then, to store, I just cut the parchment paper into lines where the bars were laying and folded the long ends over the compote to prevent sticking. I popped them into a container and stuck them in the fridge for a sweet accompaniment to these guys…

3. Avocado Wedge Salads

I decided I was making these salads while perusing the produce section and finding heirloom tomatoes and 3 for $5 avocados! Thanks, Wegmans! Here’s what’s in the mix:

Avocado Wedge Salads:

  • 1 (generous) Cup Wegmans Organic Mixed Field Greens (in bulk)
  • 1/4 Heirloom Tomato
  • 1/4 Avocado
  • 2 Tablespoons Grain Salad Dressing (Cooked Wheatberries, Corn, Balsamic Vinegar, Olive Oil, Lemon Juice – quantities to taste)
  • 1 Tablespoon Hummus (I used Sabra’s Roasted Pine Nut)

4. This Week’s Dinner Challenge…here’s a sneak preview!

So in 2 and 1/2 hours I made 4 dinners, 4 lunches, 6 snacks, and enough granola to last me for at least a few weeks if not a month. I now know that I’m going to be eating well all week long. It just makes me happier on Monday morning and all throughout the week.

(Another proactive kitchen task that makes me happy on ANY morning: setting the coffee delay and my alarm for the same time. Smelling the coffee brewing keeps me from hitting snooze 18 times. I know it’s better to grind and brew instantly, but this method gets me out of bed in the morning, and really, that makes up for any flavor disadvantage.)

Like the idea of weekend kitchen productivity? Have some tricks up your sleeve that help maximize weekday meal efficiency? Please do share!

beka stays healthy : wild rice stuffed acorn squash

Sometimes when I’m not eating sushi and nutella (I still stand by this decision) or Aladdin’s fatoush salad (oh my word…SO good…it’s dangerous that I live two blocks away) for dinner, I actually – wait for it – make something!

Will wonders never cease?

This is one of my favorites for this time of year: roasted acorn squash stuffed with wild rice, dried cherries, and walnuts. I’m a fan for the following reasons:

1 – There are exactly two steps, so it’s the opposite of labor intensive.

2 – There are exactly 5 ingredients (plus seasonings), so it’s the opposite of pantry-depleting.

3 – The seeds from the squash can be roasted with maple syrup and spices for a snack the next day. Two birds, one stone.

4 – It’s basically an edible bowl filled with warmth and comfort, and who doesn’t like that?

Here’s how you can make the magic happen in your very own kitchen!

Wild Rice Stuffed Acorn Squash

Serves: 2

Total Time: About an Hour

Step 1:

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Then, hack into the acorn squash. I’ve yet to find a reliable method of splitting the squash in half that does not involve hacking (and fearing a looming trip to the ER), but it works, and bonus: doubles as a stress reliever. Again with the birds and the stones! Once split in half, scoop out the seeds and reserve for later use. Coat the squash with a teaspoon of olive oil and season with course ground salt, pepper, and just a little cinnamon. Pop into the oven for 35 minutes.

Step 2:

Prepare the rice mixture. Feel free to actually cook your own rice…but I’m a fan of using these rice mixes. Mix 1/2 cup of cooked rice with one tablespoon of dried cherries, one tablespoon of chopped walnuts, and a teaspoon of olive oil. After 35 minutes take the squash out of the oven, split the rice mixture between the two squash halves, and bake for an additional 10 minutes.Let it sit for about 5 minutes afterward to cool, then dig in!

Winter dinner is served! Probably a better bet than nutella…or at least a more respectable one.

the 25 days of pinning : [day 2]

Pinned Image

pinned here via here

I have been ALL ABOUT the above Christmas newlywed session posted on The Sweetest Occasion earlier this week. Oh my goodness…it’s amazing!

Also amazing: I went through this week’s backlog of Google Reader posts tonight and found 8,000 new recipes I want to give a pre-Christmas-baking trial run this weekend. Or 8. But still:

cranberry oat banana bread

hot cocoa cookies

double chocolate ginger hazelnut cookies

soft gingersnap cookies

cake batter chocolate bark

eggnog breakfast crumble crunch cake

spiced sweet potato blondies with cranberries and white chocolate

salty caramel oat bars

Oh, man. I’m in trouble.

thanksgiving-edition inspired : recipe round up

If time/resources/calories/traditions and preferences were no object, all of these dishes might appear on my imaginary Thanksgiving table:

Baked Pull Apart Pumpkin French Toast (just to get the morning off to a good start)

Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls (since this is imaginary, I’m totally making two pumpkin breakfasts)

Pumpkin Goat Cheese Dip with Caramelized Onions (last pumpkin recipe, I swear)

Hasselback Garlic Cheesy Bread (um, heaven)

Sweet Potato Stuffed Baked Apples with Toasted Marshmallows (you had me at sweet potato…)

Oven Crisped Parmesan and Sage Truffle Fries (potato option #1)

Twice Baked Sweet Potatoes with Walnut Struesel (potato option #2)

Ree’s Creamy Mashed Potatoes (potato option #3)

Turkey with Cranberry Molasses Glaze (I almost forgot the turkey…)

Peanut Butter Caramel Apple Crisp (classic fall dessert)

The Pie That’ll Make You Cry (the ultimate pecan pie)

Chocolate Chip Cookie Pie (because two chocolate desserts are better than one)

S’mores Cookie Bars (because why not?)

And if you, like me, have loads of pumpkin puree to use up this week, here are two new recipes I posted on Tasty Kitchen to do just that:

Maple Pumpkin Applesauce

Pumpkin Spice Weekend Waffles

What are you guys making for Thanksgiving? Anything especially exciting? Please do tell!

inspired : 11.13.11

it’s a long one this time around! here’s this week’s list of wonders:

christmas lights + red velvet cake  = a perfect post

well these sound delectable

how to run a good race (in life, not necessarily on the road)

looks like a great granola bar recipe!

out of the myriad penn state press this week…this was absolutely the one that will stick with me. great perspective.

and speaking of sticking with me…i’m still crying over this story

i want to laminate these and stick them on my wall…GREAT blogging tips from joy the baker

just ordered exposed! can’t wait to read it cover to cover!

you know i’m a sucker for these…goal setting tools!

while we’re in the neighborhood of list making...todoist just might be my favorite thing EVER. literally. i’m this close to saving this topic as a post all it’s own, but i’ll spare you and just tell you that if you want a tool to revolutionize the way you keep paper lists/emails/links/calendars/general to-do items in check, look no further. not only is todoist great as a website, there’s also a stand-alone app for macs AND, my favorite feature, an add-on for firefox! which means i can do this:

find a recipe i want to save and add it directly to my Recipes list…complete with the link to take me right back to the original page! SO much easier than emailing myself 8000 recipes a day.

ok so i half-cheated and snuck a mini blog rant in there…but it’s so worth it! seriously!

pin of the week:

beka stays authentic : to err is human

Well friends, this weekend left me feeling highly disgruntled. Which is sad, because there was a whole lot of good that went on, and we’ll get to that soon.

In retrospect, I set myself up for failure. I had a huge and highly unrealistic list of things to do this weekend. On top of that, a bunch of the things that I did do were unsuccessful. To the tune of 3 out of 4 recipe flops. (Really, is there anything more frustrating than finding a recipe you’re excited about, spending time and resources on it, anticipating the result…and then having it be less than great, or just plain awful?) And finally sitting down for long enough to watch a movie….and not liking the movie (Crazy Stupid Love = just crazy stupid. I should have known better.) And going to bed early enough to get NINE hours of sleep…and then waking up wide awake at 5am. (Are you kidding?)

Overachievers Anonymous: talk to me. I find that in situations like the above in which I do not meet my goals I tend to focus on the lack of goal-meeting rather than on any sort of progress that may have resulted from the failure. So instead of celebrating getting 500 pictures edited in one day – a day in which I also did several other time-consuming things – I lament not getting the remaining 300 pictures that are still unedited done. Does anyone else have this problem?

Can I get an amen?! Or just crickets?

Whether I’m a normal productivity freak or just a plain old freak, I wouldn’t trade the ambitious side of my personality for anything. However (and it’s a big however), I don’t want to constantly come up short in my own evaluations, turning a perfectly good weekend into a sub-par pair of days.

All through the morning the quote “To err is human, to forgive is divine,” has been running through my head. For me, to not achieve everything I want to achieve is normal because of the high standards I set for myself. But to give myself a little grace? That would be truly divine.

So in an effort to facilitate some grace and see the gains instead of the losses, here’s what I truly loved about this weekend:

  • Spending quality time with THREE good friends
  • Having real conversations, not just fluffy ones
  • Getting a DIY project done successfully (post coming soon!)
  • Finding at least one good new recipe (post also coming soon!)
  • Getting my car washed (thanks to the many birds who assumed it was their personal restroom)
  • Not getting a parking ticket after forgetting to move my car to the other side of the street (seriously…THANK YOU)
  • Editing a substantial chunk of photos
  • Taking a long walk in the fallen leaves while listening to the Packers game (and cheering uncontrollably in the middle of the street…much to the surprise of the other walkers who were not listening to the Packers game)
  • Using unexpected extra time in the morning to read this week’s Sports Illustrated
  • Figuring out how to watch one game on TV, listen to another on my phone, and track a third online
  • The Packers! Oh, the Packers! For making my heart race unexpectedly in the 4th quarter and pulling out another win to remain undefeated
  • Football in general
  • Sitting outside and reading magazines at one of my favorite places
  • Burning a cinnamon roll candle…it makes the whole apartment smell so wonderful
  • Listening to CHRISTMAS MUSIC for the first time this year. It’s early, I know, even for me! but it was a necessary and appreciated mood-booster

So that’s that. Stay tuned for posts resulting from aforementioned successes: a fantastic and cheap DIY project and (another) recipe for the pumpkin lovers among us. It’s a good one!