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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Best of 2013: Movies

Sorry this post is so late! We had some family unexpectedly arrive a couple days ago, so I was busy with them. No complaining, though. When it comes down to it, spending time with my family is the most important thing. Not that I don't love you guys! :)

This is the second installment of the Best of 2013 series. And unlike it's predecessor, I have organized all these movies from my most to least favorite. They all came out in 2013, too. Honestly, this was probably the easiest list to make out of all the "Best of 2013" I made.

This past year was a great year for movies. I mean, how could it not be when Catching Fire and Iron Man 3 came out? ;) I tried to pick a wide variety of movies for this list, because I know not everyone likes action and animated movies as much as I do. And the list is in order from my most favorite to my least favorite.

1. Catching Fire
Yes, yes, yes, yes. It was perfect. Absolutely perfect. Johanna, Finnick, Wiress, and Beetee were spot on. Francis Lawrence (the director) kept to the book extremely well. He only left out a couple things, and those couple of things I could understand not including for the sake of keeping the movie under six hours. ;) Anyways, you just have to watch it. I promise you won't be disappointed.

2. Iron Man 3
Okay, so not many people like Iron Man. Personally, I just think he's misunderstood, but I don't think now is the time and place to defend Iron Man. ;) Normally, the second and third movies aren't as good as the original, but in this case, I liked it almost better. The movie was fast paced, funny, and had a decent amount of action scenes without loosing sight of the plot.

3. Despicable Me 2
I loved the first Despicable Me, and the second did not disappoint. When the movie first started I wondered how they could compare to the original, but they did. It may not be quite as good as the first, but is still worth the watch. It's funny, light hearted, and who doesn't love the Minions? ;)

4. Star Trek: Into Darkness
This movie seriously conflicted my morals. Benedict Cumberbatch plays the villain (Khan) and I couldn't help but root for him. ;) If you watch the second movie of the original Star Trek movies and then watch this, you'll pick up on a lot more things than if you just watched the new one. So I highly recommend doing that. The thing that I liked about this movie that I don't normally like about space movies, is that you could easily understand what was going on and not be super confused about who did what and why, etc.

5. Monsters University
I got a good laugh during this movie. It's almost as good as the original, if not better.  My sister was wondering why they made Monsters Inc. and then Monsters University, but I think it was better that they made the prequel after the first movie. You pick up on a lot more things that way.

6. The Croods
This is another movie to watch if you're looking for a good laugh. It's humorous without being overly childish. The animation is pretty cool, too. Everything is very bright and colorful. The story is very original, as well.

7. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Another movie with Benedict Cumberbatch in it, so obviously I was going to go see it. And I like the Lord of Rings series anyway, so... What I really got a kick out of was Martin Freeman (Bilbo Baggins) and Benedict Cumberbatch (Smaug) where both in this movie and they also co-star in the BBC show "Sherlock". Anyways, just a little piece of trivia for you. The second installment of The Hobbit trilogy is just as good as the first. The plot moves quickly, there is a little bit of humor, and the actors all do a superb job.

8. Oz: The Great and Powerful
James Franco does a fantastic job playing the Wizard of Oz (who isn't quite the wizard yet) in this movie. I really enjoyed how they incorporated things for the original Wizard of Oz, in this movie. Like, before Oz gets swept off to the Land of Oz the picture is black and white. When he reaches Oz, the movie is in color. You also learn a little bit about the witches (the good and the bad). It was a clever story and definitely one to watch if you're a fan of the Wizard of Oz.

9. Gravity
This movie keeps you on the edge of your seat the entire time. It has a good story and great CGI. I enjoyed this movie, although, it isn't one of my favorite movies of all time, it is worth the watch.

10. Frozen
Now, I haven't actually seen this movie, but according to my sister and grandmother it's really good. Normally, Disney does a good job. This is probably another one of those light-hearted movies that would be nice to watch if you don't feel like watching an action  or drama movie.

Inquiry of the Day:

What were some of your favorite movies this past year?
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Thursday, December 26, 2013

Best of 2013: Songs

Last year I did a Best of 2012 list that included songs, food, actors/actresses, movies, and books. This year I'll be doing the same thing (minus the actors/actresses). I hope you all enjoy it. :)

First up is music. These are in no particular order, they're just my top 10 favorites. It was especially hard to pick favorites this year, because there was so much good music. And I started like a new genre (alternative rock). That didn't help things at all. Most of the songs are from this year, but I think there's one or two that aren't. Hopefully, you'll recognize a couple. If not, I've introduced you to more music. Yay! ;)

1. Royals by Lorde
It took me forever to figure out if I like this song or not. After listening to it a gazillion times I realized I did. They lyrics are pretty cool, too. Instead of being about partying and having tons of money and all the other things most celebrities of today glorify, it's about being normal. Not having very much money. Living in a "torn-up town". Also, Lorde is a fantastic singer.

2. Dirty Paws by Of Monsters and Men
This song came out in 2011, but it's new to me, so... This is another alternative rock song and you either love this band or you hate them. My sister loves them, my mom... Not so much.

3. Radioactive by Imagine Dragons
The first time I heard this song I was in love. It has a great beat, the tune is very catchy, and it's just-cool. Imagine Dragons is a great band, too. All of their songs are different, which I personally like.

4. Young and Beautiful by Lana Del Ray
Another one of those songs where the first time I heard it I fell in love with it. Lana Del Ray is also one of those artists where you love her or you hate her. The rest of my family doesn't like her. Except me. With that said, I won't be offended if you don't either.

5. Roar by Katy Perry
Love. This. Song. It always puts me in a good mood. My sister and I like to dance around the house while listening to it. The lyrics are very positive, too. It's just a good song all around.

6. I Will Wait by Mumford & Sons
Mumford & Sons are great singers. They kind of have a bluegrass vibe thing going on, which I love. Especially this song. I'm pretty sure they performed this song live on the Grammy's, so if you were watching those this year, you might recognize the song.

7. Can't Hold Us by Macklemore & Rylan Lewis
I don't usually like rap, but this song is an exception. Plus, it's not all rapping. Again, the lyrics have a good message and the song is really catchy.

8. Just Give Me A Reason by P!nk feat. Nate Ruess
P!nk has such an amazing voice. And Nate Ruess. They're both really talented. And this song shows off their voices really well. It's just a very pretty song.

9. Atlas by Coldplay
So beautiful. So, so beautiful. My eyes tear up every time I hear this song. Chris Martin has a fantastic voice with lots of range. I can't even begin to describe how much I love this song. It's also on the Catching Fire soundtrack, so I'm kind of obligated to like it. ;)

10. I Knew You Were Trouble by Taylor Swift
Okay, so who hasn't seen the screaming goat version of "I Knew You  Were Trouble"? If you haven't, go do it right now. It's hilarious. Another one of those catchy songs that are fun to make fun of. But it's not a bad song either. Although, slightly overplayed...

Inquiry of the Day:

What are some of your favorite songs of the year?
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Monday, December 23, 2013

100 Year Old Sugar Cookies

This recipe isn't exactly 100 years old. In fact, it's only about three days old. But the one my grandma makes is probably close to 100, and that's what I've based this recipe off of.

Ever since I was about five, my grandma, sister, mom, and I would make her "famous" sugar cookies once a year. We would spend basically all morning in the kitchen rolling the dough, cutting out the cookies with cute little cookie cutters, baking, and frosting. It was hard work, but worth every minute of it. (It even helped to improve my cookie frosting skills ;)

When I gave up gluten, I knew this would be the one thing I would miss the most- Grandma's sugar cookies. However, I was determined to create a cookie recipe that would be nearly it's equal. This recipe doesn't disappoint. The texture of the cookies is soft and fluffy on the inside, while still maintaining a slight crunch on the outside. Admittedly, this isn't the easiest cookie recipe, but they are probably the tastiest. I couldn't be happier with the results. I started dancing around the kitchen after I tasted the dough and realized it tasted almost identical to my grandma's. Yay!

Now, I already know there are a lot of things you all are going to want to substitute. For example, the sour cream. This is a crucial ingredient. When you mix it with the baking powder and baking soda it puffs up and adds lift to the cookies, like egg whites. You can try using plain greek or non-dairy yogurt, but I can't vouch for the results. Also, the sugar. I don't know if honey will work for this recipe. If you try it, increase the baking time and get rid of the 1/4 cup of milk. The eggs also present a problem. You could try flax eggs or an egg substitute. I don't really know. Lastly, the coconut flour. If you don't have coconut flour, just go get some. That's the easy thing to do and I promise you want regret it. It might seem pretty expensive but I've had my 5 lbs. bag for over a year and I still haven't finished it yet.

Enjoy the cookies! :)

1 c. butter or palm shortening
3/4 c. unrefined granulated sugar
1 c. sour cream
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
4 eggs
2 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 c. milk of choice (I used unsweetened almond milk)
1 c. coconut flour
1/2 tsp. salt
3 T. tapioca starch + some for rolling out dough

1. Using a hand or stand mixer, cream together the butter and sugar.
2. In a separate bowl, mix the sour cream, baking powder, and baking soda together. Set aside.
3. In another bowl, beat the eggs with the vanilla and milk.
4. Add the sour cream and the egg mixture to the creamed butter and sugar. Stir until thoroughly combined. You can use your mixer for this part.
5. With the mixer still on, slowly add the coconut flour, then the salt and tapioca starch. Mix until just combined.
6. Refrigerate overnight.
7. Get out a large cutting board. Cover in tapioca starch along with your rolling pin. Be very generous with the starch. Take out your dough and scoop out a quarter of the batter onto the cutting board. Put the rest back in the fridge.
8. Shape the dough into a bowl and cover with more tapioca starch. Roll out the dough, adding more starch to the rolling pan and dough as needed, until about 1/4" thickness.
9. Dip your cookie cutters in starch, then transfer the cut cookies to a greased baking sheet.Once the tray is full, stick into a 350 degree F oven and bake for 12-13 minutes. Start filling up the next cookie sheet with cut cookies.
10. Repeat with the remainder of the dough. If you dough starts to get too warm, stick it back in the fridge for a few minutes.
11. Once all the cookies have been baked, and have cooled, you can frost them with whatever frosting you want.

My mom's cute little snow man

Inquiry of the Day:

What family cooking traditions do you have?

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Saturday, December 21, 2013

Dairy Free Peppermint Ice Cream

I've been wanting to make this recipe for a long time. Peppermint ice cream is one of my favorite ice cream flavors ever. Okay, maybe not my favorite, but definitely in the top five. Plus, it's peppermint season so what better time to make peppermint ice cream?

Does anyone else remember the Edy's peppermint ice cream that was super creamy, minty, and had bits of peppermint candies in it? This was an attempt to recreate that ice cream. This ice cream may not be 100% identical, but it's pretty close. Close enough, that I wouldn't say no if you passed me a bowl right now. ;)

The best part of this recipe is that you can have a humongous bowl full of it and it'll still have around the same amount of calories and sugar as half a cup of regular ice cream. Without sacrificing any of the taste, of course. And it's super easy to make. Bonus!

On a separate note, I have a recipe that I'm really excited to share with you guys. Hopefully it'll be up on the blog within the next few days. Definitely before Christmas. Because, trust me, you'll want to make the recipe before then.

 Okay, now that I've taunted you with that, here's the recipe for dairy-free peppermint ice cream. ;)

1 c. full-fat or light coconut milk
1/4 c. honey
1/4 tsp. peppermint extract
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 drops red food coloring (optional)
pinch salt
1/3 c. peppermint candies or candy canes, crushed

1. Add the ingredients, except for the peppermint candies, to a blender.
2. Blend until thoroughly combined.
3. While ice cream maker is on, pour ice cream mixture in through the hole on top of the ice cream maker.
4. Let churn for 20 minutes. During the last five minutes, add your crushed candies.
5. Top with chocolate sauce or whipped cream and enjoy!

Inquiry of the Day:

What kinds of foods or treats do you make for Christmas?

I've started a tradition of making Muddy Buddies, but we usually have meatballs, cookies, pretzels dipped in chocolate, bean salad, and a bunch of either food. 
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Tuesday, December 17, 2013

No-Bake Lemon Coconut Cookies

This weekend I was in the mood for cookies. But, this Christmas season I'm trying to watch how much sugar I eat so I don't gain like 10 pounds this month. Better to limit the carbs now so I can gorge on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. ;)

Anyways, back to the cookies. These cookies are the perfect treat for days when you get that craving for something a little sweet. They won't spike your blood sugar and leave you with that icky feeling a couple hours later. In fact, because they're made almost entirely of coconut, these cookies could be considered healthy. A cookie you can have any time of the day and not feel guilty about

They're also super easy to make, which is a quality I'm always looking for in recipes. If a recipe looks too complicated, it's highly likely that I won't try it. Not that I'm intimidated by it, I just don't have the time. I'm sure plenty of you have the same dilemma, especially this time of year. Good thing I've created this quick, yummy recipe for you to take on the go. ;)

Be warned, though. This is a very coconut-y cookie. So, if you don't like coconut, I would recommend trying a different recipe. But, who doesn't like coconut? ;)

1 c. shredded coconut 
3 T. coconut flour
1/4 c. coconut oil, melted
1/4 c. + 2 T. coconut milk, light or full-fat
1 1/2 T. lemon juice 
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract 
3 T. honey, maple syrup, or agave 
Pinch salt
1 tsp. lemon zest (optional. I didn't use it because I didn't have any and they turned out lemon-y enough)

Inquiry of the Day:

What kind of holiday traditions do you have?

My family and I always go to church on Christmas Eve, then go to my grandma's after for dinner. 
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Thursday, December 12, 2013

Gingerbread Muffin in a Mug

This Christmas season, I'm looking for anything I can make into a gingerbread flavor: muffins, cookies, drinks, etc. I love gingerbread, obviously. Probably because I love the taste of molasses and ginger. Combine the two tastes and you get an amazing Christmas-y taste.

Muffin in a mugs are also one of my favorite things. They're quick and easy and great for days when you don't feel like making a whole batch of muffins. In other words, for those of you that have finals coming up *raises hand* and need a quick snack, here it is. You can thank me later. ;)

Speaking of finals, I'm feeling pretty confident this year. Okay, maybe not in science, but for the rest of my subjects I think I'm going to do pretty good. (Knock on wood.) Especially my math final. At the beginning of the year I was like "Oh my gosh, how am I going to remember all of this?". I did remember most of it, actually. I'm proud of myself for remembering. And I don't think it's very hard now, so hopefully I'll ace this test.

I'm so sorry. I probably bored you all to tears (who wants to hear about math?). I think I'll stop typing now so you can enjoy the muffin recipe. ;)

1/4 c. almond flour
3/4-1 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
pinch salt
1 egg
1 T. oil or butter, melted
2 tsp. black strap molasses
1 tsp. honey or agave
liquid stevia, to taste (opt.)

1. Combine the egg, oil, molasses, and honey. Beat the egg well.
2. Add the almond flour, ginger, cinnamon, and salt. Stir until mixed thoroughly, then taste to see if it's sweet enough for you. If not, add a couple drops of stevia.
3. Grease a mug. Pour batter into the mug.
4. Cook in the microwave on high for 1 minute. If it's not done, cook for an additional 20 seconds.
5. Top with butter, coconut butter, or anything else you can think of.

Inquiry of the Day:

Do you like math?

Personally, I'm not a big fan of math. But I'm okay at doing it, so I don't complain about it too much. However, if you ask my mom, she'll probably tell you something completely different.
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Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Fish with Spicy Red Curry Sauce

I've finally gotten to posting this recipe. It's been what- a week and a half?- since I said I would. I apologize.

This is actually a very simple, very tasty dinner. The fish was nice and crispy on the inside. The curry sauce added some kick and kept the fish from being boring. It was a nice change from ordinary white fish. It would also be good served with green beans and roasted sweet potatoes for a complete meal.

Plus, it had something to do with The Hunger Games and we all know that I'm a sucker for anything that is remotely related to The Hunger Games ;). Even if you don't like the books or movies hopefully you'll enjoy this recipe.

On a completely separate note, who's excited for Christmas? *shoots arm up into the air* Me! I love the gingerbread/peppermint season. (Yum, peppermint ice cream. ;) The goal this Christmas season is to Paleo-ize my grandma's sugar cookie recipe, make dairy-free peppermint ice cream, and gingerbread fudge. Fudge sounds so good right now....

Back to the recipe, if you're vegan or vegetarian, try using tofu for this recipe. Just make sure you get it crispy on the outside because it makes the dish a hundred times better.

4 white fish filets, preferably about an inch thick  (if they're frozen, make sure they're completely thawed before you cook them)
1-2 T. coconut oil
salt, to taste (we used thyme and lemon salt from Trader Joe's)
2 T. red curry paste
1 T. olive oil
1/2 c. coconut milk
1/4 tsp. fish sauce
1/4 tsp. coconut palm sugar 

1. Heat pan over medium-high heat. Once it's hot, add the oil.
2. Carefully place the fish in the pan, so you don't get splattered by the hot oil. Cook for 3-4 minutes. If your fish is thinner, cook for 2-3 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in the separate pan over medium-low heat and mix with the curry paste. You can leave this unattended while you...
4. Flip the fish, sprinkle salt over it, and let it cook for another 3-4 minutes.
5. Now, add the coconut milk, fish sauce, and palm sugar to the curry sauce. Cover with a lid and let heat through. You know it's done when it start's to bubble.
6. If the fish isn't crispy enough for your liking or still raw in the middle, cook an additional minute. I wouldn't cook it much longer, because you don't want it to get tough.
7. Serve the curry in a small bowl and the fish on a plate with your choice of sides.

Inquiry of the Day:

Any favorite Christmas foods that you'd like to have made gluten-free, vegan, Paleo, etc.? 

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Sunday, December 1, 2013

My Thanksgiving Table

First of all, I hope you all had a fantastic Thanksgiving and ate until you felt like a balloon. Which is basically what I did. I always hate Thanksgiving afternoon/evening. Fortunately, the weather wasn't so cold that I couldn't take a walk. Although, walks in the Ohio countryside aren't super entertaining, it did help me to feel less full.

Our Thanksgiving table

Normally we have a bigger turnout for Thanksgiving, but this year it was just my family, my grandparents, and my great grandma. It was nice to not have to cook too much, however, it was also kinda boring. There really isn't much to do in Defiance, Ohio in the winter time, except sleep, eat, watch TV, and play cards. That's nice for the first day or so, but after that, it's not so nice. The most exciting thing that happened was when my grandma cooked the turkey liver and gizzard and it stunk up the whole house for over three hours. She also ate them both in front of us. Now, I know some people are all for eating organ meats. I am not one of them. I'd like to be. But I'm not. I felt really nauseous for the rest of the day. Thankfully, my grandma learned her lesson- no more cooking turkey offal! ;)

Anyways, you all are probably more interested in the food. Especially the dessert, if I'm guessing correctly. Who doesn't love a good pumpkin pie?

Jell-O Salad
Definitely not Paleo, but it still was delicious. The "salad" is made out of lime jell-o, cottage cheese, and crushed pineapple. Very simple, very good. 

100% delicious. Best stuffing I've ever had, although it's not like traditional stuffing. Maybe that's why I like it so much. For leftovers, if you put a little gravy on top it's like biscuits and gravy. 

For these I used mashed butternut squash and dried spices (because we didn't have any fresh). They were still amazing and super easy to prepare. 

The Classic Mashed Potatoes (yes, homemade) with Gravy and Peas

Turkey and Cranberry "Relish"
The relish was store bought and definitely interesting. It had some sort of nut in it, but it was still really good. I think better than regular cranberry sauce. I still prefer TJ's super fruit jam, though. ;)

My Whole Plate :) 

Pecan and Pumpkin Pie
I used this crust for both pies and same filling for the pecan I used last year (unfortunately, I can't find the recipe again :( ). For the pumpkin, I went with a regular pumpkin pie recipe and just used a gluten-free crust. I also used coconut milk instead of evaporated milk and half coconut palm sugar for the white sugar. It came out super yummy. 

Inquiry of the Day:

What did you do for Thanksgiving? Does you family have any traditions that you do for the holiday (including going Black Friday shopping?)
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