Wednesday, June 29, 2016

4th of July Poolside

As promised, here's some inspiration for that 4th of July pool party...

Top: Walmart, Shorts: TJ Maxx, Shoes: Kate Spade for Keds, Bracelet: Thrifted, Shades: Target

I got this top from Walmart a couple weeks back for $5! With the red base and navy accent, I knew it'd make the perfect top to wear for the 4th of July. It feels nice and breezy (but not cheap).  

Now that all eyes will be on you, you can't show up empty handed, right?! Check back this weekend for the perfect healthy side dish to bring:)

Monday, June 27, 2016

Independence Day Chic

4th of July is but a short week away and right about now you may be wondering what to wear to those BBQs, pool parties, or firework displays.
Well, I'm here to provide you with a little independence day style inspo. If you're looking for an outfit that offers a more chic, but fun, interpretation of 4th of July fashion, then this outfit is you. It'd be great for a backyard summer BBQ.
Top: Topshop, Jeans: Asos, Sandals: Steve Madden via Macy's, Shades: Target, Bag: DKNY via TJ Maxx, Cuff: Old Navy
 No one is going to accuse you of being unpatriotic (or unfashionable), that's for sure.

Check back on Wednesday for an idea of what to wear to those pool parties:)

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Maxxin and (not) Relaxin'...

Hey Guys. It has been quite a week!

So I'm in the thick of studying for my comprehensive exams in mid August and then the unthinkable happens...
After close to six years, my Macbook decided to stop ridin with me. When I opened it Thursday night, I saw a flashing folder with a question mark. After a quick Google search and some failed attempts to trouble shoot on my own, I scheduled an appointment at the Genius Bar for the next day. After telling me my computer was considered "vintage," so they couldn't repair it, they let me know it was likely a hard drive issue. They then gave me the name of an authorized retailer where I could take it to get fixed.
I called the retailer for an estimate and they told me that they would have to run a diagnostic test on it first (which costs $55 and would take 2 business days) before they could give me an estimate. If I wanted it expedited to 4 hours that would be an additional $75 (go figure). Assuming they would charge the same amount as Apple, when you add the diagnostic test with the hard drive replacement, and a new battery (which I've known I needed for several months now), the bill just keeps getting higher.  
At this point it doesn't make sense to put 300+ dollars into a "vintage" laptop, especially when new issues seem to be surfacing every few months. It's time to get a new one, and although my wallet is silently weeping, I cannot complain. Six years is a long time in the computer world. It got me through my senior year of college, a master's program, a fellowship, and two-thirds of the way through my PhD. I was hoping we could make it all the way to the finish line, but I respect the hustle. Let's have a moment of silence, shall we.
Speaking of super expensive purchases, this dress set me back a whopping 7 dollars (plus tax). Gotta love Ross. I don't go often, but a couple of weeks ago my sister and I went to one and I found some really cute and (incredibly cheap) stuff, including this dress. It's light enough and cute enough to go out and run errands in, while being comfy enough to sleep in (which I have). 
Necklace: World Market, Shades: Target, Clutch: BCBG via Amazon, Dress: Ross, Denim Top: Topshop, Cuff: Old Navy, Sandals: Steve Madden via Macy's
In the midst of all the craziness, I ended the week with a smile. I have a roof over my head, clothes on my back, and some truly amazing people in my life. 
Bonus: I also won a $10 Sheetz gift card at my apartment complex's annual summer pool party yesterday:)
I hope you all have a wonderful week:)

P.S. Check back later in the week for some food and fashion inspo for all those 4th of July BBQ and pool parties! 

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

A Send Off and Kid Approved Baked Donuts!

A faculty member invited me along with another professor over to his house for dinner, a couple of Saturdays ago. The dinner was in honor of his advisee who is moving on to a faculty position in August. When I asked what I could bring, he suggested a dessert. Not a problem, except, I was not in a baking mood. I decided I'd hit up Harris Teeter on the way for some Greek fro yo and call it a day.

But something inside me was restless.

As I laid in bed the night before, I remembered that I bought some donut pans from World Market. I'd wanted to make a donut recipe for a while now, and thought this was the perfect excuse to break them in. Donuts it was!

I didn't feeling like buying any extra ingredients which meant that I was going to have to find (or make) a recipe that called for things I already had on hand. Fortunately, I had all the baking staples (eggs, milk, flour, and butter).

Spoiler alert: This might be my favorite healthier baked goods recipe yet (tied with my pumpkin triple chip bars recipe).

These donuts are incredibly simple, perfectly sweet, moist and fluffy, and full of flavor. What's even better is that you're not plagued with tons of leftover goodies. The recipe makes 8 nice sized donuts. It's the perfect amount and you can easily scale it up if you want to make more.

Baked maple cinnamon donuts

1/2 cup white whole wheat flour
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1 teaspoon of baking powder
1/4 teaspoon of baking soda
1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon of nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon of ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon of sea salt
1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
2 tablespoons of unsalted butter (melted and cooled)
1 large egg (room temp)
1/4 cup unsweetened coconut milk (bring to room temp; I used the So Delicious brand)
1/4 cup cinnamon maple syrup*
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
1 teaspoon of maple extract (found at Target)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and spray donut tin with nonstick cooking spray
In a medium sized bowl combine the flours, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and sea salt.
In a separate bowl mix the egg, brown sugar, butter, milk, maple syrup, and extracts.
Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients.
Pour the batter into a large ziploc bag and cut the tip. In a circular motion pipe the batter into the donut pan and fill about 3/4 way.

Put in the oven and bake for about 9 minutes.
Baked maple cinnamon donuts
Let them cool in the tin for 2 minutes before placing them on a wire rack. These taste amazing straight out of the oven. I'd say give them maybe 5 minutes to cool from the time you take them out of the oven and have at it!

*I found this at TJ Maxx but it you can't find it don't fret. 100% pure maple syrup will work perfectly fine.

Why should you make these?
Because I said so! Just kidding:) But seriously, don't you trust me??
These donuts are baked (not fried), use white whole wheat flour, are delicious, and fluffy.

If that's not enough, here's the real endorsement:
When I've baked healthier treats in the past, they've always been for adults. I've found that most adults have at least a tinge of political correctness. Even if they don't like something they'll still be nice about it. This time, the faculty member's son would be eating these and kids don't hold back. If they don't like something you'll see it written all over their face, they may outright tell you, or most horrifying, they'll spit it out.

When he first saw the donuts he got pretty excited and I got pretty nervous lol. I didn't know if these better for you donuts could live up to the high, sugary expectations of an 11-year old boy. As we were sitting at the table talking after dinner, he made a declaration that it should be time for dessert and his parents laughed and agreed.

He headed straight for my donuts, and my heart started pounding.

He unwrapped the plate, picked one up, and took a bite. There I am holding my breath looking for any sign of emotion. It felt like an eternity!!! After he finished his first bite, he said he loved it. I let out a substantial exhale.

Bonus: Someone else brought a chocolate cake with chocolate icing from Harris Teeter which he turned down (what?!) in lieu of seconds of my donuts.

If that's not an endorsement, I don't know what is.

So there you have it. My first foray into donut making was a huge success.
I can't wait to give it another go.

Hope your humpday has been happy!
If not, just make these and it will be:)

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Snack Easy Series #2

For this month's round up we have a vanilla bean frozen yogurt bar, popped sweet potato crisps, honey wheat pretzels, a small smores bar that packs a delicious fiber punch, and Icelandic skyr style yogurt.

Engine 2 Plant Strong Sweet Potato & Cinnamon Popped Crisps
Bought at: Whole Foods
Price: $2.99
Repeat Purchase: No (womp womp)

Engine 2 Plant Strong Sweet Potato & Cinnamon Popped Crisps

I had such high hopes for these. Based on the name alone I expected to love them. Sweet potato and cinnamon?! Check and check. Upon first taste, however, I was underwhelmed. After trying them a few more times they did grow on me. Unfortunately, it never grew to the "I really like these" level. It only got to the "I can tolerate them so I'll finish the bag to avoid wasting money" level. They're not that sweet, so if you want a sweeter snack, look elsewhere. In fact, they're pretty bland. I barely detected any cinnamon (or sweet potato for that matter). One serving is 26 crisps for 100 calories so you get a good "caloric bang" for your buck. Let's talk about the really important stuff though, like it's nutrients. Each serving has 2 grams of fiber and 2 grams of protein - not amazing but better than nothing. To its benefit, it is low in sugar, sodium, and fat. With one bag having 3.5 servings and costing $3, it boils down to about $1.17 per serving. Since it's middle of the road in terms of taste, nutrition, and cost I would pass on these.

Yasso Vanilla Bean Frozen Yogurt Bars
Bought at: Harris Teeter
Price: $4.00 (sale price at Harris Teeter, but that's the regular price at Walmart)
Repeat Purchase: YASS!

Yasso Frozen Greek Yogurt Bars
Yasso Frozen Greek Yogurt Bars

I loved these appropriately named frozen yogurt bars. You know how you say "Yass!" when you approve of something. Well Yass to these Yasso bars! These were my favorite snack of the bunch. That's saying a lot because I really enjoyed almost all of them. I don't know what it is about these frozen bars (remember the Rhubarb bars from my last roundup), but they're winning. These are delicious! Get them, get them, get them NOW! Each bar has 5 grams of protein and 15% of your daily recommended amount of calcium. While I purchased mine at Harris Teeter, I've also seen them at Walmart and Publix. One box costs $4 and has 4 bars so the cost per serving is $1. Not cheap but not terrible either. With the amazing taste and solid nutritional profile, there's no doubt I'll be buying these again (spoiler: I already have). They have other flavors like cookies and cream and sea salt caramel. I've yet to try those, but I'm sure they're delicious. With the first triple digit temperature of the year creeping around the corner, I need to maintain my stock.

Fiber One S'mores Bar
Bought at: Target (supposedly exclusively)
Price: $2.99
Repeat Purchase: Yes

Fiber One S'mores Bars

Fiber One S'mores Bars

The good news is that these were delicious! In fact they were the runner up for my favorite snack. The bad news is that these little suckers were so hard to pin down for a repeat purchase. I first spotted them at Target while we were in Savannah and just got one box. Of course I ended up loving them and couldn't find them anywhere once I got home. After a great deal of persistence, I finally succeeded in finding them. The box says this flavor is exclusively sold at Target, and for a limited time only (#nopressure). One box costs $3 and contains 6 bars so the cost per serving is $0.50 which is pretty good. These are little so they're not filling by any means, but they do offer a great way to satisfy a sweet tooth or end a meal on a sweet note. Given how small they are, it's pretty impressive that each bar has 5 grams of fiber. Between the taste, the fiber content, and the reasonable price I definitely will be a repeat buyer (again I already am). If you're lucky enough to come across these, pick up a box or five:)

Annie's Honey Wheat Pretzels
Bought at: Whole Foods
Price: $2.50 (sale price)
Repeat Purchase: Yes

Annie's Honey Wheat Pretzel Bunnies
Annie's Honey Wheat Pretzel Bunnies

I throughly enjoyed these honey wheat pretzels. They were simple but delicious. Not only did I have them as a snack, I also ate them with sandwiches and wraps. Pure pretzel perfection. They were savory but not overly salty with a nice hint of honey at the end. These would make a great travel or on the go snack. In fact, I'm planning on picking up another bag for an upcoming trip. Now pretzels are generally referred to as nutritionally "neutral." This just means that while they don't tend to contain high amounts of the stuff that's bad for you (e.g. saturated fats and cholesterol), they also don't contain high amounts of the stuff that's good for you either (e.g. protein, fiber, or specific vitamins or minerals). What these pretzels do have in their favor are that they're made with all organic ingredients and they're not high in calories.

Not everything we eat is going to provide us with important nutrients and that's okay. If they have a low fiber content but they also have a low saturated fat content, that's not bad in my book. What's important is that a majority of what we eat provides nutritional value. Given the great taste, reasonable price, and the fact that it doesn't offer high amounts of harmful nutrients, I would buy this one again.

Siggi's Raspberry Yogurt
Bought at: Harris Teeter or Publix
Price: $1.25 (sale price)
Repeat Purchase: Yes


I'm a big fan of Siggi's. I've tried a few of their flavors and enjoyed them all but this is one of my faves.  Other flavors you may want to check out are blueberry, orange and ginger, and pomegranate and passionfruit. These are typically 3 for $5 but they often go on sale for 4 for $5. This makes the cost per serving $1.66 (or $1.25 if they're on sale). I love how much protein they have in them - one 5.3 oz. container has 14 grams (that's roughly the same amount as 2 large eggs). They're not as sweet as other yogurts which I honestly don't mind. I find them to be sweet enough. They also have a pretty dense consistency which makes them more filling than your average yogurt (even thicker than Chobani). I've repurchased these countless times.

Til next month, snack easy friends!

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Culinary Pursuits: Southwest Scramble Stuffed Bell peppers

Clearly I'm enjoying stuffing things into bell peppers:)

Last week I brought you an awesome shrimp and "grits" stuffed bell pepper recipe. This week's recipe is just as delicious and even simpler to make. Plus it features that heavenly BBQ rub that I told you about not too long ago. In fact, with the exception of a little sea salt and black pepper, it's the only thing I used to season the different components in this dish.

I love this seasoning. I'm a self-proclaimed "mixologist" when it comes to spices. I enjoy getting in the kitchen and being creative with different spice pairings, but more recently I've been reaching for this spice and this spice alone. It's like an attention whore. It just doesn't want to share the spotlight.

1 15 oz. can of reduced sodium black beans
4 medium bell peppers
4 cups of diced sweet potatoes
1.25 lbs of 97% lean ground turkey
1 tablespoon of GA Boys All Purpose BBQ rub (plus extra for sprinkling on sweet potatoes and bell pepper halves)
PAM Olive oil cooking spray
1/2 tsp of sea salt (plus extra for sprinkling on bell pepper halves)
1/4 tsp of black pepper (plus extra for sprinkling on bell pepper halves)
1 cup of reduced fat shredded cheese blend (find one with monterey jack)


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Line a baking pan with aluminum foil and spray it with olive oil cooking spray.
Spray the sweet potatoes with the olive oil cooking spray and then season with the GA Boys all purpose BBQ rub and cook for about 40-45 minutes.
Slice the bell peppers in half and hollow out the middle, removing the seeds.

Spray them with olive oil cooking spray and season each half with a sprinkle of sea salt, black pepper and the BBQ rub. Alongside the sweet potatoes, bake in the oven for 35 minutes.

With the sweet potatoes and bell peppers roasting, take a large pot and spray olive oil cooking spray. Turn on the stove at a medium-high heat, and cook the ground turkey for 2-3 minutes before adding the black beans. Once the ground turkey has cooked for a few minutes and before it's cooked all the way through, add the black beans, a tablespoon of the BBQ rub, 1/2 teaspoon of sea salt, and 1/4 tsp of black pepper. Let cook on a medium heat for 5-6 more minutes.

Once the sweet potatoes are done roasting, add them to the ground turkey and black beans.
Scoop out 3/4 cup of the scramble into the bell pepper halves.
Divide up 1/4 cup of the cheese blend to spread over two bell pepper halves (~1/8 cup/ half).

Put the bell pepper halves back into the oven for 5-6 minutes so the cheese can melt.
Let cool for a few minutes before serving.

When they say all purpose rub they aren't kidding. I've already used this to make oven roasted sweet potatoes, cauliflower, and baked chicken. Now with this recipe, I can add black beans, ground turkey, and roasted bell peppers to the list. I think seafood will be next.

This scramble would also be amazing as a dip (I tested it and can attest to this)!

To do so, use a second can of reduced sodium black beans when cooking the ground turkey, and add an extra 1/2 tsp of the BBQ rub, 1/4 tsp of sea salt, and 1/4 tsp of black pepper to season. Once cooked, spread it out into a 9x13 pan and use 2 cups of reduced fat cheese to spread on top. Bake in the oven at 400 degrees for ~7-8 minutes or until the cheese is melted and a light golden brown. Have it with your favorite tortilla chips. I'd recommend some with a hint of lime and sea salt. Or if you want to get even more fiber in, take a high fiber flatbread, cut it into strips, spray with olive oil cooking spray, sprinkle on sea salt, and bake for 10 minutes at 400 degrees.

Whatever way you have it, you're bound to enjoy it.
Do you have a favorite stuffed bell pepper dish? Do tell!