Gluten-Free Nutty Brownies

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Did I ever tell you that I am part of the most wonderful book club?  Janssen was in it first, and always spoke so fondly of it, that it sounded like something I would love to be a part of one day.

This book club has rather a lot of rules, including that there are only 12 members of the group, so I was not invited while Janssen was part of it (which was completely okay with me, by the way), but a year or so after she moved away, someone else dropped out, and I was invited to join.

I jumped at the chance, and have found this book club to be one of the most rewarding activities of my life.  I have had such a wonderful association with the women in this group, and have read some outstanding books.  This book club is truly a judgement-free zone.

Twice a year, I am in charge of bringing food, and for March's meeting, we read "Bread and Wine," a truly exceptional book by Shauna Neiquist (I also want to read her book, "Present Over Perfect").  It is a semi-memoir, where she shares some of her most poignant and wonderful experiences with food.  It is a beautifully written book, and has some tasty recipes in it.

I made these brownies from her book, adapted slightly, because I didn't have walnuts on hand, but they were some of the best brownies I have ever had.  And I don't even like brownies with nuts!

They are great even if you are not gluten-free, even better if you are!  Next time you are looking to make an exceptional dessert, look no further.  You won't regret it!

Nutty Brownies
Adapted slightly from Nigella Lawson 

1 cup dark chocolate chips
1 cup butter
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup white sugar
3 large eggs, beaten
1 1/2 cups almond meal
1 cup finely chopped pecans

Preheat your oven to 325°F.

In a small saucepan, melt the butter and chocolate chips together.  Remove the pan from heat once smooth, and add the vanilla and sugar.  Let cool for 4-5 minutes, then add the eggs, almond meal and pecans.

Grease an 8x8 pan, and pour the brownie batter in.

Bake for 25-30 minutes (I baked mine for closer to 45 minutes), or until the edges and top are set, but the middle is still a little jiggly.

Remove from the oven, let cool, and serve at room temperature or cold.

Kitchen Knife Basics

Monday, March 20, 2017

*This post is in collaboration with Wüsthof Knives.  They sent me the knives, but all the opinions are my own.

As silly as this sounds, I am actually quite passionate about knives.  Kitchen knives, mostly.  I don't care much about other knives, but kitchen knives are such an important part of my cooking, that a post on knives seemed like a good idea.

Even if it isn't comprehensive or as thorough as it could be (I had to film it on my own, on a pretty strict timeline, and didn't want it to be a 30 minute video, so it is missing a few points that would have been nice to include).  The video is fun(ish), and you get to see a lot of me, but this post may answer a few of the questions I didn't get to answering in the video.

What kinds of knives do you own? What kind of knife you would recommend I buy?
- We have a kitchen-aid knife block that we registered for when we got married.  It is okay, but definitely not my first choice.  Could I go back, I would have registered for one large knife, a sharp bread knife, and a small paring knife.  That being said, we use every knife from our knife block every week, so I can't bring myself to get rid of it or I would be washing my paring knife four times a day.
- We also have a set of knives from Adam's parents.  These were the choice knives for a long time, and I love using these.  They are big and sharp, and work really well.  Also, you can find them for a steal.
- I have two knives that Wüsthof sent me (this vegetable knife and a truly superb bread knife).  I LOVE these knives.  I think I would go the "go big or go home route" if I could choose again, because I would be willing to get rid of all my other knives just to have these ones, because they work so much better than my other knives combined.  But, because I already have the other knives, and I use knives ALL the time, I keep them all.  So much for the minimalist in me.
- I would recommend you buy quality on whichever knife you think you will use the most. If all your bread is pre-sliced, skip buying a bread knife, or at least buy cheaper.  If you cut apples everyday, invest in a paring knife.  Basically, wherever buy quality on the knives you will use the most.

What size of knife is the best to buy?
- Totally depends on the job.  Adam almost always says a big knife is better.  He says you have more control (especially when you are cutting something big like a watermelon, or a large butternut squash), and are less likely to cut yourself.  I like using big knives, but small knives are good for small projects like cutting apples.  I find myself using the big knives more and more these days.

What is the best way to take care of my knives?
- Hand wash them.  But for full disclosure, I almost always wash ours in the dishwasher (except the Wüstof knives... I care too much about those knives to send them through the dishwasher), points up, or laying on the top rack.  Just be sure to keep them out of the reach of small children if you decide to wash them in the dishwasher regularly.
- Sharpen them often.  I have struggled with this in the past, and still do.  Finally Adam bought me a whetstone for Christmas, and my knives are sharper than they have been in years.


Raiding My Sister's Closet: Wardrobe Workhorse

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Have you ever had an item in your closet, and you just couldn't wait to wear every day, and you had to make a conscious decision daily not to wear that item because you wore it yesterday?  

I am kind of obsessive in this way about my clothes.  I will latch onto one or two shirts and only want to wear them all the time.  I force myself to choose other clothes but I really would rather be wearing that striped shirt from the laundry basket.  

My current obsession are these Madewell jeans. I bought them from ThredUp a few months ago and I can't stop wearing them.  They match with everything, they look great with my favorite pair of booties, they are high waisted, so they are great for playing on the floor with my toddler.  Basically they are the perfect pants.  I absolutely love them.  

I don't know what I am going to do with myself when they wear out one day, because I can't image not having them as a staple in my closet.  

Also, did you see my post about clothing swaps from yesterday?  Both of these shirts pictured are from my most recent swap.  Clothing swaps are just about the best things that have ever happened to my closet.  About 80% of the clothes that I love wearing are from them.  

sweater: Forever 21 via clothing swap (similar)// shirt: Cherokee via clothing swap (similar, similar & similar)// pants: madewell via ThredUp (get $10 off your first order with this link)// shoes: Mint Julep boutique// earrings: Nickel and Suede

Check out what Merrick and Janssen's wardrobe workhorses: 



How to Host an Awesome Clothing Swap

Monday, March 13, 2017

I like to call myself a scared impulse buyer.  I will see something that I love at the store, but I am almost always afraid of spending the money on it, for fear I will get home and instantly regret it.  It has been a huge blessing in our marriage, and for our bank account.

But I do love getting new things (admitting that makes the minimalist inside cringe), and have found ways to make this possible on a very small budget.  One of my very favorite ways of getting new things is via clothing swaps.  And almost every time I mention them, someone asks me how they work.

I figured I would share it here, in case you want to try one with your friends.

A few ground rules that I have:

1.  Hold it in a home with a largish space, where clothes can be spread out on tables or couches and can be easily sorted through.

2. Invite friends with somewhat similar clothing styles as you.  I would also ask people who are around the same size as you.  While not everyone needs to be exactly your size, if you invite someone who is a very different size than you, I would also invite a few other friends similar to the original friend's size.  Otherwise it is lame for everyone.

3. Invite friends about 3-4 weeks prior to your event so they have time to sort through their closets and find a few things to bring.  Don't forget to remind them a few days before.

4. Ask each guest to bring 8-10 items.  I typically include shoes, jewelry, hats and purses in this number.

5.  Invite 8-15 people (I think 10-12 is a sweet spot).  Many more and you will have an insane amount of clothes, many less, and you might not find many treasures to take home.

6.  Bring a small treat.  I think a whole spread is unnecessary, but a small treat is always welcome when gathering with friends.  At my last one, I brought a pan of my favorite brownies.

7. Donate extra clothing to a local women's shelter or the Salvation Army where they will get put to good use.  Make your fun girl's night a way to serve someone else, too.

Am I missing something that you have done that worked splendidly?  Leave your ideas in the comments!


Peanut Butter White Chocolate Muffins + Growing Orchids

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Currently, there is an orchid sitting on the window sill next to our kitchen table.  No buds on it yet, although this time last year, I counted eight or ten beautiful purple flowers.

Yesterday, I finally noticed that there weren't any buds.  I worried for a moment, although the rest of the plant looks healthy, that maybe it had finally decided to die.   You see, I am kind of a plant nurse.

In a past life, before I had Fox, I worked at a dental office, and we ran through a series of plants that were either killed by inexperienced gardeners, or died from lack of sunlight, and when they were on their way out, I often took them home (I probably brought six or seven plants home over the course of a year).

I love having plants in my home, but they are kind of expensive to buy, so I decided to give these secondhand plants another shot at life, and babied them along.  But one by one, bad things happened to them; one (a gorgeous purple hydrangea) got infested with bugs, a few withered and died, and one or two I gave up on and tossed.

This orchid was the last plant I brought home, and it sat on my window sill for about nine months, almost forgotten.  I would water it when I remembered, usually every week or so, and expected it to fade and die like the others.

Then, one day, I saw a bud appear!  I was completely surprised and thrilled.  I got one flower out of it that time.  The next time it bloomed, I got three.  The next, fourteen.  Each flower was a gift, and I was thrilled every time a new one would appear

We took this plant to Utah last summer, and the long, hot car ride was a little traumatizing for it, I think.  All the petals fell off, and it hasn't bloomed since.

Yesterday, when I caught myself looking at it, I remembered what my gardener mother-in-law said about orchids, "When you want them to bloom, put them in the sunshine."

Now it sits on the windowsill, waiting for the sunshine to help it bloom.  Then my thoughts turned to me.  How often do I fill my life so full of other things that I forget to put myself in the sunshine?  To remember to find the happy in every day, or to appreciate the little things, to find joy in the things I do every day, and to remember that I have been giving so much.

My mom often says that you have to make your own sunshine, and I think I am finally starting to understand.  That doesn't mean the laundry suddenly gets really fun, or that I will ever love doing dishes, but maybe I can take a breather and enjoy the morning on the balcony with Fox.  Be present at the park.  Get down and play trains on the floor, and enjoy the wonder, the smiles and the new words of my little boy.  Take a break from social media and really listen to my husband.

Not every moment is sunshine, but there are sunshine moments to be had every day, so look for them, and you will see them.  I am starting to see them, too.

Peanut Butter White Chocolate Muffins: 
slightly adapted from the Blendtec Cookbook
Serves 12

1 cup milk
2 large eggs
2/3 cup white sugar
1 cup creamy peanut butter
1 tsp salt
1 Tbs baking powder
1 3/4 cup all purpose flour
1 - 1 1/2 cups white chocolate chips

Preheat your oven to 350°F.

In a large glass (or microwave safe bowl), melt the peanut butter slightly, until it is runny.  Add the sugar, then the eggs, then the milk and beat until combined.  Then add the flour, salt, baking powder and flour all at once, and mix until just combined.  Add white chocolate and mix briefly/gently until evenly distributed.

Grease a muffin tin, and scoop the batter into the tins.  Bake for 20-25 minutes, until the tops are beginning to brown, and a toothpick comes out clean. Let cool for 5 minutes, and turn out onto a wire cooling rack.  Best if eaten immediately.

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