An Uncomplicated Life Blog: 2017

Thursday, December 14, 2017

2017 In Review

Looking back at the wins and loses of 2017 for An Uncomplicated Life Blog


I see so many people saying they can't wait to see whatever the current year is in the rear view mirror. Facebook is full of those memes. Know the ones I'm talking about? I don't get those. Frankly, nothing is going to be different about the next year unless you make different choices, and why wait for a whole new year for that to happen? I can only think of one year that was really awful that I'd post a meme like that for... 10 years ago - 2007. And guess what? It stayed awful through August of 2008 when I made a different life choice (moved to the east coast for grad school) and magically got so much happier! Look at me, I'm being a negative Nancy in my intro paragraph to this post. 2017 was a great year for me and for my blog. Let's look back at how the year went down, shall we?


PERSONAL REVIEW 2017

I chose JOY as my word of the year for 2017. I think there was definitely a ton of JOY! Otto got older and outgrew his RSV. From 4 months old to about 14 months old, he was sick every third week or so because of that virus. Fortunately he outgrew it or the virus ran it's course by about the time he started preschool in January. That was another thing that brought everyone joy - preschool! I got time during the week to work. While we have a wonderful part time nanny, there's something different about having the house all to yourself. It's so much easier to take photos and write in a quiet house! Both boys LOVE going to school. Henry has learned how to spell his name and the alphabet and Otto's vocabulary has exploded since starting school.

My blog brought me a ton of joy, too. I was able to work on some really exciting projects with brands I actually care about. I didn't do any pitching and still managed to reach the former income per month I was making while in the traditional 9-5 workforce in October and November. December I purposely slowed things down, because I take a two week break. Seeing this blog grow in page views and on social media has brought a ton of joy to me!

Personally, I started reading more which was joyous. Cutting down on screen time, whether it's social media or TV watching, has been awesome! Instead of watching dumb reality TV that robs my IQ points, I've begun reading at night. My sleep and brain have improved because of it.

Finally, 2017 saw my biggest travel year since having kids. I went to Richmond, VA twice to visit a bestie in a snow storm, then be a bridesmaid in her wedding. Hubs and I escaped off to Santa Fe for a wonderful long weekend getaway for his 40th birthday. I went to Wanderlust in Snowshoe, WV which was not only amazing, it crossed off another state I hadn't visited yet, leaving only two left on my list (Arizona and Oregon, if you're wondering). We took our annual family trip to my parents lake home in Wisconsin to escape the Texas heat in August. Hubs and I took a long weekend to Boston and then up to Salem for my birthday in October where we did all things Halloween. I may have forgotten one, but phew! That's pretty amazing for having two kids aged three and under.

Me at Wanderlust in Snowshoe, WV in June. Flying Pigeon post on the side of a mountain!


BLOG REVIEW 2017

The thing that blew my mind about my blog this year was my recognition from brands as being an awesome FOOD blogger. In every other year, I made the most money from "mom blog" type posts, but this year it was neck and neck for "mom blogging" and food blogging/recipe creation. Let me tell you something guys: Food photography is SO challenging. It's like the photograph just instantly makes your food look horrible! I give serious props to all the constant food bloggers out there, because filming it as you go makes the recipe take 3X as long and then styling the food at the end is absolutely infuriating. It's far easier to capture a great photo of my squiggly toddlers than it is to make a dish look as good in a photo as it does in person.

Grilled Chicken Marinade
Zesty Summer Hummus
Pasta salad
Halloween cookie sandwiches
Tart cherry, pistachio and dark chocolate biscotti
Easy holiday party appetizer
Roasted root veggie pasta
Thanksgiving Appetizer
This is just a small handful of the recipes posted here! Follow along for all the great, hwhole foods and healthy based recipes I post

Social media grew, with the exception of Twitter, which remained stagnant. Anyone else kinda over Twitter? In 2014 and 2015 I participated in all kinds of Twitter chats and loved it and since then, Twitter just seems like the thing you schedule ahead because one "should" have a presence there. Pinterest saw a 25% growth which was super cool because I did nothing to intentionally expand it. Facebook grew quite a bit too, but more importantly than more followers, my organic reach exploded! It's so nice to not have to pay to boost posts. And Instagram... Oh, Insta. Stories became "the thing" this year and sooooooo many people tell me my stories are hilarious. I really enjoy making them, too. But Instagram as a whole is my least favorite platform. I could be on it literally all day, it's so much work. I stopped doing things to intentionally expand it - in part because the algorithm nullified most marketing strategies - and lost about 2500 followers this year. Oh well. I'm excited to see what 2018 brings for Instagram because SO MANY PEOPLE are over it. They're over likeittoknowit and over "swiping up" to buy from affiliate links so I'm looking forward to see how Instagram morphs to adapt to new attitudes.

DIYs with essential oils continue to be a favorite
Along with the good comes the bad, right? In June, Young Living came crashing down on me for some oils posts I had. All of these posts were my most popular, and my most repinned pins. Basically, they carried my page views! Subsequently I took all mention of Young Living off my blog, removed their brand from those posts and re-photographed them. But I had to take the posts down while I was doing all that, and my page views TANKED over the summer. They were cut by 66% level tank! Oh, that was rough. However, I did a Facebook live about my feelings on it, and got about 300 new followers from that video, so that was a silver lining.

Most popular posts of 2017:
How Blogging Is Like A High School Lunchroom
Spring Breeze Room Spray
Fall Room Spray (y'all like the room sprays, huh?!)
Thanksgiving Appetizer
Bath Salts Ornament

It looks like y'all like recipes, DIYs with essential oils and my op-ed pieces. Which is perfect, because those are my favorite things to blog about! I'm pretty pumped for 2018, which will be my 4th year blogging. There's already some super exciting personal things developing which I can't wait to share, and I'm exciting to see where this blog goes.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Currently December 2017 Edition

What I'm thinking, feeling and doing in the month of December


You don't have to tell me; I already know. There was a ton of sponsored content on here and it was all grouped together. Like bam bam bam, I'm just shooting sponsored work at you. As hard as I tried to craft a well rounded editorial calendar that brought you a ton of create, diverse content, it was like every deadline I was on got changed last minute and brands held content for draft approval longer than anticipated. Such is the life of a blogger just trying to get those bills paid, know what I mean? So let's take today and just catch up, currently style. Here's what I'm thinking, feeling and doing this December. Some links may be affiliate. Currently, I'm:

Reading: Anything by Liane Moriarty. Big Little Lies and Truly Madly Guilty were fantastic reads, and I just ordered The Husband's Secret off Amazon. It was a personal goal to get back into reading this year, and I'm proud to say I accomplished it! Prior to 2017, I think I read a half a book a year. This year I've polished off six! Which is still peanuts to the average reader, but a huge leap for me and impressive given my time constraints with kids, working part time and a traveling husband.

Used this pic for our annual Christmas card, because even though it's "fall" and not "Christmas" it was my favorite pic I took all year!

Watching: Not much! It's like it's dead season for good tv, no? I'll be reading until all my fave shows come back this spring (Handmaid's Tale comes back in April, and tons come back this summer!) with the exception of the Olympics. I'll probably watch those.

Eating: Everything. My weight it five pounds out of the heaviest end of my normal range and I need to pull it together! I'm eating lunch out a ton - almost every day during the week. That's a problem. But I look at it like it's my break in the day since my hubby is traveling so much this month and I'm on the clock with them all night long... Ah, excuses. Pull it together Paige. If only tacos weren't so damn good.


Consumed too many of these over the holidays. Oops.

Loving: Several things! 1) Practicing yoga 4-5 times a week 2) Carly Jean Los Angles for comfy but cute clothes (y'all I've ACTUALLY been shopping recently! Who even am I?! FYI, their shipping takes foreverrrrrr) 3) Cutting out all wine during the week - I'm sleeping SO much better, and my complexion looks better too. Not as poofy. I'm even considering cutting out all alcohol, even on the weekends... Is this what life looks like in your 30's? Alcohol is just no longer fun and worth it? Man, aging is a literal buzzkill. 

Hating: I'll tell you what, the latest iPhone update is for the birds. Drains your batteries like crazy, makes my phone get super hot, and apps just randomly shut down regularly. C'mon Apple, Steve Jobs is rolling over in his grave with this crap!

Looking forward to: It goes without saying, but Christmas. Halloween is still my favorite holiday by a long shot, but seeing the looks on my kids' faces during Christmas - whether it's driving my Christmas lights or looking at our own tree or meeting Santa - is just precious and priceless.

Dreading: The January gym rush. UGHHHHHHHHHH!!! Why do people sign up for a gym, tell themselves that "this is their year" to get into shape, go for a month then ghost out? Drives us regulars nuts. I'm bracing myself for this tomfoolery now. If you follow me on Instagram Stories, you also know I'm dreading putting together Otto's birthday present - this guy. It's going to be so fun when it's done though!

This guy turns two on December 18!

Blogging: Looking forward to my annual blog break the last two weeks in December! I'm figuring out dates now, but blogging slows way down for the holidays and I'm in need of some time off after how busy this fall was. A lot of other blogging gals I talk to feel the same way. I'll still be around on social media - just no posts planned for two weeks, exact dates TBD. I'll let y'all know though, and I'll be back for sure the first week of the new year.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Dear Fellow Boymom, Yes, I Judged You

Thoughts on a baseball team's "night out" at a restaurant in East Dallas


It was a random Wednesday night when I looked at my husband and said, "You know what? I could really go for a burger!" There's a great greasy spoon type place really close to us, and even more conveniently it's super kid friendly. They have a massive, all enclosed patio that has a kids play area to boot. It was still warm enough to sit on the patio, even though it was a late November evening (thanks for the great weather, Texas) so we packed up the kids and headed over. You know, at the late night dining hour of 5pm.


Because, that's what happens when you have kids. You eat well before dark. Le sigh.

We weren't the only parents with this idea, as it would turn out. When we arrived, there were two families with a combined total of six kids. They pulled a bunch of tables together, and told us that their baseball team was all coming for their end of the year party. "Doesn't bother us!" we said. "We've got two boys too."

The two sets of parents proceeded to go inside to order (even though there are servers on the patio). They left their kids outside to play. These kids - 5 boys around 5-7 and one girl who looked to be 2 or 3 years old - began to get WILD. Running on tops of tables wild. Climbing the fence that enclosed the patio and jumping off it wild. Taking condiments and dumping them on the ground wild. My jaw dropped and I looked for the parents, but they were busy talking at the bar inside the restaurant. Their kids got so wild, my kids were too scared to play in the play area, and sat at the table with me.

Soon, other families showed up, all with similar aged kids. And things took a turn for the worse.

All the parents were at the large table the initial family had created, and groups of boys sat at various tables around the patio. All of the dads sat on one end of the table, and the moms sat together at the other. The dads cut up burgers and hot dogs for their boys, deposited the cut up food in front of their son, and checked the hell out, as if that was their sole duty of the evening. The moms chatted and drank wine and occasionally yelled at a kid, or told him to calm down.

Meanwhile, the boys... Were completely out of control. The group of seven year olds closest to us decided to start a food fight. A FOOD FIGHT. In a restaurant. I gave the instigator of said food fight a death stare (and if you've seen Otto on Instagram, you know death stares run hard in this family). Then I stared down the adult table, trying to catch someone's eye. A mom looked at me, I motioned over to the food fight table, and she promptly looked away.

Otto death stares so hard. He got it from his mama.

Look, I get being a boy mom is exhausting. They have so much energy, they never sit down. You're constantly playing referee and trying to keep them from doing stunts that would result in their death. But fellow boymoms at that restaurant that night in late November, I judged you. Hard. Just because you're eating outside doesn't mean your kids can have a food fight. Just because you're friends with the other parents on the baseball team doesn't mean you can walk away and spend time at the bar, leaving all the kids unattended. It doesn't mean you can sit with all the adults, and think that someone else will correct your child, or that since there's so many of them and it's an end of the year party, it's ok "just this once" for bad behavior.

I don't care what you do in your own home or how you parent. But when you're in public, at a restaurant with other people eating in it too, you need to step it up girlfriend. Nobody should be jumping off of high fences. Nobody should be playing with condiments like it's a water gun. And a food fight? Are you kidding me?!

Dear fellow boymom, yes I judged you. I was horrified at your kids' behavior and your lack of intervention. My kids don't act like that on their WORST days. That's not to say that they're better kids than yours or I'm a better mom. It's to say when things start to get crazy, no matter how tired I am or how crappy the situation is, I correct that kind of behavior. And if it doesn't get corrected, we leave.

As I was signing the check, preparing to leave, I said to the server, "I hope they leave you an amazing tip!" She looked at me like she wanted to pull her hair out and replied, "No matter what they tip, the lack of tips from the other tables for these wild animals won't make up for it."

Monday, December 4, 2017

Letting Your Toddler Be Little

In an age when kids take admittance tests for preschool and face the pressure of standardized testing, I'm letting my toddlers be little


This post is sponsored by Comforts™ Brand on behalf of Kroger. All opinions are my own.

The other day, I was at my favorite barre class. I went to the 9:30am one, the class I affectionately call "the stay at home mom hour" because all of us are either SAHMs or work at home moms (WAHMs) and have the flexibility to go mid-morning. Anyway, I was getting on my shoes after class and overheard a conversation between two women who had also just taken the class. One was asking about a STEM program-based preschool for her three year old daughter. She was concerned her daughter wasn't being challenged enough at a regular preschool, and wanted STEM (science, technology, engineering and math, for those who don't know) based curriculum so that she would be challenged. In preschool. Now I don't know what school this child goes to or if she is indeed gifted, and I happen to personally really like the mother, but it got me thinking: Why don't we let toddlers just be toddlers?! What happened to allowing our toddlers to be little?


I remember when I was little, all I did was play with my sister. We didn't have cable at my mom's house and were only at my dad's every so often, so we played with dolls, Barbies, made up games, played with our pets, played outside (even in the cold Minnesota winters - sledding and ice skating were our favorites!). We weren't attached to screens doing "learning apps" and we weren't forced to do homework at an early age. Our learning came from play.

Fast forward nearly three decades, and the biggest comment I get on my Instagram photos is, "Your kids are always outside playing! You're always being active with your kids!" And it's true. Henry is only allowed limited time on his iPad on the weekends, the boys only get a half hour (max) of TV a day, and we are always busy playing - usually outside! I structure our days like this because I'm letting my toddler be little. I'm letting them play, and run, and get dirty. I chose their preschool because they believe in play, too. There's no flashcards, the rooms are full of toys, they don't expect three year olds to sit and learn math.


Otto is BIG on playing, constantly! This kid doesn't sit still. One minute he's racing cars with his brother, the next he's dangling from the side of his crib, attempting to reach a toy. Outside, he's helping me water plants, then he's picking up bugs. At 22 months, he's still in diapers, and we're big fans of Comforts™ Brand, available at Kroger stores. They feature Total Fit, which means they'll move with Otto's every twist and turn. They have a wetness indicator so I know when to change him (he see's it now too and tells me when he's wet - first sign of potty training perhaps?!) and they come in fun colors and patterns. The wipes are stationed throughout our house, and work on runny noses, dirty bums or hands that just squeezed a worm. Check them out on Facebook here and grab a coupons for all Comfort for Baby products here.


Look, we all parent differently and we all at least try to do what's best for our kids. For me, that's letting my toddler be little and promoting active play! I'm not going to push spelling or the arts or joining a soccer league this early on in either of my children's development. I want them to be little, enjoy childhood,  and shake and run and wiggle! Comforts™ diapers enable Otto to do that, minus any leaks or blow outs. Let's let our kids and toddlers be kids and toddlers, and let them play freely.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Tips For A Stress Free Holiday Guest Stay

Hosting guests in your home this holiday season? Use these tips and COUPONS for a stress-free stay!



My husband and I decided to host both Thanksgiving and Christmas this year. Because we're transplants, we have no in-state family. In fact, both of our families are TWO flights away because neither live in large cities. (Shout out to my sister and youngest brother-in-law who are sensible enough to live in cities large enough with direct flight options!) Flying is stressful enough during the holidays, but is pure torture with two toddlers, potential bad weather, and the "rush hour" of airport holiday traffic. And thus, we arrive at our decision to host both the major holidays! Plus, cough cough, we live the furthest south and our weather is the best this time of year, cough cough. While not as stressful as traveling, hosting can indeed be overwhelming and stressful! Follow these tips for a stress free holiday guest stay if you too are hosting this year.


1) Plan ahead
I like to do as much ahead as possible before my guests arrive, so that I'm able to be more present when they're here. That means I plan meals and snacks ahead and do the subsequent shopping. I do any cooking or baking that can be done ahead of time, like this recipe I recently shared (perfect for breakfast or a sweet afternoon snack!) We haven't eaten off of my German fine bone china since my kids were born (because, DUH) but once they're old enough, I'll make sure that's washed and ready to be used. Make sure your guest room sheets are washed and ready, too.


2) Don't forget the details
I find it easy to remember the big things - the turkey, ordering the Christmas ham, scheduling my housekeeper to arrive the day before quests, etc. But what about those little details, like do I have Kleenex in common spaces and in the guest room? Do we have enough toilet paper? Are there enough paper towels to clean up the kitchen after spills? Make sure you stock up on paper products! Walmart has aisles full of them to choose from and a variety to fit your needs, or you can order online at Walmart online and have it delivered to your door two days later. Their prices are already amazing, but check out these further discounts on these name brand paper products:


3) Let things go
Casserole didn't turn out quite like you wanted? Baby screaming during family holiday photos? Uncle Jim drink too much again this year? Roll with it! While it might not have turned out like you envisioned it, sometimes the "bloopers" are what make for the best memories. I remember one time, years before I was married, I brought a boyfriend home. A family friend was staying with us, and she and I decided to make a breakfast casserole at midnight (after many glasses of wine, mind you) for the next morning. As we sat down to eat the next day, my then-boyfriend pulled something inedible out of his mouth... It was the rubber band that had been around the cellophane of the mushrooms we chopped up for the egg bake! Oops. Fortunately he was good-natured about it, no rubber was consumed, and that story is still told in my family today.


The holidays are such a special time of year to gather with friends and family. Don't let the stress of hosting overnight guests ruin the fun! Use these tips for a stress free holiday guest stay, and get busy making memories and stories that will be told for years to come. 

Monday, November 27, 2017

How To Snack Healthily

Why healthy snacking is the key to weight maintenance and an overall healthy lifestyle


This post is sponsored by Planetarians on behalf of Mavrck Influencers. All opinions are my own.

Regardless of whether we're in the thick of the middle of the holidays or not, there is no shortage of junk food to consume. The office kitchen is full of donuts leftover from a morning meeting, there's cookies at an afternoon play date, and there's the chips you opened "just for a few" while you cook dinner. Unhealthy choices abound! They also lead to weight gain and contribute to an unhealthy lifestyle. But there are great ways to snack healthily, as long as you're armed with the right information on what makes a healthy snack choice.


It's obvious that a pile of cookies in the middle of the afternoon doesn't make the "healthy snack" cut. But what about popcorn? Whole wheat crackers and cheese? Fresh fruit? What are the best choices to make when you need a snack to get you to the next meal?

There are two components to a good snack choice: It's got protein and fiber, preferably a lot of both. Protein rich foods move through your digestive system more slowly than simple carbohydrates. This helps prevent blood sugar drops - the biological function that makes you feel physical hunger. Your body actually has to use more calories to digest protein (yes, you burn calories simply digesting food!) because of the long length it takes to move it through your system.

Fiber is key because it's what keeps you feeling fuller for longer. It's naturally low calorie, so it fills your digestive system with low calories. Fiber also feeds the good bacteria in your body's micobiome, which is your body's "second immune" system against suffering from food-borne illnesses. That's a win-win for fiber and for you!


So now that you know you need food with both protein and fiber, what are some good, healthy snack choices? When you hear protein, you probably think meat. But did you know meat production is one of the largest environmental hazards on the planet? From growing feed, to water usage, to the waste the animals produce, heavy meat eaters contribute disproportionately to greenhouse gases, global warming and the destruction of natural environments. While meat is indeed high in protein, there are vegetarian sources of protein that have MORE grams of protein per serving than environmentally destructive meat.

Let's switch gears back to fiber real quick. Did you know that the FDA recommends you get 28 grams per day? Sound manageable? Well, that's 10 apples. Or two POUNDS of broccoli. Still sound manageable?! I don't eat that much and I eat mostly veggies!


Planetarians comes in with more protein than meat, and more fiber than produce. In one 1.5oz container, you're packing in 12g of protein and 11g of fiber. That's almost your whole day's worth of fiber in one snack! And 3% more protein per gram than meat. There's five ingredients in this snack, all of which you can pronounce. And they come in awesome flavors, like Ranch or Chili Lime (that one was my personal fave) that you and your kids will love.


These snacks are easy to throw in your bag to bring anywhere. The cup has a resealable lid, and comes in a easy to hold container. Ever had your kids spill a whole bag of snacks? Me too. Or they rip it down the side and snack fly everywhere (please tell me I'm not alone here...) Not with these cups! I love anything that I can reseal if not all of it gets eaten, and comes in smart packaging that the little fingers of my kids can handle.


Snacking is important to keep your blood sugar levels up, and healthy snacking is essential for weight maintenance. Protein and fiber are key components for a healthy snack. Snack healthy with Planetarians - they're loaded with fiber, protein and fun flavor options that create the perfect snack option for you and your family.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! I'm hosting at my house, so I'm taking the day to cook, bake, drink and be merry with my family. No post today but you can catch me on Instagram Stories! Get off the internet and go spend some QT with your main squeezes.

 
via GIPHY

Monday, November 20, 2017

Do You Really Act Like That?

In a world full of paid influencers, how can you really tell if your favorite online personalities are truly who they say they are?


Over the last two to three weeks, the universe has been aligning in the CRAZIEST of ways over here. Does anyone else ever notice how that happens? Kinda like the proverbial "when one door closes, another one opens"? Most of this "stars aligning" nonsense is blog related for me, from both a paid perspective in talking directly to brands, through PR companies, and in conversations with my followers. None of these people know each other, but it's so crazy how they're all talking about the same thing to me. It can be boiled down to a snarky comment (that I snort-laughed at) from a follower of mine who asked me after watching a series of my Instagram Stories, "Do you really act like that in real life?"


While this person was coming from an obnoxious place, it got me thinking. And it got me thinking about several conversations I've had with brands and PR companies alike in the past month or so. I had the pleasure of having a brutally honest conversation with a brand manager at one of my favorite PR firms to work with. He was letting me know that I likely didn't get a paid gig with a particular brand because I was too edgy in my content. To which I replied, "hey I totally get it - I'm not everyone's cup of tea!"

He then replied in the most unexpected way. I'm going to paraphrase here, but basically he said, "Look Paige, don't ever underestimate a brand to get in their own way and ruin their own marketing campaign with boring influencer content that interests no one and gets zero clicks. That's on them. There are SO many influencers that are ho-hum. The fact of the matter is, the market is too saturated for bull$hit content (he didn't edit out the s like I did and I love him for it). Keep doing you, because you're doing it right!"

In fact, four of my biggest contracts in 2017 have been by brands pitching ME, and citing some of my raciest online content as pieces that drew them to me. Pieces that I was a tad nervous to publish because I was afraid of any partnership/monetary repercussions. Low and behold, they had the opposite effect of what I had feared!


Here's the thing: The brand manager at the PR firm was spot on. There's WAY TOO MUCH CONTENT from influencers to be mediocre and be successful.

I've been blogging for about three and a half years. I've been making money blogging for two and a half of those years. This profession has exploded, and and expanded to include social media only influencers, too. This summer I hit a wall. I got sick of the whole thing: Sick of how fake-nice other bloggers are in online support groups, sick of how once they hit certain numbers, they no longer talk to bloggers "beneath them", sick of watching BAD Instagram Stories of nonstop sponsored content that quite frankly, watching paint dry would be more interesting.

So I decided, you know what? I'm going to stop editing myself so much online. I'm going to blog about things I love and am passionate about (but keep it safe to read at work!), I'm going to show more of my personality on my social channels, and I'm particularly going to try to make my IG Stories something worth watching. When I'm feeling feisty or animated about something, I'm going to pull out my phone and be entertaining about it!

So what happened as a result of this "bigger" online personality? Of more opinionated blog posts? Of being more of who I am around my friends and less of who I felt I should be online as a blogger?


August saw a big uptick in income. September even better. And by October, I was making the same money I did in my last 9-5 as a director of fundraising for a $22MM nonprofit. November is pacing to be even better than October! That's not to brag on my business skills (although you certainly need them to be a paid blogger). It's to say that when you are authentically you and you cut the bull$hit of online influencer marketing, brands notice. And they want to work with you.

So to the commenter who asked me if I "really act like that in real life", the answer is, yeah I do sometimes. Sometimes not. Sometimes I'm really that riled up about something. Whatever it is that I write about here, I'm absolutely passionate about. My photos on Instagram are all live-shot candids that really happened - nothing is staged. (Although I do sometimes change my boys' shirts so that my color scheme is consistent.) My goal is to be as authentic as I can be while being as entertaining as can be. And I hope that that continues to resonate with all of you!

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Holiday Haystacks Party Appetizer

This easy to make appetizer is affordable for large parties, and festive for the holiday season


This post is sponsored by Barilla and Galbani, but all opinions are my own.


One of the best parts of the holidays are all the holiday parties to go to. "Friendsgiving", Secret Santa brunches, or the good old fashioned cocktail party, this time of year is so fun to get together and celebrate the season. However, I've been a host of such fun parties, and man, is it a ton of work! From cleaning the house to getting the decorations, preparing the menu and doing all the shopping - hosting a party is no small commitment! In the spirit of keeping things easy and simple this holiday party season, I've partnered with Barilla pasta and Galbani cheese to bring you a SIMPLE, easy and tasty party appetizer - what I'm calling Holiday Haystacks.


There's a few things that are so great about this recipe. First, there's a whopping 10 ingredients in it. Only 10! So it's super simple to throw together. Second, from start to finish you're looking at a half hour of time. So it's simple and quick to boot! Third, I've used mini-muffin tin cups to bake the pasta, so not only are we talking about a handheld app (no need for the extra dishes or utensils!) but it's also portion controlled, making it easier to keep consumption levels in check.


Shopping was also insanely easy forthis recipe. All the ingredients are available at Walmart, from the Galbani ricotta to the Barilla pasta and traditional sauce. Plus when you buy all three products, you can get $2 off from Ibotta!  A quick visit to the spice aisle (if you don't keep a well stocked one already) and you've got this appetizer made for under $10. The holidays are always so focused on large roasts of meat, we often forget that pasta is a great way to get together and enjoy the season too! 


Holiday Haystacks Party Appetizer
- 1 box Barilla Mostacciolli pasta
- 3/4 cup Barilla traditional pasta sauce
- 1 15oz container Galbani ricotta cheese
- 2 eggs
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic poweder
- 1/2 teaspoon dried onion flakes
- 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- salt and pepper to taste
- halved grape tomatoes and julienned fresh basil to garnish


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Boil water for pasta and cook the pasta to al dente instructions. Do not overcook the pasta because it will continue to bake in the oven - make sure to drain it while it still have a bite to it!


While the pasta cooks, mix together the ricotta, eggs, and seasonings. Salt and pepper the mixture. Add the mixture to the drained pasta and stir together. Spray a mini-muffin tin pan with a nonstick spray, or brush with olive oil. Fill the tin with pasta, arranging the pasta within the tins somewhat vertically (to look like little haystacks - and also, to ensure each pasta is touching some of the sauce, which will congeal in the oven and make it a hand-held appetizer).


Bake the pasta for about seven minutes. Cut the grape tomatoes in half, and julienne the fresh basil (cut it into long strips). Add one half tomato to each muffin cup and sprinkle with fresh basil. Bake for another three minutes or so, until the pasta is starting to get golden brown, but isn't crispy or crunchy.

This easy to make holiday appetizer is affordable and easy to serve to large or small parties

Let the pasta rest in the muffin tin pan until mostly cooled. Transfer to a party platter and enjoy! This holiday haystacks party appetizer is packed with flavor, easy to make, affordable, and festive for the holiday party season.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Tart Cherry Pistachio & Dark Chocolate Biscotti

No matter what time of year, this biscotti goes perfectly with a cup of coffee or tea, and is pretty enough to impress house guests


Every now and again, when I'm whipping up recipes in my kitchen like a mad hatter, I really impress myself. Something turns out better than I had anticipated. This, my friends, is one of those times! And I say that with the caveat of me not being a sweets person. Gimme all the chips and salsa and queso but put cookies, cake or ice cream in front of me and I won't even touch it. So for me to actually like a sweets recipe? Oh you know this tart cherry, pistachio and dark chocolate biscotti has to be good!


I think I only bake about two to three times a year, and that includes birthday cakes. I don't enjoy it. It's a science, so there's very little you can do to "play" with the recipe, as all the ingredients have to play together so that scientific responses happen, things rise, bind together, etc etc and you have a delicious final product. Bah humbug, playing by the rules of a recipe is bunk! I like to play and change things I don't like and add things I think will work better. Which is kinda funny, because I *accidentally* did that with this recipe. I kinda messed up how much baking powder went in, but I really like how it turned out!


I'm not big into making Christmas cookies (everyone gifts sweets and if you bake them too, your house is just FULL of sugar and that grosses me out over the holidays). But my husband and kids enjoy a good cookie, so I try to make one batch a year (last year was these super easy Spritz cookies, and the year before was my MIL's monster cookie recipe that I turned into a Christmas cookie). This year I'm hosting both Thanksgiving and Christmas with different sets of families, and I wanted the ability to put something out in the morning that was easy. I'm NOT a morning person, so I'm not getting up early to cook anyone breakfast! But lay out some biscotti and coffee? Ok, that I can manage.


Tart Cherry Pistachio & Dark Chocolate Biscotti
- 1 and 1/2 cups dried tart cherries
- 3/4 cup chopped pistachios
- 2 medium or 1 large egg
- 1/2 cup melted butter (from one stick of butter)
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 2 and 1/2 cups flour
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 3oz dark chocolate bar (NOT chocolate chips - they don't melt well and contain wax)
- 1/2 cup cranberry cocktail juice



Heat the oven to 350 degrees. In a small bowl, pour the cranberry juice over the dried cherries to reconstitute them. Set aside, and let soak for about 20 minutes. If you're an idiot like me, or can't find de-shelled pistachios, spend the next thirty minutes of your life getting each nut out of the shell. You'll never get those thirty minutes back. Be prepared for anger. Lightly chop the pistachios so that the nuts aren't too big to bit into.



Mix the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Melt the butter and let cool slightly, then add to the dry ingredients. Add the egg(s). Drain the cherries, but reserve about 4-5 tablespoons of the juice and add to the mixture. Fold in the cherries and the pistachios. 

The mixture will be on the dry side, but if you grab some, it will stick together. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper and form the mixture into two loaves. Bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes, or until they're just starting to turn a golden brown. Let cool on the baking sheet for 10 minutes, then transfer to a cooing rack to let cool completely. Once cooled, cut into one to one and a half inch thick slices. Return to the baking sheet and bake for another 25 minutes, or until each piece is golden brown.



Once the biscotti pieces have cooled completely, melt dark chocolate in the microwave, stirring ever 15 seconds so that it doesn't burn. In my convection microwave, it took less than a minute to melt the whole bar, so be mindful! Use a fork to drizzle the chocolate over the cooled biscotti. I placed a piece of parchment paper under the cooling rack holding the biscotti for easy clean up! Wax paper would work, too.

This is a great holiday treat to have on hand, or any time of the year when you have house guests and want a homemade treat around

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Allow the chocolate to harden completely. Store in an air-tight container; freeze in a ziplock container; or place in a gift tin to give away. Best enjoyed dipped in a cup of hot coffee, tea or hot chocolate. Enjoy!