Where Have I Been the Past Year?

Many of you know that this time last year I was in my second trimester of my pregnancy.  We had just gotten back from our baby moon in Europe and were about to really hunker down and start preparing for the baby.  About a week after we got back from our trip I had an ultrasound and received a call from my doctor saying they saw something wrong.  I was rushed in for another ultrasound and admitted to the hospital that same day.  I was 25 weeks pregnant at the time and scared to death.

At the time I was told I had a condition called absent end diastolic flow.  I’m not going to go into all the medical details of my condition in this post (you can Google for more information), but this condition is very serious and life threatening to the baby.  I was also told that he was IUGR, and from the type of IUGR he had it looked as though there was probably something chromosomally wrong with him.  I was admitted to antepartum, and was told that I could possibly have my baby any day, or that I could be in the hospital for up to 9 weeks on bed rest and monitoring (they just wanted me to get to 34 weeks).  It was literally so much information to take in all at once I thought my head was going to explode.  The unknown was so scary, yet the known was just as scary (if you Google absent end diastolic flow and IUGR you’ll know what I’m talking about).   

At first I was freaking out about my baby boy.  I didn’t know a lot about preemies at the time, but I knew that at 25 weeks he was just on the brink of survival.  I had no clue what it would mean to have a baby born at 25 weeks…but what was even more devastating was the thought that something was wrong with him, and they didn’t know exactly what yet. 

Then I started to freak out about being in the hospital for 9 weeks.  As you all know I’m extremely active and love to be outdoors.  The thought of being cooped up in a room for over two months was downright depressing to me.   To be completely honest, I was terrified of getting swollen and fat and losing all of my muscle- everything I had worked so hard to maintain during my pregnancy.  I could truthfully say during those first couple days I did not want to spend 9 weeks in the hospital, but the day my baby was born I would have given anything for 9 more weeks on bedrest to let him grow.  I hear pregnant woman complain all the time about how big and uncomfortable they are in the last couple of weeks.  Be thankful that your baby is big and healthy, which is why you’re big, and that you made it that far.

To make a long and difficult story short, I only lasted 10 days on antepartum before they had to deliver baby Kingston.  Kingston was born at 26 weeks and 2 days and was 1 lb 3 oz.  He was a micropreemie.  If you ever have time and are curious about what some NICU parents go through, Google and read about micropreemies…you will be in complete shock and awe about the amount of obstacles these babies overcome to survive.

Kingston spent 104 days in the NICU, and it was probably the hardest 104 days of my life.  Every day felt like a year.  I was emotionally drained each day, only to wake back up and have to do it all over again.   During this time Kingston “coded” (stopped breathing, and heart rate dropped very low requiring resuscitation) 3 times.  He was on a breathing machine for 2 months.  He had to have heart surgery to close a hole in his heart.  It was extremely stressful and painful to watch my baby grow outside of the womb, when he was supposed to still be inside for another 3 months.  I spent day in and day out at his bedside watching him fight.

It was heartbreaking to go home from the hospital and leave my baby there, never knowing if he would die when I wasn’t there.  Healing on the postpartum floor and watching new moms push their newborn babies around was one of the most agonizing experiences I’ve ever gone through.  That was supposed to be me.  I wanted my baby healthy and with me, but he was downstairs struggling to survive.  One minute he was safe inside me where I could feel every kick and movement, and the next we were separated by a clear plastic cage, wires, tubes, machines, and alarms.  I had to wait two days to touch him and two weeks to hold him.  Every time I had to leave him, every time he was too unstable to hold or touch, every time we got a phone call in the middle of the night saying something went wrong, a little piece of my heart broke. 

Although Kingston’s birth and NICU stay were traumatic, there was also a lot of good that came from them.  God brought our friends and community together.  Our family bonded in a way that only happens during tragedy.  To see the love of God poured out on my family through everyone around me, through their prayers, giving, letters, meals, etc, was so surreal.  I’ve never experienced the love and mercy of God like I have in this past year. I know we would’ve never made it if it wasn’t for all of the prayers lifted up for us and Kingston.

So after Kingston came home everything’s back to normal right?  No haha!!  Not only have we been adjusting to having a newborn baby at home, but a preemie baby.  For the first 3 ½ months Kingston was home he had to be on isolation because it was flu and RSV season.  Because of his prematurity and growth restriction Kingston has chronic lung disease.  If he caught any sort of respiratory infection he could’ve ended up back in the hospital on ventilator and possibly die.  This meant we couldn’t take him out in public and we had to limit visitors.  He had weekly weight check-ups, eye appointments, physical therapy evaluations, RSV shots every month, and the list goes on.  He developed very bad reflux and goes through periods where he doesn’t want to eat.  We started seeing a gastro intestinal specialist, he has weekly feeding therapy, and is on a lot of medications.  All of this to say usually when a micropreemie comes home the stress is not over.  They give preemies two years to catch up in growth and motor skills, but Kingston is almost a year old and is still the size of a 3-4 month old.  So the stress that weighs on my husband and I when he won’t eat or drink his bottles is extreme to say the least.

When I get angry, stressed, or frustrated I try and remember that it wasn’t that long ago I was pleading with God for Kingston’s survival.  I know that despite our difficulties, things could’ve turned out way, way, way worse.  Kingston is a happy and pretty much healthy baby.  He is so full of curiosity and joy.  Although I’m extremely frustrated many days, I’m also so proud of my son and how much he has fought to be where he is today.  Most babies double their birth weight by age one and he is almost 14x what he weighed when he was born.  He is a miracle. 

So if you’ve been wondering where I’ve been for the past year, I’ve been taking care of my miracle baby.  Yes, I’m still working out regularly.  Yes, I’m still baking up a storm (check out @_taylormadetreats_ on IG).  No, I don’t make pretty meals for Instagram anymore, because I don’t have the time or energy haha.  I bake because the kitchen is my happy place, and I can’t wait to teach my son how to make all of my recipes.  I can’t wait to spoil him and his friends with fresh cookies after school every week.  I go to the gym now because it’s “my” time and my stress reducer.  I know there are more important things than constantly worrying about what my body looks like.  I have someone else to worry about now.  When my son was in the hospital it revealed a whole new world of hurting people to me.  I realized that there are many, many people suffering just as much or even more than I was.  I want to be a woman who spends my time thinking about ways to help people and involved in people’s lives, not consumed by thoughts of my weight and food.  Yes, I still lift weights, because there’s room for balance.  We have to have hobbies and time for ourselves in order to be the best version of ourselves for others.  I’m realizing that my disordered thoughts about eating and working out will probably never go away, but over time it has become easier and easier to replace them with thoughts that matter- like helping the hurting and broken.

That’s the thing about trials and tragedy…they reveal who we really are and what’s most important to us.  They are a heart check, a soul check.  But it’s up to us to choose change, to choose to become better.

“The darker the night, the brighter the stars.  The deeper the grief, the closer is God.” – Dostoevsky

Pumpkin ALL YEAR LONG- Experiment #3

I don’t know about you guys, but I’m someone that eats pumpkin goodies throughout the entire year.  I don’t know how pumpkin got cornered into a “fall” or “holiday” food, but it doesn’t belong there haha!!  Because we have fabulous canned pumpkin available year round, there is no reason for not eating pumpkin, like, every week (or everyday) ;).  If you happen to be one of those select few people who don’t like pumpkin, then we can’t be friends..j/k 😉

The third recipe that I decided to perfect this year is pumpkin bread.  I love eating pumpkin bread, but I don’t make it that often because I’ve never found a really good recipe.  In the past I’ve also tried to make it healthy with Greek yogurt or applesauce and it never turns out :(.  So, I went in search for the top pumpkin bread recipes to taste test and perfect.  My stipulations for the recipes were pretty much the same as for my banana bread experiment- it must be just plain pumpkin bread (with no toppings or fillings) and I picked recipes that had all different fat combinations.  Experiment #3 worked!  I found a bomb pumpkin bread recipe that I will be making ALL YEAR LONG!!

Day #1

Bread #1- Libby’s Pumpkin Bread *Oil   Recipe herePhoto Jul 02, 6 48 30 PM

Libby’s canned pumpkin and their boxed pumpkin bread mix is probably the most popular pumpkin items out there.  I had to start with the most widely used recipe out there.  If you examine most pumpkin bread recipes they are almost identical to this one.  The only small differences is the amount of sugar and the addition of some water.  This bread was dark, sweet, and had really good flavor.  Overall it was my second favorite of the day.  It just didn’t have that “WOW” factor. 

Bread #2- Spiced Pumpkin Bread *apple juice and oil   Recipe here

Photo Jul 02, 6 53 36 PMThis is a recipe that was recommended by Libby’s pumpkin site, and is a Nestle recipe.  They claim that it’s an old tried and true recipe with tons of flavor.  What I loved about this recipe is that it had a ton of spices in it.  I knew the flavor would for sure be there.  The problem was that the texture was not.  It was way too moist.  The juice, with the oil, and the pumpkin created too much moisture in the bread.  I also didn’t think that the apple juice added anything to the bread.  Not a recipe that I’ll be making again. 

Bread #3- Old Fashioned Pumpkin Nut Loaf *evaporated milk and oil  Recipe herePhoto Jul 02, 6 55 20 PM

This was another Nestle recipe recommended by Libby’s.  I chose it because it was the only recipe I saw that used evaporated milk, and I was curious on how it would come out.  The batter was THICK!!  This recipe called for double the pumpkin than any other recipe I used.  The result was a gummy mess haha!!  It was the only loaf I actually threw away, because I couldn’t in good conscience give it to anyone. 

Bread #4- “Love Grows Wild” Pumpkin Bread *Butter and almond milk  Recipe here

Photo Jul 02, 7 03 29 PM

I found this recipe will browsing Pinterest.  It had a lot of good reviews and re-pins.  I chose it also because it’s made with almond milk, which I always have on hand, and love to bake with.  It’s healthy, lower in calories, but thick and rich like buttermilk.  As I began to make this recipe I knew that it was going to be special.  It begins with whipping the butter and brown sugar together for 4 minutes.  This is usually how cookie bases start, and the result is fluffy, flavorful, goodness!!  The batter ended up looking thick, yet whipped and soft.  The taste and texture were amazing!  The crust caramelized and the bread had excellent butter flavor and texture without any greasiness.  This was by far my favorite bread of the day.
Day #2

Photo Jul 05, 2 19 48 PMBread #5- Martha Stewart’s Pumpkin Bread *Oil and buttermilk   Recipe here

Part of the reason I chose this recipe, besides the fact that it’s by Martha Stewart, is that it’s made with buttermilk.  It actually has a lot of buttermilk in it.  The batter was thin and light.  The result was a very moist bread with a crunchy exterior, and surprisingly a dark caramel color.  It was not overly sweet, and I actually think it could have benefited from more sugar.  Overall, this was my favorite bread of the day.

Bread #6- Bake or Break Pumpkin Bread *Butter   Recipe herePhoto Jul 05, 2 14 18 PM

This is the only bread I made that only had butter with no other special ingredients.  Most pumpkin breads are made with oil, so I like to compare how each different fat affects the outcome of the bread.  Bake or Break is a very popular baking blog, and her brownie recipes are some of my favorite.  The batter was average looking, as was the final result.  The texture was a little too dry for my liking, and it really lacked in flavor.  I will stick to the brownies next time!

Bread #7- Spiced Pumpkin Bread *Whole milk and oil   Recipe here

Photo Jul 05, 2 55 15 PM

I’ve never heard of this blog from where this recipe is found on, but it had a lot of activity on Pinterest.  I looked at the recipe and saw that it was made with apple cider vinegar, with really piqued my interest.  So, I decided to give it a try.  This batter was super thick, probably the thickest out of all the batters I made.  The bread came out with great texture, but was very sweet.  Even though the name is “Spiced Pumpkin Bread”, it needed even more spices to balance out the sweetness.  This was my husband’s favorite bread of the day, but I thought the sweetness ruined it for me.  I chose Martha’s over this one.

Bread #8- Pumpkin Bread with Greek Yogurt *Oil   Recipe herePhoto Jul 05, 4 29 11 PM

I’ve tried to make pumpkin bread with Greek yogurt many times in the past and it never seems to turn out right.  I wanted to follow an exact recipe this time to see if I would like it.  I also thought it would be an interesting twist to throw a healthier version in the mix to see how it would do.  This recipe is made with whole wheat flour, which completely changes the texture of the bread- and, in my opinion, not in a good way.  The bread was dry and grainy.  Nobody liked it at all.  My opinion has always been if you’re going to bake something don’t try and “healthify”.  Accept it for what it is- a treat! 🙂

Day #3

Love Grows Wild vs Martha Stewart

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Photo Jul 09, 1 43 55 PM

I made both breads together and cooked them side-by-side.  They both had the same color batter, but completely different textures.  The Love Grows Wild bread was fluffy like a cloud, while Martha’s bread was thin. 

Martha Stewart's Pumpkin Loaf

Martha Stewart’s Pumpkin Loaf

Love Grows Wild Pumpkin Loaf

Love Grows Wild Pumpkin Loaf

When tasting both breads together there is no question of the winner- Love Grows Wild!  This bread is perfection.  I didn’t even feel the need to tweak it and make my own version.  It has the perfect amount of sweetness with spice, the perfect texture, and just the right moistness.  It’s flavorful and delicious.  This is the perfect pumpkin bread to eat plain or use as a base to add a cream cheese filling or crumble topping.  I can’t wait to make this bread over and over this year!  So get baking, because there’s no time like the present to get your pumpkin on!!

 

OC Night Market

The OC Night Market (OCNM) is an even that happens twice a year, over a 3 day period, at the OC fair grounds.  I had heard about this event last year, but after it had already finished :(.  When I saw on Instagram the upcoming dates for this year I knew that I had to make it. The advertised food looked amazing.  When you walk into the market there are a bunch of clothing, jewelry, and art vendors set up, but just make your way past them, because what you really want is what’s at the other side- THE FOOD!!  There are two rows of food stalls set up with food trucks and tables in the middle.  The majority of the food at the OCNM is Asian inspired.  Luckily we went to the second weekend of the event and I was able to stalk Instagram for the best food to try.  I’m pretty unfamiliar with Asian food, so I needed some direction haha!  Fortunately a lot of Asians in OC go to the OCNM and I was able to learn from them the best things to try.  Below is a list of each food item we tasted with a short description.  Hopefully some of you can make it to the LA Night Market or to the OCNM next year!

 

Ramen Burger- $14

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This was one of the items I was most excited to try.  I know that many burger shops now sell ramen burgers, but I’d never tried one before.  We ordered the original with and egg on it.  Overall I really liked the burger.  It was a decent size, and the ramen bun was way better than I expected.  It was crunchy on the outside, but not hard, and soft in the middle.  It held up well to the burger.  I don’t, however, think it was worth the price.

 Verdict- if you’ve never had a ramen burger I think that it’s a must try at least once in your life item, but if you’ve had one before just skip it.

 

Spiral Potato- $5

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The spiral potato is basically a whole potato spiraled open on a stick and then fried.  It turns crispy and is basically like eating potato chips off of a stick.  You can choose from about 10 different flavors to put on your potato, and they even do half and half.  We choose sour cream and onion on one side and butter on the other. 

Verdict-  I think people get this for the novelty of it- basically how it looks and photographs haha!  You can eat chips any time, so I personally would save room for something better!

 

Giant Fried Squid- $12.99

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The giant fried squid is truly GIANT!  It was bigger than my head.  They basically take a squid, put it on a stick, flatten it, and fry it.  Then you sprinkle seasoning on it and cut it into pieces with scissors that they provide (but first take a picture 🙂 ).  They also provide sides of mayo, hot sauce, and thousand island sauce. 

Verdict- it was definitely not the best squid I’ve ever had- it was overcooked and a little chewy.  But I would order it again, especially in a group, because it was big and good.

 

Lobster Roll (from Anchor Hitch)- $7

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Think coast of Maine, buttered brioche toast, and fresh lobster!  This lobster roll was small but packed with fresh lobster in a perfectly toasted, crunchy bread shell, topped with caviar, and served with a lemon wedge.

Verdict- Small for the price, but worth every penny!  One of the best things I tasted all night.  I could eat like 10 of them haha!

 

Romnut- $6

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This was another item that I was extremely eager to try.  Food Beast created a donut out of ramen.  It’s basically ramen soaked in horchata, then filled with a filling of choice (cream cheese, chocolate, strawberry), fried, and then topped with a topping of choice (same as fillings plus sprinkles).

Verdict- Most definitely worth it!!  WAY better than I thought it was going to taste.  The horchata gave the donut a great, sweet flavor.  We chose to fill with chocolate and top with chocolate and cream cheese, and it had just the right amount of sweetness.  I hope the romnut is back next year.

 

Crab Fries Poutine- $10

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I had seen this poutine all over Instagram and everyone was raving about it.  I’m not a huge fan of crab, but we decided to just go for it.  Thin fries topped with fresh crab and a garlic cream sauce. 

Verdict- I’m so glad we ordered this because it was probably my favorite savory thing we had all night.  The garlic sauce was so flavorful and garlicky, but the freshness of the crab cut through the heaviness of the sauce.  The fries were perfectly crisp and didn’t get soggy, which I loved.  A must get!

 

Takoyaki- $6

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When I saw all of my Asian friends posting these balls covered in sauce I had to look up what Takoyaki was haha!  Takoyaki is a popular Japanese snack comprised of a wheat flour based batter usually filled with minced octopus, tempura scraps, and green onion.  It is then topped with a takoyaki sauce, similar to Worcestershire and mayo, and shavings of dried bonito.  People on Instagram were saying that the takoyaki here was some of the best they’ve had outside of Japan- so of course I had to try it!

Verdict- So, I have nothing to compare this to because I’ve never had takoyaki, or anything like it.  It was a very weird, pudding like, texture in the middle with chunks of chewy octopus mixed in.  None of us like the texture of the balls, and they were definitely fishy tasting.  I did, however, like the sauce that was on them.  I probably would not order these again.

 

Twice Cooked Pork Buns (28 OC)- $3-$4 each

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People were seriously going crazy over these buns on the internet.  28 OC is a new restaurant in OC, that had a booth set up at the OCNM.  They were serving two types of buns: filet mignon and pork belly.  These buns are first steamed and then fried and drizzled with sweetened condensed milk.   

Verdict- The boys only liked the filet mignon but, but I liked the pork belly one the best.  I think because it was sweeter.  I liked the crisp outside of the bun and the sweetness that the sweetened condensed milk provided, but overall I was not very impressed.  I would not order again.

 

Short Rib Crunch Burger- $6

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A small palm sized crunchy fried bun filled with short rib, pickled cucumbers, cilantro, and a siracha mayo sauce. 

Verdict- most of our group thought it didn’t have a big enough punch of flavor.  I thought it was just right, because I don’t like spicy food ;).  The texture with the bun and the cucumbers was perfect.  For $6 I would order again.

 

Salted Caramel Churro- $4 & Fruity Pebble Churro w/ Ice Cream- $5

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Churros are one of my favorite desserts to eat.  I was super excited that the OCNM was offering different flavored churros.  We decided on salted caramel and Fruity Pebbles (because I’m cereal obsessed haha), and only got one with ice cream because we were getting full.  But the ice cream for $1 is a steal!

Verdict- Both churros were good and worth buying again.  BUT, the salted caramel was out of this world!  It tasted like the churro was filled with butter and caramel.  It had so much flavor, yet stayed crispy on the outside.  A must try at the OCNM.

 

Okonomiyaki (vegetable)- $6

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Okonomiyaki was another one of those foods that I had never heard of and had to look up after seeing so many people post about it.  Okonomiyaki is a Japanese savory pancake usually made up of flour, yam, eggs, and cabbage.  It can also contain cheese, corn, shrimp, pork, octopus, other veggies, and/or mochi.  It’s cooked on a griddle, like a pancake, and then topped with a sauce almost identical to the takoyaki and then mayo.

Verdict- we ordered the plain vegetable okonomiyaki and topped it with both sauces.  The texture was very similar to the takoyaki, but way more tolerable because the pancake was thin and crispy on both sides.  I love veggies, especially cabbage, so I ate almost the entire pancake on my own (which was the size of my face).  Some of the others, however, didn’t really care for it.   It was definitely worth $6, and I will for sure be ordering it next year…maybe I’ll venture out and try a different flavor!

 

Fried Ice Cream (Mexican flavor)- $12

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Who doesn’t love fried ice cream?  By this time we were stuffed, but the fried ice cream here was supposed to be amazing…so we had to ;).  We ordered the Mexican flavor, which came with caramel ice cream and a chocolate and caramel sauce drizzle. 

Verdict-  The portion is huge.  The ice cream had a perfectly crunchy exterior and remained firm in the middle.  The ice cream itself was GOOD!  This fried ice cream was addicting, and despite how stuffed we all were we couldn’t stop eating it.  I will be back for more fried ice cream!

 

 

 

Banana Bread Madness- Experiment #2

I just don’t understand people who don’t like banana bread.  My mom doesn’t like banana bread- it’s one of her only flaws 😉  Banana bread is perfect because it can be eaten for breakfast, as a snack, or dessert.  It’s comforting and can be made hundreds of different ways.  Chocolate, peanut butter, cinnamon streusel, cream cheese, and the list goes on and on of all the things you can add to banana bread to make it different and unique.  I decided after my chocolate chip cookie experiment to tackle this delicious quick bread. 

The first step was buying about 25 bananas and let them brown on my counter (the checker at Trader Joes thought I was crazy haha).  Then I scoured the internet for the best recipes I could find.  I picked recipes from tried and true sources like Martha Stewart, Southern Living, and Food and Wine, and more obscure recipes.  My main criteria was that it had to be just banana bread.  It could have nuts and spices, but no additives like frosting, glazes, streusel, chocolate, etc.  The second component was that no recipe had the same combination of fat.  One has oil, one butter, some buttermilk or sour cream, etc.  I’m convinced it’s the fat in the bread that makes it! 

I performed this experiment in almost the exact same way as the last.  I had eight recipes that I dived into two groups.  On day one I made the first four recipes and day two the second four recipes.  The only difference was that I did this in two consecutive days and was able to taste the winners side by side on day two.  So for day three I decided to bake the overall winner again and then bake my own version of the recipe to taste side by side.  Who won?  Read on….:)

 

Day #1

Bread #1- Flour’s Famous Banana Bread *fats are sour cream and oilPhoto Jun 14, 4 22 53 PM

Flour Bakery in Boston, MA is famous for their banana bread.  The recipe for this bread is widely circulated online as being one of the best out there.  While mixing the batter I noticed that it was pretty thin.  When it came out of the oven this bread had really good texture and color.  It was crunchy on the outside and soft in the middle.  My number one critique for this bread is that it wasn’t sweet enough.  Flour’s may be the best in Boston, but it finished last of the day!

 

Bread #2- Martha Stewart’s Banana Bread *sour cream and butter

Photo Jun 14, 4 44 23 PMMartha Stewart was a finalist in my cookie experiment, so I had to give her a chance in this one.  This bread batter was thick but the sour cream made it light and fluffy.  I was surprised, and a little worried, that her recipe had no spices in it, but Martha never disappoints!  This bread came out fluffy and flavorful.  I was actually shocked by how much flavor it had with no spices in it.  The texture was perfectly crunchy on the outside and moist in the middle.  The walnuts added a nice crunch as well, but I don’t think they were necessary.  It was my second favorite bread of the day, and this recipe will be staying in my book!

 

Bread #3- Paula Deen’s Banana Bread *butterPhoto Jun 14, 5 11 40 PM

When looking for a banana bread recipe with butter as the only source of fat, I of course had to go with the queen of butter herself ;).  I was excited to try a bread made with just butter, but this recipe also had no spices in it.  The batter was thick, and when it came out of the oven the bread was greasy.  I could taste the butter flavor, but it was lacking in any other flavor.  This bread was definitely not the recipe I was looking for.  Sorry Paula- butter is not always the answer!

 

Bread #4- Southern Living’s Cream Cheese Banana Nut Bread *cream cheese and butter

Photo Jun 14, 5 33 35 PMPhoto Jun 14, 5 34 01 PM

This recipe piqued my interest because it was the only bread made with cream cheese in the batter.  I was eager to compare it to the others.  Another unique thing about this recipe is that it had pecans in it-and not just raw pecans but toasted pecans.  I’m not a huge nut person, but I definitely prefer them toasted over raw.  This batter was the thickest of the day.  The finished bread was dense yet soft.  The toasted pecans added great flavor, and the cream cheese made the bread extremely moist.  This was hands down the winner of day one!

 

Day #2

Bread #5- Sally’s Baking Addiction *butter and Greek yogurt

Photo Jun 15, 6 03 53 PMI love all of Sally’s recipes that I’ve tried so I was anxious to try out her banana bread.  One of the unique things about this recipe is that it’s the only one that had brown sugar in it.  I thought that the brown sugar would add a different flavor to the banana bread.  The bread came out with great texture and I really liked the addition of the pecans and cinnamon.  I also appreciated that she said to cover it half way through baking so that it didn’t get too brown.  My only complaint was that it was lacking in general flavor.  Overall, this was just a run of the mill recipe- not bad, but not great.

 

Bread #6- Hoosier Homemade Banana Bread *oilPhoto Jun 15, 6 06 29 PM

I chose this recipe because the only fat in it is oil.  It was also circulating all over Pinterest, with many “best banana bread” ever comments.  This bread was probably the most disappointing of the whole experiment.  It was the only one that I would describe as dry.  It had no flavor at all.  What a waste of good over ripe bananas!

 

Bread #7- Taste of Home’s Banana Bread *Buttermilk and oilPhoto Jun 15, 6 56 38 PM

I was hoping after the last recipe that Taste of Home would redeem the banana bread!  I was a little worried because the batter was very loose and pale when I poured it into the loaf pan.  But when it came out of the oven my doubts were dispelled.  It had near perfect texture.  It was moist, but not mushy.  It had great banana flavor, which I think could have benefited from more spices.  I liked the addition of the walnuts.  This was my favorite bread of the day.  Since I had some of Southern Living’s bread, the winner from yesterday, leftover I was able to taste them side by side.  Even day old Southern Living far exceeded the flavor and texture of Taste of Home’s bread.  I will, however, definitely keep this recipe in my books, and maybe try to bake it again with some cinnamon and nutmeg thrown in.

 

Bread #8- Best Ever Banana Bread *vanilla instant pudding, Greek yogurt, butter

Photo Jun 15, 7 00 23 PM

Averi Cooks, a well-known food blogger, also did a lot of recipe testing with banana breads.  She has over 30 banana bread type recipes on her blog.  She claims that this recipe is her all-time favorite.  This recipe also piqued my interest because of the addition of the pudding.  Having made pudding cookies before, I know that the pudding definitely changes the texture in baked goods.  I was extremely frustrated with this recipe.  It was waaaaay too moist.  It was hard to get it to cook in the middle and not burn the outside, even with a cover.  It was also lacking in overall flavor.  I don’t know what to say Averi…you let me down girl!

 Day #3

Southern Living's Banana Bread

Southern Living’s Banana Bread

 

 

vs

My version

My version

 

The Southern Living Banana Bread recipe makes two loafs.  I decided to make the full recipe and divide the batter in half.  I cooked one loaf following the recipe exactly including the toasted pecans.  The second loaf I omitted the nuts and added 1 tsp of cinnamon and ½ tsp of nutmeg.  I baked both loafs and then tasted them side by side.  My husband and parents were also home and able to give me their opinions.  Every single one of us liked my version better.  I was surprised that my mom and dad didn’t like the original recipe more, because they are big nut people.  They all thought mine had better flavor, and the crunch of the exterior added texture without nuts.  I’m thrilled that I’ve nailed down a near perfect banana bread recipe.  The lesson learned in this experiment is to spice up your bread! 

 

Delicious!!

Delicious!!

I’ve Got a Mini Bun in the Oven!!!

So, if you haven’t yet seen the news on Instagram, my husband and I are expecting our first child!  This is definitely an emotional post for me to write.  There’ve been so many feelings of joy, fear, excitement, happiness, and worry all mixing within me ever since I saw those positive lines on the bazillion pregnancy tests I took hahaha!

If you’ve followed me from the beginning of this blog, you know that the whole purpose I started it was to share my journey, and a large part of that was getting pregnant.  I’ve written a great deal on here about my past struggles with anorexia athletica and under eating, especially in terms of my fat intake.  When I started this journey I knew that I wasn’t healthy.  I knew this for many reasons, the main one being that I hadn’t menstruated in years.  Looking back, I knew that I was over working out, but I honestly didn’t know the damage that I was doing to my body.  I had no clue that not eating fats would ruin my hormone balance- in fact it wasn’t until I actually started counting macros that I realized how drastically I had removed fats from my daily diet.  I looked healthy on the outside, but inside my body was a mess.  Joining Instagram and becoming part of the “fit community” was what finally caused me to see how badly I was harming my body- and I found that other women had the same struggles and story that I did.  It was then that I was able to not only do my own research on the steps I needed to take to recover, but also to learn from other people’s recoveries.  

So what changed in the past year and a half? Well, I stopped doing hours of cardio a day, I re-introduced fats back into my diet, and I started eating the appropriate amount of calories for my body and activity level.  I stopped trying to work off everything I baked or ate at restaurants on the weekends with family and friends.   I gained weight, because I needed to put on fat in order to get my cycle back.  I started making all of these changes in September 2013 and by February 2014 I had my first natural cycle in over three years. (Side note: if you’re on the pill there is no way to tell if you are really menstruating on your own.  It wasn’t until I went off the pill to get pregnant that I realized my body had stopped menstruating.  Every time the MDs would put me back on the pill I would have a period, but my body was not able to do it on it’s own.)    Then I went months without a cycle and had some spotting here and there.  In August 2014 I started having cycles consistently every month.  The problem was that they weren’t regular.  They ranged anywhere between 27-39 days apart.  This made it very hard to determine when I was ovulating in order to conceive.  I also think having knee surgery in January, and the stresses of chronic pain and being off work played a lot into the irregularity of my cycles. 

I finally got cleared to see a fertility specialist in March of this year, and it couldn’t have been at a more perfect time.  I was happy that I was actually having cycles, because I knew this meant that my body was healthy.  I was healthy, I finished grad school, and I was able to get my knee surgery- I was ready haha!!  I knew that if I waited a couple more months my cycles would probably regulate themselves, but I was anxious to get pregnant – so I thought what the heck? Let’s just go and see what he has to say!   I asked to just start with a round of Clomid and use timed intercourse.  Honestly, I didn’t think it was going to work, at least not on the first try.  He explained to me all of the statistics and ways Clomid can actually inhibit conception, but I wasn’t ready for any drastic measures like IUI or IVF just yet.  They could tell that I had been ovulating, so the Clomid and timed ovulation was just to regulate my cycle for the month so that we would know exactly when to do the dirty ;).  So, I took the Clomid, they timed my ovulation to the day, and then we did our job and just waited.  During this time we went to Cancun (it was a trip that was already planned months before this), and it was great to take my mind off everything and just relax.  The day after we came home from Cancun was the day I was supposed to start my period, and it never came.  I took a home pregnancy test and it was negative.  Honestly, I was disappointed, but I had never gotten my hopes up, because again I really didn’t think it was going to be that easy haha!  Later on in the day my period still had not come, and I just had a feeling that maybe I should take another test.  So I did, and it was positive!  Then I went and bought two more tests and they were both positive haha!  I was scheduled to get my blood drawn two days later, and those were seriously the longest two days OF MY LIFE!  I kept taking tests every day to see if I was still pregnant hahaha!  I didn’t tell anyone, not even Quentin, because I didn’t want to get my hopes up.  I knew the only thing that would confirm the positive pregnancy tests in my mind was the blood test.  Thank goodness my doctor gives same day results for Hcg tests haha!  They called later that morning to congratulate me.  I had already planned out how I was going to tell Quentin that night, so I spent the rest of the day getting that ready.  See pics below 🙂

So what was my first trimester like…

My first trimester was rough emotionally and physically.  I was so, so afraid of miscarrying.  Every day I woke up and wondered if it would be the day I would start bleeding.  I know it sounds kind of morbid, but it’s honest.  Because this is my first pregnancy I have nothing to compare it to.  So every pain and cramp I had freaked me out!  I quickly realized that I just had to trust God.  Along with the extreme fatigue (I was taking naps almost every day) and having to pee constantly, I soon developed nausea and food aversions.  I never had vomiting or extreme nausea, I just felt like crap all the time.  I was constantly snacking because this was the only thing that kept the nausea at bay, but eating made me feel sick too.  The only thing that really settled my stomach was saltines, cereal, and bread.  Great diet right?! Haha!  Not only did I feel like I was eating A LOT, and a lot of foods that I would consider not calorie friendly or healthy, it was really frustrating to eat foods that I used to love, like zoats, mugcakes, and peanut butter and feel sick afterwards.  But, I just went with it.  I had to listen to my body and eat what made me feel better.  I basically ate quesidillas, cereal, and beans and rice- I was all about Mexican food!!  The last couple of weeks of my first trimester my diet started to return to normal.  I have been having my zoats and veggies again, and feeling good!  But I’m still on a cereal obsession hehe!  I’ve pretty much been eating whatever I want in moderation and working out 4-5 days a week.    

At first I was scared to exercise.  I didn’t want to overdo it and harm the baby, but I quickly educated myself on the ins and outs of prenatal exercise.  I was actually surprised to find SO much information on how good exercise is for mom and baby.  Studies show that babies born to moms who exercised have increased brain function, increased motor skills, sleep longer through the night, and have lower birth weights.  Exercising during pregnancy also decreases mom’s chance of getting preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, having a C-section and other labor complications, and having back and joint pain.  These facts are just the tip of the iceberg on how good exercise is during pregnancy. 

Did I always want to go to the gym?  No, definitely not!  Being nauseous and tired all the time are not conducive feelings for working out ;).  One morning as my hubby and I were walking into the gym I told him that I felt like I was  always working out hungover haha!  But, I went anyways, because I knew it would not only give me more energy, but that it’s so good for me and the baby. 

So how have my workouts changed?  Most doctors say that during the first trimester you can continue doing whatever routine you were doing before becoming pregnant. This is great in theory, but for me even though I wanted to, I couldn’t  haha.  My strength and stamina decreased dramatically.  I listened to my body and only lifted what I could on the day, which usually resulted in low weight/high rep workouts.  I also started doing more cardio and less lifting because it felt better to me.  Every person and pregnancy is different, so you just have to listen to your doctor and your body.  Another thing that has changed is that I don’t do fasted workouts anymore.  I know some pregnant women do, but for me I just don’t think that’s good for the baby, plus I’m starving as soon as I wake up 🙂  I also am not using any supplements, including protein powders, and limiting my protein bar (aka Quest bar) intake- hence the dramatic change in my IG creations.  Now that I’m in the beginning of my second trimester I’m feeling so much better!  I don’t have any more nausea, and most of my normal energy is back.  My strength is almost back to pre-pregnancy at the gym, so I’m alternating between heavy and light days and doing about 10-20 min of cardio. 

I was going to write that this is the happy ending to a journey full of difficult life lessons, but then I realized that this is only the beginning.  I’m still learning everyday how to treat my body better, how to control my negative body image thoughts, and how to balance having a full, fun life with health and fitness.  I always tell girls I’ve met that have lost their periods, or have irregular periods, due to diet and/or exercise to stop and get help as soon as possible.  The longer you wait the more damage you will do to your body.  I over exercised for about three years (it was really bad for about a year), and it took a year for my body to recover and heal itself.  The body is an amazing thing!  It does so, so much for us.  I’m growing a human!! 🙂  Take care of yourself, and know that there is hope if you’re struggling.  I thank God every day that by His grace, and the support of my friends and family, I was able to turn my health around.  I know that you can to!

4 weeks pregnant

4 weeks pregnant

13 weeks pregnant

13 weeks pregnant

Right after I found out the good news!

Right after I found out the good news!

Telling the hubs we are expecting!

Telling the hubs we are expecting!

Photo May 22, 5 18 51 PM

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4th Street Market Fun

One current food trend that I’m so in love with right now is “food court” like marketplaces that are popping up everywhere.  The Anaheim Packing House is probably the most popular in Orange County, but the opening of 4th Street Market in Santa Ana and Union Market at The District in Tustin is giving the Packing House a run for their money!  The coolest part about these marketplaces is that people come together, hang out in a unique environment, and eat really good food.  There’s nothing better than breaking bread with friends in a casual, and non-hurried environment.  Another great thing is that since there are so many different eateries in one central location, everyone can pick and choose what they want to eat. 

I’ve been wanting to go to 4th Street Market for months now.  But every time we made plans to go they fell through.  I was starting to think I would never make it there!  But, then the Yiartes (our travel buddies) texted and saved the day!  We met up one afternoon after church to eat our way through the marketplace.  I scoured Yelp before we went to get the majority consensus on the best food items at every stall.  Most food stalls have a very limited menu, serving only one or two different items, so it made the decision making a little easier.  The last step was to narrow down which stalls we would try, and which we would save for a different trip.

Stop #1 Ink Waffles-  Ink Waffles TacoPhoto Apr 19, 12 21 44 PM

Ink Waffles is kind of like a gourmet Bruxie.  They serve all different waffle sandwiches ranging from burgers to gyros.  Their most popular is their signature squid ink waffle filled with fish, cabbage, corn, avocado puree, and radishes on top.  Conclusion: delicious!  Probably the best thing I ate all day.  Not only was the flavor profile on point, but the creativity and originality of the squid ink waffle amazed and overjoyed me.  The fish was perfectly cooked, and not fried, which I loved, and the radishes added the perfect crunch on top.  Waffle sandwich shops are becoming increasingly popular but no one is doing a squid ink waffle.  Well done Ink Waffles!!

Stop #2 Noodle Tramp – Khao Soi with Wagyu beef

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Noodle Tramp is The Playground’s Asian noodle restaurant.  (If you don’t know what The Playground is, I feel sorry for you.  Google it and go! 🙂 ).  They only offer Khao Soi with your choice of protein or just veggies.  Khao Soi is a traditional Thai noodle soup, which according to people who have eaten it in Thailand, Noodle Tramp nails almost perfectly.  Conclusion: the broth was a little too spicy for me (I’m pretty intolerant to spice, which is annoying!), but I could really appreciate the brilliance of the underlying flavor of the broth.  There were so many different layers to it.  There was a coconuty flavor which was cut with the citrus of the limes, and I loved the crunch they provided on top.  My only complaint is that the beef had no flavor to it.  Overall I wouldn’t eat it again because of the spice, but I would definitely recommend it to others.

Stop #3 PFC- Fried chicken with a side of cornbread

Photo Apr 19, 12 35 36 PMPFC is Playground’s fried chicken place.  The Playground serves fried chicken as a staple on their ever changing menu, but this fried chicken is a little different.  In my opinion it’s a little more smokey- I’m pretty sure it’s coated in smoked paprika.  What I loved about this fried chicken was that it was fried perfectly, not super greasy, and the meat remained super moist (I know you all love that word :)) inside.  I really enjoyed the spice rub on the outside because it gave the chicken so much flavor.  The cornbread was AMAZING, especially when paired with the chicken- sweet and salty!  My only wish is that they served maple syrup on the side to dip everything in haha!

Stop # 4 Stockyard Sandwich – Pulled pork poutine

Stockyard Sandwich offers about four sandwiches and two poutines.  I read that their poutines were amazing, so we decided to try Photo Apr 19, 12 57 01 PMone.  The man working the registered suggested the pulled pork over the short rib, so that’s the one we ordered.  Stockyard’s poutines are unique in that they are made with tater tots instead of french fries.  At first I was really excited about this because I love tater tots (who doesn’t?!), but after trying the poutine, I decided poutines should solely be made with fries.  The tater tots got soggy, and they were hard to scoop up the toppings with.  The pulled pork poutine was topped with a swiss mornay sauce and a sunny side up egg.  The pork itself was flavorless.  The sauce mixed with the runny egg was too much.  The whole thing just ended up being soup like.  After having The Kroft’s poutine at the Packing House, this one doesn’t even hold a candle.    

Stop #5 Wagyu Chuck- Double cheeseburger

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Wagyu Chuck was the third stall from the Playground that we tried….they are taking over Santa Ana, and I have no problem with it!  This place only has one thing on the menu- burgers!!  You can order a single or double, with or without cheese.   The secret burger on their menu is the burger they serve at the Playground for dinner (this is off the menu in the restaurant as well).  The Playground burger is definitely worth trying if you’ve never had it.  We’ve had it multiple times so we opted for the double cheeseburger.  Ok, this cheeseburger was good, but it tasted exactly like an In-N-Out burger, no joke, EXACTLY like it!  I love In-N-Out, but I was a little disappointed because I was hoping for something a little more original.  The burger was also very, very greasy.  There was a stream of grease constantly dripping from the burger.  I can also get and double double at In-N-Out for less than $5 and Wagyu Chucks double burger costs almost $10.  Not a good deal in my opinion, and I will not be back.

Stop #6 Chunk-n-Chip

Photo Apr 19, 1 34 16 PMYou didn’t think that I would leave without having dessert did you?! Never haha! Amy really wanted Chunk-n-Chip, so that’s where we went.  After I had my last ice cream sandwich I vowed that I would never order one again, mostly because the ice cream freezes the cookie, making it hard, and therefore ruining everything I love about a good cookie.  Chunk-n-Chip surprised me though.  They re-heat their cookies in the oven as you order them, which keeps the cookies gooey and soft.  They also have unique cookie flavors such as graham cracker and lavender honey.  Their cookie and ice cream flavors rotate daily so there are endless combination possibilities.  We ordered chocolate chip cookie with mocha chip ice cream.  Overall, although I liked how Chunk-n-Chip heats their cookies to order I wasn’t impressed with the cookie flavor or the quality of ice cream.  I’ve already done a cookie AND an ice cream crawl, so I’ve tasted the good stuff haha!  I would rather have really good ice cream or a really good cookie separately than have “alright” ones smashed together.    

4th Street Market is unquestionably a welcome addition to the Orange County food scene.  I barely scratched the surface of all that the market has to offer.  I can’t wait to go back and make many more food memories!

All Hail the Chocolate Chip Cookie- Experiment #1

You have to admit, there’s nothing like a warm chocolate chip cookie straight from the oven.  The taste of a warm, buttery cookie as it crumbles and melts in your mouth evokes such sweet pleasure.  If you were lucky enough to have a mother like mine, who constantly baked cookies for us growing up, they will also conjure up delightful memories of childhood.  If you do not share my great fondness for chocolate chip cookies, then just skip this blog post.  It’s definitely not for you haha…and I think you may need help ;). 

Because I have a constant craving for chocolate chip cookies, I decided to try and find the best recipe out there.  My go to has always been the one on the back of the Nestle Toll House chocolate chip bag, and I’m sure many of you can relate.  But, I’ve always been curious if that recipe really is the best for homemade cookies.  So I scoured the internet in search for the most popular recipes out there.  I found 8 that I thought were worthy of this experiment.  Then I decided that 8 different recipes were too difficult to make and try at once, so I divided them in two groups of 4.  I made four of the recipes one day, baked them all side by side, then tried them all hot out of the oven, and again once they cooled.  My hubby and I determined a winner of the first group. Then I repeated the process a different day with the next four recipes, and determined a winner of the second group.  The final step was to make both winners again, together on the same day, and compare the two to determine the ultimate winner of my cookie experiment.  Yes, it was a lot of work.  No, I’m definitely not sick of chocolate chip cookies yet.  Yes, it was worth it 🙂 (All recipes can be found through Google or on Pinterest)

Day 1

Cookie #1: Levain Bakery copy cat recipe from Broma BakeryIMG_0469

If you know anything about chocolate chip cookies, you know that Levain Bakery is touted as having probably the best one in the country.  Well, Broma Bakery claims that their recipe comes the closest to the original.  Levain’s cookie is known for being HUGE, as big as the palm of my hand, and dense.  This dough is baked in ginormous portions for about 20 minutes.  The result is a massive, dense cookie.  What I didn’t love about this cookie is that it was too bready for me.  I like my chocolate chip cookies chewy, almost gooey, in the middle while remaining crispy on the edges.  The edges definitely got crispy, but the middle was almost breadlike.  It did, however, stay puffed up which I loved.  Although this would not become my go-to recipe, I would use it for a dinner party to serve with ice cream bowls, because they have the size and thickness wow factor. 

Cookie #2: Nestle Tollhouse Cookie

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I, of course, had to include this recipe in my experiment.  To be honest, I thought it was going to be the sure winner.  Maybe not even because it’s the best cookie, but because it’s the most familiar to me.  Nope, not the winner haha.  I love this cookie and its buttery flavor, but what I don’t love about it is that no matter how long I refrigerate the dough for, it doesn’t stay very puffy.  This cookie is very easy to make, reminds me of childhood, and I basically have the recipe memorized.  Needless to say,  it will still remain on rotation in my house!

Cookie #3: Bobby Flay’s Throw-Down CookiePhoto Apr 09, 12 14 14 PM

This is the recipe that Bobby Flay used to compete against Levain’s cookie.  It is also a gigantic cookie.  What I don’t love about this cookie is that it flattened out in the oven (even though I refrigerated the dough for over 5 hours), and they were super greasy.  They had too much butter in them…I know, is there such a thing? Haha!  I won’t be making this recipe again. 

Cookie #4: Neiman Marcus $250 cookie

Photo Mar 22, 5 29 29 PMThis cookie is served at Neiman Marcus cafes around the country and is available to the public on their website.  It has a special ingredient in it, because of which I was anxious to try them out. I gave a hot cookie to my husband as they came out of the oven and asked if he tasted anything unique about the cookie.  He said he could taste something, but couldn’t put his finger on what it was.  The answer: instant espresso powder!  These cookies came out looking exactly like the picture.  They were crispy on the edges, gooey in the middle, the perfect texture.  The taste was almost orgasmic haha!  These were by far my husband and I’s favorite of the day.  Texture and flavor came together to create one incredible cookie!

Day2

Cookie #5: Sally’s Baking Addiction- THE chocolate chip cookie

Photo Apr 09, 12 04 49 PM

The reason I choose this recipe is because it’s basically like the Nestle Tollhouse recipe, but with cornstarch added.  I had always wanted to try the cornstarch cookie recipe to see if the cornstarch really made a big difference. The result: yes, it does.  These cookies have perfect texture (crispy + chewy = perfection!), but they didn’t have a jaw dropping flavor like the Neiman Marcus cookies.  All in all, I would probably make these cookies over the Tollhouse cookies, which is saying A LOT!

Cookie #6: Martha Stewart’s chocolate Chip CookiePhoto Apr 18, 5 05 53 PM

I’m not a huge Martha Stewart fan, by any means.  The reason I included this recipe in my experiment is because I was reading a blogger who also did a similar experiment to mine, and this recipe was one of her top 2.  So, I said “what the heck, I’ll give them a try”!  I’m so glad I did!  These were my hubby’s, my trusted friend Jen’s, and my favorite cookie of the day.  They had the perfect crispy, chewy texture, along with an exceptional buttery flavor.  The chip to cookie ration (which is very important by the way) was also perfect.  You go Martha Stewart!

Cookie #7: The New York Times famous chocolate chip cookie by Jacques Torres

Photo Apr 09, 1 00 00 PMIf you’ve ever been on Pinterest for any significant amount of time, chances are you’ve seen this cookie.  Supposedly, the New York Times taste tested different recipes, and this was the winner.  They also experimented with how long to refrigerate the dough for, and found that 48 hours was the magic number.  So I had to make this dough in advance from the others.  This dough is made with a mixture of bread and cake flour, which in my opinion is a pain in the ass.  I didn’t have either of these flours, so I had to go buy them just to make these cookies.  I was somewhat appeased by the fact that cookie #8 is also made with bread flour, so it wasn’t a complete waste.  This cookie is very similar to the Levain copy cat recipe (cookie #1).  They are big, but did not stay as puffy as cookie #1.  I, personally, was not impressed with this cookie.  It too was a little bready for my liking.  I will not be making these again any time soon!  Sorry New York Times.  I don’t care how long you refrigerate the dough, it doesn’t change the flavor.

 

Cookie #8: Alton Brown’s “The Chewy”

Photo Apr 09, 1 00 27 PM

I gave Bobby Flay a fighting chance, so I had to let Alton in on the action.  This cookie is pretty well known, probably because it’s feature on Oprah.com as one of her favorite cookies.  Well if Oprah said so, I guess it deserves at least a try ;).  This dough is made with bread flour, which again is kind of a pain to go buy special flour for one cookie recipe.  When I first made the dough it was soooooo gooey and sticky, but I didn’t want to stray from the recipe and add more flour.  I didn’t think it was going to come together,  but after about a half day in the fridge it did.  I did not especially care for this recipe.  The cookies came out bready and lacked flavor.  Sorry Alton!  And Oprah…you must have never tried the Neiman Marcus cookie 😉

Day 3

Martha Stewart vs. Neiman Marcus

 

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Photo Apr 18, 5 05 53 PM

 

I made both of the winning cookies again and chilled both doughs for five hours in the fridge.  The hubby and I tasted each cookie as they came out piping hot straight from the oven.  We both agreed, that although the Martha cookie was excellent, we preferred the Neiman Marcus cookie.  The texture is spot on, and the flavor is rich and divine.  We then brought a bag full of both cookies over to our best friend’s house for dessert, and let them do a blind taste test.  Katie liked qualities of both cookies, and it was very hard for her to decide which one was her favorite.  She preferred the texture of the Neiman cookie, but thought it was a little too rich and had too many chocolate chips.  I agree that the Neiman cookie is very rich, and I found myself going back to the Martha cookie, while eating both for dessert, for a little relief.  It’s almost nice to have both of them together at the same time haha! 

The Neiman Marcus cookie has the perfect texture and a rich, unbeatable flavor.  Every cookie cooks evenly to perfection.  They all stay puffy and chewy in the middle.  The Neiman Marcus cookie is hands down the winner of the chocolate chip cookie showdown.  Here is the link to the recipe on Pineterest.  Now you have no excuse… go and make them right now!! 🙂 

 Photo Apr 18, 5 02 18 PM

 

Making it Through Winter

It’s been a while since I’ve written anything on this blog.  Most days I tell myself that I’m too busy to keep it up, but if I’m being really honest, it’s that I don’t feel I can adequately express through writing all of my thoughts and feelings.  I sit down with the intention to write, and then I can’t find the words to sufficiently describe what life is throwing at me.   I’m not a writer, and I always feel my writing is never good enough.  But, here’s an attempted life update, written to the best of my ability haha!

I’m about 3 months post op from my knee arthroscopy.  Recovery has been emotional to say the least.  My surgeon originally told me going into the surgery that recovery time would be 4-6 weeks.  After 6 weeks I was having more pain than I had before surgery.  I was so discouraged, because my activity was even more limited than pre-surgery.  But even more frustrating was the fact that nobody had answers as to why my pain was so bad.  I was told that my knee was basically fine inside, yet I could barely walk to do my activities of daily living.  I was icing constantly, and couldn’t go back to work.  I got a cortisone shot at my 6 week appointment, and from there my pain has slllloooowly decreased.  Now, at almost 12 weeks post op, I can do mostly everything I could before surgery (although plyometrics still really irritate it).  I still can’t squat, lunge, or deadlift without pain, so I avoid those exercises.  I’m going back to work in a week, and I’m a little terrified haha.  I’m really hoping my knee holds up!

School is another area of my life that has taken up so much of my time.  After 3 ½ years of this MSN program, I’m so thankful to say that I finished my last week of schooll!  Wooohooo haha!  I don’t know what I plan to do yet with my MSN, but looking back I’m extremely grateful that I made the decision to return to school and get an advanced degree.  Time passes not matter what, so it’s all about what you can accomplish while it’s passing.

If you follow me on Instagram you may have noticed that I’ve taken a little break…ok, a long break haha!  About two months ago I finally admitted to myself that Instagram was not making me happy, in fact it was making me angry.  I got fed up with the fitness community on Instagram for many reasons.  It literally hurt and angered my heart to see so many young girls on strict macro diets and basically starving themselves.  Over the holidays so many people were justifying working out on Christmas day, or stating that they were allowing themselves a “cheat day” for Christmas.  The fact that you have to justify eating with your family on Christmas astounds me!  It is so wrong.  So many people are complaining about calories or “going over their macros”, and yet a third of the world is starving.  So many people in the world would die for just the opportunity to be able to have what we eat for breakfast, as their food for the entire day.  Everyone also seems to be comparing themselves to others, whether it’s what they are eating, what they look like, or how much they work out.  I definitely fell into that trap as well.  I came to the conclusion that I needed to cut Instagram out of my life completely for a while, and to be honest, it was the best decision I’ve made in a long time.  I felt like my normal self again.  I wasn’t constantly bombarded by six-packs and macro perfect meals.  My life doesn’t revolve around the gym and trying to obtain the perfect body, yet that was the message I was continually feeding myself through Instagram.  I also decided that I wanted to focus more on school and my friendships, so I took a break from making “picture perfect meals”.  Plating, taking pictures, editing, and posting took up so much of my time, time that I’m now spending on things that make me happier.  Right now I’m only following my close friends and family, but now that I’m finishing school I may start posting some pics again 🙂 

At the end of March Quentin and I took our annual trip to Mexico.  We decided to go to Cancun again, because we had such a good time last year, and it’s so beautiful and warm there.  We had an amazing trip, relaxing around the pool and eating out at great restaurants at night.   We took the ferry to the Isla de Mujeres and spent the entire day exploring the island on a golf cart.  We also went to Congo Bongo, one of Cancun’s famous night clubs.  Since it was spring break, it was very interesting to say the least haha!  But the entertainment was awesome, and I definitely recommend people going at least once.  It was an immensely relaxing trip, and a great way to welcome in spring!

I haven’t been doing monthly food journeys like last year, but I have some good food pieces coming up!   I’m in the middle of doing a chocolate chip cookie experiment, where I’m testing 9 different recipes to find the best one…so stay tuned!  Happy Spring everyone!

 

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January 2015- A New Year, A Better Me

The first month of the year is over, and it feels like it’s already been a six months haha!  January was a stressful and frustrating month to say the least.  If you follow me on Instagram you know that I had surgery this past month, but it was postponed due to insurance issues.  I was disappointed because I was so mentally prepared, and in so much pain, and then I had to wait two more weeks.  I spent the first half of the month on the phone with insurance companies and MD offices, and the second half of the month recovering from surgery.  Every day felt like a big ordeal. 

                I’m about three weeks post-op now, and feeling ok.  My surgery went very well, better than I expected, actually.  The surgeon removed scar tissue inside of my knee, but other than that, there were no visible signs of damage or injury.  This is a good thing, because it means that I have no injury, but a bad thing because I still don’t know why I’m in so much pain.  I’m trying to remain positive through this whole process, but some days I can’t help but feel down.  I’m in more pain currently than I was before I had surgery, with way more physical limitations.  I feel crippled.  I’m continuing to trust the process of physical therapy and rehab, in hopes that this is just surgical pain and will eventually go away.  I just have to wait and take it one day at a time.   

                I shared a little last month how I always make yearly goals.  One of my goals last year was to just be Taylor.  I read The Happiness Project in December, and it was so inspiring and affirming to me.  It affirmed everything that I’ve been working on personally, while also inspiring me to be better in different ways.  I recommend that everyone reads this book to find ways to make yourself happier, and therefore a better person in general.  It’s been shown that happier people are more loving, kind, patient, and giving people.  Therefore the pursuit of happiness is not just a selfish or self-centered pursuit.  This year I want to continue along that same line of goals.  Everyone always says that “it’s a new year and a new me”.  Well I don’t want a “new me”, I want a “better me”.  I want to continue to learn who I am and just be myself.  I don’t want to care what people think or say about me, my goals, what I do with my time, what I eat, etc.  I want to be unapologetically Taylor!  Learning who I am is the hard part haha!  This past month I started to learn French with my husband.  He started last year, but I didn’t want to start just because he was doing it.  I wanted to really know that I wanted to learn French.  I do, so I am J  It’s been a blast!  If you’re married or in a relationship, one of the most important pieces of advice I can give you is to do things together with your spouse.  My husband is my best friend, and although we don’t like all of the same things, we do the majority of life together.  It’s what keeps us connected, in love, and happy together. 

                Some of my other goals for this year are to be more organized and to be a more prayerful person.  I’m taking a section of the house every month and cleaning it out.  January was the master bedroom closet, and February is the living room cupboards and coat closet.  I never realized, until I read The Happiness Project, how being unorganized contributes to anxiety and stress.  It feels so good to get rid of “crap” and have a place for everything.  In terms of being a woman of prayer, well, I think that takes a life time to learn.  This year I’m picking one person a month to pray for, and trying to pray for that person every single day.  This helps to not only deepen my relationship with God, but gives me compassion and love for that person, and causes me to see beyond my own problems and worries.  Everyone is fighting a hard battle, and most are harder than mine.  I have so much to be thankful and grateful for.  I don’t want to ever, ever lose sight of that.  I have many other smaller goals like perfecting some recipes, deepening relationships, and working more on this blog.  I can’t wait to see what I can accomplish this year after I finish school! 

                I don’t plan on doing a food journey every month like I did last year, but I still want to share with you all some of my food finds.  This past month Quentin and I explored Grand Central Market in down town LA.  It was such a fun day!  GCM is full of little food booths ranging from Mexican food, to German brats, to oysters, to Chinese won-ton soup.  Everyone can find something they like at GCM.  We brought our French flash cards to study between meals and snacks.  We  drank wine, ate, laughed, and just had a great day.  Here are some of the places we ate at:

  • Eggslut- We got the bacon, egg, and cheese on a biscuit instead of a bun and the sausage, egg, and cheese.  We both preferred the bacon, egg, and cheese because of the great combination of the bacon and chipotle ketchup.  Definitely a MUST if you go to GCM!IMG_0057
  • Valerie Confections- We got coffee, a chocolate petit four, and a chocolate chip sea salt cookie.  The petit four was creamy, soft, and rich, with a great chocolate flavor.  Definitely worth getting. (So sad I don’t have a picture!!)
  • Sarita’s Pupuseria- Known for having some of the best pupusas in LA.  We had never had a pupusa before and we tried their house pork pupusa.  It was very greasy, and just ok to me.  I heard their fried plantains are amazing, so I may have to go back for some of those!IMG_9546
  • G&B Coffee- We walked by this cute coffee stand, I saw they had a chocolate kabocha loaf, and I just had to get it!  It was soooo good we went and got a second slice!  It was sweet, dense, and super moist.  Quentin and I both loved it.  We also tried the ham and cheese scone, which was dry and not very good.IMG_9566
  • China Café- Three words: pork wonton soup!  So big, flavorful, yet light and refreshing.  It was the perfect light and salty meal to have after all of the fatty and sweet stuff we had been eating.  AND, it’s only $5!!  What a deal!IMG_9550
  • McConnel’s Ice Cream- We sampled just about every flavor they had haha!  I settled on a scoop of peanut butter cup and a scope of coffee.  Their small comes with two scoops, and we should have shared, because after a long day of eating we couldn’t finish either one 🙂IMG_9555

We didn’t try any of the Mexican food places while we were there, because we plan on going back and just trying/comparing tacos.  I’m absolutely looking forward to that haha! 

This year I’m going to continue to live out my motto “Life is too short to eat bad food”.

 

Killin upper body at the gym before my surgery.

Killin upper body at the gym before my surgery.

My mom and I eating Pop Bar 2nd day post op.

My mom and I eating Pop Bar 2nd day post op.

 

The hubby and I being our weird selves ;)

The hubby and I being our weird selves 😉

 

December Food Journey- Mac ‘n’ Cheese!!

A year of food journeys has come to an end.  I’m going to be honest, I was a little sentimental.  This year has been an amazing year of eating.  I’ve learned a lot about food blogging; mostly that it’s way harder than I thought it would be haha!  It’s so difficult to describe food adequately, in a way that you actually tasted it in the moment, and convey that taste through words.  I’ve also learned that I have pretty high standards.  I don’t think I’ve ever given a score of 5 to anyone.  To me, a 5 represents that whatever I’m tasting couldn’t be made any better.  I’m under the impression that everything can be improved upon.  Nothing has been perfected.  So, I guess you could say I’m a harsh critic.  But, hey, at least I’m honest!  🙂

Mac ‘n’ cheese is the perfect food to end the year on.  It’s the perfect comfort food, especially around the holidays!  I’ve had a lot of different mac ‘n’ cheese dishes:  some at gourmet steak houses and some at casual diners.  In my experience it’s the gourmet mac and cheese that I love the most.  For this food crawl I decided to compare just the basic mac ‘n’ cheese from some of the best restaurants around OC.  In my opinion things like bacon, truffle, pancetta, and lobster are crutches.  If your mac and cheese isn’t good on its own, it’s not that good.  My research for this food crawl was actually not that hard.  Almost all food bloggers, media, and Yelpers agree on the best mac ‘n’ cheese around OC.  We brought our good friends Max, Ange, Jen, and Jordan on this food crawl with us to help judge…and eat haha!  For me, the best mac ‘n’ cheese has unbeatable flavor combined with excellent texture.  I hate when mac ‘n’ cheese is cakey, grainy, or gritty.  The best mac ‘n’ cheese is creamy and stringy all at the same time.  It should not have any grainy texture at all!  The winner, in all of our opinions, won by a long shot!   It was the perfect combination of strong cheesy flavor and a texture that couldn’t be beat.  I also included another category for this food crawl that I want to incorporate from now on: “describe using one word”.  I felt like this helped everyone really think about what they were tasting and sum up their description.  I hope you enjoy!

Stop #1: Elbows- Multiple locations (Brea, CA) $7.50

The mac ‘n’ cheese: “More Cheese 4 Me”- Fontina, asiago, parmesan, and mozzarella, all baked with elbow macaroni. 

Photo Dec 21, 4 34 31 PM

Build your own menu at Elbows

Pasta- 2.5IMG_8739

Texture- 3.25

Cheeses- 3.5

Overall Flavor- 3.5

Describe in one word- “Average”, “bland”, “mediocre”

 Conclusion-  This Elbows location is fairly new to down town Brea.  The restaurant is tiny inside, but does have a couple tables for outdoor dining.  Considering it wasn’t that busy when we arrived, it sure took them a long time to get our one bowl of mac ‘n’ cheese out.  Overall Elbows was just average.  It had that underlying gritty texture that I hate in man ‘n’ cheese.  The pasta was also very overcooked.  For a restaurant that only makes mac ‘n’ cheese there is no reason that they should not have perfectly cooked pasta.  I did, however, like how the asiago forms a crust on top when the mac ‘n’ cheese is baked.  This provided great crunch and flavor.  The portion size for the price was pretty good.  If you’re looking for more of a fast-food mac ‘n’ cheese, at a reasonable price, this is your place.  But in my opinion you are better off just staying at home and making Kraft mac ‘n’ cheese.

 Stop #2: Slidebar Rock-n-Roll Kitchen- Fullerton, CA $9.00

The man ‘n’ cheese: “Mac ‘n’ Cheese”- Fontina, velveta, white cheddar, and parmesan all baked with elbow macaroni and topped with panko bread crumbs.

IMG_8746Pasta-3.5

Texture- 3.5

Cheeses- 3

Overall Flavor- 3.5

Describe in one word- “Velveta,” “Velveta,” “Saucy,” “GrilledCheeseSandwich”

 Conclusion-  Slidebar is located in downtown Fullerton, and is known for being loud and crowded at night.  They have a large outdoor space with an outdoor bar where people come and listen to bands play.  We arrived early in the evening, so it wasn’t too crazy yet.  I had never eaten at Slidebar, and their mac ‘n’ cheese was literally on every top list that I read.  When we arrived and I read that it was made with Velveta, I was pretty skeptical.  Slidebar’s mac ‘n’ cheese came out piping hot in a baked dish.  It was very creamy and topped with panko bread crumbs.  The overwhelming flavor of this mac ‘n’ cheese was Velveta.  While this made it extremely creamy, the flavor took over the entire dish.  The pasta was slightly overcooked, and therefore provided no texture other than the bread crumbs on top.  We all agreed that this mac ‘n’ cheese tasted more like a grilled cheese sandwich.  On a side note: our server at Slidebar notified us that their mac ‘n’ cheese has changed multiple times.  She claimed that this is due to the lack in consistency that their original mac ‘n’ cheese had.  She claims that the mac ‘n’ cheese offered now on the menu is the closest to the original mac ‘n’ cheese that everybody loved.

Stop#3: Napa Rose- Anaheim, CA $12.00

The mac ‘n’ cheese: “Truffled mac & cheese”- orecchiette pasta baked with parmigiano-reggiano and truffle oil. 

Pasta- 3.75IMG_8748

Texture- 2.25

Cheeses- 2.5

Overall Flavor- 2.5

Describe in one word- “Watery”, “Rich”, “Truffle”, “Watery”

 Conclusion-  Napa Rose is located in the Grand Californian Hotel at Disneyland.  Although the restaurant is usually busy during this time of year, they have a large bar and lounge area that serves their whole menu.  We sat in the bar area and ordered drinks and two portions of their mac ‘n’ cheese.  Although Napa Rose’s mac ‘n’ cheese is $12.00, it’s served in a small metal pot about the size of a hockey puck- definitely not enough for the six of us!  I was excited to try Napa Rose’s mac ‘n’ cheese because not only had I read glowing reviews about it, but Quentin and I had just seen it featured on the Food Network.  It came out, I stuck my fork in the middle of the dish, and I was immediately disappointed.  It was so watery.  It had no creamy, string-cheesy texture that I was looking for.  Not only was the texture off, but the truffle oil overpowered the dish, and therefore lacked cheese flavor.  Napa Rose was a huge disappointment.  To quote my husband, “I wouldn’t eat it even if it was free”. 

Stop#4: Eat Chow – Multiple locations (Costa Mesa, CA) $12.50

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The mac ‘n’ cheese: “Mac ‘N’ Cheese”- Tillamook cheddar, French goat cheese, Emmentaler swiss, Spanish manchego, muenster, and penne pasta, with a panko parmesan crust. 

Look at that creamy, stringy goodness! Perfection!

Look at that creamy, stringy goodness! Perfection!

Pasta- 3.5

Texture- 4.5

Cheeses- 4.5

Overall Flavor- 4.5

Describe in one word- “Flavah-flave”, “Goaty-licious”, “Cheesy”, “Creamy”

 Conclusion- We arrived at Eat Chow and were ready to eat haha!  Eat Chow is one of those restaurants where everything is just good.  I’ve eaten breakfast and lunch here, and have never been disappointed by anything.  Although Eat Chow has a Mexican flair to their food, it’s also all comfort food.  We ordered the truffle fries and cheesy tots to start, and then a bowl of their regular mac ‘n’ cheese (they also have a truffled mac ‘n’ cheese).  Let me start by saying that the fries and tots were AMAZING!  I would order the cheesy tots every single visit.  I actually almost preferred them to the mac ‘n’ cheese!  The mac ‘n’ cheese came out in a large bowl, and smelled divine.  I stuck my fork in, stirred around for the creamy texture, and then pulled it out with a string of cheese attached.  The texture was everything I was searching for in a perfect mac ‘n’ cheese.  The goat cheese lent such softness and strong flavor to the dish.  My only complaint was that the pasta was overcooked.  If you are looking for carbs combined with cheesy goodness this is your place!! 

Stop #5: Mastro’s Steak house- Multiple locations (Costa Mesa, CA) $13.00

The mac ‘n’ cheese: “Gorgonzola Mac & Cheese”- baked elbow pasta with gorgonzola cheese.

Pasta- 2.75IMG_8764

Texture- 3

Cheeses-3

Overall Flavor- 3.75

Describe in one word- “Let-down”, “homemade”, “Good”, “Dry”

 Conclusion-  Mastro’s, Mastro’s, Mastro’s…there really are no words to describe the food here.  You just have to go.  Mastro’s is known for their simple yet superb seafood and steaks, as well as their delicious butter cake dessert.  Their main dishes are all served a la carte, so their sides are pretty hefty portions.  One of their sides is a gorgonzola mac ‘n’ cheese which is baked in a large skillet.  There was no crunchy topping on this mac ‘n’ cheese, but the topped was baked and crusted nicely.  Overall Mastro’s mac ‘n’ cheese was a disappointment.  The pasta was very overcooked, it was dry, and had a very one-note flavor.  For such a high quality restaurant the mac ‘n’ cheese was definitely lacking.

 Everybody loves comfort food, especially in the cold winter months.  Mac ‘n’ cheese is a comfort food staple that, for most, conjures up good childhood memories.  Mac ‘n’ cheese for adults, however is a whole different ball game.  Eat Chow absolutely crushed it!  Their mixture of multiple cheeses formed one cohesive, flavorful, and memorable dish.  As a year of food journeys comes to an end I’m left with feelings of fullness and gratitude.  Full from all the food 😉 , and grateful to be able to do the things I love with the people I love.  I hope that you have enjoyed reading these as much as I have enjoyed doing them!

“Eating is not merely a material pleasure.  Eating well gives a spectacular joy to life and contributes immensely to goodwill and happy companionship.  It is of great importance to the morale.” – Elsa Schiaparelli