Set the Table turns 2 today! Actually, this is my 6th year of blogging but my 2nd blogging in this space. It all started so innocently as a way to communicated with my family and friends. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I think it’s safe to say that food blogging has become something I can’t live without. It has connected me with so many wonderful people and has helped me to connect with passions I didn’t know I had. Much of the joy I feel for this crazy fun (and sometimes ridiculously difficult) thing I’ve been sucked into is thanks to all of you. Readers and fellow bloggers bring a smile to my face each and every day and I feel so blessed by that not-so-little gift. Because when it comes right down to it, I think all we can ask for is to have people in our lives who give us a reason to smile and help empower us to do what we love. So I’d like to raise a glass (preferably filled with this bubbly, fun French 75) to 2 years of Set the Table.
I have to be honest and say that I almost missed my blogiversary entirely. The past few weeks have been a little ridiculous. Riley got the flu and was sicker than I’ve ever seen him. Braden came down with RSV and consequently was sent to the NICU with bronchiolitis. I had a sinus infection that still hasn’t quite left me alone. And now Riley has a double ear infection. As if life with a new baby weren’t challenging enough, the big guy upstairs decided to give us a bit more to struggle through. We are all doing fine but I won’t lie- there were times when I couldn’t imagine how we would ever climb out of that hole. Fortunately, we had a lot of help with food, laundry, and keeping our spirits as high as possible thanks to our amazing family and church family. Without their help, I’m quite certain I would be crying under the covers right now. Community is important, people. Don’t ever forget that.
We are three weeks into this whole we-have-two-kids life. It has both flown by and moved in slow motion. (Trust me, that is totally possible.) While we certainly experience difficult moments each and every day, this has proven to be easier on us than the first time around. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that we were prepared for all the sleep deprivation, the constant nursing, and the general upheaval of life as we knew it. Whatever the reason, I’m relieved that this little bundle has slid relatively easily into our lives. Riley is being an amazing big brother. He brings little gifts to Braden throughout the day, including his favorite blankie, and doesn’t get upset (yet) when his baby brother is crying and inconsolable.
Another bonus has been that my healing post-Cesarian section has been rather speedy. Could it be that these Nancy Drew Blondies, which I baked and handed out to the nurses at the hospital, had a hand in all of this? I’m going to say yes. At the very least, this little treat brought a smile to the team of nurses that took care of us during our hospital stay. I wanted to make them feel comforted and appreciated because I knew they would make me feel the same way. This recipe from my friend Kamran’s book, Hand Made Baking, did not let me down!
Kamran was one of the first food bloggers I really connected with when I started this crazy gig several years ago. I’ve always admired his grace, both in his craft and his character. He is a wildly talented person with so many good things, recipes and otherwise, to share with the world. When I received his book in the mail and read the dedication he wrote to me (yes, I’m going to humble-brag about that) I immediately teared up. Seeing someone you care about and respect have success like his is such a wonderful thing. One look inside the pages of his book and you can see the immense care and passion he has poured into every photo and recipe.
Kamran, you’ve just begun what I’m sure will be an incredible career. I’m humbled and honored to be even a small part of your journey. Thank you.
Such a huge amount of planning goes into the weeks and months leading up to a baby’s arrival. Most of the planning involves making sure baby has everything necessary to make it through those first few months. Somehow, the parents get lost in the shuffle. With baby #1, I did not do an awesome job of taking care of myself. I didn’t eat enough, didn’t sleep enough (although, who does with a newborn in the house) and because of that I wasn’t able to take care of our new little one to the best of my ability. Yes, we were in a foreign country without family nearby to help us out, but the little things like having energy boosting snacks within arm’s reach would have made a world of difference. Fortunately, I realized the importance of this seemingly small thing and was able to crawl out of the haze that had been the first month of motherhood. This time around, I tried to be as prepared as possible by making some healthy snacks that can easily be eaten one-handed (an important requirement when you have a newborn). There are big jars of Maple Soy Roasted Almonds in different rooms of the house right so I can grab a handful at any time.
This guy may only be a week old, but it hasn’t taken long for me to appreciate having snacks like this at the ready.
Side note: I’m hopelessly in love with this guy. He is the sweetest. Watching both boys together may break my heart a little simply because there is almost too much love happening.
These almonds are so easy to make and store well in an airtight container. They are a little fancier than eating plain almonds but they aren’t overwhelmingly coated in the maple soy glaze. Sweet, salty, and crunchy snack-time perfection. Yes please!
Maple Soy Roasted Almonds
Makes 3 cups
- 3 cups raw almonds
- 1/3 cup low-sodium soy sauce
- 1/3 cup pure maple syrup
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Spread the almonds in a single layer on a large rimmed baking sheet.
- Roast the almonds for 8 minutes to lightly toast them. Meanwhile, stir the soy sauce and maple syrup together in a large bowl.
- Add the almonds to the bowl and toss to coat them in the sauce.
- Line the baking sheet with parchment or spray with cooking spray. Use a slotted spoon to scoop the almonds onto the baking sheet and spread in a single layer.
- Roast the almonds for 15 minutes, stirring once halfway through.
- Sprinkle the almonds with the salt and let them cool slightly for about 2-3 minutes, then transfer them to a large plate to cool completely before transferring to an airtight container.
It seems like it has been 5 million years since I posted a cocktail here and I must say that I’ve missed it. Cocktail Friday was something I started back in my Tokyo Terrace days for a couple of reasons. First, I was really hoping to cut down on our budget for going out. Living in Tokyo, it was easy to blow through a good chunk of change between eating out at Izakayas, spending a few hours at Karaoke, and indulging in a little sushi (all of which go well with Umeshu Soda). We started having at-home happy hours on Friday evenings, which we would often invite our friends to join, which saved us some dough on drinks and apps. Sometimes we would go out afterwards, but a lot of the time we would just make it a stay-in kind of night. The second reason I started Cocktail Fridays was because I didn’t know much about anything but wine and I wanted to expand my horizons. This was a great way to hold myself accountable when it came to learning about various spirits, mixers, etc. Fast forward to today and I still love taking classic cocktail recipes and making them new with the addition of new and unusual ingredients. This Grapefruit Vodka Soda is a perfect example.
I first made this cocktail for my sister, the vodka soda lover in the family, when she was visiting us a couple months ago. My cocktail ingredients were limited, since I hadn’t been keeping things stocked during my pregnancy. However, I scrounged up a bottle of vodka from the freezer, grabbed a grapefruit that was hiding in the fridge, and cracked open a can of my very favorite sparkling water: pamplemousse (aka grapefruit) from La Croix. Yep. That’s all I used to whip up a fresh, seasonal version of the classic vodka soda. Easy peasy, no?
I’m sitting on my sofa looking outside at grey, cloudy skies and a thing blanket of snow that fell last night. I have a small cup of coffee in my hands and I’m soaking up a few quiet moments before the little one wakes up. Even if I get no more than 5 minutes of such peace, I’ll be happy. In 5 days, this will all be a distant memory, I’m sure. The only thing that would make this moment even more perfect would be a bowl of this coconut muesli.
During the rare moments of quiet, I spend most of my time thinking about my first pregnancy. I’d like to share some of that with you, if that’s OK. (If you’re not into hearing birth stories, I won’t be offended if you move on to the recipe portion of this broadcast.) We were living in Japan, which meant I took the train from our quiet train station in the ‘burbs to one of the many bustling city centers called Omotesando. The train ride alone took about 20 minutes, but it was the walking part that was most difficult. At 9 months along, I was heavy in the waddling phase and it took what felt like an eternity to walk a few city blocks. When I finally arrived at the doctor’s office, I would have an ultrasound (yep, they did those at every appointment) before meeting the doctor in his office to discuss any questions. It was very business-like, as you might have guessed.
As my belly gets bigger, I am able to spend less time on my feet in the kitchen. Between my waddling from one counter to another and the belly bumping into things, I think it’s safer for everyone if I just get out of the way. Still, I try to get in he kitchen here and there to make simple things like smoothies or oatmeal for breakfast. I have also been able to muster the strength to make these miso-honey glazed chicken wings a couple of times, much to my husband’s delight. They are sticky, sweet, salty and oh-so-easy. And did I mention they are baked? Well, they are. And that makes them even better and healthier and more appealing.
Here’s what happens: the wings get brown and crispy skin thanks to a 450 degree oven before being brushed with a flavor explosion of miso, honey and a touch of rice vinegar. They are baked for a few more minutes to make the glaze extra sticky before one last coating is brushed on before serving. Done and done.
I’ve mentioned in previous posts that I’m not much of a football fan unless there is delicious food involved. These wings are helpful for getting anyone and everyone through a game. They are also delicious as an appetizer while playing a fierce game of Chutes & Ladders with a 3 year old.
I try not to make a habit of looking back on things too obsessively. I don’t always succeed, but I give myself an ‘A’ for effort. It seems that lingering on what has happened in the past only makes it harder to move forward and become a new, more improved person. That doesn’t mean there aren’t things worth revisiting, but it’s important to put them in a place that is easily tucked away after sufficient time has been spent mulling it over. In 2014, I feel like I experienced the best and the worst of what life has to throw at a person. From the new life growing inside me, waiting to welcome the world with what will no doubt be squirming little legs and curious eyes, to the untimely loss of a friend, to the many things scattered among the grey areas in between, it has been an emotional year. Will looking back and obsessing over all of these things make them any better? Probably not. Instead, I chose to revisit them temporarily. The good and the bad bring lessons that can only help me move forward.
On the less heavy side of things, I have been revisiting my food choices over the past year. As some of you may remember, I took Jacqueline Smith’s Go Sugar Free course around this time last year. I have to say that it was one of the best decisions I made in 2014. Not only am I more aware of what I’m putting in my own body, but I’m better at making sure the foods I feed my family are whole and healthy (more smoothies, please). As I browsed through my blog looking for recipes to share from 2014, I realized that I have a pretty wide range of GSF-friendly meals in my archives. So, instead of making this a “look what happened in 2014″ kind of post, I’m approaching it as more of a “here’s what to cook more of in 2015″ kind of post.
Here is what I loved the most about looking through those recipes:
- They are some of the most naturally beautiful dishes I’ve made
- They are some of the most delicious dishes I’ve made
- I feel good about sharing them with anyone and everyone because they are nourishing and whole and good. And yes.
From pasta to cocktails and everything in between, I love how much I’ve learned about cooking with a sugar free mindset. I don’t feel as restricted as I thought I would. Instead, I feel more free. For my personal version of Go Sugar Free, now that I’m done with the course, I allow myself small amounts of sugar because that works for me. For some, it makes them feel better to cut it out completely. There is flexibility, my friends! And it is a wonderful thing.
If you’re feeling like you need a jump-start to the new year, I highly recommend taking the Go Sugar Free course. The next one begins on January 7th (and registration is open until then unless the course fills up first) and runs through March 14, 2015.
If you’re looking for a reason to get excited about this course, here is a list of my Go Sugar Free friendly recipes from the blog. More will be coming your way this month, but these are a great place to start. Just click on the recipes below to be taken to their homepage where you’ll find more photos, more info on GSF, and the easy steps to make each dish.
- Healthy Strawberry Almond Smoothie
- Acorn Squash Polenta with Coconut & Spiced Brown Butter
- Curried Pumpkin Hummus
- Pumpkin Spice Oatmeal
- Healthy Caprese Pasta Bake
- Wild Rice Salad with Citrusy Tahini Vinaigrette
- Pineapple Coconut Mojito
- Roasted Carrot Soup with Greek Yogurt
- Salmon Sashimi Rice Bowl
- Peanut Butter & Date ‘Jelly’ Bulgur Wheat
- Baked Eggs, Rainbow Chard & Yogurt
- Date Simple Syrup (great for cocktails or for sweetening coffee!)
Even if you don’t sign up for the GSF course, I hope you’ll take a look at Jacqueline’s website. She has some great information and resources there to help you become more conscious of the food you are putting into your body and the routines you set up to make each day a healthier, more focused experience. I can’t think of a better way to start a brand new year.
Cheers to a healthy, happy 2015!
*This post contains affiliate links.
I have big plans for the weekend. We are going to be baking cookies and delivering them to our friends. We are going to be wrapping presents while drinking hot chocolate. We are going to be watching Christmas movies while eating popcorn. We are going to have the best time ever. Admittedly, this won’t be the healthiest weekend ever, but I am doing what I can to create balance by incorporating plenty of veggie-based meals and healthy smoothies to make sure we are still getting the things our bodies need. It’s a tough job but someone has to do it. This Strawberry Almond Smoothie recipe makes my job a lot easier, that’s for sure. Sweet strawberries, unsweetened vanilla almond milk, a couple tablespoons of almond butter, and a healthy dose of wheat germ make this healthy smoothie a tasty, nutrient-packed hit (even with the super picky 3 year old). That makes me happy amidst the seemingly endless stream of Christmas cookies.
This year, we are not traveling anywhere for the holidays. We are staying home, getting ready for baby, praying that the snow they are forecasting for Denver in the days leading up to and including Christmas actually happens, and spending some last precious moments as a family of 3. I think just last night it hit me that this new little one of ours will be here VERY soon. I’ve been aware of the timing, obviously, but it really sunk in last night and now I’m giddy/terrified/anxious about this little boy’s arrival. We bought a big boy bed for our 3 year old last weekend and having that set up has been good. He’s getting used to having two beds in his room, since he’ll be sharing the space eventually, and very sweetly places his blankie in his baby brother’s bed on occasion. The fact that he is so thrilled to be a big brother is a huge help for my sanity. Although, we are in the thick of the terrible 3’s (terrible 2’s are a lie, by the way) and that often triggers a little panic for us parents. It will all work out, I’m sure. We’ll survive, just as we did during those first difficult weeks with our first baby. Will it be hard? Absolutely. Can it be done? Oh, yes. Will there be so much more love to go around? So. Much.
My priorities go something like this right now: spend as much time as possible with the guy in the photo above; take afternoon naps; do yoga; take baths; don’t freak out. And in the midst of all of that I’m working on putting together posts for the blog so I don’t leave you all hanging while I’m a sleep-deprived, mommy zombie. You’re welcome…? Some days are easier than others, but generally life is good. I mean, look at those little hands wrapped around that smoothie. Need I say more? Sweetness.
Christmas is next week. NEXT WEEK. I don’t know if it’s the whole being pregnant thing or perhaps it’s the typical hustle and bustle of the season that has made me lose all track of time, but I am no where near as ready as I like to be with presents, plans, and everything in between. Instead of wrapping presents I’ve been folding baby clothes (they’re so tiny!) and thinking about everything that needs to happen before our new little one arrives in just a few short weeks. Sometimes I worry that I’m not as prepared this time around. Maybe that’s normal for the second baby. Maybe what happens is, since you’ve done it once, you figure having a newborn around is kind of like riding a bike. It isn’t, of course. Riding a bike is much easier. Lucky for me, I have the very best holiday appetizer on hand that can be made ahead and looks pretty and festive and like you spent hours working on it. Cranberry-Jalapeño Relish with Savory Cheesecake = your holiday appetizer secret weapon.
A college friend of mine gave me the relish recipe. It took me a while to get around to making but after one bite I was kicking myself for not making it once a week starting the second she sent me the recipe. Ellie, you’ve made my holiday season easier and more flavorful. Thanks!
This relish could be used for any number of things but I love it over savory cheesecake. My savory cheesecake is simply cream cheese, greek yogurt, garlic salt and a couple of eggs. So simple you won’t even know what to do with yourself. The relish and the cheesecake both last a couple of days in the fridge so they can be made ahead of time. To add a little extra color to the relish before serving, I like to add an additional sprinkle of cilantro. Other than that, the only prep you need to do before serving is to add a few crackers to the platter!