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Friday, November 21, 2014

A Hard Goodbye

I'm not even sure how to begin this post. I suppose I'll come right out with it: it's time to step away from blogging. Whoa, it feels weird to even type that. The Sweets Life has been a huge part of my life for the last five years. It's hard to remember a time when I didn't create a weekly meal plan full of never before tried recipes, take photographs of whatever we were eating for dinner, and spend hours on the computer several nights a week. The process of blogging is so ingrained in me that I can't really imagine stopping, which is kind of why I've delayed it, even though there was a little bug in the back of my head for the last several months telling me it was probably time.
There are thousands of food blogs out there. Tens of thousands. Maybe hundreds of thousands. The Sweets Life is a tiny little fish in a really, really big ocean of food blogs, the majority of which are much more impressive than what I've got here. Given the abundance of food blogs, I'm realistic enough to know me quitting isn't a huge loss to the world of food blogging. I don't say that with false humility or because I'm fishing for compliments...I've never blogged for fame or fortune and I'm grateful to have even a few thousand of you reading regularly! This has been an amazing creative hobby, and one that has brought a lot of perks over the last five years. I will never tire of hearing from readers who've made something they've seen on the blog and fallen in love with it. Just yesterday I got one of those emails and it made my day! Thanks to blogging we've received some pretty fun things in the mail...new cookbooks, a smoker, and countless food products to try. I've had fun "meeting" other bloggers and being inspired by the meals they're creating day in and day out. Most of all, we've eaten really well along the way!

Pork Tenderloin with Date and Cilantro Relish
So why am I quitting? Just because you can do something doesn't mean you should. In other words, I'm able to make blogging work in my life these days, but I don't necessarily want to. The Sweets Life has been a stressor more than anything else lately. I'm scrambling to make new recipes, photograph new recipes, and then get on my computer to do the actual blogging part. I can make it work, but I don't want to anymore. I want that time for other things! My favorite part about all of this has always been the cooking and the sharing food with people, and I can do that part without blogging. Even still, I have second-guessed my decision many times the past few weeks. There was freedom in not rushing to make dinner while it was still light out so that I could take pictures, but at the same time I was sad I wouldn't have the chance to tell you all about what I was making!
Homemade Cracker Jack
 The bottom line, though, is that I'm ready to focus on the really fun parts of my hobby and do away with the really time-consuming part! I love food and eating and all things related, and I'm kind of excited to see how I can incorporate those interests into future endeavors. For now, however, I think it goes without saying that I also want and need to devote more time to my family. Part of the reason I'm not weeks ahead on content like I used to be is because I'd rather spend time with Brecken and Ryan. Ryan has always been 100% supportive of The Sweets Life (he even expressed concern when I first considered quitting a few months back), but I'm ready to just hang out with him in the evenings and not feel like I have to be stuck behind my computer editing photos and drafting posts. 
King Cake
I will genuinely miss a lot of this. Besides passing along our favorite recipes, I enjoy sharing anecdotes of our lives and I know there are at least a few of you who pop in to read those, not for the recipes I'm posting (you are too kind, I'm really not that interesting!). I'm not planning to disappear completely from the internet. I love social media too much! The Sweets Life will stay online for those of you who do come here for recipes, and I myself am excited to start cooking more of my favorites out of the archives. I plan to maintain The Sweets Life Facebook page, where I'll likely post photos and recipe recommendations fairly regularly (almost 6,000 of you "like" that page but probably aren't seeing my posts there due to Facebook notification rules--to make sure you're getting them, follow the instructions here!) On that same note, follow me on Instagram where I'll probably up my food-posting game (and of course the usual abundance of Brecken pictures!). In other words, I'll definitely still be around and it's possible I'll pop back here occasionally. I committed to a few sponsored posts down the road that I may still come back to finish, and I can see myself writing a sporadic post at times simply because a recipe must be shared! On that note, don't hesitate to be in touch...I'm always happy to answer a recipe question or help you plan your party menu. I'm the nerd who gets seriously excited about meal planning...just ask my brother who recently had a weekly meal plan and grocery list sent to him (unwarranted) or my friends who don't dare plan a freezer cook day because they know I want to obsess over those details! You can always get ahold of me at natalie@thesweetslife.com!
Finally, there aren't poignant enough words to end this post, but I do want to give a giant thanks to each and every one of you who have popped in to read. Whether you've been a devoted reader for five years or you Googled your way here today, I am truly honored! It's been way too fun!!!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

12 Non-Pumpkin Pies for Thanksgiving

Check out 12 Non-Pumpkin Pies for Thanksgiving!
by Natalie McLaury at Foodie.com
At 28 years old, I have yet to host Thanksgiving. I have no doubt my time will come and until then, I'm pretty okay with being the sous chef and letting either my mom or my father-in-law, both fantastic cooks, do the bulk of the cooking! This year we'll be with Ryan's family for Thanksgiving and Ryan will actually be smoking a turkey to serve alongside the traditional roasted turkey. An aunt has the desserts covered, but our family abides by the law that there's no such thing as too many desserts, so I'm contemplating what I can contribute to the table next week.

I'm already pretty sold on remaking the Pumpkin Layer Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting, and I know Aunt Julie will be bringing Banana Pudding (non-traditional for Thanksgiving, maybe, but the best) and her famous chocolate cookies. Even with all of those options, I can't help but think we need some pie. It's Thanksgiving after all! I know a lot of you don't like pumpkin pie (don't worry, we can still be friends) and since our bases are covered when it comes to a pumpkin dessert, I've instead put together a collection of non-pumpkin pies that can be found on Foodie.

A few years ago I made the Salted Caramel Pie and I'm still pretty partial to that one, although part of me says we're already abandoning the traditional desserts so maybe we should go for the crowd-pleasing Reese's Fudge Pie! From chocolate pies to pecan pies to Biscoff pies to pie milkshakes, I have some serious decision-making to do before next week!
Reese's Fudge Pie

Check out the entire collection on Foodie, and let me know what pie you're making for Thanksgiving!

Note-I wrote this post as a sponsored Foodie contributor, but all thoughts and opinions are my own!

One Year Ago: Green Curry Shrimp with Vegetables
Four Years Ago: Bananas Foster and Pumpkin Knots

Monday, November 17, 2014

Beer Braised Brisket over Polenta with Onion Jam

Note, this post is sponsored by Fiji Water-Perfection Takes Time, but all thoughts, opinions, and content are my own!

Beer Braised Brisket over Polenta with Onion Jam | The Sweets Life
We are a family that is always on the go. A free weeknight is rare, a weekend, even rarer. I'm usually thinking two steps ahead and rushing full speed to get there. As I result, I tend to opt for quick and easy meals. Unfortunately, as much as I strive for efficiency, too often I fall into the trap of taking shortcuts and rushing through life. When I purposefully take a step back, slow down, and, cliche as it sounds, enjoy the ride, I witness a bit of perfection that would otherwise never come to fruition. I've noticed this in parenthood, in my marriage, and, yes, in my food. There's something particularly satisfying about a meal that you planned and then took time perfecting, far more satisfying than a rushed and distracted thirty minutes. 
Pin ItBeer Braised Brisket over Polenta with Onion Jam | The Sweets Life
The fact of the matter is, sometimes the best things in life take a little extra time.... waiting for homemade ice cream to churn and then freeze is ultimately more rewarding than anything you can eat out of a carton, Fiji Water, yes, you know the fancy water I'm talking about, tastes particularly fresh because it is tapped at the source after its journey from cloud to aquifer, and that ten year old friendship that's been cultivated over years is always going to mean more than the new acquaintance down the street. The same can be said about this beer-braised brisket served over cheesy polenta.
Beer Braised Brisket over Polenta with Onion Jam | The Sweets Life

It's a two day process, beginning with a four hour cook in the oven, an overnight rest to soak up flavor, and a final reheat of the tender meat. The finished product melts in your mouth; the creamy polenta sops up all of the juices left behind and the caramelized onion jam takes the entire dish up a notch. This recipe is a labor of love, and one that deservedly tastes as such! Learn this lesson alongside of me; when you slow down enough to savor something, even at the expense of your supposedly valuable time, you gain perspective, patience, and, dare I say it, perfection!

For the recipe, and many other 'Perfection Takes Time' Recipes, head over to Fiji Water!

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Odds & Ends

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1. 25 Things to Know About Money Before You Turn 25. Solid list, even if you're older than 25!
(image source)

2. JOGGERS! Call them slim sweatpants, joggers, or something else. Whatever they are, I'm obsessed! I now have two pairs, a dark gray pair from Marshall's and a black pair from H&M. I bought my brother some for his birthday, also from H&M, and next up I'm thinking Brecken needs a pair. I'm loving the round-up on Hellobee!

3. In September I cooked a birthday dinner for my mom, and a small group of family and friends. I never got around to photographing any of the food, but it would be a disservice not to mention a few of the recipes I made that night because the entire meal was a huge hit. Do yourself a favor and bookmark these--we loved them and I will be making them both again sometime!

Baby Kevin, and cousins Eoin & Brecken measuring him up!
4. I have a new nephew! My sister-in-law Kate had Kevin Wain last Wednesday. He's perfectly healthy and perfectly gorgeous. Brecken is going to have her hands full with THREE boy cousins, all within one year of her age. I feel so fortunate to raise these kids alongside my wonderful sister and sisters-in-law!

Friday, November 14, 2014

Scrambled Grains with Mushrooms

Scrambled Grains with Mushrooms | The Sweets Life
Scrambled Grains with Mushrooms 

I hint at our work lives on this blog from time to time, so long-time readers may recall that for years Ryan and I worked for the same company (and carpooled to work!). He changed jobs a few months ago and while I really miss being chauffeured to and from work each day, this job is a much better fit for him and it's exciting to see him doing something he loves so much. We're no longer coming and going at the same time and there are times that he has a later meeting and doesn't make it home for that crucial "mom's trying to get dinner on the table and Brecken needs to be occupied" period. As long as Brecken isn't hungry or tired this is no big deal, she's more than happy to sit at my feet and play (she prefers tupperware and spice bottles over actual toys, go figure). There are days, however, when she just wants to be held and because I'm a sucker for baby cuddles, especially after a long day at work, I'm more than happy to acquiesce. 
Pin ItScrambled Grains with Mushrooms | The Sweets Life

Because I only have two arms, baby cuddling and making dinner is an impossible feat, which is why I'm forever grateful for my Ergo. For the record, this isn't a sponsored post or anything, I just really love my ergo. Depending on her mood (and how she napped that day!), Brecken either loves to burrow in and have some cozy quiet time or she's interested in every move I make, arms flailing trying to "help" me stir or saute or plate. Either way I'm happy for the time together, but I prefer simple meals without a ton of work because even with Brecken tucked away in the Ergo, cooking is automatically more complicated. This scrambled grains meal was on the menu on one such night and making it while wearing her was doable (meaning if you're doing this sans child, it's even easier!). This dish is very similar to one of my all-time favorites, Quinoa Fried Rice. I used mushrooms (pre-sliced, a lifesaver) and kale, but much like the Quinoa Fried Rice, you can use whatever vegetables you have on hand. You can also swap any grains for the quinoa. This is a great weeknight meal options--it's fast and healthy, and got the Brecken (and Ryan and Natalie!) stamp of approval!

Four Years Ago: Recipe Rewind and Shrimp Fajitas
Five Years Ago: Candy Sushi and Asian Meatballs

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Crostini with Roasted Vegetable Spread and Havarti

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Crostini with Roasted Vegetable Spread and Havarti | The Sweets Life
Crostini with Roasted Vegetable Spread and Havarti
I'm one of those people who has no problem eating the same food over and over again. So long as it's something I like, I'm totally down with leftovers...two, three, even four days in a row! I get that not everyone is that way, however, but I'm going to offer you the best of both worlds today. I'm obsessed with this roasted vegetable puree. It's easy to make (especially if you have a food processor), makes a huge batch, and is healthy to boot! I was first introduced to it earlier this year when we visited our besties Katie and Matt in New York. Katie went above and beyond her hostess duties and prepared an array of foods for us throughout our visit, this spread being my favorite. We mostly used it on sandwiches (highly recommend it with melty cheddar and avocado!), but by the time we were headed home I was dreaming up all sorts of ways to use it.
Crostini with Roasted Vegetable Spread and Havarti | The Sweets Life

The spread has proven as versatile as I had hoped. It's excellent inside an omelet, divine as a pizza crust, and as you see here, the perfect topping for crostini. Appetizers don't get much easier than this. Slice & toast bread, top bread with the roasted veggie spread & cheese, and bake til warm and melted. I stuck with Castello's Aged Havarti, which is quickly becoming one of my favorite cheese. Much like the roasted vegetable spread its paired with here, havarti is totally multifunctional. I've broken away from always using mozzarella on pizza and find the buttery havarti adds a unique flavor element. I love what the cheese does when pressed inside two pieces of bread in my panini press. Of course it goes without saying that I don't mind it sliced and eaten with crackers, salami, and wine!
Crostini with Roasted Vegetable Spread and Havarti | The Sweets Life
Even if I don't mind eating the same foods time and time again, you don't have to! Whip up some vegetable spread, pick up some havarti, and let creativity fly free!

Crostini with Roasted Vegetable Spread and Havarti
-1 medium eggplant
-2 red bell peppers, seeded
-1 red onion, peeled
-2 garlic cloves, minced
-3 tbsp olive oil
-1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
-1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
-1 tbsp tomato paste
-1 baguette, thinly sliced
-4 oz shredded Havarti

1. To make the roasted vegetable spread, preheat oven to 400F. Cut the eggplant, bell peppers, and onion into 1-inch pieces. Toss with olive oil, garlic, salt, and pepper. Spread on a foil-lined baking sheet and roast for 45 minutes, until vegetables are lightly browned and soft (toss once during cooking).
2. Allow vegetables to cool slightly before pulsing in a food processor with tomato paste, pulsing to blend to desired level of smoothness. Season with salt and pepper, as needed. *Roasted vegetable spread can be made several days ahead of time. Store in an airtight container in the fridge.
3. To make the crostini, line a baking sheet with foil. Place sliced bread on prepared baking sheet and bake at 400F for 10-12 minutes, until golden and toasted. Remove from oven and top each with roasted vegetable spread. Sprinkle with cheese and return to oven for 3-5 minutes, until cheese is melted. Serve immediately or at room temperature. 

spread from Ina Garten, crostini an original recipe

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Ginger Pear Loaf Cake

Ginger Pear Loaf Cake | The Sweets Life
Ginger Pear Loaf Cake 
We don't buy a ton of pre-packaged snacks in our house. A large part of this is because we don't have the pantry space for excessive amounts of chips and cookies, which I've mentioned before. Granted, you will always find at least one bag of tortilla chips and a few boxes of cereal on hand, but for the most part if we're snacking, we are snacking on something homemade. I'm not claiming that baked goods are healthy, far from it most of the time, but at least I know exactly what I'm putting in whatever I'm baking and I can pronounce the entire ingredient list, which is more than I can say for a lot of the things you'll find on grocery store shelves. I don't have the time to make homemade crackers or cheez-its week in and week out, but things like this loaf cake come together in mere minutes. I bake so often that I can practically do it in my sleep, measuring out flour, sugar, and spices, whisking wet and dry ingredients, pouring into a prepared pan, and before I know it there are alluring smells wafting from the kitchen. 
Pin ItGinger Pear Loaf Cake | The Sweets Life
This snack cake is far from extravagant. I'm willing to bet you already have most of the ingredients, except maybe the candied ginger. The base recipe is slightly sweet and yields a blank canvas perfect for incorporating your favorite mix-ins. I was partial to the pear and candied ginger, being that its both seasonal and a little nontraditional, but I could also see apples and walnuts or cranberries and pistachios also working nicely. I found the cake best the first two days after it had been made, and I'm willing to bet yours won't last much longer!

Three Years Ago: Pumpkin Popovers and Turkey Tacos

Monday, November 10, 2014

Pumpkin Layer Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

Pumpkin Layer Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting | The Sweets Life
Pumpkin Layer Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting 
Working in an office environment, you can guarantee that at least a few times a month you'll walk into the galley and find an array of "treats" before you. More often than not, I dismiss them without a second thought. At the risk of sounding like a food snob, store-bought treats aren't all that enticing to me and I usually pass them up (aside from the occasional Panera bagel, which has the magical ability to turn a bad day right around!). Homemade treats, on the other hand, are a totally different story. These are fewer and farther between and when one appears, I am definitely partaking...one coworker's wife makes the best chocolate chip blondies and another coworker's wife makes these gluten free chocolate walnut cookies that I have the recipe for but am resisting making because I know I'll eat the whole batch! This pumpkin cake was brought in for Boss's Day back in October. After devouring a slice, I literally had to sit on my hands to keep myself from going back for more, releasing them only to email the baker and beg for the recipe.
Pin ItPumpkin Layer Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting | The Sweets Life
Three days later, I had an entire pumpkin cake at my disposal. If you saw my post on Instagram, you know I was tempted to keep the entire cake for myself. Gluttonous? YES, but if ever there was a cake worthy of a little glutton, this is the one! I thought I already had my favorite pumpkin cake and I'm not going to declare a winner until I taste them side by side, but today's is a bit simpler in that you don't have to worry about browning butter AND you're not trying to perfect your frosting skills--mounding it on top and sprinkling with nuts makes for a gorgeous (but easy!) presentation. Bottom line--this cake is a must make. I received texts from both my sister AND my sister-in-law praising it after leaving them with pieces. My friends from community group cleaned their plates. (Yes, I decided to share!) Pie is the traditional Thanksgiving dessert, but it would be a mistake not to offer a cake option as well...this cake!
Pumpkin Layer Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting | The Sweets Life

One Year Ago: Odds & Ends
Three Years Ago: Waldorf Tuna Salad and Salted Caramel Pie

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Odds & Ends

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Odds & Ends | The Sweets Life

1. 4 Truths About Our Post-Baby Bodies. I've listened to a few friends and read a few blog posts lately where women bemoan (or pessimistically anticipate) the changes they're undergoing in pregnancy or their post-baby bodies. I like the truths this article mentions. While good genes and taking care of my body means I don't feel that different post-Brecken than pre-Brecken, there are definitely things that will never be the same and that's okay! I'm in awe of how amazing our bodies are and I don't ever want Brecken to hear me saying something negative about my body. Women, it's up to us...beauty is where you find it...preach it and live it!

(image source)
2. I think I am one of the last people ever to catch onto the awesomeness of Humans of New York. It wasn't until I read through the entire book when visiting our friends Katie and Matt in New York that I became hooked on the premise (and spent the rest of our trip observing each person we passed and wondering what their story was). Bottom line: people are fascinating.
Gratuitous baby photo (now 2+ months ago...CRAZY), unrelated to anything else! 
3. 15 Career Tips from Smart Women.

Pumpkin Cranberry Bread

4. What are you doing with pumpkin this fall? I've been sticking to favorites, versus trying new recipes lately, including pumpkin cranberry bread (pictured above), the best pumpkin chocolate chip cookies, and whole-wheat pumpkin waffles!

One Year Ago: Holiday Cheesecake Trifle with Spice Cake and Cranberry Orange Sauce
Two Years Ago: Slow Cooker Sweet Potato Cauliflower Bisque with Avocado
Three Years Ago: Whole Wheat Pumpkin Waffles
Four Years Ago: Pumpkin Spice Roasted Chickpeas

Friday, November 7, 2014

Pesto Mushroom Jalapeño Pizza

Pesto Mushroom Jalapeño Pizza | The Sweets Life
Pesto Mushroom Jalapeño Pizza 
My favorite way to vacation is by renting a house vs. staying in a hotel. We've done that for a lot of our travels over the past few years, renting places in D.C., Arizona, and Charleston, to name a few, and now that we have Brecken, renting a house is absolutely the better option. We like being able to put Brecken in a separate room and not worrying about disturbing her if we stay up later. We also like more SPACE because goodness knows between all the stuff babies need and my terrible propensity to overpack. Most of all, we like having amenities like a washer and dryer and a kitchen! Much as I love exploring new restaurants on vacation, it's nice to be able to prepare some meals or stay in for easy breakfasts or lunches. On our most recent trip to Orlando for my cousin's wedding, my entire family rented a beautiful house with laundry facilities, bedrooms for all (no easy feat now that there are 8 of us plus 2 babies!), and a POOL. It also had a kitchen that we took advantage of, but on our last evening there we were tired from rocking the dance floor at the wedding and splashing around with the babies in the pool, and we opted to order in pizza.
Pin ItPesto Mushroom Jalapeño Pizza | The Sweets Life
I've heard of Mellow Mushroom, but this was my first introduction to the pizza chain and we were impressed by the inventive topping combinations and the right balance of toppings to crust / sauce / cheese (in my book more toppings is always better!). Of the three we tried, the Magical Mystery Tour was my favorite. The best part of that pizza was the heat from the jalapenos and I knew the next pizza I made at home would include the spicy pepper! My version is slightly different, I swapped havarti for the feta and mozzarella, simply because that was what I had on hand (although my sister and I decided this was even better than the original!) and completely forgot about the spinach (I'll add next time!), but even without the green veggie I'm willing to bet my version was decidedly healthier and undoubtedly tastier! This homemade pizza is about as easy as it gets, if you buy premade pesto and use presliced mushrooms, making it perfect for a weeknight dinner. And you can't beat eating pizza in the middle of the week that tastes like vacation!
Pesto Mushroom Jalapeño Pizza | The Sweets Life
One Year Ago: Linguine with Brussels Sprouts, Cranberries, and Caramelized Onions
Two Years Ago: Spicy Panfried Chickpeas with Lemon, Thyme, and Shallots and Slow Cooker Sweet Potato Cauliflower Bisque with Avocado
Three Years Ago: Whole Wheat Pumpkin Waffles and M&M Cookie Bars
Four Years Ago: Butternut Squash and Kale Minestrone and Pumpkin Spice Roasted Chickpeas

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Peanut Butter and Jelly Coffee Cake

Peanut Butter and Jelly Coffee Cake | The Sweets Life
Peanut Butter and Jelly Coffee Cake 

I'm not going to belabor this point because you've heard me say it again and again, but peanut butter and jelly is, in my opinion, one of the most perfect foods out there. I prefer it with wheat bread and raspberry jam, but I'm indifferent on the crunchy vs. creamy debate. It goes without saying, then, that I fell hard for this peanut butter and jelly coffee cake! Thank you Maria for enlightening me because while I can totally get on board with a regular 'ol pb & j for breakfast, incorporating it into a coffee cake is straight up brilliant.
Pin ItPeanut Butter and Jelly Coffee Cake | The Sweets Life
My friend Kacey had given me some homemade blueberry strawberry jam that I used and it was awesome, but you can definitely swap in your favorite jam or jelly. (Side note: I cannot get behind grape jelly! As in, I can't eat a pb & j if the j is grape!) Thankfully I had plans to bring this to church or else I would've demolished the entire pan; don't say I didn't warn you! My only change would be to use crunchy peanut butter (Maria did; I didn't have any on hand) or add some chopped peanuts to the streusel for a little bit of texture.
Peanut Butter and Jelly Coffee Cake | The Sweets Life

For more pb & j inspired creations, try this fruit crisp, these dessert bars, or these ice cream cheesecakes!

One Year Ago: Mexican Pot Pie
Two Years Ago: Peanut, Cabbage, and Carrot Slaw and Roasted Vegetable and Refried Bean Tostadas
Three Years Ago: Curried Chickpeas with Couscous and Pumpkin Oatmeal Scotchies
Four Years Ago: Roasted Eggplant Pasta with Goat Cheese and Pumpkin Sour Cream Coffee Cake