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Saturday, May 31, 2014

Odds & Ends

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Odds & Ends | The Sweets Life

1. Last week we bought the best strawberries from the grocery store. They were insanely plump and juicy and sweet! I didn't do anything special with them, except eat them straight from the container. However, next time I get some, I'm going to have to try one of these 20 Healthy Strawberry Recipes from Cooking Light!

2. If you follow me on Instagram, you know my favorite photography subject is little Miss Brecken! I've had to delete hundreds of photos off of my iPhone to make room for more Brecken pics, and while I love the convenience of pulling out my phone to snap a photo, I also try to be intentional about getting out my "real" camera to get higher-quality photos. This blog post on Tricks for Photographing Babies inspired me to change things up next time I'm photographing Brecks!

3. My sister-in-law Erin recommended I read Dinner: A Love Story, so I picked it up from the library a few weeks ago and read the entire thing in 24 hours. Though I didn't read Jenny Rosenstrach's blog of the same name (I do now!), I was familiar with her column in Bon Appetit magazine and always enjoyed it. The book is just a gem--part memoir, part cookbook, and part "how to get your family to eat dinner together", I loved it all!

Chicken Sandwiches with Artichoke Pesto
4. It's the time of year when pesto is all the rage, with everyone's basil plants blooming like crazy. I love a traditional basil pesto as much as the next person, but might I recommend you try these chicken sandwiches with artichoke pesto?! I plan to make these again soon--so good!

One Year Ago: Chunky Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies with Fleur de Sel
Two Years Ago: Salted Caramel Pretzel Ice Cream
Three Years Ago: Asian Noodle Salad
Four Years Ago: Blue Cheese Cole Slaw

Friday, May 30, 2014

Quinoa Granola Bars

Quinoa Granola Bars | The Sweets Life
Quinoa Granola Bars
I have always thrived on organization and schedules, but in spite of that, I was still overwhelmed with the prospect of returning to work after maternity leave. Now that I’m a few weeks in, it feels a lot more manageable, although that’s not to say it isn’t a challenge! When I get home in the evenings, I am dedicated to enjoying those precious hours with Brecken and Ryan. I’m not interested in spending excessive amount of time cooking or cleaning or doing anything else “household” related.
Pin ItQuinoa Granola Bars | The Sweets Life
In order to keep my evenings as open as possible, I’m trying to be diligent about being productive on the weekends during naptime. These quinoa bars are the perfect thing to make a batch of, package individually, and then freeze. When I’m making my lunch in the evenings, I simply grab one and throw it in my bag without giving it a second thought. (Here’s where you could argue I could just buy granola bars…)

Quinoa Granola Bars | The Sweets Life
There are quite a few granola bars that you’ll find on The Sweets Life, and almost all of them start with an oatmeal base. The quinoa used here was a refreshing change of texture while still offering plenty of nutrition. Like many granola bar recipes, many of the ingredients are interchangeable—use your favorite dried fruits and nuts to custom make something to suit your tastes!

One Year Ago: Bacon Apple Butter Flatbreads with Caramelized Onions and Gouda and Pound Cake with Strawberry Topping
Two Years Ago: Herb Roasted Chicken with Lemon and Sage and Dried Mango Coconut Muffins
Three Years Ago: Spicy Stuffed Mushrooms and Lemony Kale Pasta
Four Years Ago: Peanut Butter Brownie Cups and Grilled Fattoush

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Asparagus and Tomatoes with Feta

Asparagus and Tomatoes with Feta | The Sweets Life
Asparagus and Tomatoes with Feta

My mom is one of those hostesses who always goes all out. You think you’re showing up for a casual dinner and you arrive to find a beautiful set table, enough appetizers to be considered a full meal, and a meticulously prepared dessert. Although I aspire to someday pull this off, right now I consider it success if my side dish is something other than kale chips, my classic fallback.
Pin ItAsparagus and Tomatoes with Feta | The Sweets Life

It turns out serving a meal complete with impressive side dishes, whether for your family or your dinner guests, is totally possible when the side dish is this easy! Confession: I made this for me, myself, and I one afternoon on maternity leave…proof it’s even easy enough to do with a baby underfoot! There’s nothing complex about the ingredients or the preparation, but it looks and tastes like you’ve put significant effort into it…perfect for those of us who haven’t quite mastered the over-achiever hostess role!
Asparagus and Tomatoes with Feta | The Sweets Life

One Year Ago: Crispy Candy Bar Cookies and Summer Salad with Walnuts and Raspberries 
Two Years Ago: Cook's Illustrated Chocolate Chip Cookies 
Three Years Ago: Broccoli Pesto Dip and Warm Avocado Salad
Four Years Ago: Baked Pear and Gorgonzola Salad and Whole Wheat Focaccia with Olives and Tomatoes

Monday, May 26, 2014

Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies

Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies | The Sweets Life
Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies
After Brecken was born, so many people brought us meals to help us transition into parenthood without having to worry about getting dinner on the table. My friend Stephanie was one of those people and, knowing me well, she was sure to include dessert when she dropped off dinner. Steph had told me about her new favorite chocolate chip cookies, which contained a secret ingredient. I was intrigued, especially when I discovered that the secret ingredient was different than the secret ingredient chocolate chip cookies I’d previously made. I'm actually a regular reader of Kelsey's blog, but had completely forgotten about this recipe!
Pin ItChewy Chocolate Chip Cookies | The Sweets Life
The secret ingredient here? Cornstarch! Although the recipe only contains 2 tsp cornstarch, it transforms these cookies into the chewiest, softest little gems you could ever imagine. I’m embarrassed to say how quickly Ryan and I polished off Steph’s batch of cookies, and even more embarrassed to say how quickly I found myself in the kitchen whipping up another batch of them.
Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies | The Sweets Life
Bottom line—everyone has their favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe, and their favorite style of chocolate chip cookie. I’m not suggesting you abandon yours, but promise me you’ll at least give this one a try…I’m willing to bet you won’t be disappointed! Perfect treat to make on your day off today, yes?

Also, just a word of remembrance for the many men and women we are honoring today on Memorial Day!

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Odds & Ends

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odds & ends

1. "I'm Too Busy For You." Blowing Up The Myth of Busyness This article was brought to my attention in a post of Alli Vesterfelt's and it totally hit home. I am perpetually "busy" and have taken time to evaluate this and my priorities, in light of Brecken but also just as I determine the kind of life I want to live.
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2. Looking for a new book to read? Look no further. The Invention of Wings is an unforgettable novel based on a true story about two women, a slave and the slave's owner, set in Charleston in the 1830s.

(image source)
3. I made this Reese's Peanut Butter Popcorn for my sister's baby shower a few weeks ago and it did not disappoint! If you love peanut butter and chocolate treats, you'll have a hard time resisting!

Berry Coffee Cake with Cinnamon Streusel
Berry Coffee Cake with Cinnamon Streusel 
4. It's been a few years since I blogged this Berry Coffee Cake with Cinnamon Streusel, but I was reminded of it when reader Jess left a comment a few weeks ago, saying she made it and loved it! Now that berries are in season, this is definitely worth making again (and again and again!).

One Year Ago: Citrus Cheesecake Bars
Two Years Ago: Memorial Day Remembrance 
Three Years Ago: BLT Bread Salad
Four Years Ago: Caramel Brownies

Friday, May 23, 2014

Coca-Cola Cake

Coca Cola Cake | The Sweets Life
Coca-Cola Cake
When I was in 8th grade, our basketball coach suggested that the team stop drinking soda (or pop, as it was called in Illinois) during the season. Given that I was new to the school and the team, I didn’t want to be the only one chugging carbonated drinks from November to February and I quickly abandoned the Sprite that usually accompanied pizza on the weekends or the orange soda I was partial to anytime we stopped for fast food. The season came to an end and I discovered that I didn’t miss soda, and just like that, it was completely extinct from my diet. Well, extinct minus the occasional root beer float!
Pin ItCoca Cola Cake | The Sweets Life
Today, it’s a rare occasion to find soda of any kind in our refrigerator. When I picked up some coke to make our favorite BBQ sauce, I came close to tossing the rest, knowing it would sit lonely in the fridge until I went on a cleaning rampage and disposed of it. Instead, I did a little Googling and decided not to let it go to waste!
Coca Cola Cake | The Sweets Life
This coke cake reminds me a lot of Texas Sheet Cake. It’s not only a good way to use up the last of that bottle of cola, it’s also an easy way to get you chocolate fix and feed a crowd. The cake is rich and sweet enough that you only need a small piece to satisfy…although I won’t blame you if you find yourself eating small piece and after small piece!

One Year Ago: Turkey Burgers with Lemon Mayonnaise and Guacamole Tostadas with Sweet Potato and Fried Eggs
Two Years Ago: Red Potatoes with Olives, Feta, and Mint and Lemon Poppyseed Gobs with Blueberry Filling
Three Years Ago: Mexican Salad with Pomegranate Lime Dressing and Grilled Chicken Fajitas
Four Years Ago: Quinoa Salad with Cucumber, Shrimp, Mango, and Mint and Creamy Caper Sauce

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Vegetarian Beet Reubens

Vegetarian Beet Reubens | The Sweets Life
Vegetarian Beet Reubens
Beets will forever conjure up memories of one of my most hilarious conversations with a co-worker. It was the first time I’d really spent any time with him and at a crowded and loud business dinner there was a mix-up with he, my friend, and I between the words beets and beads. It’s definitely one of those “you had to be there” moments, but suffice it to say things get real awkward when one of you is talking about necklaces and the other one is talking about a vegetable!
Pin ItVegetarian Beet Reubens | The Sweets Life

As weird of a connotation that is, I have no qualms about beets! These pseudo reubens are easily my new favorite sandwich. To be fair, I haven’t had a classic reuben in years (or ever?), so I’m not going to tell you this is the perfect meatless substitute for your favorite. However, I can tell you that these are delicious in their own right! Roasted beets are combined with a homemade thousand island-esque dressing, sauerkraut, and Swiss cheese resulting in something spectacular. Promise me you’ll give this odd combo a try—I think you’ll be amazed by how well it works!
Vegetarian Beet Reubens | The Sweets Life
One Year Ago: Raspberry Tart and "Cheesy" Pizza Broccoli 
Two Years Ago: 2012 Eat & Repeat-The Block and Chicken with Kale and Freekeh-Lentil Pilaf
Three Years Ago: Black Beans and Coconut Lime Rice and Chicken Stuffed with Spinach, Feta, and Pine Nuts
Four Years Ago: Carrot Salad with Raspberry Vinaigrette and Poppyseed Bread

Monday, May 19, 2014

Buffalo Chicken Kale Salad

Buffalo Chicken Kale Salad | The Sweets Life
Buffalo Chicken Kale Salad
One of my favorite memories of maternity leave is the week Brecken and I spent in Illinois at my parents’ house. We headed north to attend my sister’s baby shower one weekend, and to celebrate Easter the following weekend. There weren’t any special plans for the week in-between, but we stuck around and soaked up quality time with my mom and dad, more commonly referred to now as grandma and grandpa!
Pin ItBuffalo Chicken Kale Salad | The Sweets Life
The leisurely mornings spent enjoying my mom’s homemade granola and sipping mugs of coffee stretched into afternoons of shopping and running errands. It might not seem like anything extraordinary, but it was special simply because our visits ‘home’ are usually way too short and packed with activities. I made dinner a few of the nights that week, which was an absolute treat in the brand new, amazingly remodeled kitchen (picture the most amazing kitchen you’ve seen on Pinterest or in a home magazine, multiply it by 100, and it still wouldn’t compare!).
Buffalo Chicken Kale Salad | The Sweets Life

This buffalo kale salad was far and away the favorite meal I made that week. It was inspired by another recipe I saw online, which took hot-sauce marinated chicken and threw it on some kale. I switched things up, massaged the marinade into the kale to soften it, and topped it with shredded kitchen, carrots, celery, and cheese. Although you see parmesan pictured, I highly recommend picking up some blue cheese, which would’ve been our first choice had we not been trying to avoid a trip to the grocery store! Thanks to this salad, you slash the calories normally involved with buffalo chicken without sacrificing any of the classic flavor that everyone loves!

One Year Ago: San Diego Eats (Part II)
Two Years Ago: Gooey Sandwich Cookie Bars and Spicy Kettle Corn
Three Years Ago: Chocolate Almond Layered Cheesecake and Peanut Butter Banana French Toast Enchiladas
Four Years Ago: Babe Ruth Bars and Open-Faced Veggie Sandwiches

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Odds & Ends

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odds & ends

1. 20 Habits to Quit in the Next Year.

2. Baby product recommendation! Brecken LOVES her playmat. Day after day we lay her on it and she still isn't bored by it. It's been hilarious to watch her progression of first just hanging out doing nothing to noticing the hanging animals to punching the hanging animals to grabbing the hanging animals! This is a great toy to keep immobile babies happy--she literally kicks her legs in excitement!
Garlic and Hummus Tortilla Chips - Aldi
3. If you're an Aldi shopper, be on the lookout for these chips! I picked them up on a whim a few weeks ago and they're now a regular part of the grocery list...we eat them with salsa but they're also flavorful enough to eat on their own. 

The Sweets Life | Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting
Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting
4. I love this Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting as is, but my friend Sarah made a play on the original version, subbing almond extract in for the bourbon and the vanilla extract and omitting the cinnamon, and it was fantastic! I love anything with almond extract (like these cookies...mmmm!) and this cake was no different! Have you made an adjustment to a recipe you found here? Tell me about it!

One Year Ago: Roasted Cauliflower Grilled Cheese with JalapeƱo Aioli 
Two Years Ago: Spinach Salad with Beets, Asparagus, Caramelized Onions, Lentils, and Feta
Three Years Ago: Strawberry, Mango, Avocado Salad
Four Years Ago: Whole Wheat Banana Walnut Pancakes

Friday, May 16, 2014

Bacon and Cheese Stuffed Peppers

Bacon and Cheese Stuffed Peppers | The Sweets Life
Bacon and Cheese Stuffed Peppers
 When in doubt, add cheese to it. Right?? Unless you're vegan, in which case, you probably aren't reading this blog anyway! I found myself with an extra package of miniature peppers on hand and while the health conscious thing to do would be to slice 'em up and eat them plain or even with hummus, I decided something more fun was in store!
Pin ItBacon and Cheese Stuffed Peppers | The Sweets Life
With two kinds of cheese (cream cheese and mozzarella), these are absolutely delightful. I kept the rest of the filling simple--just bacon, green onions, and a few spices--in part because I already had these ingredients on hand, but also because for an appetizer like this, less is more. These can be prepped ahead of time and then baked just before serving!
Bacon and Cheese Stuffed Peppers | The Sweets Life
As with a lot of my recipes, make these your own. Skip the bacon and wrap them in prosciutto (dang it! why didn't I do that?!). Add your favorite cheese. Use different spices. The come back here and tell me what you did so that I have some inspiration next time I get overzealous buying mini peppers!

One Year Ago: Barbacoa Tacos and Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread
Two Years Ago: Chewy Peanut Butter Butterscotch Cookies and Slow Cooker Indonesian Chicken with Peanut Sauce 
Three Years Ago: S'Mores Ice Cream Pie and Spinach Artichoke Flatbread Pizzas
Four Years Ago: Spring Greens Dinner Salad and Peach Amaretto Upside Down Cake

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Nacho Burgers

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Nacho Burgers | The Sweets Life
Nacho Burgers

I think everyone was on the same page when the first warm day of 2014 hit. For some of you, that might’ve been in January (lucky you!). For others, it took a bit longer. In St. Louis, it was just as March was coming to a close, and we were treated with a balmy, sunny Sunday. I, along with everyone else in the neighborhood, quickly got outside, abandoning all other plans for the day. When dinnertime struck, I had one thing on the mind—burgers! It was perfect grilling weather, but I was sorely unprepared and almost succumbed to our original dinner plans.

In a flash of spontaneity (unheard of for this meal-planner!), I grabbed Brecken and ran to the grocery store where we picked up pre-made black and blue patties. Ryan fired up the grill and we enjoyed the most perfect dinner, eaten outside and without coats! The next time I saw a warm Sunday on the forecast, I got my act together and planned for burgers.

Hailing from Food and Wine Magazine’s issue featuring the “best” of their recipes, I had high hopes for these nacho burgers. Thankfully, all expectations were met. Maybe it was the once again perfect day enjoyed outdoors, but it’s also a really solid recipe. The patties themselves are pretty basic, and it’s the toppings that shine here. The original recipe features a homemade salsa, a spicy cheese sauce, and corn chips. I swapped avocado for the corn chips and don’t regret that decision one bit! Check your weather—next time you see grilling weather, put these on the menu!

Note—veggie burgers more your thing? These toppings also go well atop the Zesty White Bean burgers!

Four Years Ago: Peach Pie and Broccoli Spinach Strata

Monday, May 12, 2014

Peanut Butter Oatmeal Cookies with Chia Seeds

Peanut Butter Oatmeal Cookies with Chia Seeds | The Sweets Life
Peanut Butter Oatmeal Cookies with Chia Seeds

Sometimes the line between breakfast and dessert gets a little blurry. Maybe it shouldn’t, but the older I get the more I realize life is one big gray area, so why wouldn’t this carry over into what we eat as well?! For some of you, these cookies are most definitely breakfast. They have oats, chia seeds, coconut oil…all reputable breakfast ingredients! For others, anything with peanut butter and chocolate must only be considered dessert. I’m here to convince you that these little nuggets can be both!
Pin ItPeanut Butter Oatmeal Cookies with Chia Seeds

Whether you decide to start OR end your day with these, you can’t go wrong. If you really want a win-win, turn that OR into an AND! They’re a little bit naughty, a little bit nice, and a lot of bit satisfying! This was the first time I’d ever used chia seeds in anything and I loved the crunch they added, not to mention the nutritional boost. If you don’t have chia seeds, however, they’d be just as tasty without.
Peanut Butter Oatmeal Cookies with Chia Seeds

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Odds & Ends

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odds and ends

1. I loved this article about Parenthood, and especially loved watching the promo back from 2010! Everyone looks so young!
Moby Wrap
Sporting the Moby Wrap here!
2. Let's talk baby carriers, in case you're a mom-to-be or buying a gift for a mom-to-be. I have three, which sounds ridiculous, but I honestly use all three and love all three! Depending on the day, we use the Ergo (still with the infant insert, although probably not for much longer!), the Moby wrap, and the Maya wrap (which is more like a sling). Some days Brecken seems to prefer one over the other and sometimes it's easier for me to wear one vs. another based on what we're doing. For instance, I love to tie on the Moby and then drive to the grocery store, then nestle Brecken so I can shop and save the cart for the food! When we're going for a walk around the neighborhood and don't want to bring the stroller, I'm usually the most comfortable in the Ergo for a longer period of time. The Maya is great when Brecken is awake and wants to be hanging out with me, but I'm in need of two hands. So yes, it sounds a bit excessive, but I'm getting use out of all of them! Shoot me an email if you have any specific questions about baby carriers or anything else baby related :) (natalie@thesweetslife.com)

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3. I haven't had a ton of time to explore the site yet, but I am loving the Travel Fashion Girl website. It has an expanse of information, including things like the Classic Packing List (as a chronic overpacker, I should really attempt to follow this!) and tips on Bargain Shopping Around the World.

Raspberry Tart
4. Our Easter dessert, besides the classic almond M&M Easter nest cookies, was the Raspberry Tart I made last spring. This is such an incredible (and incredibly easy!) dessert that looks impressive and tastes even better! Look no further next time you need to make a dessert for something!

One Year Ago: Tortellini with Artichokes, Lemon, and Brussels Sprouts
Two Years Ago: Mini Donut Muffins
Three Years Ago: Moroccan Chicken Salad with Carrots
Four Years Ago: Whole Wheat Bread