Jess Likes Giving Presents

It’s easy to let holiday shopping overwhelm you and every year I have to remind myself that we give gifts to show love and appreciation. Around the holidays Tim and I often agree to not buy each other presents, or we’ll do something really small. The deal is that we take some time and write each other love letters instead (which I think is really more a gift for me than him because I LOVE love letters and he’s a good sport).

This week highlights 5 presents that I’ve given people over the last couple years that I thought were so cool! My theory is, if you buy someone a gift and like it enough that you buy one for yourself or would really like to have it yourself, that’s a good sign you’re buying a kick ass gift 🙂

  1. Love Your Melon – Why not give a gift that gives back? 50% of the profits from Love Your Melon sales are donated to nonprofit organizations that are working to find a cure for pediatric cancer. The company was started by two college students and in the last year they’ve expanded their store to include all sorts of colors, styles and merchandise. I first saw a sponsored ad on Instagram or Facebook for Love Your Melon (yo, those ads totally work!) and after looking into their story, I was amazed at their mission and how much they’ve grown in the last 4 years. Their beanies are comfortable, well made and when I bought one as a gift I got one for myself, too (sorry for the giant picture of me at the top of this post…). With the cold weather that’s been filling the weather forecast, a beanie would be the perfect gift!

  2. Waterproof Blanket – Think camping, concerts, picnics, beach days – basically anything you do outside that you’d eventually need a blanket to sit on. This waterproof blanket comes in a variety of patterns and we gifted these to Tim’s little sisters last year. It rolls up into it’s own carrying case for easy transportation, plus it’s waterproof which is a huge bonus because you won’t get a soggy bum and it’s easy to clean!

  3. Blanket Scarf – It’s winter time which means cozy gifts are the absolute best! Who doesn’t want a scarf that they can wrap around themselves on chilly days at home or in the office – and can also be used as a blanket in a pinch 😉 My personal favorite blanket scarf is from here but for a more affordable alternative you can find them at Kohl’s and check out all the ones here.

  4. Workout Shirt – For that lady in your life that likes to put in time at the gym and gets all kinds of sweaty. This awesome tank top actually works! You just really have to get your sweat on and a secret message shows up. Find some fun printed pants at TJ Maxx or Target to make a complete outfit that’s affordable and appreciated. They also sell men’s version of this shirt so don’t worry guys, you can look cool at the gym, too!

  5. Miss Hannah’s Popocorn – Spoiler alert, this is actually something I’m giving to my family this year 🙂 but I’m willing to spill the beans so that you can treat your loved ones to this delicious popcorn now. A few weeks ago I was at Bridgeport Mall with one of my friends and she mentioned this amazing popcorn that she had gotten at one of the kiosks and we had to go and check it out. Alright, popcorn is one of my all time favorite things so maybe I’m a little biased but this stuff is GOLD! The proprietors are a sweet, local family who have developed amazing flavor combinations and don’t put a lot of junk in their recipes. Their basic kettle corn recipe is delicious but my absolute favorite was the snickerdoodle popcorn. Snickerdoodles are a big deal in our house and I think I ate through the whole bag in about 2 days…sorry Tim.

Have a great week!

Jess Likes DIY Presents

The holiday season is upon us (where did December come from!?) and that means the next three weeks will be filled with gift ideas. Every year I try to make one DIY gift, I personally love the process and the personable touch that a homemade gift provides…I guess you should ask the recipients if they’re as jazzed to receive the homemade gifts 😛 Below is a collection of various DIY gifts I’ve made over the past couple years whether they were for one person or for multiple people.

  1. Coasters – I found an idea for scrabble letter coasters on Pinterest and thought the drink themed words were cute, but I wanted to make it more personal. One of Tim’s little sisters loves the game Bananagrams so I knew a scrabble themed gift would fit. I made 4 coasters total so that means I had to come up with 16 different, 4 letter words that best described her and her boyfriend. It was actually a pretty fun challenge and it was all worth it when we got to watch them open up the gift and read each word we had specially picked for them. Instructions here.

  2. Soap – This gift is a great group gift when you have multiple people you’d like to give a little something to. I have a huge fascination with goats milk and honey because I one day would like to have goats and keep bees. I found this recipe online for goats milk and honey soap and look at how stinking cute that honeycomb soap mold is?! The instructions say “10-minute” DIY soap…but I felt like it took a bit longer. It’s still a fairly simple DIY project as long as you have all your materials ready to go. My two tips: 1. Put the mold on a baking sheet before you fill it, this will make for easy transportation when you need to clear your work space. 2. Use the food coloring, the soaps look so cute with a little bit of added color!

  3. Vanilla Extract – This was one of my favorite DIY gifts to make. It’s cute, fairly easy to put together and people love getting homemade vanilla extract. This is another gift that’s great for multiple people and is something that people will actually use. Some of the links on the tutorial no longer work but I got my bottles from the link she provides and bought my vanilla beans off of Amazon. There are a ton of varieties available on Amazon but I like the variety packs because then you can make different kinds of vanilla extract. I used my gift tag maker so I could tie on labels with all the details (the tutorial makes cute adhesive ones but I didn’t have time for that!) and then you have a beautiful DIY gift for all your loved ones.

  4. Tote Bag – Some of you may have decorated tote bags as a kid at summer camp, but if you find some cute designs or a funny saying, you can elevate this into a suitable gift for an adult 🙂 I painted a tote bag two years ago and put “Oh KALE yeah” on it for one of Tim’s little sisters. I made my own stencil and used acrylic paint in green and a plain tote bag I got from Jo-Ann Fabrics (don’t forget to use a coupon!). This is a great gift for your farmer’s market going friend or plastic bag free family member. I didn’t follow a tutorial but I found this, this and this which are all adorable DIY ideas!

  5. Etched Glasses – I had never heard of etching cream until my sister made 4 pint glasses for my mom that said “Eat” “Drink” “Be” “Merry”. I decided to etch some pint glasses for Tim’s mom that said “Cheers” in different languages. You can find etching cream at any craft store and I used masking tape and letter stickers for my stencil, unfortunately I did this DIY a few years ago so I have no pictures 🙁 This tutorial has a cute idea to etch casserole dishes and has a link to a whole etching kit if you’re really feeling nervous about this DIY. However, when taking on a DIY I always try to approach it with a less is more mentality. The etching cream will have instructions on the bottle on how to use it. Pick whatever glass item you’d like to etch and tape off the area and shape you’d like to etch. Like I said I used masking tape to do this and put sticker letters within my taped off area so my pint glasses ended up with the etched look around the letters (opposite of what that tutorial shows).

Have a great week and happy DIYing!

Crock It Like It’s Hot

Did you see that Snoop Dogg and Martha Stewart teamed up for a cooking show? How can I get on that show ASAP as a guest!? 😉 It is crock pot season all year long in our house, but we’ve been using it more than usual with these rainy & cold days. For the first time ever, the crock pot liners I buy from Fred Meyer were completely sold out!! If you haven’t tried using crock pot liners before, go do yourself a favor and buy some. They make for such easy clean up and are part of the reason why I have such a strong relationship with my crock pot 🙂

I wanted to do another crock pot focused post to help all you ladies and gents that are exhausted from pulling off a fabulous Thanksgiving feast. Here are some easy recipes that will provide a little variety from the creative Thanksgiving leftover concoctions you’ve been putting together the last few days.

  1. Chicken Curry – I have never cooked with curry powder and I’ve always been so nervous to try it. I have no idea where my hesitation stemmed from, but I finally took the plunge and found an easy recipe that involved curry powder. This is one of my favorite kinds of crock pot recipes, you take everything and dump it in with minimal prep. Also, it turned out so delicious!! You don’t have to shred the chicken like some other recipes call for, by stirring in the cream cheese at the end it literally shreds itself. Bingo. I opted for cooking this on high for 5 hours and I think I could have even gotten away with doing 4 hours in my crock pot. I roasted some red potatoes, onion, bell pepper and zucchini with some olive oil, salt, pepper and paprika for an hour at 400°F. I put everything into a foil lined baking dish and stirred every so often. This allowed all my veggies to cook and soften up, plus get a little browned but not crispy. I felt like softer veggies would pair well with the chicken curry and boy did it ever!

  2. French Dip Tacos – We made these the same week as the next recipe, so we already had tortillas on hand (which isn’t anything new since we always have tortillas in our house). This recipe is a true dump and leave crock pot meal, which was perfect for a day filled with errands to run. You really don’t have to do much for this recipe and it can sit in the crock pot for 8-12 hours which is perfect if you choose to make this on a weekday. The tang and brine from the banana peppers really gives you the french dip flavor and you could easily serve this on a nice soft roll instead of a tortilla.

  3. Enchiladas – Sometimes I want a crock pot recipe that’s quick. I know that seems counter-intuitive, but this recipe is perfect for those days where you have some time in the morning to do food prep but will be busy the rest of the afternoon and evening. Usually I’ll use a rotisserie chicken to help save some time when making enchiladas, but it takes a while to pick a chicken clean so it isn’t always the best use of my time. For this recipe I put the chicken in the crock pot on high, went to Zumba and by the time I got home and showered, my chicken was ready to be shredded. I used hot taco seasoning that I had on hand and mild salsa, the time in the crock pot allows for the chicken to stay moist and add a depth of flavor. I put my enchiladas in the oven for 25 minutes which allowed the cheese to get extra crispy on top.

  4. Swedish Meatballs – I think Tim would eat anything I put in front of him but there are a few dishes that I know he especially enjoys. When I found this recipe for Swedish Meatballs he was thrilled and we were both satisfied with the end results. I can’t tell if my crock pot was being fussy, but I checked on the meatballs and soup mixture part way through cooking and everything was in need of a good stir (things were browning a little too much on the edges). I did use sour cream but I’m sure plain Greek yogurt would work as well and I mixed my cooked noodles in at the end so they could be fully coated with sauce.

  5. Cinnamon Roll Oatmeal – I wanted an easy and cozy breakfast for Friday morning after Thanksgiving and I haven’t tried many breakfast crock pot recipes. I found this recipe which was perfect since I had everything on hand and it would only take two hours with the crock pot set to high. I used a combination of unsweetened almond milk and unsweetened coconut/almond milk (I’m obsessed) to make up the 3 cups of milk for this recipe. I also used part white sugar and part brown sugar but didn’t use a full half cup of sugar because I thought it might be too sweet. For the glaze I cut this recipe in half which was sufficient for the amount of oatmeal I had, a cup of powdered sugar seemed a bit excessive for my tastes. I also topped my oatmeal with some chopped pecans and this breakfast was a perfect compliment to my Gilmore Girls binge session 🙂

Have a great week!

Fowl On The Play

Believe it or not, Thanksgiving is this week! Are you ready for Thanksgiving? Have you done all your grocery shopping or are you like me and seem to think it’s OK to grocery shop the week of Thanksgiving? I don’t know why I put myself through this every year…for being such a planner I fail to have the forethought to get ingredients well before this week. I guess it’s my own little tradition 🙂 I’m extra excited for this year because the Steelers play Thursday night and then the Gilmore Girls revival is on Friday! So many things to look forward to and be thankful for 😉

I really don’t care much about the turkey, it’s not the main event on my dinner plate. I’m all about those sides. This week I’m highlighting a few of my favorite non-traditional dishes I’ve tested out in case you’re looking for some last minute ideas to add to your menu.

  1. Sweet Corn Spoonbread – This side will light up any gathering and you’ll be surprised at how much you enjoy it. You throw a few things into a bowl, put them in a casserole dish and then bake. It pairs well with any holiday menu and is a crowd favorite. It’s like soft cornbread with bits of corn and I really don’t know what else to say except I want to take a break and go make it right now, be right back…

  2. Garlic and Butternut Squash Mash – I will forever love mashed potatoes, but one year I brought around some mashed butternut squash and I was a big fan. This recipe is Paleo friendly if you’re into that, and was a nice low carb alternative compared to mashed cauliflower, the other popular mashed potato substitute. I haven’t perfected mashed cauliflower enough to get the same texture that mashed potatoes provide. The butternut squash, however, fulfilled that smooth and fluffy need and the roasted garlic tames the slightly sweet squash taste.

  3. Teriyaki Meatballs – I swear I don’t eat exclusively Paleo – have you seen any of my other recipe posts?! – but for some reason I’m drawn to Paleo recipes around the holiday season. I guess it’s an attempt to not feel completely overindulgent as I stuff my face. It’s nice to have a little appetizer that can hold you over as the “Thanksgiving Oven Shuffle” is happening (you know when you’re trying to keep track of what needs to go in when and at what temperature and how many casserole dishes can be stuffed into one oven – turkey tetris!). Anyway, this appetizer can please a crowd and is also a good one to keep on hand for the next tailgate party.

  4. Taco Bites – I had some won ton wrappers leftover from last week’s pumpkin pie won tons so I decided to try this appetizer out. These were a hit and turned out so much better than I expected! I made a few adjustments to the recipe: I don’t have a mini muffin tin so I was able to make 19 taco bites using a standard size muffin tin. I used lean ground turkey instead of ground beef and used two tablespoons of salsa instead of the picante sauce (what is picante sauce? The ingredients looked identical to salsa). I think this recipe took me all of 15 minutes from start to finish and this is another recipe I’ll keep on hand for when we host our next get together.

  5. Mushroom Quinoa – I’ve heard mixed results from people on whether or not they like traditional stuffing. I personally love it because I will never turn down food especially if it’s made by any member of my family (immediate or extended, we love food and are darn good at making it!). However, if you’re looking for an alternative that’s a little lighter and still packs a lot of flavor, this recipe would fit perfectly.

Have a great week and Happy Thanksgiving!

Love Isn’t All You Need, But It’s a Start 

It has been an interesting and emotional week to say the least. I am trying to distance myself from social media (as best I can) because it is starting to feel overly toxic and overstimulating. Don’t we all need to take a moment and assess where we are? Everything has felt so reactionary and I’m not even sure how I fully feel yet because I’m still taking time to process.

These things I do know: I will hold true to my beliefs, I will hold true to embracing love, I will hold true to supporting my fellow ladies, minorities, law enforcement, and everyone else I hold dear that needs an ally and has felt targeted and isolated this election season (and for much longer than just this year). I will not sit here and complain. I will take control of my life and my actions within my community, because we all have to start somewhere. We are not a perfect being, but we need to start uniting as a community and a nation. We are feeling divided more than ever and our fear is running rampant. I am choosing to lift my eyes, peel myself away from my phone and make eye contact with someone on my commute and say hello. Acknowledge someone else that I don’t know and smile at them. I am also choosing to take a moment and reflect on what I am grateful for this past week.

  1. Cup & Bar – I took a few days off last week and got to spend some quality time with Tim. I don’t know when we’ll get time like that again because the rest of this month already has a forecast of completely opposite schedules. We ran some errands and made a pit stop at Cup & Bar before picking my parents up from the airport. You guys, this place is SO Portland. A chocolate and coffee collaboration tasting room? Tim got a vanilla latte which had flecks of vanilla bean and I got a hot chocolate that was so rich and decadent. The decor is open and airy and there’s a really neat art installation on the wall that represents each person in the vicinity as a dot of light. You can walk around the room and see how your movement alters the different colored dots on the wall, I was mesmerized. More importantly, you can sign up for a tour and chocolate tasting – yes please!20161107_131342

  2. Pumpkin Won Tons – At first I wasn’t completely sure on whether I was going to include this recipe in this week’s post. To be honest, the assembly is a bit time consuming and only half of my won tons made it out alive after I fried them. However, these are SO GOOD! I ended up with 27 won tons total and a little more than half of them didn’t end up spilling their delicious filling into boiling oil. I’m not sure what my problem was, whether I overfilled them, got crap won ton skins or if the oil was causing the explosions, but even after the filling spilled out they were still good and kept their pumpkin filling flavor. Please make sure you have a oil splash guard if you choose to make these, it was very necessary. The dipping sauce is amazing and I highly recommend making it to accompany the won tons. I don’t see us replacing a pumpkin pie with these won tons come Thanksgiving, but they were a fun experiment and would be a fun sweet treat at your next Fall gathering.

  3. Banana Applesauce Muffins – My overripe banana collection was starting to get unruly so I put together some banana applesauce muffins to keep around as snacks for us throughout the week. I froze half of the batch (they’ll keep for about 3 months but I doubt they’ll last until then) and sealed the other half up in a tupperware. I try to eat two small snacks a day between meals so I wanted to give these a try to mix it up and give me some variety. The muffins come together super fast and I will definitely make them again. I used honey instead of maple syrup but next time I’ll try the maple syrup just to experiment. They aren’t overly sweet but they hit the spot and would be really yummy topped with some chopped pecans or walnuts before baking.

  4. Marinara Sauce – For those of you who are like me and enjoy cooking but don’t consider yourself gourmet, this is for you. It also may be that I’m totally late to the game and everyone already has this figured out, but I finally tried making my own marinara sauce! I’m not talking about standing over the stove for hours letting the sauce simmer and come together, although that yields delicious results – I don’t have time for that! I totally get the ease and use of getting jarred marinara sauce but making your own can be so easy! I found this recipe online and accidentally put in a full teaspoon of oregano. Totally worth it and will be an adjustment I continue to make. If you have an immersion blender you can use that to smooth out the onion bits, but I kind of liked having the chopped pieces in my sauce. Pair with your favorite pasta, veggies, meatballs, whatever you like! It would be a great sauce to use for a make your own pizza night. This sauce comes together in a matter of minutes and is so yummy.

  5. Protein waffles – You are all well aware that I’m a waffle lover and nurture my waffle relationship by making a batch and freezing the rest. I found a giant box of Kodiak Protein Pancake mix at Costco and I’m in love. We’re not much of a pancake house but waffle instructions are included on the box and I am so pleased with how these taste! I’m not one for fancy kitchen gadgets (even though our wedding registry begs to differ ?) but having a waffle iron is probably the best and most important kitchen gadget we have. I made a double batch of these waffles and now I have an easy protein packed meal for after I get done with lifting weights. Oh yeah, I started lifting weights because I stopped making excuses and because Tim is the best motivator and coach…only one week in so more on this later.?

Veteran’s Day was on Friday and I am incredibly grateful to those men and women who have served and continue to serve our country. It is a great honor to know some veterans and even be related to a few 🙂 To those who have served and to the families of those who have served – thank you so much.

Have a great week!