Wednesday, December 17, 2014

HOLIDAY WELLNESS GUIDE: Pumpkin Quinoa Granola

Sparkle holiday template

You know what is the worst when it happens during the holidays, and it’s been happening to a lot of people lately? Coming down with a virus. I’m not talking about the kind that infects your computer or comes from hackers who may, or may not be, upset about a particular movie your film studio is about to release (although those are both really bad too). I’m talking about the kind that knocks you flat on your back and sucks all the energy and holiday excitement out of you. That’s what we’ve been dealing with in our house over the past week, plus. First Woody came down with the nasty thing and then I did. It’s particularly annoying when you’ve procrastinated on many holiday errands and the weekend you have to get them done or risk missing Christmas, is when you can hardly peel yourself off the couch and being more than 5 feet away from a kleenex box could prove quite embarrassing. Thankfully though, we’re on the upswing of things and should be 100% for our Christmas travel and activities. 

Because we like to make sure there are at least a few healthy food options available when we travel, one thing I love to take with me is granola. I’ve been known to stuff a 1lb + bag of the stuff in my suitcase or several pre-portioned snack bags of it in my carry-on food survival bag. I love granola, as does Woody, and because he can eat a lot of it several years ago I started making it at home. It’s such an easy thing to do, and much healthier than the vast majority of store bought versions. With fillers, oils and other unnecessary ingredients, granola can be one of the biggest offenders on the deceptive “it looks healthy, but it really isn’t” list.

But when done right, and enjoyed in appropriate amounts, it can be quite nutritious. Oats are naturally packed with fiber and iron while nuts and seeds are high in heart-healthy unsaturated fats. Besides the potential health benefits, the crunchiness and sweetness of granola make it a favorite for many. The key is to keep it simple and healthy. And use it as a topping, rather than the start of the meal.

Holiday Sparkle Section Template

It can also make for a great gift, which means that baking a batch of granola this weekend can help you with those last minute gifts for friends, neighbors, and colleagues. A few years ago I gave a bag of homemade granola with a cute bowl as a secret santa gift for the office holiday gift exchange; the recipient loved it and asked for the recipe! Beautifully packaged with a ribbon and one of these easy DIY cinnamon ornaments,  homemade granola makes for a beautiful hostess gift (then she doesn’t have to think about breakfast the next morning!) or for your friends who you love to brunch with throughout the year. 

Granola as a Gift Early Morning Run

If you’re hosting family for the holidays, it’s easy to bake a big batch of this granola before the crowds arrive then set it out in the morning along with a variety of milks, yogurt, and fruit for everyone to enjoy. The crunchiness also makes for a great topping on waffles or pancakes. And don’t forget the coffee, of course!

This recipe is a new favorite, perfect for the holiday season with a little, wait for it… pumpkin added in! Not only is the flavor festive, but this orange fruit also adds more fiber, potassium, iron and vitamin A to give the morning meal a nutrition boost.

Granola Breakfast

Pumpkin Quinoa Granola Early Morning Run

 

Granola in a Bowl

Now while the photo above appears to be a bowl full of granola, as mentioned earlier, I don't advise actually eating a full bowl of granola! Even homemade granola has a good bit of fat and calories due to the combination of ingredients - however healthy those ingredients may be individually - so it’s best to keep the serving size to 1/4 - 1/3 of a cup. Like so many other things in life, please enjoy in moderation!

Have you made homemade granola? * What do you love to bake this time of year? * Will you be visiting or hosting family over the holidays?

Thursday, December 11, 2014

HOLIDAY WELLNESS GUIDE: Festive (and Simple) DIYs

Sparkle holiday template

It’s a dream of mine to be a DIY master. I had grand hopes of moving into our house, carving out a work space of my own and setting to work making cool things like painted mason jar vases, custom wall art, a tufted headboard, refinishing old furniture… the list goes on and not one of those projects have been finished, or started for that matter. We haven’t been in our house too long though, so there’s still hope. At least I have my workspace! And thankfully too, there are some easy DIY projects I can tackle every once in a while without too much commitment.

Holiday DIY

Several years during the holidays wen I was young, I remember working in the kitchen with my parents and sister making cinnamon ornaments for the tree and to decorate gifts. The sweet and overwhelmingly holiday scent of cinnamon would fill the house - it was like Christmas was giving us a hug. One of the best things about this project is that it requires very few supplies and can be quite a fun process! Plus, for those of you with kids in the house, it’s a great project for them to help with.

Cinnamon Ornaments Ingredients

Cinnamon Ornaments What You Need

Cinnamon Ornaments Roll Out

In a bowl, combine the ingredients starting with just one cup of the cinnamon. You may need to add a bit more if the mixture is too sticky; I started with more than a cup and needed to add a little applesauce because it wasn’t sticky enough! 

You can either use a stand mixer with a paddle, or just a big spoon to start then your hands to shape into a ball. 

Place the ‘dough' on a clean surface using a light dusting of cinnamon like you would flour, so the it doesn’t stick to the surface. Then roll out, roll out (sorry, had to do it) the dough to about a quarter inch thick. Even when baked they won’t be indestructible so they need some thickness to them but if they’re too thick they’ll take forever to harden!

Cinnamon Ornaments cookie cutter

Using holiday cookie cutters - I stuck to a star, but a variety would be fun - cut out the ornaments just like you would cookies. It’s pretty simple and as you work through the dough I found it became a bit easier to work with. Lay each ornament on the prepared cookie sheet (wax paper worked perfectly for me).

Cinnamon Ornaments In The Making

With the skewer, chopstick or pencil, make a little hole to string the ribbon. Then place in the oven, heated to 225’ and bake for 1+ hours till they’re completely dry. The time will depend on the thickness of your ornaments, your stove and other factors. Mine took close to 2 hours, but I had the temp set a bit lower. You can check them after about 45 minutes, and flip part way through when there’s only a bit of dampness left. 

Cinnamon Ornaments Drying Time

I found this to be the easiest method of separating the stars from the wax paper. They stick slightly to the paper so by tilting up on its side and gently peeling the paper off the back of the star, I had no trouble. Then I flipped them over and kept baking. By now your place is smelling pretty amazing!

The Cinnamon Ornaments

Pick a few different types of ribbon or rope to attach to your ornaments. My one suggestion is to keep the width pretty narrow as you have to thread it through the hole. I wrapped a bit of tape around the end of the ribbon and rope that I used to help thread it through because the frayed bits kept getting in the way! 

Cut slightly longer pieces of ribbon if you’re planning to use the ornaments on the tree or decorating other areas of the house, while shorter pieces are more suitable when using your creations for decorating gifts packages.

While both ingredients are edible, I don’t recommend eating these ornaments, even though they look as cute as cookies! The taste and texture probably won’t be that great unless you really love cinnamon!

Another easy DIY project I’ve managed to complete for the holidays is this easy and modern garland! With THIS Pinterest image for inspiration, along with a few pieces of glittery paper from a craft store, rope from the hardware store, and regular scotch tape, I managed to get this up in our back room. I also used the same shapes plus sewing thread to make a version of THIS to hang from below our mantle in the living room. 

DIY Holiday Garland

With the weekend just ahead of us, it’s a great time to put on some holiday music, pour some prosecco (maybe even a pomegranate prosecco spritzer?) or hot cocoa, and get your DIY awesomeness on! And then when the cinnamon ornaments are drying in the oven, might as well get some of your holiday cards done (which is top on my list)!

What are you looking forward to this weekend? * Will you be traveling for the holidays? * Have a favorite holiday DIY you’d like to share?

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Spreading Holiday Joy

Sponsored Content



A few days ago the good people at Minted.com reached out to tell me about their new line of custom holiday photo cards and I didn’t hesitate to follow the link and check it out. You see, those who know me well (in real life), know that I have an obsession with greeting cards. I can easily spend 20 minutes perusing store shelves to find the right card for someone, only to come to the realization that it’s not there and I need to look somewhere else. I won’t settle for “okay.” I think it all started when I was young and I’d keep all of the cards I got in shoe boxes. Woody often doesn’t understand why he’ll find a card I received three years ago in a drawer, but each one I save means something special. In the sea of text message and Tweets, cards are a refreshing break from the norm. My spirit gets a boost when I receive a card in the mail, and I hope the same happens for those who get one from me!

While I’ll admit that I’ve never purchased anything from Minted (yet), it is one of the hottest companies around - its Founder and CEO, Miriam Naficy, landed the 25 spot on Fast Company’s  coveted “100 Most Creative People” list this year, they’ve expanded into art and home decor, and their products have reached more than 40 million homes (I guess that means I’m way behind on this).

What’s most striking about this company is that it is built on the idea of providing a platform for exceptional designers from around the world to get their products in the hands of consumers. Minted helps designers gain exposure through design challenges - each challenge has a theme, designers submit their work, the community votes and Minted then produces and sells the winning designs (and gives prize money and a percentage of sales + promotion support to the designers). It’s a pretty cool concept.

If you’re like me, you haven’t started sending out your holiday cards and by the time they go out "Happy New Years” might be the more appropriate greeting. Thankfully though, there are options. You might, for instance, want to think about enlisting the help of minted.com. Not only can you customize a card design, but you can upload your contact list and they will address the envelopes and get them in the mail! Sure, not the most personal way to go about it, but it works if you’re in a pinch. Many of the cards are available with “Merry Christmas,” “Happy Holidays,” or “Happy New Years” greetings, which is awesome for those who want to be all inclusive with their holiday cards.

While there are more holiday photo card options than I can begin to count, not to mention non-photo holiday cards and those for countless other occassions, below are just a few of the ones that caught my eye.
Minted Holiday Cards
  1. Modern Shimmer by b.Wise Papers
  2. Watercolor Bunting by Wind-Up Key Press
  3. Radiant Joy by Katie When
  4. Winter Wonderland by Wind-Up Key Press
  5. Modern Ombre Watercolor by Kaydi Bishop
  6. Wrap Around Joy by Oscar & Emma
  7. Banner Wings by Pandercraft
In a conversation with a colleague the other day I learned that she used Minted over the weekend to order her holiday cards and she loved the experience. She was able to try out a few options for the design she picked, and the photo, contact list and ordering process was a breeze. I saw a screenshot of the card she chose and it was super cute, featuring a photo of her dog!

Which reminds me, even though most of these cards show families or kids, you don’t have to have kids, or even be married, to send photo holiday cards! 

Have you sent out your holiday cards yet? * Do you send a year in review letter with your cards?

Disclosure: This is a sponsored post on behalf of Minted.com, however all opinions are mine.