5.24.2014

shop spotlight: sweet littles handmade

Every once in awhile you come across something so beautiful and unique that you can't take your eyes off it. 

Well that is what happened as I began to work with the ever so wonderful Katy of Sweet Littles Handmade. I am thrilled to be featuring such a beautiful shop & products in this week's SHOP SPOTLIGHT. Katy's "Sweet Littles" are unlike any other doll I've ever seen and she worked closely with me to design a custom doll for Olivia as a very special gift for her 1st Birthday. From the moment Olivia saw her, she began clapping [no, seriously] and has barely put her down since. It is by far her favorite birthday gift and I know she will be loved, treasured and kept forever. 


Katy -- the talent behind Sweet Littles Handmade -- is a Mom to her three little loves -- ages 5, 4, and 2 -- and she lives in Washington with her husband and family. She shared with me that her business really became a business when her and her husband decided that he needed to leave a job that he really disliked to pursue his dream of being a baker. Katy had always made things for her own children and for children of friends, and it was always suggested that she should sell what she makes! She never really took it to heart until realizing the income would greatly help her family and allow her husband to pursue his dream as a baker. 

In August of 2013, Katy began selling her dolls and shared that the journey over the past 9 months has been amazing! Not only has she been able to help her family financially, but she has loved teaching her own kids about giving and working for what they have. Sweet Littles Handmade has been so much more for Katy's family than just dolls. Each doll is designed & created by Katy and boasts unique features. Katy said "Each doll is filled with more love than you could think possible! They are way too fun and I feel overwhelmingly blessed every single day that this is what I get to do!"



What Sweet Littles Handmade is known for: One of a kind handmade dolls made to be loved for years to come, featuring vintage fabrics, ribbon hair, unique accessories [like capes, skirts & ballet slippers] and complete with the sweetest hand embroidered face.

What sets Sweet Littles Handmade apart: I can't even really find the words to describe what sets these beautiful dolls and this shop apart. Not only do they have so much love poured into them, but they are unlike anything I've ever seen before. I mean...look at them! They are perfect. I'm going with that as my answer -- their perfection sets them apart!

My favorite products: Other than our beautiful doll, I love Sweet Little Poppy & Sweet Little Rhododendron

Product Review: Custom Sweet Little // We named her Beatrice [Olivia's middle name and reminiscent of the Bee fabric pattern]
Quality & Craftsmanship: Head to Toe, Sweet Little Beatrice is pure perfection. She is so well-made. I seriously don't know how Katy does it. [OK, so I don't really sew, which probably explains a lot, but seriously.] Every part of her is designed, stitched & stuffed just the way you hope a doll would be. The hand-embroidered face and tiny little lips, the long arms & legs [that I seriously love], the ribbon hair in pig tails...the list goes on and on. I couldn't make a doll this beautiful if you gave me 100 years & 100 yards of fabric. 

Overall Appearance & Opinion: Katy sent me a sneak peek of Bea before sending her our way in the mail and I gushed over her from the very beginning. She was [and is] the most beautiful doll I have ever seen. Enough said.

Value & Recommendation: Katy puts so much time, love, and creativity into designing and making each and every Sweet Little. Hearing how she began her business and that she has turned her talent and passion into a way to support her family makes this doll even more special. This isn't one of those "easily replaced-buy at a store-mass produced overseas" dolls. No, this is a work of art that is meant to be given as a priceless gift, especially fitting for a very special occasion, such as a 1st birthday, baptism/christening/dedication, 1st Christmas, etc. This is a "kiss and hug and love forever-pass down to your children's children" type of doll. Yup, she's that kind of doll. 


The best part about Sweet Littles Handmade is that Katy can customize a doll for your babe [Sweet Little You!] in any way you want. In making Beatrice, we chose brown hair to match Olivia's and I opted for both a tutu and ballet slippers as well as a custom matching cape with a "1" on it for her 1st Birthday. 

The cape and tutu can both be untied, taken off and retied on. This will be so much fun as Olivia gets a little older and starts to use her imagination for play. It also allows for Olivia to nap with her doll without me worrying about extra pieces coming off and being a danger in her crib. 

Katy even customized my ballet slippers differently than others so that I could untie and retie them, and Olivia LOVES untying them and sitting in my lap watching me lace them up [over and over]. Who knew so much entertainment would come from ribbon?!

I would highly recommend Katy and everything she offers in her Sweet Littles Handmade shop. From custom options to whimsical add-ons, Katy can do it all. Her prices are phenomenal, her turnover time is quick and she is SO genuine. It was a joy to work with her and she knows all my future baby girls will have a Sweet Little made for them just like Miss Olivia did!

Olivia loves giving Sweet Little Beatrice kisses and she surely has found a new best friend!


Katy has so generously offered Blessed Nest readers to receive 15% off their total purchase from Sweet Littles Handmade using the coupon code "BLESSED15" // Valid Saturday, May 24-Friday, May 30 only.

5.21.2014

Olivia's 1st Birthday Party

Last Saturday we celebrated Olivia's 1st Birthday, a week early, by hosting a birthday party at our house all afternoon with friends & family. I wanted to throw a party for her before her actual birthday, because it was important to me that we spend it just the 3 of us on Friday, May 23. The day she came into this world was so special and emotional for both Dustin and I, and I am looking forward to celebrating her life just intimately together as a little family, eating banana cupcakes and giving Olivia her special "big" gift from us -- her handmade custom quilt. Then on Sunday night, we will celebrate again with my immediate family. I'll be baking up my favorite chocolate cake, fresh whipped cream & of course we'll be grilling out and [hopefully] eating outside! Lots of celebration going on and I couldn't love it more!


Olivia's birthday invitation sported a beautiful peacock wearing a gold crown and that was the basis of which I planned the color scheme -- I wanted to incorporate gold, teal & shades of green as well as natural earthy & rustic elements -- like flowers, succulents, kraft paper & twine. 


I chose a garland that highlighted classic tones of gold, black, cream & white. Not only did it add flair to her party, but because it isn't color-specific, I'll be able to use it again (score!) // Available here

As soon as I spotted the adorable party hat on Etsy, I knew that would be the one she would wear for cake photos. How can you beat a gold hat with a "1" and gold pom on top? Seriously, I will keep this hat forever // Available here

I ordered some fun straws in the color theme to serve at our drink station & made her high-chair banner myself. I love gettin' crafty and anytime I'm given the opportunity, I dive in! I also picked up some wildflower-inspired bouquets from Trader Joe's to spread throughout the house, as well as a baby orchid for Olivia and some succulents [because really, succulents are my favorite].


The party started at 2pm and began with eating and lots of it! One of my go-to ways to serve food at a party or shower is by setting up a taco bar. I prepare grass-fed beef the morning of the party and it can sit hot in a crock pot all afternoon. It takes so much work out of it [during the party] and allows guests to eat what they want, when they want. I set out taco shells and lettuce, so guests can build their own tacos or make a taco salad. They can customize it with all different toppings -- cheese, olives, various salsas, beans, sour cream, etc. Then I offer 2-3 types of chips -- some form of blue or yellow corn chips, doritos, and sweet potato chips [just incase anyone is doing the WHOLE30 while they're at the party!] Food is often a big part of a party and having a wide variety where guests can make their meal their own is always my game plan. 


Olivia wore a classy white eyelet dress and I jazzed it up with one of my all-time favorite accessory sets in her wardrobe -- a glitter tie collar & matching miniature crown [available here] // She wore those all day and then we put her party hat on when it came time for cake!

Alongside the taco bar, I served homemade fruit cups. Fruit can be really expensive, especially when you are buying it for 20+ people. I came up with a creative [& beautiful] way to serve fruit for Via's party that I knew would be a hit. I purchased gold cupcake liners from a craft supply store and filled them each with a few pieces of fruit -- strawberries, raspberries & pineapple. You could really use any fruit that is in season and looks fresh and delicious! It was perfect -- guests could grab a fruit cup and enjoy it, without getting filled up on fruit and leaving no room for cake [but really, there is always room for cake] AND it kept me from having to spend all my food budget on fresh fruit.
For cake, we got Olivia a miniature 5'' toasted almond cake from a local bakery. I loved how rustic it looked with the sliced almonds covering the sides and knew it would be perfect with a single gold candle in it. Playing off the peacock & bird theme, I found a vintage birdcage to set her cake in for photos & I love how it turned out!


I love incorporating antique pieces into decor for parties, because it not only allows for great photos but it provides guests with something out of the ordinary to enjoy.
We also served two other cakes -- a homemade carrot cake that is "my specialty" as my family calls it [recipe available here], and a German chocolate cake from the best bakery in the midwest [but seriously]. I put a single gold candle in each and was so delighted with how classic and simple they looked.
I kept it simple with balloons & just chose a large gold "1" and a few stars [black, white & cream] to match her garland. I added in two polka dot balloons because polka dots are so playful, just like Olivia.

For decor around the house, I also wanted to keep it really basic. I love finding easy ways to dress up our home that require a little creativity but minimal work. In addition to the tassel garland & balloons, I made three photo banners with twine, miniature clothes pins & all my favorite photos of Olivia from birth. I hung a large one on our antique hutch in the living room [the main area for the party] and then I hung smaller ones in the kitchen and in the dining room. So many people -- especially family members -- commented on how much fun it was to see all the photos and it was so special for me to reminisce all the memories we made when those photos were being taken. 


Another special piece of Olivia's party was her Wishing Tree -- a small tree where guests could write a birthday wish for Olivia on a kraft tag & hang it up.


I found the adorable tree at a local boutique I used to work at and then added rustic twine to kraft paper tags. I made a small sign to match her garland that read:

"V's Wishing Tree

Please take a tag & leave a wish
Then hang it on the tree
A prayer, a thought, a special note
For Miss Olivia Bea"


I also had written a special note to Olivia sharing Our Wish for her that tied in with the peacock & bird theme and I had it laying next to the wishing tree for guests to read.


It was a great way for guests to share something special in honor of her 1st Birthday and it was so much fun for us to sit down afterward and read them aloud to her. I plan to write Olivia a special wish every year for her birthday in a new book or journal. The first journal I am giving her [on Friday] is so beautiful and I can't wait to share it with you on here next week in her Birthday Gifts post!

Over the course of the afternoon, we enjoyed great food, awesome fellowship & loved celebrating Olivia and her sweet soul. She enjoyed pulling all the tissue paper out of her presents and ripping the wrapping paper as I sat and read her each card. After presents, it was time for cake!



She was quite unsure what to think when it was time for her cake, and even squinted when I brought out her lit candle and we sang to her. It was so sweet.

She was just as dainty as I imagined her to be, just barely dipping a finger in the frosting and staring at it for quite awhile before doing much of anything. The most she did was place her hand in the cake calmly, and then when she realized she had a wealth of almond frosting at her fingertips, she made her move.

I think she loves almond as much as her Mama! I can't wait to make almond bars & almond pound cake with her this fall when she's a little older.


We were blessed with a beautiful day of sunshine and lots of laughter, celebrating our sweetheart and the joy she has brought to our life so far! I am one proud Mama to call this baby girl my own.


It was so much fun to put together this Peacock 1st Birthday Party and I can't wait to continue celebrating all week & weekend long with my baby girl! Xo.

5.20.2014

our bathroom makeover

We recently finished our basement bathroom renovation (last Thursday, to be exact), just two days before V's 1st Birthday Party. The demo began in the end of March with the actual renovation starting in the beginning of April and we didn't work on it every day, but overall it was completed in about 8 weeks.

Dustin is a Master Licensed Plumber so he did a lot of it himself. We hired out some of the work to our regular contractor [who helped us remodel our entire basement last year], as well as our electrician & tiler. It's so great that Dustin works in the construction business because not only is he able to purchase everything wholesale [which equals a huge savings], access all the necessary tools without having to buy them [more savings], and knows all the right people for the job, but he is an amazing plumber who can figure out just about anything! Thank goodness, because if it were left up to me, we would have been in trouble. I didn't even know the hot water is always on the left until I started dating him back in 2008! [Yes, true story].

So it goes without saying that I am thrilled to share our new bathroom makeover today on the blog. It is more beautiful than I could have ever dreamed of, and sometimes when I am in the basement playing with Olivia, I just stand in it and admire all the hard work that my husband put into it. Not only will we be able to enjoy it as we live here, but I know it will add tremendous value to our home when we are ready to sell. Thats a win-win in my book.

Our house was built in the 1950s, so everything in our basement bathroom [when we moved in] was original. Some of its features included pink tile, a shower head located directly above an outlet [what?] and a quite gaudy faux wood mirror with flanking light fixtures. Oh, and spiders.

Basement Bathroom BEFORE

Basement Bathroom AFTER

We chose a light gray for our walls because (1) Gray is my favorite color and (2) We knew it would look great with any decor, flooring or fixtures because of its neutrality. Oh and (3) gray really is the new black.


We went with a rustic wood tile floor that is seriously so gorgeous it cannot even be captured in a photograph. It even has the knots of real wood in it and because of that, the neatest texture. It is by far my favorite flooring in our entire house and I've already got plans to incorporate that into our upstairs master bath & our next home!

 

We chose large gray tile for the shower and I love how well it matches with our wall color and flooring. Another favorite feature of mine? The shower is huge! We ended up knocking down the entire back wall [see below] and extending it into our laundry room to make a larger shower and add shelving for storage [oh yeah, did I mention we are renovating our laundry room as well?].

 

I love how spacious the shower is and how clean and classy the tile is. To the right of the shower, our contractor added in four custom shelves that I will use to store towels, baskets, and other toiletries. The width is 18 inches between each shelf so I can fit a standard laundry basket on each if needed. And that seriously makes me totally giddy.

  

Our vanity is from IKEA and I loved how sleek and modern it is, especially paired with our faucet. It has plenty of room for storage beneath without taking up a lot of space, which is important in a small bathroom. It has metal hooks on each side [that can be moved as needed or taken off] for hanging hand towels, and it came with other accessories for soap/toiletries/etc. I also love the deep groves in the back that provide the perfect place for hand soap, lotion, a candle & tissue.


Our vanity backsplash is multi-colored glass that we felt matched our color scheme perfectly. I think a simple backsplash adds so much elegance and richness to a space and really elevates the quality of the room. Our chrome fixtures are from Ferguson and matched the modern, sleek & "minimalism" aesthetic I was hoping to capture. Our toilet is also from Ferguson and captures the same minimalistic feel because of its thin design. It also has a slow close lid & is water efficient with dual flushes. That also makes me totally giddy.


Our light fixture -- possibly my favorite part of the entire room -- is from a local lighting shop where we had purchased Olivia's nursery chandelier. We found it online and because it was out of stock in store, had it custom ordered and two weeks later, it showed up on our doorstep! Because we really save money by doing it all ourselves and purchasing everything at wholesale prices, we tend to splurge on light fixtures in our home. The light is always the final piece we install and once that is in, it is a sign that the room is complete! A really simple way to upgrade a room is to upgrade your light fixture. Even if you don't change anything else, a new light makes such a difference.


The art -- my other favorite part of the room -- is all by Sugarboo Designs, based out of Roswell, GA. I fell in love with Sugarboo Designs a few months ago and couldn't wait to get a few pieces in our new bathroom. They are rustic and fit the style of the room perfectly, with the sweetest messages. The mirror is from HomeGoods & was an awesome find at a super great price. 
Overall, though it was a long and somewhat stressful process [as renovations usually are], we are so pleased with how it turned out. Every time I walk into the bathroom, I am filled with joy head to toe. And yes, it is just a bathroom, but shouldn't every room in your house bring you joy? It reminds me of the love that Dustin has for me, for our family, and for our home -- to work all day at his plumbing job and then come home and work all afternoon and evening plumbing and renovating at home, continually exerting himself day after day and giving it his all. It reminds me that we are blessed to live in such a beautiful home and to enjoy every moment I spend in it, because it is a luxury many go without. Our new bathroom has added just the right amount of style, beauty & function to our home and I couldn't be more ecstatic!

Bathroom Sources 
[Complete List Coming Soon]

Tile Floor //
Shower Tile // 
Toilet //
Faucet //
Shower Fixtures //
Light Fixture //
Mirror // HomeGoods

5.14.2014

20 days on WHOLE30

I'm 20 days in to my WHOLE30 & I thought I would share a quick post with some of my thoughts thus far as well as a list of my grocery staples since starting the WHOLE30.

What I Miss the Most

Baking // I love to bake -- for an event, a holiday, or just on a rainy afternoon. Before my WHOLE30, I would bake at least once a week but usually more -- I love blessing others with food because it such a language of love. It has been hard to not bake but I am looking forward to baking for Olivia's 1st Birthday party soon! The end result of baking is always delicious, but for me the process itself is so relaxing and enjoyable, and I definitely miss it.



Date Nights to Our Favorite Restaurants // Dustin & I don't eat out often, but once in awhile we are able to go on a date night and have a few favorite places that serve amazing food that always hits the spot! I have been missing a yummy date night dinner but we've made really good meals at home and had "date night in" so that has almost made up for it.

Dessert // Some nights -- especially after dinner -- I have really wanted something sweet, something to finish off a great meal. It hasn't necessarily been a physical craving, as much as it has been a mental one. I like the idea of tucking Olivia into bed & lounging on the couch with a yummy treat. Some nights I will eat a handful of almonds or a cup of frozen fruit (my one fruit serving of the day) when I'm really in the mood but I am learning to be content without dessert after dinner.

What I Don’t Really Miss at All

Cheese // Going into my WHOLE30, I thought I would really miss cheese. I never ate a ton of it before, but I enjoyed it in small amounts on a regular basis. Some times I would be hungry and just grab a slice of turkey and cheese for a quick snack and I obviously don't do that anymore. I have learned that I don't need cheese to make every meal better, but I will reintegrate it in moderation over time.

Grains // Being gluten free, all I had to eliminate to start my WHOLE30 was: brown rice [which we usually ate a few nights a week with dinner], corn thins [which I ate my "sandwiches" on], quinoa [which I ate on a fairly regular basis] & of course, tortilla [corn] chips. I miss quinoa but I don't miss brown rice or corn chips as much as I thought I would.

New Foods I've Fallen For

Eggs // On my WHOLE30, I literally eat eggs everyday! Whether scrambled, hard boiled, in egg salad, or over-easy on my breakfast hashes, eggs always hit the spot! I was never crazy about eggs before but since starting the WHOLE30, I have really fallen in love with them!

Sweet Potatoes // These are a staple in our kitchen & always will be. I eat them every morning for breakfast and on a regular basis for dinner. They are power-packed with nutrients and can be prepared in so many different ways, which I love! I use them in hashes, as a stuffed baked potato, as fries, in salads, roasted, sweet potato chips & more!

Guacamole & Avocados // Avocados are among the healthiest natural ingredients on the planet and for babies, are considered "a perfect food" or "complete diet." They contain over 25 vital nutrients and minerals such as potassium, iron, magnesium & phosphorous. PLUS they add a delicious creaminess to any & every dish that is unlike any other food in the world. Before the WHOLE30, I only ate avocados in the form of guacamole, and even that I only ate a few times a month. Now I eat it a few times a week, sometimes even more than once a day! It is so versatile and honestly, makes everything taste even yummier. Last week I enjoyed guac on lime + cilantro grilled chicken, I pile it on my taco salads, add it to tuna, and as a snack I enjoy a dollop with a handful of sweet potato chips. It is so filling because of the high quality fat it contains and I am seriously in love!

Avocado Oil // Seriously, this oil will change your life. I fry my eggs and cook my morning hash in avocado oil every morning and they turn out amazing time & time again! The flavor is subtle enough to not be overpowering but it enhances any food you are cooking. Plus it is packed with heart-healthy monounsaturated fats. Finally, avocado oil has a high smoke point [~ 480 F] which makes it ideal for searing salmon, making stir-frys & pan-roasting & grilling. 

What I’ve Learned

The difference between a craving & true hunger

Discipline with what I eat in a healthy way

How great I feel all day when I eat a big, healthy [& hearty] breakfast in the morning

That I don't need to have every ingredient on hand for a recipe [the way I used to think] and can instead get creative and swap ingredients with what I have available 

How good it feels to not feel sluggish after eating

Food which is whole & natural [unprocessed] is so much more fulfilling than anything that humans have manipulated

There are endless uses for sweet potatoes

Eggs are one of my favorite foods

A small handful of raw nuts satisfies me when I think I want a dessert instead

It is much easier to incorporate vegetables into every meal than I previously thought

Simple is almost always better

Shopping, Cooking & Eating on the WHOLE30 is so much fun!

My Grocery Lists //
These are just a few of the main staples from two of the stores we shop at most frequently.


TRADER JOE'S

Organic Avocados // The only place I buy avocados, TJ's sells bags of 4 for a great price. They are perfect every single time. I let them sit out & ripen on the countertop, then once ripe, store them in the fridge for up to a week. 

Sweet Potatoes // The only place I buy sweet potatoes, TJ's sells 2-3 lb bags -- offering both conventional & organic bags. The price can't be beat & considering we go through a bag a week, I love how inexpensive they are!

Zucchini // TJ's offers both conventional & organic zucchini packs with 2-3 zucchini per pack. I like zucchini that are firm & of good size, especially if I am making zoodles or grilling them (which we have been doing A LOT lately). So many other places sell zucchini but I've found it costs more and they are often smaller.

Bell Peppers // I eat a lot of bell peppers -- they are in my breakfast every morning and often we throw a few on the grill for dinner at night. TJ's has a great selection of red, orange, yellow & green peppers and they are competitively priced. 

Rainbow Carrots // These are probably my favorite TJ's product of all time (minus the almond butter I have listed below)...they are delicious roasted in olive oil with S+P and one of Olivia's favorite snacks. Roasted rainbow carrots make great baby food and add beautiful colors as a side dish to complement any entree. 

Black Olives // If you've been following along with me, you'll know I love black olives. When I was a little girl, I would sit under the kitchen table on holidays & eat black olives. My very favorite kind is from TJ's and I always keep a can on hand for taco salads, tuna salad & a quick and easy snack.

Creamy + Salted Almond Butter // The best of the best, TJ's sells my all-time favorite almond butter. The only ingredients are almonds & sea salt. Worth every penny at $6.99, and a lot less than almond butters offered at health food stores. 

Raw Nuts [Pecans, Walnuts, Almonds] // When looking to buy nuts in bulk, I always go straight for TJ's. They are a great price and you can always find any & every kind of nut you are looking for. 99% of the time I buy raw, unsalted nuts & then toast them for salads, eat them for a snack, or dress them up with seasonings for a treat.

Seasoning Grinders // Trader Joe's offers so many great WHOLE30 compliant seasonings. These are a few of our favorites: Pink Himalayan Salt, SMOKE Seasoning, 21 Seasoning Salute, Garlic Salt Grinder, Lemon Pepper Seasoning & Everyday Seasoning 

WHOLE FOODS

Brat Hans Mild Italian Chicken Sausage // Considering these contain no sugar and they are so flavorful, these have become a staple in our kitchen. I love to remove them from the casing & add them to hashes in the morning and my husband enjoys them straight from the grill for dinner. 

Ground Turkey // I buy all my ground turkey at Whole Foods because of the quality. It is often on sale and then I stock up and freeze it in smaller portions for our family. Ground turkey is great in taco salads, stuffed sweet potatoes and on zucchini noodles with a high quality marinara sauce & veggies.

Chicken // I buy my chicken at Whole Foods in bulk. It is free-range, organic with no hormones added. You can buy it by the single breast at the meat counter or in larger packs [with a lower price] to freeze and use as needed. 

Raw Celery // We eat a lot of celery! I add it to almost every salad, lentils for Olivia, and Dustin enjoys it in his lunch with peanut butter or almond butter. I buy it at Whole Foods because it is fresh and always delicious. I don't like to buy celery that has been stored in a bag [I'm so weird, I know!] and I've found Whole Foods sells it just the way I like it. Plus it is priced by weight, so I know I am only paying for what I will use. 

Salmon // Just like a lot of the foods I've already listed, we eat salmon a lot! Usually 2-3 times per week. I just can't get enough. Whole Foods offers a wide variety of salmon and has sales often. Be sure when you are buying salmon it is wild-caught! Our favorite way to prepare it is on the grill but it can be baked or seared as well. Just like her Mama, salmon has become one of Olivia's favorite foods and has been since she was 6 months old!

I should say, we don't have a Costco membership yet so we primarily shop at TJ's and Whole Foods, and then Target for essentials since it's so much cheaper. I know Costco has expanded significantly into offering healthy and organic food options so we are looking at getting a membership there soon! I hope this was helpful & I'd love to hear your favorite WHOLE30 & Paleo staples.

5.13.2014

pecan chicken salad [whole30 / paleo]

I am 19 days in to my WHOLE30 [what?] and aside from some mad honey peanut butter & pad thai cravings, I'm feeling great! I think being two thirds of the way in, I am starting to miss some of the food I know I will integrate again once my challenge is over, but I am taking it day by day and enjoying every bite of the food I am making. 

So today I wanted to share my go-to lunch lately: Pecan Chicken Salad.
It requires minimal ingredients that can be stored in the fridge &/or prepped ahead of time so you can throw it together in no time. It is easy to pack for a picnic or a lunch [or dinner] at work and is light and refreshing, which makes it perfect for the warmer weather.


What You'll Need
Shredded [Cooked] Chicken // One breast per person [per serving]
Red Onion // I am obsessed with grilled red onion
Celery
Whole [Raw] Pecans
Green or Red Grapes
Homemade Paleo Mayo // Recipe HERE
S+P

What You'll Do

To cook chicken: Boil chicken on medium heat in high quality low sodium chicken stock [be sure it is whole30 compliant and does not contain sugar ... many do!] until cooked through; let cool & shred

To grill onion: Peel red onion and quarter, lightly coat with olive oil, S+P // Grill until heated through and you've achieved great grill marks ... We grill often & I always keep red onions on hand, so when my husband is grilling dinner, I have him throw onions on and then I use them all week in my recipes!

Shred chicken into bite-sized pieces after it has cooled
Finely chop red onion + celery
Slice grapes in half and half again, lengthwise

In a small frying pan, toast raw pecans [low heat, watching closely until the heat brings out the flavor, being careful not to burn]; chop once cooled ... reserve a handful for garnish and mix the rest into the salad

Mix all ingredients together in large bowl: chicken, red onion, celery, pecans + grapes
Add 1-2 TBSP homemade mayo to achieve desired flavor and of course, lots of S+P to taste

Garnish with chopped, toasted pecans & enjoy!

>> I didn't include measurements for the ingredients because I just eyeball everything. I keep cooked chicken in the fridge all week, as well as all the ingredients, so I make this salad in batches of 2-3 meals. Adjust the amounts of each ingredient according to your preferences. In general, my protein [chicken] is equivalent to the total veggies and fruit [celery, onion + grapes], and I'm pretty wild about pecans, so there are no real rules when it comes to those <<

5.10.2014

week 2 whole30 recap & recipes

I'm halfway through my WHOLE30 and I can't believe how quick the time is flying! My second week has been great. You can read my Week 1 Recap HERE. I have been feeling pretty darn awesome -- I really don't crave sugar at all but I definitely crave protein and nuts, so I always keep raw almonds on hand and I have been eating a lot of hard boiled eggs and grilled chicken. I enjoyed a big taco salad on Cinco de Mayo & the most flavorful fajita night midweek last week. This weekend is a busy one so I have been throwing together random things for a sort of "picnic" dinner and you know what? I'm totally okay with that. Sometimes simple is the best! I've also been eating a lot of grilled salmon with roasted rainbow carrots (ahh--mazing!) and of course, two of my favorite WHOLE30 staples: guacamole & sweet potatoes. 

We have been so busy with the final stage of our renovation and getting ready for Olivia's 1st Birthday Party that my energy levels have seemed low, but I attribute it more to the amount of sleep I'm getting (which lets just say is not enough) and the amount of time I am spending on my feet every day and night. Other than being tired, I'm feeling SO great! My clothes fit so well and are even loose (!!!), I never feel bloated or "full" anymore, and I have a healthier emotional relationship with food [I'll expand more next week]. The best part? I am having more fun in the kitchen than I have in years and every single meal and snack I eat is so satisfying and delicious! 

This week I made my first batch of Homemade [PALEO] Mayo and it was seriously like a fluffy magical cloud of deliciousness. So of course, I had to make egg salad with it. And when I make egg salad, I don't just use eggs. I pack it with all my favorite flavors for a unique and appetizing entree. Both recipes are below.
Happy Saturday!

No Fuss HOMEMADE MAYO [whole30 / paleo]


What You'll Need

1 raw egg
1 cup of extra light olive oil [Be sure not to use extra virgin because the flavor is too strong]
2-3 teaspoons fresh squeezed lemon or lime juice [I did a combination of both]
1 [generous] pinch of salt
Seasoning or herbs of choice [I used 1/2 tsp mustard powder but plan to experiment with my next batch]

1 tall glass jar [with lid]
Immersion [Hand] Blender

What You Do

Place raw egg in bottom of jar. Add lemon/lime juice, salt & any seasonings of choice. 
Pour in 1 cup of oil. 
Place immersion blender all the way to bottom of jar. Blend for 30 seconds without moving handle. You will be begin to see the magic happen -- the oil and egg will turn into a creamy consistency. Continue to blend, moving as needed to incorporate all oil.

Give it a taste, adjust seasonings as needed and store it in the jar in fridge. 

>> You can look on the egg carton to see when eggs expire and mayo should stay good until then <<

What I love about this recipe is that it makes the perfect amount for a few days of salads/spreads/etc. so you won't store it for long and hopefully none will go to waste. Then when it's gone, you can whip up a new batch in just minutes. 
PLUS you make it & store it in the same jar which means less dishes which = less work. 

Not Your Average EGG SALAD [whole30 / paleo]


What You'll Need

2-3 eggs //  hard boiled & peeled
1 celery stalk
2-3 radishes
1/2 red onion // optional to have it grilled [we make extra on fajita night solely for the purpose of using them in this salad because grilled red onion adds an amazing smoky, savory bite]
1-2 TBSP homemade mayo
1 tsp spicy mustard // Gulden's brand is whole30 compliant
Roasted & Salted Pepitas // I love TJ's brand
S+P

What You Do
Chop eggs in preferred way // I use this because its fun, easy and I make egg salad a lot.
Finely dice celery, radishes and red onion 
Add mayo + spicy mustard & mix well
Add S+P to taste
Garnish with a small handful of pepitas for an extra crunch and final layer of flavor!

I love to eat mine alongside a handful of raw almonds & fresh frozen blueberries. Yum! Enjoy!

5.08.2014

no fuss fajita night [whole30 / paleo]

Fajitas [and Mexican food in general] have always been dear to my heart. Growing up, I loved family taco nights and one of my favorite local restaurants to this day offers a "build-your-own-fajitas" entree where all the veggies come out on a sizzling cast iron skillet [after being bathed in jalapeño butter] and you have every topping and salsa you could ever imagine to pile into warm flour tortillas, including homemade corn cake and the most amazing jalapeño refried beans. Yup, I'm pretty sure I could eat at least 6 fajitas. And a blended margarita alongside them wouldn't hurt much either.

But I have learned that many of my favorite restaurant dishes can be made at home -- for less money and for many less calories. One thing I love about the WHOLE30 is that it has challenged me to get creative in the kitchen. I'll get a craving for a meal and then figure out a way to make it WHOLE30 compliant, and even more importantly -- healthy and satisfying. The WHOLE30 so far has been a great experience for me, for many reasons, but the number one thing is that it has opened my eyes to a whole new way of eating. A new way of viewing and approaching food and meals, and a new way of nourishing my body [and mind]. It is a lifestyle change, not a fad diet. And while I have always eaten rather healthy [not that you would know from the first paragraph, ha], this has expanded my horizons even wider to new foods and new flavors that I've never cooked with before. And while I didn't start the WHOLE30 to lose weight or cut calories, I've discovered that so many meals can still be so delicious without all the calories of cheese, beans, and other common sides.

So that brings me to this -- one of my favorite WHOLE30 meals so far! On a whim I told Dustin we were going to have a fajitas night this week and then I headed to the grocery store. With only a few ingredients, I threw together one of the most tasty meals yet. The best part? It is so easy!

Cilantro Lime Fajitas & Grilled Veggies


What You'll Need:
Chicken // 1 breast per person [extra points if it is free-range organic with no abx / hormones added]

Bell Peppers // 1 bell pepper per two people

Red Onions // 1 Red Onion per two people*
*Oh, and can I just say... grilled red onion makes an amazing addition to egg salad so we always make extra.

Guacamole // Pick your favorite WHOLE30 compliant guac up or make your own [can you guess where ours is from?]

Salsa // Find your favorite WHOLE30 compliant salsa or make your own [Hint: the medium tomatillo from Chipotle is compliant... I told you this was no fuss!]

Sweet Potato Chips // Grab your favorite WHOLE30 compliant brand from the store or make your own [recipe here]

2 Limes
1 bunch fresh cilantro
Extra light olive oil
S+P

What You'll Do:
>> Marinate the chicken [I marinated ours overnight]: Finely chop up half of your cilantro and squeeze the juice from one lime; marinate chicken in cilantro + lime mixture for at least 1 hour up to 24 hours; add other seasonings as desired

>> When ready to cook, lightly toss vegetables in olive oil and S+P // I suggest slicing bell pepper into 3-4 thick pieces and then slicing thinly after grilling so it doesn't fall through the grill grates // Quarter red onion into chunks and then peel apart after grilling if desired

>> Grill chicken until cooked through & veggies until tender, adding a squeeze of lime over them while on the grill [optional]

>> After grilling, place chicken and bell peppers on cutting board and using a sharp knife, slice thinly, adding S+P as needed

>> Pile chicken in the center of your plate and top with guacamole & / or salsa

>> Surround your plate with grilled vegetables, a small handful of sweet potato chips and a lime & / or fresh chopped cilantro for garnish

And there you have it -- your very own WHOLE30 fajita night at home, no fuss, no guilt & full of healthy flavor. Enjoy!

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