My Valentine’s Day Menu Inspiration

This year, Dana and I have decided to stay in for Valentine’s Day. Come to think of it, that is what we usually do. I prefer to make dinner especially when I know the restaurants will be swamped. I prefer the quiet comfort of home. Don’t get me wrong though because I enjoy going out to eat too!

Check out Valentine’s Day from last year: Valentine’s Day 2013. Last year we had grilled chicken with artichoke salsa and it was TASTY!

I have a tantalizing menu planned for tomorrow evening but I still have some final decisions to make. Maybe you all could help me decide?

Menu Inspiration

I know for sure that I am making some version of a gluten-free baked coconut shrimp. Skinny Taste’s photo is my inspiration! Num!!

coconut shrimp

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I know for sure I will be making clean and simple steamed artichokes. We bought four at Costco and they look fab! I hope they taste as good as they look.

artichoke

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I haven’t decided whether or not to make potatoes or cilantro lime brown rice. I realize the rice goes well with the shrimp, but I thought it might be fun to have the whole dinner be finger food friendly in which case I would go with the potatoes.

I could do baked potato wedges…

potato wedges

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Or these oven-baked parmesan french fries (OMG!)!

potato fries

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Or cilantro-lime brown rice which is always good.

cilantro lime rice

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Dessert

Since I decided to steer clear of refined sugars for a little while, I searched for a couple of dessert recipes that would fit my needs.

The first one is a no-bake chocolate banana almond square that is sweetened using dates, bananas and honey.

valentine dessert

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The second one is a clean eating brownie that is sweetened using maple syrup.

valentine dessert 2

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I need your votes! 

Potatoes or rice?

Chocolate almond square or brownie?

Or maybe you have an even better recipe I should try? Let me know!

___________________

New Grocery Store Gift Card WINNER!

I only heard from one of my winners (Congrats, Laura!) from the grocery store gift card giveaway but never heard from winner #2, so I am selecting a new winner.

So…..Congrats to Laura and TANYA!! Please send me your addresses and I will get your $20 (originally I said $10 but it’s actually $20—whoop whoop!) in gift cards mailed to you asap!

Thanks!

The Christmas Recap

Did everyone survive Christmas? Is anyone else feeling the post-Christmas blues at all? I am a little bit. I am definitely going to keep the Christmas decorations up for a little while to help myself wean off of the holiday high.

Christmas was a blast. The majority of the celebrating started on Christmas eve morning.

Dana and I volunteer every year at the Children’s Hospital where we help wrap presents that have been donated to the children who have to be in the hospital at Christmastime.

Children's christmas eve gift wrapping dana and melanie

Children's christmas eve gift wrapping

I am always amazed at the amount of gifts that are donated. Each child gets 5-8 gifts and the bags with their gifts are all labeled so that we know the first name of the child and the age. It breaks my heart to think of anyone having to spend Christmas in the hospital, and I hope receiving some holiday cheer helps to lift their spirits.

This is about one-quarter of the amount of gifts that were wrapped.

Children's christmas eve gift wrapping

Once we were done being elves, we dashed home to get ready for Christmas Eve with Dana’s family. I threw together a fruit salad (recipe from Katie!), made myself some lunch, changed into my Christmas outfit, and headed out the door.

dana moose melanie christmas eve

We spent the afternoon and evening munching on delicious appetizers, sipping wine, opening gifts, and eating a nice Christmas eve dinner.

appetizers christmas eve

Beef tenderloin, asparagus, horseradish mashed potatoes, and my fruit salad…

christmas eve dinner

Later in the evening Dana and I met my family at church for 10:00 pm mass. They played my favorite song and mass was beautiful.

Christmas Day

On Christmas morning, we made our way to my mom and dad’s. Awaiting our arrival was this glorious loaf of monkey bread. I was amazed to learn that not everyone knows what monkey bread is. You have to try this stuff! It is caramelly and cinnamony and so darn good!

Monkey Bread

We all hung out, watched A Christmas Story, and waited for everyone else to arrive.

mom and melanie

Once the crew was there, we sat down to dinner.

christmas table mom and dads 2013

Ham, cheesy potatoes (!!!), asparagus, and strawberry spinach salad…So good!

christmas 2013

I filled my tummy to the perfect amount of satisfied, and then we all dove into the Christmas gifts. That was quite the lengthy ordeal! We must have been very good this year because there were LOTS of presents!

christmas 2013 mom and dads

After gifts we opened up our stockings and then reeeelaaxxeed. A major theme of these two days.

stocking

Eventually, it was time for dessert: Christmas cookies and ice cream, but not just any ice cream, Edy’s slow churned caramel delight ice cream. Oh my goodness, so good  ice cream dessert

We finished watching A Christmas Story, watched a home video, and then headed for home. It was such an incredible Christmas as always—we really missed Jeff and Ana though. Muchos xoxo’s to you!

I am so lucky to have such amazing families! I love you all.

So tell me about YOUR Christmas! What was your favorite treat? Your favorite gift? Most memorable moment? 

Traditions: Bells and Lights

Happy Christmas Eve Eve! I hope everyone had a fabulous weekend. How ’bout a quick little recap for you all?!

On Friday, we bundled up and rang the bells for the Salvation Army. We were thrilled to tell everyone that their donations would be matched on Friday and Saturday all across Minnesota and North Dakota!  To donate to the Salvation Army, you can click over here: Salvation Army.

dana and melanie christmas gear

Bell ringing was followed by Chinese take-out. I can’t remember the last time we ordered Chinese food but it was just as good as I remembered. Nice and salty. 🙂

chinese food for dinner

There was lots of gift wrapping, Christmas music, dancing, and a little cleaning happening around our house this weekend.

Saturday night we grilled up top sirloin and then headed out to look at Christmas lights in the neighborhood.

steak broccoli christmas lights christmas lights

We made a stop at Dairy Queen for a double fudge cookie dough blizzard for me and the seasonal mint one for Dana, just as we always do when we go looking at lights. I love traditions. 🙂

And I treated myself to a couple of cups of insanely priced peppermint mocha and turtle lattes on Friday and Sunday!

coffee

Again, another tradition of the holiday season. So worth it.

Today is my last day of work for the week and I am so anxious for the Christmas festivities to continue!

Happy day my friends.

Christmas Survey Time

It’s the most wonderful time of the year and it’s time for a little Christmas fun. It’s survey time! Thank you to Amanda for this one! Are you ready? Here we go…

Favorite…

Christmas Movie?
Elf, A Christmas Story, and White Christmas.

Character from any Christmas Movie?
Randy from a Christmas story, especially the scene where he is all bundled up in snow gear and has to waddle around to get anywhere. What a cutie.

christmas-story-snow-suit

Christmas Song?
Night of Silence/Silent Night. It is absolutely beautiful and we always hope that they will sing it at Christmas mass.

Christmas Memory?
I loved going over to my grandparent’s house on Christmas eve. My grandma would make her insanely delicious spaghetti and meatballs and we would all hang out and exchange gifts among the siblings and to mom and dad and grandma and grandpa. It was always a relaxing and cozy evening. After dinner my mom would often put my hair into rollers so that I could have curly hair for Christmas day. I would practically fall asleep as she put them in. I have lots of good Christmas memories.

Christmas Cookie?
Peanut butter blossoms, monster cookies, special k bars (I realize not really a cookie)….notice a theme? Anything with peanut butter and chocolate!

monster cookies

This or That…

Give or Receive?
Give…it takes me a while to pick out the perfect gift, but once I do I am thrilled. I can’t wait to give the gift to the recipient and watch their expression as they open it. I won’t lie, I like getting gifts too. Who doesn’t?

christmas moose

Ham or Turkey?
I prefer turkey, but I can enjoy some ham around the holidays too!

Star or Angel?
Currently we have a star.

White Lights or Colored Lights?
Colored lights. This year we have a bunch of colored lights up in the front of the house, and some white ones in the back. We have colored lights on the tree. I definitely prefer the colored ones.

christmas tree

Blinking Lights or Still Lights?
Still lights, but I love driving around to the houses that have tons of blinking lights that they have programmed to music. You set your car radio to the station that they are programmed to, and you can watch the lights dance to the song!

Were you Naughty or Nice this year?
Nice.

melanie and abbie

Christmas presents piled underneath a christmas tree.

Presents…

What do you want for Christmas this year?
Good health.

When do you open your gifts?
This changes yearly now that I am a married woman, but this year I will be opening gifts from Dana’s family on Christmas eve and from my family on Christmas day.

Do you like wrapping gifts?
I enjoy wrapping gifts if I’m wrapping with someone else, but on my own I can take it or leave it.

fireplace

Random…

Can you name all the reindeer?
Uh, chyaa. Just sing the song.

Have you ever gotten a kiss under the mistletoe?

Yeaaa. 🙂

Do you go caroling?
Do people still do this? I caroled one time in elementary school. I thought it was a blast. I think it would be fun to do it again!

Do you drive around and look at the Christmas lights?
Yes! For the past few years Dana and I have gone out to look at lights. We stop at Dairy Queen first and then head around town ooing and awwing. I turn into a kid when it comes to looking at lights.

Have you ever had a white Christmas?
Always! There may have been one year that wasn’t?

Who do you celebrate Christmas with?
Both of our families.

Have you ever had your picture taken with Santa?
Yes, and I have a good feeling I was terrified of him. I didn’t like strangers a whole lot.

What part of Christmas do you look most forward to?
Spending time with family and going to evening church together.

christmas breakfast

Now you go! Answer a few of the questions and have fun!

Southwestern Egg Rolls with Avocado Ranch

Hello my beauties! I hope everyone is staying nice and warm inside on these frigid days as much as possible.

How about something fun to get your mind off of the cold?

I’ve got the perfect warm holiday appetizer recipe for you! I have to give thanks to Budget Savvy Diva for coming up with this wonderful masterpiece.

They’re warm, they’re cool, crunchy and creamy and they are SO darn delicious!

I’m talking about these Southwestern Egg Rolls with Avocado Sauce. I actually called mine Santa Fe Egg Rolls but same difference I guess.

santa fe egg rolls

They do call for a little bit of TLC, but the end product is totally worth it. A little mixing, wrapping and rolling….and these babies are all yours.

santa fe egg rolls santa fe egg rolls

I served the egg rolls warm and I cut them in half so that they were more of an appetizer-size.

My only regret is that I didn’t take a picture of the egg rolls after they were cut in half, and I also didn’t take a photo of the pretty green dip! So here’s my idea, you make these for your friends and family and you can see exactly what they look like!

Thank you Budget Savvy Diva for this awesome recipe! Here is the link to her recipe: Southwestern Egg Rolls with Avocado Ranch and below is her recipe but with a few of my adaptations.

Southwestern Egg Rolls with Avocado Ranch 

Ingredients

Egg rolls:

  • Egg roll wraps (15 pack)
  • 2 cups corn
  • 1-15 ounce can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1-10 ounce package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and liquid squeezed out
  • 2 cups shredded Mexican cheese
  • 1-4 ounce can diced green chilies
  • 2 green onions, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp. chili powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • cracked black pepper

Avocado ranch dip:

  • 1 cup ranch salad dressing (use your favorite)
  • 1 medium avocado
  • 2 tablespoons cilantro
  • juice from 1/3 lime

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Cover large baking pan with parchment paper; set aside.
  2. In a large bowl mix together egg roll ingredients (except the egg roll wraps).
  3. In a small bowl mix together one egg beaten and one tablespoon water.
  4. Place first egg roll wrapper on flat clean surface. Brush top corner of egg roll wrapper with egg wash.
  5. Place two tablespoons of egg roll mixture onto the lower one-third of the egg roll wrapper, leaving a small border around the edges. Fold button end up, followed by the sides, then finish rolling up. Place seal side down on baking pan. Spray the top with olive oil (or brush it on).
  6. Bake for 25-30 minutes turning halfway*. Then turn broiler on and broil for 5 minutes if further browning is necessary. They are ready when golden brown.
  7. While egg rolls are baking, place ranch avocado ingredients into food processor and process until smooth.
  8. Serve egg rolls warm alongside cold avocado ranch dipping sauce!

The next day, I used leftover avocado ranch to top off my salad—such a brilliant idea; absolutely delicious.

santa fe salad

What are your favorite holiday appetizers?!

Friday Favorites: Holiday Spirit

One of my best blends, Katie and Running4Cupcakes, has started a Friday Favorites link up and since I truly enjoy writing about Friday Favorites sometimes otherwise known as Five Things Friday, I just had to join in!

Her theme for Friday favorites is to focus in on “the little things that made you smile over the past week. And anything goes! Because we all know that it’s the little things in life that make it count, right?” source

Friday Favorites

 

I am really getting into the holiday spirit as I’ve mentioned before. The minty coffee drinks, the Christmas music, the lights, the cookies….I am just full of Christmas spirit and loving every second of it. A few of my Friday Favs are holiday related, and a few are just completely random. So without further ado….

Friday Favorites

1. Online shopping. I am not one for crowds, so online Christmas shopping has been something wonderful to me. It keeps me stress-free and we all can appreciate that!

Xmas time

 

2. Watching Gossip Girl while walking or running on the treadmill. This keeps me occupied for a good hour! The drama gives me a little bit of anxiety, but then I remember it’s just a show and then I’m okay. It’s ridiculous but I’m addicted.

gossip girl

3. Snow. It finally snowed around here and I love how much prettier it looks outside. Many people complain about it but I think it’s gorgeous. Sure we have to be more careful on the roads, shovel our driveways, and give ourselves extra time to wipe off our cars, but it’s worth it.

engagement photos

 

4. Christmas Lights. We have the front and back of our house decorated with Christmas lights along with our Christmas tree and they make me so happy every time I look at them. The simple joys.

christmas tree

5. Victoria’s Secret Boyfriend Sweatpants. 

vs

Dana got me these for my birthday (light pink top and navy blue bottoms) and I LOVE them. These pants are so amazingly comfortable. I feel like I should stock up on a bunch of these they are so great.

Happy FRIDAY my loves!

What are some of your Friday Favorites?!

Extended Thanksgiving & Now It’s Time for Christmas

Well, hello. How’s everyone holding up after the holiday weekend? I know I’m a little late with checking in as Thanksgiving was officially last Thursday, but many of us continued to celebrate over the weekend so I’m not too far off!

The last time I checked in I was recovering from Thanksgiving food coma #1. I’ll catch you up from there as the celebrations continued over the weekend.

On Friday, I started the morning off right with a slice of homemade gluten-free almond bread with peanut butter and a touch of organic maple syrup.

almond bread with peanut butter

Mid-morning I got a four-mile walk in on the treadmill while watching Gossip Girls, again. 🙂 For lunch, LEFTOVERS of course!

thanksgiving leftovers

After I filled my belly with turkey, Dana and I headed out to find our Christmas tree. Every year we go out to a tree farm and chop our own tree down. This year we went to two different tree farms, trekked around for a good hour and a half, and realized we were much too picky when it came to finding our tree this year and we left with nothing.

We weren’t finding one that was full enough or fat enough, so instead of settling, we moved on….to Costco. After our long hunt all bundled up in winter gear in the tree farms, we ended up buying our tree at Costco this year. It is absolutely perfect and was half the price too! We can’t say we didn’t try.

We set it up on Friday but didn’t decorate it until Sunday because the tree needed to settle, but here is the finished product from Sunday! Da da da da………

christmas tree

Moose was unimpressed but I’m impressed myself. It turned out great!

moose close up

On Saturday we headed over to Dana’s parents to celebrate Thanksgiving with them. They made my favorite cheesy veggie recipe which I go crazy for.

cheesy vegetables

Au gratin sweet and russet potatoes…

au gratin potatoes

I contributed a fruit salad made with whole cranberry sauce, crushed pineapple, grapes, walnuts, and whipped cream. This was so easy and very tasty.

fruit salad thanksgiving plate

I cleaned my plate and loved every bite. Apparently I didn’t snap a photo of dessert but it was a very delicious piece of homemade pumpkin pie! Num num num. I love celebrating Thanksgiving twice!!

Now that Thanksgiving is over, it is officially time to think about Christmas. Who am I kidding, I was already listening to Christmas music before Thanksgiving. But now it is in full swing: music, shopping, treats, snow, potlucks, mint mochas, family, friends, parties! I am excited!

Happy day to you all. I hope you had a great weekend!

The Food!

Thanksgiving was a huge success.  I had so much fun with family and friends.  I don’t think I stopped smiling all day.

I started the day off with my first 5k run in goodness knows how long!!!  This particular 5k is my all-time favorite and I get excited for it every year. It has probably been 4-5 months since I’ve run a 5k but I ran the whole thing alongside a great friend and it felt fabulous.

My body is aching a bit today but I am okay with that! I am ready to start running again! I am extremely motivated to get back in shape after the rollercoaster past four months or so.

I hadn’t planned on running so my pre-race fuel wasn’t exactly the most nutritious, but it sure was tasty. We started the day off with cinnamon rolls fresh out of the oven! My mom would always make these for us on holidays so making these in the morning definitely brought back a lot of memories.

cinnamon rolls cinnamon roll

Not much needs to be said about the food on Thanksgiving except for OMG. My all-time favorite meal of all times.

To appetize….Kevi brought crackers with cream cheese, olives, and bacon. These little babies are wayyyyy too good. I stopped myself at three but it was a struggle to keep my paws off of them.

appetizers

The glorious 20# turkey…

turkey thanksgiving turkey cranberry thanksgiving

Dressing/Stuffing…

stuffing thanksgiving

Sweet potatoes…

sweet potatoes thanksgiving

Green bean casserole (I brought this one), recipe courtesy of Alton Brown with a few changes made by moi.

green bean casserole thanksgiving

I forgot a photo of the mashed potatoes—one of my favorite parts of the whole meal!

My glowing plate. Oh wait, it was me that was glowing, not the plate.

thanksgiving 2013

My homemade desserts: Pumpkin pie and caramel apple pecan pie!!!

thanksgiving pie pumpkin pie and apple pie

caramel apple pecan pie thanksgiving

I finished the holiday feeling perfectly satisfied—not so stuffed I could hardly walk, but enough to satisfy my favorite meal food quota.

I am so thankful for this meal, for my friends, for my family, and for hope and faith.

I hope you all had a great Thanksgiving to those who celebrated and a great Thursday to those who didn’t! Happy FRIDAY! 

Halloween Cuteness & Favorite Candy Then and Now

HD-Happy-Halloween-2012-Desktop-Wallpaper-1080p-FFGREEE2242-14

Here’s a little Halloween humor to liven up your day!

What’s a ghosts favorite fruit?

BOOOOOBERRIES!

What kind of clothes do zombies where?

Decay NY!

Bahhahahhaha!

Next, some adorable Halloween costumes to melt your heart. 

halloween 1 halloween 2 halloween 3 halloween 4 halloween 5

halloween 7

 

If you don’t know by now, I love kids! So stinkin’ cute.

My favorite Halloween candy now:

Halloween reese's

 

halloween candy 5

 

Weird, peanut butter and chocolate. 😉

My favorite Halloween candy as a kid:

halloween candy 3

Anything gummy: gummy bears, gummy worms, fruit roll-ups, fruit by the foot, fruit snacks, gushers…

halloween candy 4

Remember coming home from trick or treating and sprawling all of your candy out on the floor and dividing it out to see what you got?!

halloween candy 2

Oh, the memories!

halloween funny

How’s that for a random post? I hope you all have a spooky and safe Halloween!!