oatmeal jam bars

I went home to visit my parents for Easter, before heading to L.A. for a writers conference. The timing worked out great because I got to spend a couple extra days with my family before making the short drive to Los Angeles. As always, it was a relaxing time in my hometown… going out for breakfast with Dad, running errands with Mom, watching a few good movies, reading a ton, and catching up on some playtime with Mr. Mur-dog! I also got in some quality baking time, as I always love to do when I am on vacation. Baking is so relaxing and nourishing for me!

Ready to do some baking in my Easter outfit!

Ready to do some baking in my Easter outfit!

One of my favorite things to do is when I’m at my parents’ house is to rifle through their pantry for ingredients that need to be used up, and then find a way to plug these into a recipe. This visit, I made a batch of my beloved three-ingredient cookies, substituting granola for the oats. I also made some lemon bars for Gramps, who joined us for Easter dinner. Then I noticed that Mom had a soon-to-be-expiring jar of jam to use up, along with a ton of oats. So after some online searching, I tweaked a recipe I found to make some healthy oat jam bars using the ingredients at hand. I loved these for dessert… and they are still healthy enough to eat for breakfast, too! I also think these would be a great road trip snack or a healthy snack for kiddos. {You don’t need to tell your kids how healthy these are!} ūüėČ

In my own healthy living journey, I have been trying to eat fewer packaged and processed foods and to make more foods on my own. One thing I love about making my own food is that I know exactly what goes into it… and, in turn, exactly what is going into my belly. Also, baking takes way less time than I would have thought before I started doing it routinely. I typically like to bake on the weekends and enjoy treats most of the week! Baked-from-scratch goodness just feels fancier to me than store-bought treats. Many baked goods can easily be frozen for later, too, and then heated up in the microwave or toaster oven when you’re ready to eat ’em!

Another good thing about making your own snacks and breakfast foods and desserts, rather than buying them from the store? You save a lot of packaging waste, which really adds up over time in our landfills! AND you save money. It’s a win-win!

healthy easy oatmeal jam bars

{This recipe was adapted from this one by Diana at My Humble Kitchen.}

  • 1 & 1/2 cups whole wheat white flour
  • 1 & 1/2 cups rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup coconut oil¬†or butter
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1/4 cup¬†agave
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 cup jam {I used raspberry}
  • 1 cup fresh berries
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and grease a small glass baking pan.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk the flour, 1 cup of the oats, salt, cinnamon and baking soda.
  3. In a microwave-safe bowl, melt the coconut oil or butter.
  4. Stir the melted coconut oil or butter, the honey, and the agave together. Add to the dry mixture.
  5. Transfer about 2/3 of the dough to the prepared baking pan. Pack the mixture down firmly.
  6. With a spoon, spread the jam evenly over the dough.
  7. Sprinkle the fresh berries throughout the jam layer.
  8. Top the berry-jam layer with the remaining 1/3 of the dough.
  9. Spread the remaining 1/2 cup of oats over the top, being careful to cover any bare areas where the jam is peeking through.
  10. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the top is golden brown. {Be careful not to over-bake — these burn easily!}

Note: Allow to cool completely before cutting.

oatmeal jam bars

Hope you enjoy! These make a wonderful breakfast, healthy dessert, or after-school snack!

if you liked this recipe you might also enjoy:
raspberry brown-butter bars
vegan healthier toffee bars
quinoa breakfast bars via The Lean Green Bean
homemade no-bake granola bars via PB Fingers

easy, throw-together, can’t-fail fruit cobbler

Sometimes my grandparents like to shop at Costco.

Which is great! I love Costco! The only problem: there are only three of us in the house. None of us are teenage boys with roaring appetites. And my Grandma likes to buy fruit at Costco.

Which means we sometimes often have a whole bunch of fruit ripening all at once.

So I devised this fruit cobbler recipe out of necessity. I really hate throwing away/wasting food, but a girl can only stir so many strawberries into her morning oatmeal. So one day I chopped up a bunch of strawberries that were on the verge of going bad, added some squishy blueberries and a sad, mealy apple, and topped the whole thing with some stale, also-bought-at-Costco oatmeal cookies that I crushed up with a rolling pin.

I slid the whole thing into the oven and crossed my fingers that when I pulled it out half an hour later, the concoction would have magically transformed into deliciousness.

Well, guess what? IT DID.

costco fruit cobbler

This disappeared from the pan in record time and is a new favorite dessert of my cousin Bianca. {Don’t tell her how easy it is to make… she thinks I’m a superhero every time I bring her some!}

Since then, I’ve made this recipe with a variety of different fruit and topping combinations, and it comes out delectable every single time. So I wanted to share it with you! If you’re looking for an easy, can’t-fail way to use up some past-its-prime fruit — or if you’re just looking for an easy, delicious dessert to make for your family or bring to a party — this is a wonderful recipe!

And {shhhh}… it’s actually healthy! There is no extra sugar added into this dish, unless you use crumbled cookies as the topping — most of the sweetness comes from the baked fruit!

cant fail fruit cobbler

ingredients:
– fruit: strawberries, apples, pears, grapes… whatever is in your fridge! blueberries and raspberries work well, too!
– if you are using less-juicy fruit such as apples or pears, add a little fruit juice {apple, cranberry, orange, whatever you have on hand!}
– topping: stale cookies {I’ve used oatmeal raisin, sugar, even animal crackers} OR granola OR mix up rolled oats with cold butter
– spices to taste {I like cinnamon!}

directions:

1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Get out a glass pie pan or a shallow glass dish and set aside.

2. Slice up the fruit until relatively small, even chunks. Mix together. If you are using drier fruit, add about 1/4 cup of fruit juice.

3. Pour the fruit mixture into the glass pan.

fruit in pan

4. Make your topping. If you’re using stale cookies, place them inside a plastic Ziplock baggie and crush them with a rolling pin until they are crumbled. To make¬†a homemade topping, use your fingers to crumble a few small pieces of cold butter through about 1 cup of rolled oats. Add spices to taste, and a bit of brown sugar if you would like. I’m also a fan of sprinkling the cobbler with granola, like I did here:

fruit cobbler with granola topping

5. Bake for 35-45 minutes, until bubbly and golden brown on top. It will make your kitchen smell delicious!

fruit cobbler

I like to eat this fruit cobbler on its own, or serve it warm topped with iced cream, or stir it into yogurt! Hope you enjoy!

fabulous friday #25 + GIVEAWAY!!

Happy TGIF, friends! Coming at you with some Fabulous Friday action … and a little giveaway the end of this post, woo hoo!

Here are 5 things I’m loving right now:

1. My summer camp students. So adorable, hilarious and hard-working! It warms my heart to see how kind they are to each other. And they crack me up! Today when we were walking back to the classroom from recess, they all ran to beat me there and when I walked in, they were all hiding from me under their desks, giggling at their sneakiness. I wish I had taken a picture to share with y’all. Today was my last day teaching this particular group, and I will miss them!

2. The fresh fruits & veggies of summer. I have been a produce fiend all week, and I love how eating so many plants makes me feel vibrant and energetic. I don’t know about you, but the less sugar and processed food I eat, the less of it I crave. These days I am craving… watermelon! Mmm. To me, nothing says summer quite like a thick juicy slice of fresh watermelon.

watermelon

3. This beautiful and inspiring blog post by Nicole Antoinette: just start.

4. This quote, which I found in the pavement in Jack Keroac Alley outside of City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco:

love hate quote

5. The release of this new book that I am very excited to be a contributor for: Chicken Soup for the Soul, Home Sweet Home! The story I wrote, titled “My Perfectly Decorated Apartment,” is featured in the book alongside 100 other inspiring, touching, sweet¬†and funny stories about “hearth, happiness, and hard work.” And I am delighted that I have a signed copy to give to one of you!

CSS Home Sweet Home

The giveaway will stay open until 11:59 p.m. on Thursday, June 26. Good luck! And thanks for celebrating with me!

Click on this link to enter: a Rafflecopter giveaway

Questions of the evening:

  • What are you loving right now?
  • Do you have any fun¬†weekend plans?
  • What food says “summer” to you?

raspberry pavlova

Happy Wednesday, everyone! Hope you’re having a wonderful week so far! I’m spending the morning and early afternoon working on various projects, then teaching two classes for Communication Academy later this afternoon, and then I’m headed into the city to go to a Giants game with Allyn and his business school classmates. It will be my first Giants game and I’m excited!

Before I leap into my writing for the day, I wanted to share this amazing dessert recipe from Easter that our family friend Diana made. It’s a Russian dessert named after the ballet dancer Anna Pavlova. We were all blown away! It is light and fresh — the perfect dessert for spring or summer.

I know it looks complicated, and there are a lot of steps to this recipe, but Diana assured me it is actually quite simple to make. And I can assure you it is quite delicious!

easter dessert

diana’s raspberry pavlova
{adapted from Ina Garten’s recipe}

– 4 large egg whites, at room temperature
– pinch of salt
– 1 cup sugar
– 2 teaspoons cornstarch
– 1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
– 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
– 2 pints fresh raspberries {1/2 pint for the sauce, the rest for topping}

homemade whipped cream:
– 1 cup cold heavy cream
– 1 tablespoon sugar
– 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

homemade raspberry sauce:
– 1/2 pint fresh raspberries
– 1/2 cup sugar
– 1 cup seedless raspberry jam
– 1 tablespoon framboise liqueur

1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees F and place a sheet of parchment paper on a baking¬†pan. Draw a circle on the paper, using a 9-inch plate as a guide, then turn the paper over so you can see the circle through the paper but won’t get any ink or pencil on the meringue.

2. In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the egg whites and salt. Beat the egg whites on high speed for about one minute until firm. With the mixer still on high, slowly add the sugar and beat for about two minutes, until it makes firm, shiny peaks. Remove the bowl from the mixer.

3. Sift the cornstarch onto the beaten egg whites and add the vanilla and vinegar. Now fold ingredients lightly with a rubber spatula.

4. Pile the meringue into the middle of the circle on the parchment paper and smooth it within the circle, making a rough disk. Don’t stress out — it doesn’t have to be perfect!

5. Bake for 1 and 1/2 hours. Then turn off the oven, keep the door closed, and allow the meringue to cool completely in the oven {will take about 1 hour.} It should be crisp on the outside and soft on the inside.

6. While you’re waiting for it to cool, make your raspberry sauce:¬†Place the raspberries, sugar and 1/4 cup water in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer for four minutes. Pour the cooked raspberries, the jam, and framboise into the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade and process until smooth. Chill.

7. Also make your whipped cream by whipping the cream in the bowl of an electric mixer or with a hand mixer. When it starts to thicken, add the sugar and vanilla and continue to beat until firm. {Diana adds a caution not to overbeat!}

8. To assemble: invert the meringue disk onto a plate and spread the top completely with your homemade whipped cream. Combine the fresh raspberries in a bowl with about 1/2 cup of your homemade raspberry sauce, enough to coat the berries lightly. Spoon the berries into the middle of the Pavlova. Slice and serve immediately with extra raspberry sauce if desired.

Enjoy! Diana also added that you can easily adapt this recipe to use other fruit of your choosing, such as strawberries or blueberries.

Hope you’re having a wonderful day, friends! Eat something delicious!

my favorite quick, healthy + gluten-free breakfasts

I’ve recently began eating a gluten-free diet — my brother found out that he is allergic to gluten and feels much better on a gluten-free diet, and since we share the same genes I thought I would give it a try, too! Breakfast was the meal I felt most stumped by: my quick go-to breakfast used to be a whole-wheat english muffin or toast with peanut butter. I haven’t yet found a gluten-free bread loaf that I love, so I went back to the drawing board.

Here are four of my new favorite healthy, gluten-free breakfasts. They are delicious when enjoyed slowly over the morning newspaper, and are also perfect for busy mornings when you need to eat something quick!

1. Oatmeal with nut butter & fruit. Make sure you use gluten-free oats. I like topping mine with blueberries, walnuts, and a spoonful of almond butter.

oatmeal

2. Greek yogurt + fruit, with a handful of walnuts or almonds on the side. My favorite combo lately: plain greek yogurt + a drizzle of honey + a sliced banana.

yogurt and banana

3. A smoothie made with greek yogurt and/or a spoonful of nut butter,¬†plus spinach & chia seeds of course!¬†Right now I am loving a combo of strawberries + mango + a sliced peach. And here is a delicious looking recipe from Danica at It’s Progression that I am planning to try out this week.

smoothie

4. Homemade muffins topped with peanut butter. I try to make a batch of banana muffins or apple-cinnamon muffins {substituting a gluten-free flour blend for the wheat flour} every weekend, and then I get to enjoy them as breakfast and snacks throughout the week.

apple oatmeal muffins

What are your favorite quick, healthy breakfasts? Please share in the comments below!

weekend fun {+ trying to stay cool!}

Happy Sunday, friends! Hope you are having a joyful, relaxing, rejuvenating day!

It has been H-O-T here in Southern California, and especially in my little beach community where few of us have air conditioning, this weekend has been all about trying to keep cool! I have been downing Gatorade, homemade iced tea, and smoothies.

As I mentioned the other day, I have been all about the smoothies lately! I am a little late to the smoothie party, and I don’t know why it took me so long. I think I was intimidated by the blender {and blender clean-up} but it really takes me all of five minutes to assemble my smoothie, blend it, and wash the blender. A smoothie has become my go-to breakfast! I normally blend some fresh or frozen fruit, a couple spoonfuls of greek yogurt, 1/2 cup of coconut water, a handful of baby spinach, and ice. Here are a few of my favorite fruit combos:

– strawberries, banana, pineapple
– peach, strawberries, blueberries
– mango, peach, blueberries
– raspberries, strawberries, banana, blueberries

Also, if anyone is like me and feels a little wary about adding spinach, trust me: you really can’t taste it! It’s a great way to get a little more green into your diet.

On a more decadent note, I also made these chocolate butter cups which are currently chilling in the freezer … I will let you know how they turn out!

me beachin

Yesterday I spent the afternoon at the beach with my dear friend Patty and her family, who were sweet enough to invite me out to their beach house. It was a beautiful day at the beach and the nice ocean breeze cooled things off a little!

Then, last night my mom and I kept cool in the air conditioning: we went to a local restaurant and saw my amazing friend Lauren Sexton in concert! She is such a talented songwriter, singer and guitar player. She just released an album and the concert was a celebration. You can check out her music on her Facebook page — two of my favorites are her songs “In the Morning” and “The Highway.” Her music is beautiful and I was so proud to be there last night! Congrats, Lauren!

lauren sexton concert lauren sexton

This morning began with a smoothie, the Sunday comics, a slobbery doggy kiss from Murray, and a beautiful sermon at church. Today’s sermon was about delighting in the abundance and joy of the summer and taking time to relax and recharge your batteries. After I got home, I’ve spent the rest of the afternoon sprawled out on the couch reading a great book —¬†Abide With Me¬†by Elizabeth Strout. {I love her! Her novel¬†Olive Kitteridge¬†is another great read!}

As I’ve written about before, sometimes I feel this pressure to be go-go-go all the time, like constant busyness makes my days more worthwhile, but I’ve found it’s really quite the opposite. On those rushed, forced go-go-go days I typically climb into bed feeling depleted and frazzled, like my gas tank is on empty. Not a good feeling. I’m learning to give myself permission, especially on Sundays, to just relax and savor this amazing life I’ve been blessed with.¬†There was nothing I felt more like doing today and curling up with a book, and it has been a delightful Sunday.

What are you doing to relax and recharge your batteries? What are you delighting in this summer?

Kitchen Tip Tuesdays: 3-ingredient banana cookies

kttovenmittbanner425

Hi everyone! Time for another Kitchen Tip Tuesdays post! {Here are links to my previous posts about making the most of oven time and reusing leftovers in new recipes.}

I have a quick recipe to share with you today — it’s an easy and delicious cookie that is also healthy for you! And it only has three ingredients {one of which is chocolate!} ūüôā That’s my kind of recipe!

This would make the perfect sweet dessert, kid-friendly snack, or grab-and-go breakfast. It’s also a great way to use up spotty bananas before they go bad.

banana cookies

All you need to make these babies are:

  • 2 bananas
  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 1/4 cup chocolate chips {if desired; I used mini chocolate chips for mine}

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Mash bananas in a bowl. Add oatmeal and chocolate chips and stir until well combined.

banana dough

3. Plop dough onto a greased cookie sheet {I greased mine with coconut oil} and bake for 15-18 minutes.

Done and YUM! How easy is that?

banana cookies done

This recipe is also easily customizable to suit your tastes! You can add chopped nuts, raisins, peanut butter, coconut … whatever your taste buds desire!

What are some of your favorite grab-and-go recipes?

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if you enjoyed this post, you might also like:
peanut butter breakfast cookies
chocolate strawberry coconut cookies
2-ingredient pumpkin spice cookies

2-ingredient pulled pork in the crock pot

I have another recipe to share with you today as part of the crock-pot challenge issued by Julie at Peanut Butter Fingers! This is actually from a recipe I found on Julie’s site. I’m a big fan of bbq pulled pork sandwiches — but it seemed like a dish that took a lot of time and some sort of fancy meat cooker to pull off, so it’s always been something I’ve ordered in restaurants but never attempted to make on my own.

That is, until now! Julie’s recipe made it¬†look so easy I had to try it. I am SO glad I did!

This is now one of my go-to crock-pot recipes! And perhaps my favorite part: it only needs TWO ingredients! {Plus whatever else you want to use to dress it up!}

pulled pork

2-ingredient pulled pork in the crock pot

– 1 pork tenderloin {I used one that was about 4 pounds}
– 1 can of low-sodium beef broth

1. Place the pork tenderloin in the crock pot and cover with the beef broth.

2. Cook on low for 6-8 hours or high for 4 hours, until pork is cooked through and juicy. Tear it apart with a knife and fork and transfer to a plate for serving.

And that’s it! Here’s what my pork looked like when I arrived home from school:

pork in crock pot

And it smelled DIVINE! Here’s the result when I turned off the crock pot and transferred the pork to a plate for serving:

pulled pork

Then all I did was plop some pork on a bun, add some Famous Dave’s BBQ Sauce, and I had a delicious homemade dinner to enjoy! The sandwiches paired nice with a light salad and fruit. I’m thinking next time I might add pineapple slices to the top of the pork to make Hawaiian BBQ Pulled Pork Sandwiches!

bbq pork sandwich

Another reason I love this recipe? There’s plenty of leftovers for lunch tomorrow! Score! ūüôā

What are some of your favorite crock-pot recipes? Have any of you made pulled pork in the crock pot before?

Have a wonderful Wednesday!
-Dallas

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If you liked this post, you might also enjoy:
crock-pot chicken with black beans & corn
easy honey-lime chicken enchiladas
cilantro-honey salmon
favorite mashed potatoes

***This post is featured on Menu-Plan Monday!

MPM-Winter

saving money & time by utilizing my freezer

One of my goals for this year is to put at least 10% of each paycheck into my savings. I’ve always been a saver — I was the kid who saved up my Chuck E. Cheese ticket winnings visit after visit to eventually spend on the coveted 1,000-Ticket Big Prize — but in the grown-up world saving isn’t always that easy. As a grad student, there are months it seems downright impossible to put aside any of my small paycheck for savings. Yet I know how important it is to save for the future, and I know how fortunate I am to have a job — after all, even a small paycheck is better than no paycheck.

With that mindset — that even small savings deposits are better than no savings! — I am aiming to discover little ways to save money throughout my daily living.¬†Since I hate wasting food, I’ve gotten in the habit of buying small amounts of produce every week — even produce I really like and eat often — because I don’t want anything to go bad and go to waste. Sometimes this caused me to lose out on good weekly deals because, though I knew I would use up a lot of that specific fruit or vegetable, I wasn’t sure if I would eat it quickly enough. This also lead to some situations where it felt like I was racing against the clock to eat up all of the peaches or blackberries or celery before it went bad and into the trash.

freezing produce

Then I came across this post from my blogging buddy Andrea at Simple Organized Living about how she cuts up and freezes her fruits and veggies {and lots of other goodies, too!} … and it really inspired me! It seems so obvious, but it had never occurred to me that I could freeze my fruits and veggies and use them later. It was like a light-bulb went on in my brain!

Serendipitously, this week at the grocery store, they were having a great sale on bell peppers, something I use often in my cooking. Normally I would have bought one, maybe two, and made sure to use them up in dishes this week. But now I knew exactly what to do to take full advantage of the sale: use my freezer!

I bought half a dozen bell peppers, used two in recipes this week just like I normally would have, and then took a few extra minutes to chop up the rest. Then all I had to do was put them into ziplock baggies and into the freezer!

bell peppers

I used one small bag per bell pepper, because typically my recipes use one bell pepper at a time. An extra bonus is that cooking with these frozen veggies will be easier than ever because the chopping is already done! Surprisingly, it seemed much faster to get in the zone and chop up four bell peppers in one go than it does chopping them up one at a time.

And I felt so proud putting these babies into the freezer. I pictured a harried, midterm version of my Future Self, hungry and desperate to get dinner on the table, and I thought, “This is my gift to you, Future Self. ¬†You’re welcome!”

Do any of you use your freezer to stock up on produce? I’d love to hear your money-saving tips!

chocolate-chip banana muffins

One of the first baking recipes I ever learned to make was my mom’s banana bread. To me, banana bread just tastes like home. And it’s a great recipe for someone like me who hates to waste food. I prefer to eat bananas when they are just ripening, still a little green at the tips. When they begin to get brown spots, I really don’t care for them. But thanks to Mom, I don’t have to worry about them going to waste — I just whip up a batch of banana bread…

…or banana muffins! In the past few years I’ve gotten really into making muffins instead of bread because I just find muffins so much more portable — easy to slip into a lunchbox or grab for breakfast on the way out the door. {That said, you could easily adapt this recipe for a loaf of bread if you’d prefer!}

I added chocolate chips to Mom’s recipe for a little extra treat to start the school year off right. ūüôā¬†Hope you enjoy these as much as I do!

DSC00005

chocolate-chip banana muffins

  • 1/3 cup butter or margarine
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 & 3/4 cup flour {I used whole-wheat flour}
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 cup ripe mashed bananas {I used two bananas}
  • 1 cup chocolate chips

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line muffin tin with paper cups and set aside.

2. In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar. Add the eggs and vanilla and beat well.

3. In a separate bowl, sift together dry ingredients.

4. Add a portion of the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, mixing well. Then add a portion of the mashed bananas. Continue alternating dry ingredients and mashed bananas until the entire mixture is combined. {Batter will be slightly lumpy due to the bananas.}

DSC00052

5. Add chocolate chips.

6. Spoon batter into paper muffin cups, about 3/4 of the way full.

DSC00004

7. Bake for 22-25 minutes, until golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

DSC00006

Enjoy! These are great for breakfast, a mid-afternoon snack, and also make a great healthy dessert!

Hope your week is going great,
-Dallas