goals + meal plan for the week of 10/20

Happy Sunday, friends! How is your weekend going? It’s another gorgeous day here in the Bay Area. I love autumn! I think I’m going to bake another pumpkin pie today, or maybe some gluten-free pumpkin chocolate-chip cookies … nothing says … Continue reading

my first time doing zumba!

zumba!

On Wednesday, I went to my first-ever zumba class after my friend Emily invited me to join her at a local dance studio. I had never tried zumba before, though I had heard plenty of great things about it. All I knew was that it was supposed to be fast-paced, fun, and involved dancing.

I was a little nervous {and a lot intimidated} because while I enjoy dancing with groups of friends, I’ve never had much rhythm. Pretty much the only dancing I do on a regular basis is morning pajama dancing with Mr. Mur-dog:

dancing murray

Have any of you done zumba before? Any zumba novices like me out there? Here are some questions I had before my first zumba class, followed by answers based on my experience:

What is zumba?
Zumba is a Latin-inspired dance-fitness program that blends red-hot international music and fun, heart-pumping dance steps to form a “fitness-party.” The website of the local zumba center I attended has a great breakdown of the different types of zumba: http://venturazumba.com/ventura-zumba-about/

What should I wear to do zumba?
I wore capri yoga pants, a sports bra and t-shirt, and running shoes. Wearing some sort of athletic shoes is a must, and I would also advise you wear clothes that you feel comfortable in! You will get HOT and sweat a lot! Some other participants were wearing shorts and one woman wore a loose-fitting skirt.

What if I don’t know any of the dance moves?
Many of the dance moves were super easy to catch on to. You can also look up zumba videos on youtube if you want to do a little research before you go! The inevitable times in class when I felt a little lost, I just danced in place myself. The important thing is to keep moving, keep smiling, and keep having fun! After class, Emily and I asked the instructor for clarification on a couple moves we were confused about. She sweetly showed us, and she said that the easiest way to learn all the moves is to keep coming to class — you get better and more comfortable each week.

What if I feel self-conscious about dancing?
This was what I was most worried about — I’m a little bit a lot awkward on the dance floor, and I was worried that I would totally embarrass myself {not to mention my friend Emily!} and feel self-conscious the whole time. I pictured myself turning the wrong way and bumping into people. But once the class started, I didn’t feel self-conscious at all. Everyone is so focused on their own moves and on the instructor that nobody is paying attention to your dance moves. I tried to copy what the instructor was doing, and in my own pretty little head I was busting moves like Beyonce!

Is zumba a good workout?
YES! Your heart is pumping, your muscles are working, you are sweating like crazy! In the class I went to, we did a ton of squats as well as dance moves that worked our arms and shoulders. I woke up and was so sore the next morning! Definitely a sign of a good workout. Plus, the time flew by — it was the most fun I’ve had working out in a long time.

zumba

If you try a zumba class and aren’t thrilled, my advice would be to try again with a different instructor. {Actually, that would be my advice for any type of exercise class you try out!} I felt comfortable with our instructor immediately — she was funny, high-energy, and very encouraging. She also created a very welcoming space for beginners so it was the perfect class for me. Emily has done zumba before, and she said some of the other instructors are more fast-paced or less explanatory; every instructor has their own style. I feel like I lucked out on the ideal instructor for me.

Em and I have set a weekly zumba date for Wednesday mornings. I’m already looking forward to next week!

Happy Friday, everyone! Be kind to yourself and do something fun today!

happy 4th of july! + chocolate pb rice krispies treats

Happy 4th of July! I’m taking a few minutes today — as I try to every day, but especially today — to be grateful for all the men and women who have fought to establish and protect our nation’s independence. We are all so blessed to live in freedom. Every human being should have that blessing — in fact, it shouldn’t even be a blessing. It is a basic human right.

I’ll also be thinking today of the Four Freedoms Speech that FDR gave in 1941, and especially of the Norman Rockwell paintings that were published in the Saturday Evening Post in 1943. I was fortunate enough to see the original paintings a number of years ago with my Gramps and brother when a traveling exhibit came to town. I feel incredibly blessed to enjoy all of these freedoms. Clockwise from upper left: Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Worship, Freedom from Want, Freedom from Fear.

What are you doing today to celebrate the 4th of July? We’re going over to my aunt and uncle’s house for a backyard barbeque and pool party. I’m looking forward to a sunny day of relaxing with my family.

I signed up to bring dessert {no surprise there!} and I decided to bust out a new recipe that didn’t require me to turn on my oven. {It’s been so dang hot out!} I was inspired by this recipe on Money-Saving Mom for chocolate oatmeal no-bake bars. I love rice krispies treats, so I adapted the recipe to use mostly rice krispies. Here’s my take on it:

pb chocolate rice krispies

chocolate peanut butter rice krispies treats

– 1/4 cup coconut oil
– 1/4 cup maple syrup
– 1 cup peanut butter
– 2 cups mini marshmallows
– 1 cup chocolate chips
– 1 tsp vanilla extract
– 1 cup rolled oats
– 3 cups rice krispies

1. Grease a 9 x 13 glass pan and set aside.

2. In a big pot over medium-low heat, melt coconut oil, maple syrup, and peanut butter. Stir until melted and well-combined. {Be careful it doesn’t burn!}

3. Add vanilla and chocolate chips. Stir until chocolate is all melted.

4. Add marshmallows and stir until the marshmallows are melted.

5. Remove from heat. Add rolled oats and stir. Add rice krispies, one cup at a time, until well-combined.

6. Pour into the glass pan and refrigerate until chocolate has hardened and the bars have “set.”

Enjoy!!

pb chocolate rice krispies

If you liked this recipe, here are a few similar desserts that would be great to bring to a 4th of July party or potluck:

rice krispies treats with mini M&Ms
classic lemon bars
patriotic fruit cobbler
pb cup brownies
red velvet crinkle cookies

a simple, successful bridal shower!

Yesterday afternoon, I was so excited and honored to host a bridal shower for my cousin Amanda! We were born only three months apart and went all through school together, from pre-school through college. She is one of my closest friends and I am so happy for her and her fiancee, Justin. They are so cute together and I know they make each other very happy.

me and amanda

In elementary school, we started calling each other “cuz” {short for cousin} and the nickname has stuck!
She will always be my “cuz.”

My Gramps generously let us use his beautiful, large living room to host the shower. {Having a lot of space was a necessity, as we had more than 20 attendees!} Can you spot him peeking out in the pic below, preparing to make his escape before the twenty giggly, wedding-giddy ladies showed up? Haha.

living room shower

We set enough chairs around the room so that everyone would have a place to sit, but also tried to keep the room open to encourage guests to walk around and mingle.

And we designated an area by the fireplace for guests to set down their gifts for the bride-to-be:

gifts

* decorations *

Amanda’s favorite color is pink and her wedding isn’t until June, so even though we held the shower right before Christmas, we went for a summery pink-and-white theme instead of having a Christmas-themed shower.

  • Fresh flowers really brighten up a room!
  • Dress up a plain tablecloth with colorful streamers and bright napkins.
  • Use cups to corral forks, knives, spoons, and toothpicks.

table set

* food *

We went with a simple veggie tray and some h’orderves. The real stand-out were the gorgeous cupcakes, made by one of my mom’s friends:

cupcakes

She’s a professional cake decorator; if you wanted to make homemade desserts, here are a couple of my tried-and-true recipes:
red velvet cupcakes with coconut cream-cheese frosting
carrot cupcakes with cream-cheese frosting

For drinks we did mimosas, red & white wine, soda and water. And of course coffee with dessert!

* games *

Amanda is a competitive person and specifically requested that we play some party games! After doing a little research for ideas, I settled upon two games: Pictionary using wedding-themed phrases, and a “Newlywed” style game to see how well Amanda could guess her fiancee’s answers to a series of questions.

Both games were a big hit, but they did require a bit of preparation. Here are the phrases we used for Pictionary:

  • To Have and To Hold
  • Happily Ever After
  • Just Married
  • I Do
  • First Dance
  • Bridezilla
  • Father of the Bride
  • Always a Bridesmaid, Never a Bride
  • Tossing the Bouquet
  • Bridal Shower
  • Till Death Do Us Part
  • Bachelorette Party
  • Tying the Knot
  • Wedding Cake
  • Wedding Bells
  • Going to the Chapel
  • Flower Girl
  • Ring Bearer
  • Best Man
  • Maid of Honor
  • Honeymoon

The Q-&-A game was an idea I saw on the always-wonderful blog Peanut Butter Fingers. Here’s how it worked: a couple months ago, I sent a list of questions to Amanda’s fiancee to answer about her, himself and their relationship. Then I wrote out these questions and his answers out on pieces of paper and made them into a book. I used a small, inexpensive photo album and cut each piece of paper to 4×6 inches to fit perfectly in each slot. Then I decorated the pages with colorful stickers and markers.

bridal question book

question book pages

Here is a full list of the questions I asked the groom-to-be {feel free to add or subtract to fit your needs!}

  • When and where was your first kiss with the bride-to-be?
  • Where was your first date with the bride-to-be?
  • What do you think the bride-to-be’s favorite gift is from you?
  • What is the one item the bride-to-be cannot not live without?
  • What is the bride-to-be’s dream job?
  • If the bride-to-be could move anywhere without having to worry about a job or family, where would it be?
  • What is the bride-to-be’s most obnoxious habit?
  • What is your most obnoxious habit?
  • What turns the bride-to-be off the most about a man?
  • What turns you off the most about a woman?
  • What do you think is the bride-to-be’s favorite memory of your relationship?
  • What is your favorite memory of your relationship with the bride-to-be?
  • What does the bride-to-be picture when she looks into the future?
  • What do you picture when you look into the future?
  • What do you think the bride-to-be loves most about you?
  • What do you love the most about the bride-to-be?
  • What is a big dream of the bride-to-be’s?
  • What is a big dream of yours?
  • What is one thing the bride-to-be will never forget that you did for/said to her?
  • When does the bride-to-be want to have kids?
  • How many kids does the bride-to-be want to have?
  • How many kids do you want to have?
  • If the bride-to-be were an animal, what type of animal would she be and why?
  • If you were an animal, what type of animal would you be and why?

To make it into a game, we asked every attendee to guess the number of questions Amanda would get right. Then we passed the book around the room, taking turns reading out questions and keeping track of how many of Justin’s answers Amanda guessed right. The trick, of course, is that the “right” answer wasn’t always what was true for her, but what Justin thought was true for her. She had to try to think like him, which is the fun part! This game certainly evoked lots of laughter. After we made it through the entire book, we tallied up the number of correct answers and the two attendees with the closest guesses won prizes.

* party favors *

party favors

We found these cute scented candles and thought they would make the perfect party favors! To make them festive and pink, we just wrapped them in a sheet of tissue paper {folded in half} and tied with ribbon.

candle party favors

Here they are all lined up and ready to go for the party!

party favors

The bridal shower was a blast and I think Amanda had a really fun time! I snapped pictures throughout the afternoon that I’m going to print up and slip into a pink photo album for Amanda as a little post-shower gift, so she can look back and remember the day!

shower picture

amanda friends

me and cuzes
It was a simple, successful shower! Have any of you hosted a bridal shower before? What are your favorite party-hosting tips or shower games?

* This post is linked up at Fine Linen & Purple!

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cake or cake-pops?

Happy Friday, everyone! Hope your day is going wonderfully.

I have a quick question that I’d love your feedback on. I’m hosting a party in a couple weeks and I am trying to decide whether to serve cake or cake-pops.

I like cake because it’s traditional, substantial, and satisfying {seriously, who doesn’t love being served a big slice of cake?}

birthday-cake_21134700

But I’m torn because cake-pops seem so cute and fun and party-friendly. Plus, you can serve a variety of flavors.

chocolate-raspberry-cake-pops-gluten-free-recipe

What do you think?

the pantry challenge + white chicken chili with corn muffins recipe

Confession: my pantry is a bit of a jumbled mess.

I’ve tried organizing it multiple times, but no matter how I sort through all of the cans, jars and boxes, it always looks messy. I finally realized the problem is that I simply have too much stuff crammed in there! So many cans and boxes and mixes that it’s impossible to even know everything that I have. So when I go to the store, I inevitably buy new cans and jars of stuff that is already buried in the back of my pantry. What a waste!

So, inspired by this post by Jill at the lovely blog Reini Days, I’ve made a resolution to use up all the food in my pantry that I already have. I’m not going quite so hardcore as Jill and her family did — I am still giving myself permission to buy new food and ingredients that I don’t currently have if necessary. But I will make an effort each week when doing my meal-planning to make recipes centered around ingredients that already live in my pantry before I go out and buy new things at the store.

The other night, I got my new pantry challenge off to a great start when I made a big batch of chili! I had friends over for Labor Day dinner and I made two big pots of chili. Look at all the cans & boxes from my pantry that I used in this single night:

Count ’em! That’s eight cans and two boxes for a total of ten items that were languishing in my overstuffed pantry! Perfect way to kick off the challenge I’ve set for myself.

Since I had seven friends over, I made two big pots of chili. In one pot, I made a tomato chili recipe from my mom that I am looking forward to sharing with you in the near future. In the other pot, I made a white chicken chili that was delicious and is perfect for anyone who is sensitive to high-acid foods such as tomatoes or suffers from heartburn because this chili is tomato-free! This is the recipe I’m going to share today. I call it “California-style” because I think it’s best served with sliced avocado on top!

california-style white chicken chili

– 1 package chicken breasts or chicken breast tenderloins
– 1 green bell pepper
– 1 orange or yellow bell pepper
– 1 tsp mixed garlic
– 1 tbsp olive oil
– 1 can white beans {I used organic great northern beans}
– 1 can corn
– 1 package white chili seasoning
– 1/4 cup water
– 1 medium avocado

1. Pour the olive oil and garlic into the bottom of a large pot. Turn heat on low. Dice the bell peppers and pour into the pot. Cook for 5-10 minutes, until pepper begins to soften.

2. While pepper is cooking, cut the chicken into bite-sized pieces and set aside.

3. Drain the can of beans and corn and pour both into the pot.

4. Add the chicken, water and white chili spice packet and bring chili to a boil.

5. Turn heat down a little and simmer the chili for 20-30 minutes {or longer if you have the time … the chili gets more and more flavorful the longer you cook it. YUM!}

6. Before serving, top chili with diced avocado if desired.

My friend Xun who came over for dinner absolutely loves cornbread, so I served the chili with corn muffins, which were super easy to make. I just used a Jiffy boxed cornbread mix and poured the batter into muffin tins instead of a bread pan.

jiffy corn muffins

– 1 package jiffy cornbread mix
– 1 small can corn
– 1 egg
– 1/3 cup milk or buttermilk

1. Preheat over to 400 degrees.

2. Combine cornbread mix, egg and milk.

3. Drain can of corn and add to the batter. Mix thoroughly.

4. Pour batter into paper-lined muffin tin and bake for 20-25 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean.

Each box of mix yields about six muffins. For our get-together, I used two boxes and doubled the ingredients.

These were fantastic! We had a bit of each kind of chili left-over, but the corn muffins were all gobbled up by the night’s end!

It was a really fun night, and chili is such a relaxing meal to cook — all you really need to do is plop all the ingredients in the pot and let it simmer until you’re ready to eat. Perfect for having people over and wanting to spend your time visiting rather than slaving away in a hot kitchen.

So, does anyone else want to join the challenge with me? I’m excited to update you on my progress as I try out new recipes to clear out my pantry!

Have a great day–
Dallas

——————————

-Time spent: 1 hour {including cook time}
-Cost: about $10 {though I had almost all the ingredients in my pantry already, hooray!}

MPM-Winter
This post is linked up to Menu-Plan Monday at I’m an Organizing Junkie!