Clink Clink Fizz, See Ya 2013

Well, it’s the last day of 2013. Did you manage to accomplish all the resolutions you set for yourself? Do you even remember what they were? I for one don’t. I’m sure I decided on a few, but this time last year began a real doozy in my work life, and I didn’t quite see my house in the daylight until March. Needless to say, sitting stationary and eating takeout at work for breakfast, lunch, and dinner squashed any health-related resolutions I may have made. Sitting at that same desk over weekends also raised a big middle finger to recreational activities such as visiting the beach regularly or exploring local hiking trails in our new town. Basically, my 2013 resolutions were a big ol’ bust. Whatever they were.

Fast forward a year, and now I have a job where I can A) see the daylight and B) exercise regularly, so I’ll take a stab and say that 2014 will be off to a better start than 2013. Especially with this lower-sugar, fizzy and festive cocktail.

IMG_1350 (600x800)
I’ll be honest – I’m not a big fan of sugary mixed drinks. Sticky sweet concoctions that make my teeth ache and turn my tongue (and lips, and teeth…) an unnatural color. I’d much prefer to order a beer at a bar, but at home I’m apt to toil away in the kitchen testing out lower-sugar drinks. As a bonus, they tend to be lower-calorie, too.

This one combines peach, strawberry, and raspberry, but feel free to mix up the flavors to match your preferences. Whatever the flavor of sparkling water, it, along with the lambic, creates a festive fizz that will look the part at your festivities (whether your definition of festivities is a large party or you and yours sitting on the couch watching Netflix). <– take a guess at what category I fall into 🙂

Ingredients (800x589)
If you’ve never had the framboise lambic, I’ll tell you that it’s delicious. Technically it’s a beer, but its deep-pink color and raspberry flavor would have you thinking otherwise. It’s wonderful to sip by itself or added as an element in other drinks. In this drink, it’s cut with the sparkling water to reduce the sugar, but it still does its job with the flavor and color it imparts.

Taste of framboise

Lindemans framboise lambic…mmmmm

Rasp-Strawberry Peach Fizz
Yields 2 drinks

3 oz peach-flavored vodka
6 oz strawberry-flavored sparkling water
6 oz Lindemans framboise lambic
4 ice cubes

1. Place two ice cubes in each glass (told you it was easy!).

2. Measure 1 1/2 oz of peach-flavored vodka and 3 oz of strawberry sparkling water into each glass and stir.

Without framboise (800x600)
3. Pour approximately 3 oz of the framboise lambic into each glass. Enjoy!

Drink

Spinach Walnut Pesto (and the Christmas Detox)

Between Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, I’m pretty sure I ate:

12 bites of french toast
11 chocolate-dipped pretzels
10 shrimp with cocktail sauce
9 iced sugar cookies
8 cups of coffee
7 stuffed mushrooms
6 pieces of bread
5 meeeeattttt-ballllllls
4 pieces of fudge
3 whole potatoes
2 (cups) of struffoli honey balls
and a monster piece of chicken marsala

Oof.

All delicious, of course. Christmas is the time of year where I revel in every little nuance surrounding holiday treats, from the long-standing family traditions behind them to sharing them with friends and family near and far. I also treat myself in a non-edible way and throw my typical routine out the window.  I traded my standard half-hour on the elliptical for walking 1 1/2 miles to the store just to pour over eyeshadow palettes. I stayed in my PJs until early afternoon (both days), and felt no guilt about tearing through reality TV series on Netflix like it’s Y2K all over again and there’s mass panic all our electronics will sizzle.

But they say all good things must come to an end, and I guess they’re right in this case. Turning a 180 from the daily go-go-go of work/errands/exercise wouldn’t seem so luxurious if it was blub-city all the time around here. December 26th I woke up a little earlier, said hello again to the elliptical, and stopped with the reality TV knocked some items off my to-do list. But I also treated myself to a delicious dinner made with simple, nutritious ingredients (a dinner of which I ate a normal-sized portion at a normal time of night, so there’s that).

Spinach Walnut Pesto
The walnut oil was a total impulse buy at the supermarket this week, and I may want to put it on everything. Between the walnuts and the walnut oil, which are full of healthy fats, and the spinach leaves, which are packed with just about every vitamin under the sun, you’re getting a SUPER easy, richly-flavored sauce with some serious nutritional value. In this instance, I used it as a sauce for pasta and thinned it out using some of the boiling pasta water so that it coated everything and wasn’t too thick. Feel free to add less water or omit it entirely and use it as a spread for sandwiches, etc.

Spinach Walnut Pesto
Yields enough sauce for 1 lb of pasta

2 cups baby spinach leaves, packed
1/2 cup walnut oil
3 cloves garlic, more or less to taste
1/4 cup shelled walnuts
1/2 cup hot water

1.Peel garlic. Add spinach leaves, walnut oil, garlic, and walnuts to the bowl of a food processor. Blend for about 30 seconds.

Pesto without water

2. If making pasta, do your pasta thing and bring pot of water to a boil, salt it, and throw in your pasta (I used penne). When pasta is just about done, scoop out 1/2 cup of pasta water and pour into food processor with the pesto mixture. Pulse to combine.

Pesto with water

3. Toss pesto sauce with pasta and serve.

Gingerbread Roasted Almonds…and the word ‘zhuzh’

Well, it’s almost here. I certainly wouldn’t know it by the weather – needed the A/C in the car today (!), but the checkout line at World Market that snaked around the store and reached the back wall certainly clued me in that Christmas was near (one look at that line and I hightailed it out of there pronto – totally didn’t need cellophane bags that badly).

Instead, I could think of a million ways I’d rather spend those forty minutes I saved by not standing in line. Making my Grandma’s sugar cookies, playing around with royal icing recipes, zhuzhing up some almonds, wrapping gifts…even throwing in a load of laundry. Regarding the royal icing, I think this one by Alton Brown may be my favorite. I’m still a royal icing newbie, but I’ll take any opportunity to make practice batches of cookies before Christmas 🙂

Plain sugar cookies

Trees

(And regarding the word zhuzh – please tell me I can’t be the only one who uses that word on the regular. I mean, it does have a entry in some dictionary that isn’t the Queer Eye for the Straight Guy glossary, so that’s got to count for something, right?)

Anyway, gingerbread roasted almonds happened around here recently, and with Christmas fast-approaching, I guess the spotlight on gingerbread is fleeting, so I better tell you about them now. In an effort to use more of the molasses jar than the quarter-cup needed for these delicious gingerbread chai biscotti (before it sits on the shelf until next holiday season), I wanted to make something to bring to a party that was a) festive and b) protein-packed. Of course I love Christmas cookies, but I do much better when I eat something with protein and have a cookie or two (rather than Hoover the carbs off the table and still be left hungry.)

These don’t take long at all and will make your kitchen smell amazing. One word of caution is to closely watch the almonds in the oven as you don’t want them to burn. I was so caught up in the wonderful aroma that I kept my test batch in just a few minutes too long:

Whoops

Yeah, bad. You don’t want that. These however…

Roasted Almonds

These you want. Crunchy almonds with a slightly-sweet-and-spicy gingerbread coating. They pop easily off of the parchment paper (and pop easily into your mouth).

Gingerbread Roasted Almonds

3 cups raw almonds
3 tbsp agave nectar
2 1/4 tbsp molasses
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp ground ginger
3/4 tsp ground cloves
More cinnamon (for sprinkling)

1. Preheat oven to 325°F. Lightly spray cooking spray onto baking sheets and then line with parchment paper.
Side note about the parchment paper: I typically fight with parchment paper when lining something as the edges curl and it shifts around without something weighing it down. One time I was taking an edgeless cookie sheet out of the oven and the parchment paper partially slid off the the sheet and a few cookies met their demise on the bottom of the oven. Oof. Bad memories aside, for this recipe, I sprayed the actual baking sheet with a quick hit of cooking spray and then pressed the parchment paper to the bottom of the sheet. No curling, no unexpected movement…I take pleasure in the small victories 🙂

2. Pour almonds into a large bowl. Add agave, molasses, vanilla extract, cinnamon, ginger, and cloves. Using a spatula sprayed with cooking spray, mix all ingredients together so that the almonds are evenly coated.

3. Using a scoop, place almonds in a single-layer on baking sheets. I used a scoop instead of just pouring because there was excess agave/molasses mixture at the bottom and I didn’t want the almonds to be too goopy on the baking sheets.

Almonds pre-baking

Pre-bake

4. Sprinkle almonds with a bit more cinnamon and bake for about 15 minutes. They make take more/less time depending on how your oven runs (mine runs a bit hot), so keep a close eye to prevent burning (you saw that warning picture, right?)

5. Let cool completely on tray so they crisp up.

Hostess Gift in a Hurry

With the holidays upon us, it’s easy to get swept up in the fantasy of total DIY-ness. Visions of dazzling coworkers with homemade delicacies (never mind the fact that you’re spending pretty much all day at the office), surprising family with the coziest hand knit accessories, and hunting down supplies for handmade decorations start dancing in my head once the last trick-or-treater heads home for the night. But over the past few years, I’ve found that life gets in the way. Staying late at the office can take out your plans of testing a fudge recipe, working out, and watching Elf all in one fell swoop. Having too much faith in your local craft store to have something (when they don’t), and it being too late to order online has deflated my DIY dreams a time or two. And remember that year I crocheted so much I gave myself a callous? Kind of made me back off the three scarves I had planned, don’t you think?

This year I’ve come to terms that all of my grand holiday plans will probably not come into fruition, and I’m okay with that. Sometimes that extra bit of sleep or satisfying workout trumps mass producing homemade salted caramel hot chocolate mix in a cup with a hand knit sleeve and handcrafted gift tag. That could just be me (although salted caramel hot chocolate sounds delicious right about now…). Maybe you even forget about a hostess gift until you’re on your way to the festivities. No big. You’re probably passing a drug store, right? You’re covered.

Front
How about something for the hostess to enjoy after the guests have gone home, the dishes put away, and the heels have come off? I found everything at my local drug store, and with it being a gift you assemble yourself (and not one of those prepackaged cheesy gift sets), you can mix and match items with your recipient in mind.

Items

1. Tea to wind down from the night

2. Rich cuticle cream to ward off winter dryness

3. A fun lip balm

4. Nail polish (is she pining after a bold glitter but is too practical to buy it for herself?)

5. Little treats for when her sweet tooth calls, but she doesn’t possibly have room for more pie

6. A jazzy nail file to round out the manicure trifecta

Place all in a mug (also found at the drug store), add a decoration of choice, and you’ll be back on your route before you can say Ijustsavedtwentyminutesofstandinginlineatthemall. 🙂

Top view