Heaven and Hell Cake {through hardships to the stars}

photo-122

There’s a phrase in Latin “ad astra per aspera.” It’s a phrase that has stuck with me throughout my life and one that kept me strong the past two and a half years that I spent living in Connecticut. It means through hardships to the stars.

A month ago I quit my job and moved back home to Philadelphia. Something I had yearned to do since my car accident three days after moving to Connecticut.

I struggled for two and a half years to make Connecticut home. After the car accident I was left questioning myself and the decision I had just made to leave my friends, my family, my favorite city and a great job. But I craved a change. I wanted to prove to my family and most importantly to myself that I was capable of being on my own and that I could make a new life for myself.  So I stayed. And the experiences, despite however good or bad they may have been, played an invaluable part in shaping who I am today.

I made a best friend. We were like godsends to each other. It seemed as if we were both struggling to find ourselves and happened to be there for one another at the perfect time. I encouraged her to give the man of her dreams a chance and she became my biggest fan and supporter (and recipe taste-tester).

I experienced a heartbreak and heartache so strong it still lingers. A relationship that moved 1000 miles per hour and was over as quickly as it began. But I was able to learn so much about myself  and what I value most in a relationship, and I know that will lead me to meeting my soul mate.

There were also other experiences that impacted my life and helped me to grow over the last two years. I made two other great girlfriends, one who lives halfway across the country and one who moved to Connecticut for her job, too. I got to travel for work and try some amazing restaurants. I found a love for nature and hiking. I found a love for fitness and living a healthy lifestyle. I realized no amount of money could ever get me to have a roommate again. I found a love for jalapeno tequila and a hatred for tequila sweats.

But the most important part of my experience in Connecticut was that it allowed me to finally find myself, and my passion.

Cooking and baking became my form of emotional expression. When I was left with an abundance of love and emotion to give and no one and nothing to give it to, I poured everything I had into the kitchen.

And here I am, two and a half years later, sitting in my beautiful apartment in Philadelphia writing this blog post. And I wouldn’t be here doing this if it hadn’t been for the experiences I had and the relationships I formed while in Connecticut. Because through all of the struggles, all of the ups and downs and hardships I experienced, I was able to finally find myself and my passion, food.

IMG_0725

So for a long and way overdue blog post, I made a heaven and hell cake to share with you, adapted from Dallas Chef Stephan Pyles. The layers of this cake represent the past two and a half years of my life. Made up of layers of Devil’s Food Cake and Angel Food Cake, a peanut butter mousse and covered in a chocolate ganache, this cake is my art form of  the good and bad, my “ad astra per asperato” that allowed me to overcome these struggles to create an amazing end product of finding my passion.

photo-125

Advertisements

Apple, Cinnamon and Walnut Baked Oatmeal with Date Caramel Sauce {healthy, delicious and the perfect grab and go breakfast or guilt-free dessert}

Photo (63)

I think I’ve hit an all time low.

Those of you who know me well probably know I’ve dabbled in online dating for some time. Sure, I’ve had some successes with online dating in the past. The last two men I’ve met on a dating website have been two out of three of my longest and most-serious relationships. They’ve taught me a lot about who I am and what I’m looking for in a relationship partner.

Except for recently. My dates have been a complete nightmare.

For example, the last guy I went out on a date with professed his love for me on the first (and only) date.

And when I didn’t respond to his 34 back-to-back text messages comparing our love to Romeo and Juliet, he managed to use his police officer capabilities to find my address so he could come to my house to make sure I wasn’t dead.

I’m not kidding.

And last night I realized that I have subconsciously given up on online dating.

Because instead of reading my matches’ profiles and perusing their many photos with beer cans and cropped out ex-girlfriends, I’ve been looking at their job titles.

And not in the “I wonder if he makes good money” sort-of way.

More in the, “oh, he’s a Graphic Designer. I wonder if he could be a fit for the job I’m recruiting on” sort-of way.

I have officially started recruiting my matches.

I’m convinced I am moving one step closer towards being a cat lady. Or maybe work has taken over my life. Or maybe online dating is the new LinkedIn for recruiting?

Or maybe I’m just still trying to find that needle in a haystack.

Photo (59)

Yeah, we’ll just go with that for now.

So until I find that needle I’ll just keep making delicious recipes to share with the World.

I made for you Apple, Cinnamon and Walnut Baked Oatmeal with a Date Caramel Sauce. It’s incredibly easy to make and you can make a batch earlier in the week and have a slice for breakfast each morning. Or you can turn it into a healthy apple pie and have it for dessert.

Or you can have it for breakfast AND dessert.

And the best part? It’s guilt-free. And doesn’t come with stalking.

Top the oatmeal with a guilt-free caramel sauce, made from just 4 ingredients and NO sugar.

I think I just found my Romeo.

Continue reading

No-Bake Banana Chia Pudding Pie {healthy, guilt-free and gluten-free}

photo (37)

I have to be honest with you…

I think I may enjoy baking more than cooking.

I know, I know…I can’t believe I’m admitting to this because I love all things food.

But I CONSTANTLY crave baked goods, especially this time of the year when bikini weather is no more.

So who’s taking me on a vacation?

And since these cravings aren’t going anywhere, and I’m not gaining self-control anytime soon and am planning on bombarding you with TONS of unhealthy delicious fall recipes I’ve come up with, I decided to experiment with a healthy pie recipe.  And I succeeded.

I perfected a pie crust that’s healthy, dairy-free, gluten-free and is made without flour, butter, oils and added sugars. And a filling that’s good for you AND delicious at the same time.

Unfortunately, it was so delicious that I couldn’t just have one slice.

So I ate the whole thing.

Oops.

Sorry I’m not sorry.

Continue reading

Pumpkin Spice Latte Cupcakes {Pumpkin Spice Cupcakes with a Coffee Cream Cheese Icing}

photo (24)

“You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition. What you’ll discover will be wonderful. What you’ll discover is yourself.”

That’s what I did exactly two Septembers ago. I left all that I knew. I left my childhood and beginning of adulthood. I left comfort; family, friends and familiarity. I left a job that provided me with a sense of accomplishment, friendship and culture. I left my favorite city. I left a relationship that was filled with “…” and too many unknowns.

I left all that I knew to find myself; to start a new beginning, to prove my family wrong and to discover what it is in life I needed to be fulfilled. And that I was OK being on my own. I craved a change.

And two years later, as I reflect back, I’m still unsure of who I am and what exactly it is that I need in order to have a fulfilled life.

I reflect back on the month of September. A month with memories of moving trucks, a car accident, meeting someone who brought me challenge and passion and emotions I thought I could never experience. Moving away from a best friend but meeting another. Picking up my life all for a new job… or was I running from myself?

As I struggle to get through this September, I look back at everything that I’ve been able to experience and learn about myself the past two years. I’m proud of who I am and the obstacles I’ve conquered. I may not have found my dream job, I may not have found my soul mate, I may not be living near my friends or family and I may not have found what it is I need in order to have a fulfilled life. But one thing I do know is I’ve remained tough, as I always have, when something bad is thrown my way.

Just as Fall has arrived and the leaves have begun to change for the season, I realize September is just a month of change for me. Whether it be change for the better or for the worse, September just means that something better will be coming my way soon.

Cooking and baking is the one constant in my life that has allowed me to express my emotions, my love and my passions. It has been there for me since I was in ninth grade as my source of comfort and relief when I had no breakfasts or dinners and just a box of cake mix. Cooking became my therapy.

This past month I haven’t cooked or baked. I’ve been so wrapped up with emotion and the feared month of September that I lost sight of what has been a constant and what has gotten me through change. The one thing that allows me to express my love, emotions and passions when I have nothing else to pour them into.

photo (32)

Which is why I’m back and better than ever. I made for you the best Pumpkin Spice Latte Cupcakes you’ll ever have. Filled with fresh canned pumpkin of the season, fall spices and a delicious icing made up of coffee and cream cheese, you’ll never need to go back to Starbucks again for your fall craving of pumpkin spice and lattes.

Continue reading

{Peanut Butter, Candied Bacon and Dark Chocolate Chunk Baked S’mores } {Happy National S’mores Day}

photo (17)

Last Sunday I barbecued with my neighbors.

And we ate our faces off.

…but would you expect anything less if I’m involved?

photo (9)

My neighbor and friend Juan made the most amazing ribs, pork belly and Spanish sausage I’ve ever had.

photo (10)

And to top that off, he made potato salad. A delicious potato salad. I don’t ever eat potatoes, and I’m not the biggest fan of mayo salads UNLESS they’re Don’s Salads (HI DAD), but this potato salad was SO freakin’ good I couldn’t stop eating it. And I didn’t. I devoured it.

Along with half a watermelon.

And Asian cucumber salad (recipe to come soon).

And pineapple chipotle salsa and chips.

OK I’m getting nauseous and hungry at the same time just thinking about it all.

But, you didn’t really think we could end the night without something sweet, did you?

Of course not. It’s me silly.

And given that my apartment complex has outdoor fire pits, and I’m moving in a week, it seemed only fitting that we make the most of it.

So I brought down to the fire pit with me a maple bacon chocolate bar.

And then I brought down a jar of peanut butter.

And marshmallows.

And graham crackers.

And then this happened:

photo (11)

S’mores with maple bacon chocolate and peanut butter.

The best s’mores. Ever.

 I’ve been nicknamed “Debbie Dipper” and “Condiment Carrie” in the past. And today, I’m totally worthy of those nicknames.

So, on National S’mores Day, it seemed only fitting to re-create this amazing s’more concoction.

And so I did.

Continue reading

Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Chunk Cookies with Sea Salt {the best way to say thank you}

IMG_4485

Southern Hospitality is real.

I recently returned from a four day business trip to Dallas to visit my client and I had a blast!  This trip was just what I needed to remind myself that making friends isn’t this difficult everywhere and there really is more to life than just sitting in traffic on I-95 every day, going to whole foods solely out of boredom and spending hours at the gym because I have nothing else planned (and I want a killer beach bod, duhhh!)

I spent several days last week working hard and spending much needed face time with the awesome people I email back and forth with and talk to on the phone every day. I had some great meals, especially the last night when a group of us went out for happy hour and then to this awesome Tex-Mex restaurant called Blue Goose Cantina. I had steak fajitas which were delicious! I think the best part of the dinner, aside from eating everyone else’s food and tons and tons of laughter, was the free dessert we got (hey the waitress asked if it was someone’s Birthday and how could we say no to that?!) Mini-Sopapillas (similar to Churros) served with honey and topped with whipped Cream and cinnamon Sugar. Holy cow…you have no idea how good this was. I meant to take a picture of it by itself but only got as far as the group picture. And quite frankly after this group picture we devoured it. All of it.

photo-80

After a week of hard work and tons of laughs, I’m home and find myself missing the southern hospitality. Sometimes I forget how easy it really is, or  how little effort it should be to make friends. And how far a simple smile exchange or small talk with a stranger can take you.

So I decided to bake cookies to say thank you to my Dallas friends for making me feel so warm and welcome. And what a better way to say thank you than to send a batch of freshly baked cookies with chunks of gooey dark chocolate and peanut butter topped with sea salt for the perfect bite of sweet and salty and melty chocolate goodness. And the best part, this is actually a normal cookie recipe and I didn’t even attempt to substitute applesauce for butter! Woohooo!

Continue reading

Peanut Butter Oreo Stuffed Peanut Butter Cookies

photo-73

Today is a great day. You know why? It’s National Peanut Butter Cookie Day.

You didn’t really think I was going to let this day pass without baking you something with my favorite ingredient did you?

And to celebrate I didn’t even eat peanut butter for a snack today.

Ok, fine. Who am I kidding. I only had a few scoops out of the jar. Hey, everyone needs a little protein, right?!

I came across a recipe that I just had to share with you.  And you know what the best part is? It’s made with one of my other favorite things in this world, Oreos.

photo-70

But not just any Oreo. Peanut Butter Creme Oreos.

It’s like a match made in heaven.

What could be better than a peanut butter Oreo?! Oh wait, that’s right. A peanut butter cookie stuffed with a peanut butter Oreo.

Remember in my last post how I shared with you things I just don’t quite understand?

Well I have an additional thought to add.

How did I not think of this first?

Continue reading

Fudgy Black Bean Nutella and Salted Caramel Cookies {better-for-you cookies that can be easily made vegan and gluten-free}

photo (89)

There are many things in life I don’t quite understand.

Like why in the world someone ever thought it’d be a good idea to have a five day workweek and a two day weekend in the US, and not the reverse.

Or why money can’t just grow on trees.

And why has no one invented a money tree?

photo (75)

I also don’t understand why flying cars have yet to be invented. If flying cars were invented there would be less traffic. Less traffic would then result in less stress. Less stress would result in less accidents. And less stress eating.

I also don’t understand why companies don’t pay their employees to go on vacation. More vacations would equal happier employees which would result in less stress resulting in more productivity resulting in higher revenue resulting in a lower turnover rate. Right? But then maybe that would put recruiters out of business…and then I wouldn’t have a job and I wouldn’t be able to live all because Albert Einstein forgot to invent a money tree.

Continue reading

Peanut Butter and Cream Cheese Banana Bread with Candied Bacon {and a peanut butter and cream cheese icing}

photo

I have an obsession with tornadoes.

I don’t know why. I don’t know where it came from. But all I know is they have always been my biggest fear and for some reason lately I just CAN’T STOP watching videos online, reading articles and scientific websites and watching Tornado Road and Storm Chasers on TV. Since I was little I’ve always been deathly afraid of thunderstorms because I somehow convinced myself a thunderstorm would automatically lead to a tornado. I’d be playing softball and it would start to storm and I’d get hit by the ball because I’d be too busy looking at the clouds trying to seek out a funnel cloud. When a severe thunderstorm warning would come on the bottom of the TV screen I’d make my mom go hide in the basement with me. One summer when I was in Virginia with my teen travel camp I hid under the sink because there was a tornado watch. And, the worst of it all, the only nightmares I ever seem to have involve tornadoes, and I’ve been having TONS of nightmares lately.

3

Now, if you Google dreams and tornadoes you will find that they sometimes mean you’ve lost control of your life and are feeling overwhelmed. I can’t tell you how accurate this is to my life right now. Sure there has been a lot going on in the country with tornadoes lately and that’s all that has been in the news the past couple of weeks. But I’ve also been in a weird place the past few months. Maybe because I’ve been feeling so stagnant, bored, in need of a challenge, itching to travel and hike up a mountain. Or maybe because my roommate and closest friend in Connecticut moved across the country and it’s taking time to adjust. Or maybe because I’m trying to figure out my next move and make some big life-changing decisions- and that all scares and excites me. I’m not really sure what it is exactly BUT what I am sure of, is out of all this tornado hype something good evolved. Something more than good. Something INCREDIBLE.

4

The most delicious tornado went off in my kitchen this weekend. I made a Peanut Butter and Cream Cheese Banana Bread with Candied Bacon.

Yes, that’s right. Peanut butter, cream cheese and candied bacon, all in one. And, to add to the amazingness? Topped with a peanut butter and cream cheese icing.

0

8

Candied bacon has to be one of the best things I’ve ever had in life. The sweetness and chewiness of the maple syrup and brown sugar when it caramelizes mixed with the spiciness of the cayenne pepper and the saltiness and crispiness of the bacon. All the best textures and flavors in one. So good, I ate half of it before it actually made its way into the batter.

Now I have to say, I’ve been on a major peanut butter and banana kick lately. Which is what inspired me to add the peanut butter to the banana bread. I must go through a jar of peanut butter a week! I know it’s not that good for you (everything in moderation) but I can’t seem to just stop after one spoonful. But who cares, it tastes so good! That’s what the gym is for, right?! Except when you eat peanut butter right before a run…I don’t recommend it. And bananas, I can’t stop baking with them! In pancakes, cookies, breads. But at last, I combined all my loves into one, creating the most delicious, moist and flavorful banana bread yet. And a tornado in my kitchen while doing so. And it was all SO worth it. You must try it!

Continue reading

Black bean brownies with salted caramel and toasted coconut {guilt-free and low-fat}

 

photo (39) 

I hate beans.

I think it stems back to when I was little. I remember going to a Mexican restaurant with my dad and (at the time) stepsister and stepmother. The next thing I remember is my stepsister throwing up refriend beans later that night all over the carpet in her bedroom. That image has since been engraved in my head… for the past 13 years. I have even convinced myself that every time I eat beans I’m going to throw them up too. That being said, I’m now about to contradict that statement because I have found a guilt-free brownie recipe that’s high in fiber, protein, antioxidants and is absolutely delicious! And– the catch? It’s made with black beans!

 

photo (36)The past month and a half I have been working my butt off…literally. I am going to Vegas this coming weekend and I’ve been trying really hard to watch what I eat and push myself harder than I ever have at the gym. And my hard work has finally paid off! I am down 10 pounds since March and am in the best shape of my life. The one thing that has been a struggle though is cutting out the sweets. I LOVE pancakes (as you know), baked breads, cupcakes, cookies, brownies. You name it, chances are I love it. But this past week I decided I needed some sugar back in my life. So I researched and researched and found healthier alternatives you can use in baking…for example…instead of butter, applesauce. Instead of flour, ground oats. Instead of cake batter, black beans. So I figured I may as well give it a shot! And I ended up creating a recipe that was so good, my roommate and I ate the whole batch in one day! You would never be able to tell they’re made with black beans because they’re so fudgey and chocolatey. And stick some caramel in there and sprinkle sea salt on top? DONE! That’s why you too need to make this recipe. NOW!

photo (21)

Continue reading