Barrel Tasting in Sonoma, CA.

Introduction

About 2 months before I graduated college, I was told by multiple professors to get myself a job that allowed me to take time to travel and explore. They said, “Take what you learned and apply it to places around the globe.” Sadly, I have yet to go overseas and apply all the knowledge I gained in the course of 4 years, but I do travel. In fact, the week after I graduated I booked a last minute flight to Colorado for 5 days, and surprisingly it turned out to be one of the best trips I’ve ever experienced. I love going places and not having specific expectations. I need to do that more often.

I am blessed to have some strong female friends in my life. So, when my girl Alicia suggests we all come over and spend a weekend doing some pretty extreme wine tasting, how can I say no? A weekend with my girls, wine, and sleepovers? Count me in! So, Kara, Kaitlin and I agreed to drive up to Sonoma on Friday night and spend the rest of the weekend at Alicia’s house. We paid around $50 for a wristband that would get us into some of the top wineries in the county for the entire weekend. Not a bad deal considering it typically costs around $35 to wine taste at a single winery. We were also lucky because Alicia and her housemates graciously allowed us to stay the weekend for free. So, a cost break down of what was needed?

  • Tickets to the Barrel Tasting event (~$50)
  • Gas for traveling (carpooling works great too!)
  • Food (breakfast, bring your own snacks, and dinner)

Honestly, I probably spent under $200 the entire weekend. Yes, I did end up buying 3 bottles of wine at the wineries, but we also didn’t eat out during the day and instead brought ingredients to make sandwiches, and brought easy snacks. I highly recommend always bringing your own food. As someone who has a restricted diet, I try to bring as much of my own food as I can. Of course I generally splurge on dinner, but bringing my own gluten-free bread and snacks was a life saver considering most wineries do not have gluten-free nibbling options. Let’s face it, we were drinking wine all day, we needed to make sure we had something in our system to soak up the alcohol.

Friday (Day One)

Kaitlin picked me up from work around 6:15pm. We headed over to our favorite Greek restaurant, Opa!, to eat dinner before driving. This was a great choice because we ended up driving for about 2 and half hours before finally getting to Alicia’s house at 9:30pm. Kara drove on her own and was also there, so the fun began! We had a classic sleepover that night with a movie and some popcorn. We were all exhausted from work and school and life, so we fell asleep quickly.

Saturday (Day Two)

We woke up and instantly, and I mean instantly, all needed caffeine. We took a quick Starbucks run before getting ready. Let me tell you, we did a great job getting ready so quickly because we were all chatty and trying out new makeup. We also all tried on a variety of outfits and options that we had packed. We knew there would be many picture opportunities, so we wanted to feel as confident as we could!

After getting ready, it was time for some morning mimosas. If this doesn’t tell you how extreme our weekend was, I do not know what else will. We literally pregammed before going wine tasting for 5 hours. Anyways, I actually opened my first bottle of champagne ever! It was a plastic cork so it took me awhile, but when I got that baby off, it FLEW! This moment was pinnacle and I just had to share (;

More of Alicia’s friends and roommates joined us. We had a designated driver and after a couple mimosas (coffee for her), we were ready to go! We packed into the car and started the 20 minute drive to our first stop where we would be picking up our weekend wristbands and getting our wine tasting glass. We had food in the back ready for anytime we needed it, and we had some really great music blasting. The excitement was building!

Rued Winery

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This was literally my first taste of Sonoma County wine. We checked in which took little to no time at all, and then we began tasting. Now, I have never “barrel tasted” before. What this means is we were tasting wine that was not fully developed yet, aka the wine still in the barrel. We also tasted bottled wine, but this just added something special to the entire tasting experience. We were tasting something that most do not get the chance to. Rued had great views, some amazing chocolate treats being sold (and sampled), and some great wines.

Top wine: 2016 Petite Syrah

Geyser Peak Winery

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Say hello to an absolutely wonderful place to take pictures! Yes, the wine was good as well, and they were selling a variety of tempting knickknacks and jewelry, but the lighting at this time of day was just stunning. The way the clouds had a peek of blue and made the grass look incredibly green…we had a full on photo shoot! These women clearly make me so incredibly happy!

Top wine: 2016 Walking Tree, Cabernet Sauvignon

Mill Creek Winery

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Yes, this is really what Mill Creek Winery looks like, and yes, it is in California. I felt like we were in a small, European town, but sure enough we had only traveled a little bit up the road. This winery brings up an important point, that most wineries are family owned and have been passed down from generation to generation. They told us the history of the winery and gave us delicious wine! A really great combination if you ask me, especially because I love knowing history of places.

Top wine: 2016 Roller’s Song, Cabernet Sauvignon

Armida Winery

IMG_0024At this point of the game, I had consumed more wine within an hour and a half than I ever had before, and I was starting to really feel it. However, I could not believe the view! This was one of my top 5 favorite wineries due to the view, food for sale, and the wine variety! We tasted about 10 different wines here, and they were a variety of red and white which was a nice change. I was also surprised how many barrels they had to taste from as well. I think part of it is that they are a bigger winery, which generally means they have more wine. There was also a food stand where they were selling chips, popcorn, drinks, and Alicia’s choice…hot dogs! This was a great reminder that we were going to need some food soon. So, we took some IMG_5818pictures of the absolutely stunning food and headed back to the car where we instantly started munching on the goodies that we had brought. Again, I highly recommend bringing your own food so that when you get hungry, you can just have your own mini tailgate in the winery parking lot.

Top wines: 2017 Chardonnay; 2017 Zinfandel; 2017 Estate Field Blend

Matrix Winery

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This was definitely one of our longest stops. We all needed more food, so we decided this was where we were going to make and eat our sandwiches. So, tailgate round 2? Oh yes. After snacking, we went in for more wine. At this point, I knew I needed a bit of a break, so I only tasted 2 wines. They were however, very delicious! Afterwards, Kaitlin and I took a walk and explored the vineyards a bit. The temperature was cool but perfect for a refreshing walk with some water (; We all needed some time to breathe at this winery, so we took our time and enjoyed it for all it was.

Top wines: 2017 Pinot Noir, 2017 Petite Syrah

Soda Rock Winery

We decided to drive to the opposite end of Heldsburg for the next few wineries. Soda IMG_5823 Rock is another one of my top 5. I absolutely loved how quirky and charming the winery itself was, not to mention how delicious their wine tasted! I wanted to buy a bottle, but it did not come out until 2019 (the downside of barrel tasting) and I don’t know where I will be for half of 2019. I will say that I also really enjoyed the winery workers. I enjoyed most of them at the previous wineries as well, but here, they made us feel like we were worth getting to know. Now, my favorite part is their rustic barn. It is so stunning and I think we were IMG_5842there at the most gorgeous time of day because the way the light when through the cracks and allowed us to take amazing pictures was just unbelievable. I could have spent hours just enjoying the inside of that barn.

Top wines: 2016 Twisted Rail, Cabernet Sauvignon; 2017 Runway, Malbec Reserve; 2017 Rockpile, Petite Syrah Grand Reserve; 2017 Los Amigos, Primitivo*

*This was the wine that will not be available until 2019…I am still heart broken about not coming home with a bottle.

Alexander Valley Vineyards

We were all really feeling that wine by the time we got to this winery. I was feeling it so IMG_5831much that I literally only took three sips of two wines before convincing myself to switch it up with some water. We were exhausted, but this winery was very comfortable and seemed to be family owned. They had a cute picnic area and even cuter gifts. The weird part about this winery were a couple of kids running around, but hey, they didn’t disturb us. Alicia and I found the door to the celler that was quirky and locked…but we still had a nice rest before the final winery stop.

Top wine: 2016 Alexander School, Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon

Lancaster Estate

IMG_5833Last, but certainly not least, we visited the Lancaster Estate. Talk about gorgeous! We had to take some small, and a bit confusing, roads to get there, but it was so worth it in the end. The vineyards made Kara and I want to run through them, but the ground was uneven and we were IMG_5834full of wine so, that was not going to happen. It was the end of the day, so the way the sun was hitting the hills was beyond how a picture could justify it. We spent some time trying some wines, then decided to rest up a bit and drink some water. The workers were kind and took the time to talk to us about the wine even if we barely tasted it. This ended up being such a calming way to finish up our day of extreme wine tasting.

Top wine: 2016 Lancaster Estate, Cabernet Sauvignon

Nap and Dinner Time

We drove back to Alicia’s house and it was time to take some naps. We all tore off our nice clothes and instantly put on something comfortable, wiped off all our makeup, and knocked out for a good hour. When we woke up, the wine hangover was real (and I am totally keeping it real by saying so). We decided we needed some greasy food and good atmosphere to fuel our bodies before heading to bed. Alicia took us to a restaurant a few minutes down the road called The Jaded Toad. This restaurant was wonderfully casual, fully equipped with corn hole and good music, but sadly our service was all over the place. It took awhile for someone to greet us and then when we were seated our waiter was barely there. However, the burgers were amazing (even Kara’s mushroom!) and the fries were perfectly filling. Overall, it was a great and much needed meal. We headed back home, took showers, and went to sleep quickly.

Sunday (Day Three)

Waking up on Day Three was much harder than Day Two. Kara and Kaitlin did a Starbucks run and Alicia and I started to get ready. We all went way more casual and comfortable on Day Three because at that point we were all so tired and not fully ready for the day. However, that quickly changed with some espresso and then some mimosas (again, I am unsure what we were thinking, but it truly put us in the wine tasting mood).

Chalk Hill Winery

IMG_5857First stop was Chalk Hill Winery. This was in the Windsor area and wow, was it stunning. The sun was shining and we were all happy to be there with delicious wine and gorgeous views. I could not believe the sights! The staff at this winery were very chill and informative. I really enjoyed most of the wines I tasted, and would definitely go back on a nice sunny day and enjoy what this winery had to offer!

Top wines: 2016 Syrah; 2017 Sauvignon Gris

Roth Estate

Right across the street was Roth Estate Again, stunning views, beautiful weather, and IMG_7152even better wine! We had a blast exploring the different areas along with eating a delicious polenta cake of some sort (it was gluten-free and I almost cried about it). The staff were professional and did not short us on tasting. It felt like there was always more and more to taste, and to learn. We spoke to so many different employees and all of them seemed so happy and proud of the wine they were selling. That honestly makes a huge difference in the quality of the winery. Overall, this winery is one I’d love to come back to and taste even more of their wine.

Top wines: 2017 Pinot Noir; 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon

Merriam Vineyards

IMG_5893Merriam had some unique features. They actually had two very separate tasting rooms. This was also the first winery to have cheese and olive oil instead of just bread or bread sticks (again, another way to make my gluten-free body happy!) Their wine was absolutely delicious, but we ended up eating more cheese than wine, I am sure of it. The first tasting room had the actual barrel tasting and the second had wines that were available to buy that day. Of course, Kara and I noticed that they had their rosé on sale for only $10. We tried it and ended up actually liking it (which I was impressed by because I am super picky with rosé), so Kara bought a bottle…and I bought two…with no regrets.

Top wines: 2016 Malbec; 2016 Cabernet Franc; 2016 Bordeaux Blend; I bought their 2016 Rosé of Pinot Noir and have no regrets.

Christopher Creek Winery

I absolutely loved this winery and every single wine that I tasted. We were given a tour IMG_5895
guide who was absolutely wonderful to us. He was casual, yet professional, and informative without making me feel weird about asking questions. By the time we got to Christopher Creek, we had enjoyed a lot of wine. But their wines tasted so different that it was enjoyable even if we were already buzzed. They had a Port that Kara actually ended up buying and it was phenomenal. I regret not buying any of their wine, but it was a bit out of my budget.

Top wines: Literally all of their 2017 Pinot Noir variations. I would seriously recommend any and all of their wines.

Vizlay Winery

IMG_7153Tucked away and overshadowed by Christopher Creek, Vizlay Winery opened their barn to us and it was again, some of the best wine I have ever tasted. They also had a variety of snacks (score!) so we ate a lot of different cheeses, and then got to tasting. While tasting, I said how much I truly enjoyed the Port at the previous winery. A woman tasting next to me said that their 2015 Zinfandel tastes just like a Port. Surely enough, it did. And just like that I was sold on the $28 bottle of delicious wine. I still have yet to enjoy it, but I am hoping soon an occasion will come up where I can share it’s beauty and relive the taste!

Top wines: 2016 Zinfandel; 2016 Petite Syrah; 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon; I bought their 2015 Zinfandel and again, I have no regrets.

Harvest Moon Winery

IMG_5901We drove a little further for this one, and honestly I am so glad we did. Not only did we pass a goat farm on the way there (my very favorite animal!) but, it was a nice change of scenery. Of course, you could still see the hills but what was fun about this area was that it was flatter and more ranch style. This winery in particular was a really great place for events. There was a gorgeous private pool area and they had a lot less barrels to taste, and a lot more of their premium wines. The tasting room was nice and had a lot to look at and a lot of room to stand. The employees took their time and made sure that we tasted everything while they explained their processes and how they go from grape to glass. Kara and I really enjoyed their bottle of dessert wine that was sweet yet savory and not too overwhelming like the Ports started to be. I was very close to buying that bottle, and honestly I am so sad that I didn’t! $32 just felt like too much at that time.

Top wines: 2017 Sangiovese; 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon; The delicious wine I wanted was the 2017 Estate Late Harvest Zinfandel!

Hook and Ladder Winery

IMG_5902Ah, the very last stop. The exhaustion was so real, and the weather was suddenly hotter. But I was ready to conquer this final destination. Sorry I didn’t capture a better picture, but I was so over it by this time! I actually didn’t end up tasting too many of their barrel options (they had so many!) but more of their bottled wines. I liked what I tried in the barrels so Kara and I went inside to explore their bottles and see if we liked any enough to make another purchase. Sure enough, I did! This wine part of their “vintage” collection and was smooth to sip but left me wanting more and more! I was hooked (see what I did there (; ) on their wine. But, none the less, I was also exhausted and ready to chug a gallon of water and eat some food. See, today we weren’t as great about eating, and I was really feeling it. But, it was a great ending to the day and a cute winery to end the weekend at!

Top wines: 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon; 2016 Zinfandel; 2017 Chardonnay; I bought the 2013 Zinfandel for only $15 and I cannot wait to drink it again!

Resting and Driving Home

Like I said before, I was exhausted…okay and I was drunk…but what do you expect after drinking as much wine as we did!? I ended up staying behind with Kara and Alicia because Kaitlin was ready to drive back, but I was too overwhelmed to sit in a car for a long period of time. So, Kara graciously agreed to drive us later that night. We ended up getting Taco Bell, and before you judge me, that is one of my top 3 favorite fast food chains and I refuse to ever say otherwise. It was also just what I needed at the end of this long day. We went back, took some naps, and had some serious girl time. But then, it was time to go home…at 9 PM (oops!) But, we got home safely, and I completely crashed the instant I got home.

Final Thoughts

IMG_5838Sonoma is unique and has  a lot to offer but for a lot cheaper prices. If you are a vino and live anywhere that you could get to the Bay Area without spending too pretty of a penny, there is another Barrel Tasting event in May. I highly recommend looking it up and considering a girls trip, you will not regret it. Prepare to drink wine, prepare to bring your own food, and prepare a list of places that you want to go! I am so grateful for these wonderful women and the new friends I made this weekend. I had such a great getaway and I cannot continue to go through life with their support and love. Until next time, cheers!

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Pesto Turkey Meatballs (Gluten-free, Dairy-free, Paleo Friendly)

I eat a fair amount of chicken, in fact, it is a go-to in my diet. When eating chicken, I really only eat the breast because it is lower in calories and fat, but very high in protein. However, I do go through phases where chicken does not sound appealing because I have eaten too much of it. So, I decided I needed a change.

My second go-to meat is always lean ground turkey. I love it’s versatility and protein content. I personally buy 99% lean, because I tend to add healthy fats (like olive oil and coconut oil) to my cooking and do not need the extra fat from meat. However, for some, 99% lean is way too dry. If this is you, I suggest trying 90% lean! With that being said, I couldn’t decide how I wanted to cook it up. I wasn’t in the mood for tacos or burgers…then I realized something I haven’t had in awhile…MEATBALLS!

Now, this brings up a fun fact. For my friends that know me, you know I love Jersey Shore. So, I thought why not make some versatile, Italian flavored meatbawls, in honor of Jersey Shore Family Vacation finally airing and being so successful! I am a huge fan of a few shows on MTV, but Jersey Shore is literally the reason I pay for a Hulu account. I just love a good reality tv show!

My first step was to think about the flavors that I like most in Italian cooking. My number one is always basil! I love how it can make a meal taste fresh and so flavorful while also being a leafy green (that counts right?) But what’s better than just basil? Pesto. I had a jar of pesto from Trader Joe’s that I have been using in various ways, but this seemed like a great way to add flavor to my meatballs. I also love dried oregano, minced garlic, and to my father’s disapproval, dried parsley. These flavors can easily be used in many ways and with many sauces, pastas, and salads.

Now, normally meatballs call for breadcrumbs. However, I am gluten-free (if you haven’t noticed). I decided to try to make them with almond flour instead of any type of bread crumb. This also eliminated any high carbs or extra/unneeded starches. If you have a nut allergy, I am sure rice flour would work as well, but like I said, I didn’t want the extra carbs. The use of almond flour also made my meatballs paleo friendly, so enjoy babes!

Pesto Turkey Meatballs Recipe

I was able to make 13 large meatballs, but if you wanted to make more, you could just use less meat in each ball. PS: these are better enjoyed while watching Snooki and Deena day drink and dance their hearts out (;

Ingredients

  • 1 pound lean ground turkey
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup almond flour
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons dried or fresh oregano
  • 2 tablespoons dried or fresh parsley
  • 2 tablespoons pesto
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper

Directions

  1. Preheat your oven to 400 °F. Line a baking sheet with foil. This creates easier clean up for you! IMG_7045
  2. In a mixing bowl, add egg, garlic, almond flour, parsley, oregano, pesto, salt, and pepper. Mix until all ingredients are combined.
  3. Add your lean ground turkey. Be sure to mix really well so all of the turkey is covered in flavors, egg, and flour!
  4. Using a tablespoon for measurement, take a scoop of turkey and using your hands, roll into a tight ball and place on your baking sheet. If this thought totally disgusts you, you can also use a cookie scoop so you aren’t touching the raw meat. When making your meatballs, remember to try to make them all a similar size so you can be sure they cook through all the way.
  5. Put baking sheet in the oven and allow your meatballs to cook for 20 minutes.
  6. Using tongs, flip your meatballs so they brown on both sides. Cook for 10 more minutes.
  7. Allow to cool.
  8. You can enjoy them on pasta, add them to my Spaghetti Squash with Avocado Pesto or how I decided to enjoy them tonight, with some veggies and homemade tzatziki! Just because they are Italian meatballs, it doesn’t mean they can’t go well with Greek (;

All Natural, Low Carb Cookie Dough Balls (Vegan, Dairy-free, and Gluten-free)

What if I told you that just because you are trying to stick to a healthy lifestyle does not mean you have to give up cookie dough? I’m not talking about eating cookie dough in moderation (although this is absolutely okay too.) I am talking about getting some healthy fats, protein, and satisfaction from cookie dough that you can eat everyday. Sounds crazy, right? My friend Ryan thought so too after I told him what I was eating as a late night sweet treat that would not harm my body.

IMG_6587If you learn to cook with ingredients that do not harm your body, you can create a variety of different recipes that satisfy certain cravings. We all diet or eat healthy for different reasons. Some are trying to lose weight, some are trying to gain healthy weight, some are trying maintain their weight, some are trying to gain muscle, some just want to be healthy, and if you’re like me, you are trying to fight a chronic condition naturally (to learn more about mine, click here.) All of these reasons are absolutely valid, and you deserve to still indulge, but if you can have an indulging treat that actually had benefits, wouldn’t you take that? I know I would, and I do! So, what are some of these ingredients that are used to make cookie dough balls that have benefits?

  • Coconut Oil: Yes, coconut oil is high in fat, but the fat it is high in is healthy! It actually has the power to turn bad cholesterol into good cholesterol helping aid in digestion, weightless, and curbing your appetite. It is also a powerful brain food that improves memory and brain function. And my favorite benefit? It actually helps fight off unwanted bacteria via lauric acid. Lauric acid is great at killing bacteria and viruses both internally and externally. I once had poison oak, and I was told if I put coconut oil on the spots, it would improve the condition quickly. I actually woke up the next morning and it was almost gone! I personally use Vita Coco Coconut Oil that runs for about $8 at Target…and it is sometimes on sale for only $6! I find it to have the best flavor and scent.
  • Almond Flour: As my readers know by now, I am gluten-free. Almond flour has been a great way for me to be gluten-free without the extra carbs that come from rice and corn flour. Almond flour is actually paleo friendly as well! Not to mention, the high amounts of protein that are in the flour itself. In just 1/4 cup, you can find up to 6 grams of protein! I buy a large bag (3lbs) for $10 at Costco. You can find it elsewhere, but this is a great price!
  • 100% Pure Maple Syrup (all natural and organic): This is not the same as Mrs. Butterworth, or even Sugar-Free Syrup. Pure Maple Syrup is a perfect alternative to sugar. It is lower on the glycemic score, and effects your blood sugar way less drastically than regular cane sugar. It also contains natural antioxidants and vitamins, helps fight inflammation, and improves your digestion. Maple Syrup, like everything else, should be consumed in moderation. However, it is a perfect sweetener to start using in your baking! You can buy an expensive brand, but the one I use is actually from Target for only about $4!

So, have I convinced you to look at my Cookie Dough Ball recipe yet? I made them chocolate chip flavor for this recipe, but in the past I have also made Snickerdoodle, Peanut Butter, and Double-Chocolate Chip. If you’d like the recipe to these flavors as well, let me know in the comments below!

All Natural, Low Carb Cookie Dough Balls Recipe

This recipe yields 8-10 balls depending on the size. Now you can share them, or you can store leftovers in the fridge…or consume all at once. Remember, no judgement here (;

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup melted coconut oil
  • 4 tablespoons 100% pure maple syrup (honey is a great alternative as well)
  • 1 1/2 cups almond flour
  • 1/4 cup almond or coconut milk
  • 1/4 cup dark chocolate chips
  • optional: 2 tablespoons 100% pure vanilla extract

Directions

  1. In a medium mixing bowl, combine your coconut oil, almond or coconut milk, vanilla, and maple syrup.
  2. Slowly add your almond flour and mix well by hand.
  3. Gently fold in your dark chocolate chips.
  4. Take about a tablespoon of dough and roll into balls. Place on a plate or cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.
  5. Refrigerate for 30-45 minutes until solid.
  6. Enjoy!

IMG_6581Not pictured: the two cookie dough balls I instantly consumed to make sure this recipe was delicious x2. Sometimes recipe testing does that to you (; And yes, I used a plate because my fridge has limited room! This clearly works just as well as a cookie sheet!

 

The Fudging Best Brownies Recipe (Gluten-free, Dairy-free, and LOW CARB!)

Being gluten-free isn’t easy, especially when dairy-restricted and certain-foods-cause-my-body-extreme-pain are also part of the deal. Something that I’ve had to adjust to is bringing my own food on trips, to parties, friends houses, work meetings…you name it! Lately, I’ve been trying to bring food that I create (a great excuse for recipe testing) so I can share it with others and give them the experience of eating the way I do. Whether it be a platter with specific cheeses, crackers, dips, and meats or something like brownies, I want everyone to understand that just because I do have a restricted diet does not mean what I eat is any less delicious. That’s where this recipe came in.

img_6442I was going to a party at my best friend’s house and I knew I needed to bring something to munch on. I was already going to be bringing my own gluten-free pizza, but I wanted to bring something to share as well. I was in the mood for brownies, and I figured it was the perfect time to create something new, healthy, and adapted to what I can eat. I made this based off of my love for dark chocolate and desire to eat all the peanut butter in the world. Now, I am sure this would taste amazing if you made it with almond butter or even sun butter instead, but I absolutely love peanut butter with dark chocolate.

I am not yet a ghee user, hence why I used coconut oil instead. Ghee would work deliciously, but I love the toasted, nutty flavor you get from using coconut oil, and so did my friends and family! They were also surprised that almond flour tasted great and is so much lower in carbs (after all, it’s just almonds!) Speaking of my consumers, they were all shocked that there were no non-natural ingredients in these brownies. No one would have guessed that these brownies weren’t just really great normal brownies. I had so many people asking me to make them a batch, or share my recipe…so here it is!

The Fudging Best Brownies Recipe

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons solid coconut oil
  • ½ cup organic, pure maple syrup
  • 2 whole eggs
  • 2 tablespoons organic, natural peanut butter
  • ½ cup of almond milk
  • 2 tablespoons vanilla extract
  • ½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 cups almond flour
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon
  • ¼ tablespoon sea salt
  • 2 tablespoon baking powder
  • ¼ cup organic mini dark chocolate chips
  • Crushed peanuts and mini dark chocolate chips to garnish

Directions

  1. Preheat your oven to 350 °F.
  2. Using a mixer, combine coconut oil and maple syrup in a large mixing bowl. Blend in eggs, almond milk, vanilla, and peanut butter.
  3. In a separate bowl, whisk together almond flour, cocoa powder, cinnamon, sea salt, and baking powder. Make sure there are no lumps, and check around the bottom edges of the bowl for any flour build up.
  4. Slowly incorporate your dry ingredients to your coconut oil/peanut butter mixture. Add your dark chocolate chips.
  5. Line an 8” X 8” baking pan with parchment paper and if desired, spray a coat of coconut oil cooking spray for less sticking. Pour batter into the baking pan and spread evenly. Garnish with crushed peanuts and more dark chocolate chips (optional).
  6. Bake for about 30-35 minutes. Mine personally took 35 minutes, but it does depend on your oven!
  7. Remove from oven and allow to set and cool before slicing into squares.
  8. Enjoy with family, friends, or coffee!

Cheesy Kale Chips (Vegan, Gluten-free, Dairy-free)

IMG_6423If you follow my blog or Instagram (@wellnessandwelldrinks) you know my absolute obsession with kale. It is honestly one of my favorite foods. So, it should be no surprise that I am bringing you another kale recipe! Yes, I fully believe one day I will turn green, and no I am never going to end the positive relationship kale and I have.

I’ve been making kale chips for years. In college, I wanted to find an alternative to carb filled chips, so I found random vegetable chips, one being kale chips. I first tried the version Trader Joe’s sells and although I love them, I knew I could easily make my own version for less than $4 a bag. So I started making kale chips of all flavors; ranch, sea salt, cracked pepper, taco, spicy buffalo…you name it! But something I couldn’t figure out was how to make a delicious cheesy version. Sure, I tried powdered cheese, but that stuff is not the best for your body. My recent dietary needs call for natural, less processed foods. Then I remembered an ingredient I recently started incorporating into my life…nutritional yeast.

If you remember, I used nutritional yeast in my Creamy Vegan Alfredo Sauce. I will go ahead and paste my excerpt about nutritional yeast again here:

“Nutritional yeast is actually made from an organism that grows on cane and beet IMG_6182molasses which is then harvested and dried to deactivate the yeast. Sounds super unappealing right? I thought so too, until I found out some of the benefits. First of all, nutritional yeast is full of B vitamins, especially B6 and B12. It also helps improve digestion and contains both protein (up to 6 grams per serving) and thiamine, so yes, this can potentially aid in weight-loss. Not to mention, it has antiviral and antibacterial powers so, hello immune system booster! It is way lower calories than cheese, not to mention has no fat, sugar, or added ingredients. Nutritional yeast adds a nutty cheese flavor to all your dishes. I first tried it on some popcorn and wow, it tasted just like parmesan cheese! I am still an avid cheese consumer (it makes wine nights that much better!) but I think it is important to find ways to lessen the amount of dairy I eat, and expose that to others as well. Many stores selling nutritional yeast, but I like to buy mine at Trader Joe’s and Sprout’s.”

My idea came from adding it to popcorn (again, if you haven’t tried that yet, it’s so tasty!) I knew nutritional yeast adds a great cheesy flavor, and now I know that when it’s baked, it becomes even cheesier! Follow my recipe below for a healthy, beneficial snack that will have you shocked at simple it is to make (and consume the entire batch within one sitting…) But hey, it is KALE after all (;

Cheesy Kale Chips Recipe

This recipe yields about 3-4 cups of kale chips when cooked. Honestly, this is one of those recipes you can add more or less seasoning to based on preference. It is easily customizable!

Ingredients

  • 1 bunch of kale, chopped and steams removed
  • 4-5 tablespoons of nutritional yeast
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon sea salt
  • 1 tablespoon black pepper

Directions

  1. Preheat your oven to 300 °F. Line a cookie sheet with foil.
  2. In a bowl, mix together kale, olive oil, nutritional yeast, and spices. I like to use a container with a lid so I can just shake it all together.
  3. Spread the kale out on your cookie sheet.
  4. Bake for about 10 to 15 minutes depending on your crunch preference. I like mine to be crunchy but not burn so I cook for about 12 minutes.
  5. Store extras in an air tight container. Enjoy a portion or all at once (;

5 Basic Essential Oil Blends

My Relationship with Essential Oils

img_6261-2.jpgI first learned about essential oils in college. I suffered from really awful migraines (you know, the ones where the light burns and you vomit from dizziness and pain…) after having multiple concussions (cheerleading and car accidents…). It was starting to affect my dance class attendance and my professor one day handed me a roll-on bottle. She told me to rub it on my temples, neck, and upper shoulders. This worked almost instantly. I had been prescribed so many pain killers that I ended up being allergic to, told to take way too much ibuprofen, and just rest when I didn’t feel well; none of those solutions worked. But this bottle of magic changed my life. I would feel a migraine coming, roll some oils on, and continue my day. Pure. Magic.

I then started exploring other uses for essential oils and my professor would tell me as much as she knew. I started using lavender oil to help me calm down, unwind, and get some sleep. I used eucalyptus oil on days my allergies would kill me. I was obsessed within a few months. In college, I also took a course on Alternative Medicine and Therapies, which of course included a lecture on essential oils. I was happy to share what I knew and to learn even more from that point. I started convincing my friends and family to try them out too. At first, my family was very resistant, but then one day my mom asked if she could try something for her sinus headache. My mix was the only thing that helped her.

I think we turn to medicine too quickly. I 110% believe in doctors, hospitals, and modern medicine (I take hormonal birth control pills and have a prescription nausea pill that are in my life) but I think there are a variety of ways to heal our bodies without always turning to medicine. Alternative medicine is all about what you put in, on, and around your body. It matters what you eat, it matters what chemicals are on your skin, and it matters what air you breathe in. This is exactly why I started my wellness journey, so I could discover ways to heal my body without putting harmful chemicals or pills that give me awful side effects in my body.

I am writing this article based off of what works well for me. I know there are a lot of people out there who share their own knowledge of essential oils, so I am here to share what I know and what I have found to be best for my body. I invite you to try what I have discovered, and tweak anything if needed! Let me know if you do, because I am always to try new things.

Ways to Use Essential Oils

  • Aromatherapy: This is probably the most common way to use essential oils because it is simple and makes the room smell amazing. Essential oil diffusers are designed to mix water and oils to create a mist of essential oils. The air will be full of wonderful scents and all the benefits. Simply fill your diffuser with water (making sure not to get any cords wet), add a few drops of your oils, turn it on, and enjoy. I’ve had a few diffusers that only seem to last a couple of years at a time (mind you I use mine for at least 10 hours a day). I am currently using my little brother’s old one (see, I turned my family on to oils) and I actually love it. Here is the link on Amazon. Mine is dark brown and has pretty decent settings!
  • Topically: Essential oils are immediately absorbed by the skin because they are fat soluble, however you should never apply them directly to the skin without being diluted first. This was a mistake I used to make and I actually damaged my skin, so be careful! To dilute or mix your essential oils, use a what is called a carrier oil. A carrier oil is cold-pressed and do not evaporate like essential oils. I personally use coconut oil or castor oil, but I know others who use almond oil, grape seed oil, jojoba oil, and avocado oil as well. Be sure to buy a carrier oil that is all natural and if possible, organic. I will tell you more about the different places to apply your oils later in this article, but some common place are your wrists, temples, feet, neck, and abdomen.
  • Steam inhalation: This usage is great if you are using oils for colds or allergies. They can also be beneficial to your skin! To do this, boil about 3 cups of water and transfer to a bowl. Add 3-6 drops of oil to the water. Place the bowl on a steady, flat surface. Cover your head and bowl with a towel and never get closer than about 10 inches from the bowl. Slowly, inhale the steam and take deep breaths.
  • Ingest/Internal Usage: If you have good quality oils and they are appropriately marked, you can actually ingest your essential oils. Adding oils to water is a great way to get the benefits while also drinking a flavored drink that keeps you completely hydrated. You can also add them to plain sparkling water for a customized fizzy drink, use them in tea for even more flavor, and even in cooking/baking. I once made delicious lavender/lemon cupcakes that were fully flavored from essential oils. It is a great way to get benefits and be creative!

5 Basic Essential Oil Blends

In this post, you will see I use Plant Guru essential oils. This is my preferred, all natural brand, so please keep negative comments about my choice to yourself. I know everyone has their own preference and this is mine! I love how high their potency is and the therapeutic grade quality of the oils! You can find them on Amazon; this pack is a great deal, and a really great place to start. I just went over this with my girl Kara today (;

  1. Goodnight Blend- Lavender, Frankincense, and Sweet Orange This blend is IMG_6256-2what I use in my diffuser on most nights. I recently featured it on my Instagram story for those who follow me there (@wellnessandwelldrinks). These oils all help relieve stress and add calmness to the room as I sleep. Lavender oil, one of my favorites, reduces stress/anxiety, helps improve sleep, and can cure headaches. Frankincense oil can help focus the energy in the room, and help with your sinuses. Sweet Orange boosts your immune system, eliminates toxins, and helps brighten your mood. I also use this blend in a spray bottle with water that I mist over my bed before I sleep. I find myself waking up less in the night as well as waking up feeling refreshed instead of groggy.

  2.  Shark Week Relief Blend- Lavender, Peppermint, and Frankincense Ladies, IMG_6267this one is for YOU! I just told my friend about this wonderful blend and I’m excited to hear back about her results! We just learned that lavender can relieve stress, and that includes stress on the body caused by cramps. It will help your body relax and ease the tension. Frankincense is also really great for relieving inflammation, which is what causes a lot of the cramping and pain during your period. Peppermint is the BEST pain relief oil! It cools and relaxes your body and provides great pain relief. I apply this topically with coconut oil on my lower abdomen a few times a day.

  3. Breathe Blend- Eucalyptus, Peppermint, and Lemon Grass Cold? Flu? IMG_6266Allergies? Feeling like you need to open your sinuses or lungs? This is a great blend for you. Peppermint’s strong scent helps relieve headaches and sinus pressure almost instantly. Eucalyptus has many benefits, but in this case will help relieve decongestion. Lemon Grass, if you knew me in college, you know I often use this as a perfume because I love the scent so much! In this blend, it helps kill off the bacterias and viruses that could be making you feel crummy. I like to use this in my diffuser on nights I feel a cold coming on, as well as apply to my temples and neck topically. I also use steam inhalation with this blend to relieve symptoms when I have a cold or bad allergies.

  4. Warm and Cozy- Clove Bud, Orange, and Cinnamon Okay, so this one doesn’t IMG_6260-2have a specific benefit, but it does make your room smell like a beautiful autumn day. If you are in the mood to get cozy and feel warm, this is a great blend.  Orange is a mood booster, Clove refreshes your senses and kills bacteria, and finally cinnamon decreases inflammation as well as helps relieve depression. So maybe there are some benefits, but I only use this in my diffuser when I’m missing Halloween season. I am also highly allergic to Cinnamon when used topically, which is why you should always test these out before spreading them all over your body. Cinnamon will stay in my diffuser and away from my skin!

  5. Post Workout Blend- Peppermint, Clove, and Eucalyptus Sore after working IMG_6262hard? Try making this blend! All of these oils will help aid in recovery and relax any sore muscles. I love putting 2-3 drops of each in a small dish, mixing it with coconut oil, and applying to my shoulders, lower back, and hamstrings after a hard workout! I love how it allows me to keep going during the day, and if I need it, I will apply again at night and allow my body to really get some rest! Be cautious about applying after a shower as the peppermint will become cooler the warmer you are. It can having a burning sensation and nobody wants that after a tough workout!

 

 

 

Creamy Vegan Alfredo Sauce

IMG_6186As most of you know, I am not vegan. However, lately my stomach has been a mess due to my adenomyosis, so I have been trying to eat really whole, natural, and healthy foods for the past couple of days. I’m gluten-free, which helps with the inflammation, but every now and then I try to be dairy and meat free to help my stomach get back on track. Last night, I was craving fettuccini Alfredo, so I brainstormed a way to make this recipe full of veggies, completely dairy free, and just as delicious as the real stuff. I must say, I was actually surprised how well this turned out!

In this recipe, I use nutritional yeast in replacement of cheese. If you have never use this stuff, I highly recommend trying it out. Nutritional yeast is actually made from an organism that grows on cane and beet molasses which is then harvested and dried to deactivate the yeast. Sounds super unappealing right? I thought so too, until I found out some of the benefits. First of all, nutritional yeast is full of B vitamins, especially B6 and B12. It also helps IMG_6182improve digestion and contains both protein (up to 6 grams per serving) and thiamine, so yes, this can potentially aid in weight-loss. Not to mention, it has antiviral and antibacterial powers so, hello immune system booster! It is way lower calories than cheese, not to mention has no fat, sugar, or added ingredients. Nutritional yeast adds a nutty cheese flavor to all your dishes. I first tried it on some popcorn and wow, it tasted just like parmesan cheese! I am still an avid cheese consumer (it makes wine nights that much better!) but I think it is important to find ways to lessen the amount of dairy I eat, and expose that to others as well. Many stores selling nutritional yeast, but I like to buy mine at Trader Joe’s and Sprout’s.

Creamy Vegan Alfredo Sauce

This recipe yields about 4 cups of Alfredo sauce. I personally got multiple uses out of it, but it could easily serve 4 or 5 people!

Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 cups riced cauliflower (note: you can use small cut up pieces as well, riced will help it blend easier)
  • 1/2 white onion, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 1/2 cup of unsweetened almond milk
  • 1/4 cup nutritional yeast
  • 2 tablespoons cracked pepper
  • 1 tablespoon sea salt

Directions

  1. Boil water in a small sauce pan. Add the riced cauliflower and let cook for 5 minutes. The softer, the better. Then drain.
  2. In a pan, add your olive oil and onions. Let the onion cook until soft and brown in color.
  3. In a blender, combine cooked cauliflower, cooked onion, garlic, almond milk, nutritional yeast, sea salt, and cracked pepper. Blend until smooth and creamy.
  4. Serve warm and store leftovers in an air tight container or jar for up to a week.

Ways to enjoy and use:

  • I made spaghetti squash (for information how to cook spaghetti squash/its benefits IMG_6188 click here) and steamed broccoli, then added a good heaping of this delicious sauce. This picture does not do this dish justice at all, but what can you do (;
  • Chicken Alfredo
  • Mix into brown rice or quinoa
  • Pour on top of baked potatoes
  • As a replacement for regular pizza sauce
  • Pour on top of roasted veggies
  • As a dip for air fried veggies
  • Fettachini Alfredo!