Homemade Cashew Milk (no straining needed!)

IMG_2608_Facetune_11-09-2018-18-42-54I haven’t always been the biggest fan of nut milks. It was a huge adjustment to try to get used to almond and coconut milk. But, I knew limiting how much dairy I consumed (especially milk) would be best for my body, so I have trained myself really well to enjoy it! My favorite milk by far is cashew milk, but it is so much more expensive to buy a decent brand.

What do I mean by a “decent brand”? Well, I mean something with simple, and very few, ingredients that actually benefit our bodies instead of tear them apart. Did you know some brands of nut milk have added preservatives and chemicals so they do not expire as quickly? This makes me feel super uncomfortable because I am trying to find ways to better my health, and if I am giving up animal milk, I shouldn’t be swapping it for something with added chemicals! It is the same thing with nut butters. Read the labels between Jiffy and Sprout’s (which cost the same), and you’ll see that there more than just peanuts in the Jiffy peanut butter.

For awhile now, I’ve been considering making my own nut milk. However, I am uncomfortable with the amount of waste that can come from straining and being left with nut “pulp” (ew?) I know there are ways to reuse the leftovers, but this all seems like a lot of work for the average person. Plus, I know not everyone wants to invest in a cheese cloth or special nut milk bag. So, in true Emilee fashion, I decided to experiment in the kitchen and figure out a way to make some simple cashew milk without having too many complicated steps. And that is just what I did.

I was able to make my cashew milk creamy and dreamy all while controlling what ingredients were added. There are so many varieties of ways to make delicious cashew milk with all natural flavors and I want to make sure that you know just how easy this was. I used mine in my smoothies daily, to dunk in cookies (that recipe is coming soon!), and in a delicious homemade latte. The possibilities with your cashew milk are endless, and it is so easy to make!

IMG_2595One step that I do want to clarify is when I say to “soak your cashews”. This is really important because when nuts/seeds are broken down (such as in a blender or food processor), they release natural chemicals that can be harmful to digestion. The soaking process eliminates this release while also making the nuts/seeds creamier when broken down! It is a MUST if you plan to make milk without straining! I recommend 6-8 hours of soaking because it comes out smoother and with less of a grainy texture. Slow and steady wins the race!

Homemade Cashew Milk Recipe

This makes about 5-6 cups, but you can adjust the recipe to make more or less!

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups of cashews *note: they must be RAW cashews!
  • 3 cups of filtered water (plus some for soaking!)
  • optional ingredients: local all-natural honey, organic all-natural maple syrup, vanilla extract, unsweetened cocoa powder, cinnamon, lavender extract, sea salt, or anything else that you want to add to your milk!

Directions

  1. Measure your cashews and place in a bowl. Put enough filtered water in the bowl to cover all the cashews. Place the bowl in a cool, safe place with a light towel over it. Let your cashews soak for 6-8 hours. Remember, this is an important step!
  2. Drain the water from the bowl and rinse your cashews. Place them in your blender with about 1 cup of water to start. Blend for at least 2-3 minutes. This will be very thick and creamy. This step will help decrease how grainy it is.
  3. Then, add another cup of water and repeat the steps until it is at the desired consistency. If your cashew milk is still grainy, keep blending!
  4. Add your choice of flavors/sweeteners. For chocolate cashew milk, try adding 4 tablespoons of unsweetened cocoa powder. For lavender honey, add 1/4 cup of honey, 4 drops of lavender extract, and 2 tablespoons of vanilla extract. For a fall flavor, add 3 tablespoons of cinnamon and 1/4 cup of maple syrup. Or for my favorite (and what I made above) add 1/4 cup honey, 2 tablespoons of vanilla extract, and 2 pinches of sea salt. 
  5. Blend your ingredients together and store in an air tight container in the fridge. Jars work best!
  6. Let it cool and enjoy for up to a week! It makes a great coffee creamer!

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Paleo Gluten-Free Apple Fritter Bites

Fall is my favorite season, and I am so glad that it is finally here. From the color changing leaves to the seasonal holidays, I love all things fall! As a recipe creator it is even easier to create yummy foods when you love all the different flavors. From apple cinnamon to pumpkin nutmeg to rosemary and thyme; this is where my taste buds want to live!

To begin my wonderful fall recipe series, I wanted to take advantage of the delicious apples a family friend brought over, fresh from her tree! They are Macintosh, so they are a perfect balance of sweet and crisp. I couldn’t wait to use cinnamon as a pairing flavor to the perfect apples, but I knew I wanted to be a little bit more creative than an easy apple muffin.

I woke up this morning craving donuts with my coffee. When I would get donuts in the past, I would always get a glazed old-fashioned and an apple fritter. I love the sweet and fruity surprises that apple fritters brought, and that’s when it hit me. I should make an Emilee friendly apple fritter. Aka Paleo, gluten-free, no refined sugar, (and mainly dairy-free)…Thus my creation!

I didn’t want these to be overly sweet or overly heavy. Instead, I wanted an apple fritter that I could use as my morning carb so I would be less tempted to make a breakfast quesadilla (I got addicted and my body deserves better lol). So, I chose to make apple fritter donut holes so I could eat 2 or 3 and be satisfied while also having a properly portioned amount. I also didn’t want to have to try to figure out yeast or anything like that because I am not ready for that kind of commitment. But these little babes turned out amazing! I had no idea that on the first try I would get something so perfectly yummy and my craving satisfied. Not to mention, I now got to have donut holes with breakfast for the next 4 days without ruining my dietary needs. It’s overall a win win.

Paleo Gluten-Free Apple Fritter Bites

I was able to make about 16 2-inch Apple Fritter Bites from this recipe. I probably should have doubled it because my family ate a fair amount as well! And mind you, my family usually questions what I make (but then they try it and are in love!)

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups of finely chopped apples (Granny Smith or Macintosh work best!)
  • 1 1/4 cup almond flour
  • 1 1/4 cup coconut flour
  • 2 whole eggs
  • 1/4 cup all-natural honey
  • 2 tablespoons almond milk
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 tablespoon liquid coconut oil mixed with 1 tablespoon cinnamon (optional)

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 °F. Then, line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. In a large bowl, combine almond flour, coconut flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, and baking powder.
  3. Next, add the eggs, vanilla extract, honey, and almond milk. Be sure to mix this well so all the ingredients are fully combined.
  4. Carefully fold your apples into the mix and try to get them evenly dispersed in the batter.
  5. Using an ice cream scoop or spoon, take about 2 tablespoons of batter and roll it into a ball. Place the balls on the lined baking sheet about an inch apart from each other (they should not expand!)
  6. This step is optional, but helps bring moisture into the donuts. Melt 1 tablespoon of coconut oil and mix in cinnamon. Using a pastry brush, lightly coat each donut with the coconut cinnamon mix.
  7. Bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes until the tops are golden brown.
  8. Remove from oven and let sit for 5 minutes to cool down. Another optional tip: drizzle a tablespoon of honey across the top.
  9. Enjoy while wrapped in a cozy knit blanket, smelling a fall scented candle, and while sipping a pumpkin spice latte (;

365 Days Ago I Graduated College

One year ago today, I celebrated the biggest life accomplishment I have made. 365 days ago I earned my BA in Performing Arts: Dance and my certificate in Psychology from California State University Channel Islands. I earned this along with University and Program Honors. To this day, I am still overwhelmed by what these accomplishments all really mean.

Let me tell you a little bit of history about how I got to this place. Starting off with the fact I didn’t actually know if I wanted to go to college or not. I grew up thinking the only thing I was capable of ever pursuing was my theatre career, because I was afraid of being seen as smart due to the restrictions society made me believe I had. I was a cheerleader, I had a pretty face, and I was amazing on stage…I didn’t see or understand the need of being educated. However, my parents wanted more for my future. They didn’t go to college, so they wanted to help me have the opportunity no one in my family ever did. So, I applied to colleges as a way to get out of the town that felt too small and continue to build my acting career. Mind you, I didn’t get into my top college choices because of my poor grades. So, it was between CSU Channel Islands and University of the Pacific. I knew after stepping foot on CSUCI’s campus, that was going to be the place for me.

Located near LA and a small performing arts program meant I had many opportunities to shine. I soon became aware that performing arts wasn’t about shining, but about the power behind creating art and the good that you could do for the world. This is where I fell in love with dance, and this is where I would begin to learn that being a pretty face no longer made me feel good about myself, but that becoming educated in so many fields on so many issues made me feel empowered. I started taking harder classes, being told by professors that I have an intelligent mind that deserves to grow and flourish. This is how I discovered my love for psychology and developed my Capstone thesis and research.

I presented my Capstone theory, research, and actual findings on Dance/Movement Therapy that changed the way others thought about how artists can change the way the world views and treat mental health. I ended my college career with a 3.65 GPA and earned University Honors for my academic achievements. I also earned Program Honors for Performing Arts for both my academic and humanitarian accomplishments. I was never prouder of myself or more excited/terrified to be in the “real world.”

After graduation, I was still working for YMCA as I had been for the past 2 years. Through this job, I developed a passion for creating communities and helping families build strong bonds. I loved that going to work meant changing lives, and I decided that performing was no longer going to be the career path I followed. Instead, I came to the realization that this world needs to incorporate finding a balance between a healthy body and a healthy mind to help with communication, expression, and emotional behavior. I found that working with the youth of YMCA, I was able to practice these skills. I loved working for a company that allowed me to do what I loved while also grow as an individual and professional.

What I failed to mention before is that during my first year of college, the beginning of a 4 year long stalking and sexual harassment incident that changed my life forever. It began slowly, and as time went on, became worse and worse. Police and Title IX became involved, and things still continued to get worse. It is extremely hard to go to school when someone watches your every move and claims that you are their girlfriend in both a sexual physical and romantic way even though you’ve never had any romantic or even overly friendly contact with them. It is hard to focus in class when he is sitting outside waiting for you to come out. It is hard to even finish school when your stalker and harasser is ALLOWED to roam around campus and continue to violate agreements and faces no consequences. But that story is for another blog post; for another time when I am strong enough to have fully overcome what gave me ptsd. I mention this because it not only played a huge role in my academic career (one point I almost dropped out from feeling so unsafe, and my grades slipped noticeably in the middle of a semester) but it also was a part of what happened after graduation.

I was working my usual summer position at the Y, and although I had graduated, we were still working on the case I mentioned above. There was a lot that went into something like this, a lot of time, unanswered questions, interviews, and exhaustion. I began to not only just have anxiety, but showed signs of ptsd. I was afraid of being alone, scared of him finding out where I worked and lived, but most of all, I was afraid of the school and town that had become home because he was there too. I knew I had to get out, but I was working that summer. So, I began applying for jobs at other Y’s away from CSU Channel Islands in hopes that I could escape.

That’s when I was hired to be a full-time Residence Life Coordinator at a camp not far from my hometown. This would get me away from the pain and fear, and give me a newer beginning. This job, I thought at the time, would be THE JOB. You know, the one you get right out of college that seems like a dream because of have a fancier title, get benefits, and feel like an actual adult. I was only at this job for 3 months due to a long chain of unfortunate circumstances and realization that this was not what I wanted to be doing.

During those 3 long months, I did learn a lot about myself. I learned I was stronger than I believed, a really good person, and capable of pushing myself in ways I never imagined. I made some lifelong friends (s/o to Laura, Lizz, Gabi, and Thomas) who I still tell everything to. But I also learned that my anxiety and fears couldn’t just vanish by running away to live in an awful cabin in the middle of the Santa Cruz Mountains. I found out the closing statements of my case from college. They were not what we had hoped for, but I had won the case. However, this sent me spiraling in ways that I didn’t know I could. I began eating terribly once again, never wanting to move or even get out of bed, and I lost my passions because I didn’t know my purpose anymore. I honestly gave up for awhile. I was unemployed, feeling at loss, moved back in with my parents, and absolutely miserable.

Then, in December, I found my place in the dance studio world. I began helping run one of the studio locations and then started teaching. I had fallen in love with movement, dance, communities, and connections again. I started becoming happier with myself and my life. I started researching more and more about grad school and what I wanted to do with my future. Although I am still unsure about what I specifically want to do, I have a better idea now.

I am currently still at the dance studio, but I also signed a year long commitment to volunteer at a local hospital where I am working on bringing more communal aspects, as well as the arts, into patient long term care. I started this blog after having the idea for months and finally saying, “screw it, I want to write and share my life!” That lead me to finding online health/fitness coaching where I am able to help others with their goals while also being on my own journey. I have strong friendships and bonds, and knowledge that although my future is unknown, I am working hard to make it bright and beautiful. There is a lot I still need to discover about myself and heal, but that personal journey is incredible and truly humbling.

365 days have past since I made the biggest accomplishment of my life thus far. 365 days of emotions, changes, irrational and rational decisions, and finding myself after not being in school for the first time in my life. There is no guidebook to tell you exactly how that first year will be, but this is how my first year out of college went and I couldn’t be happier that I have amazing health, a wonderful job, and ambition for the future, even if it took a lot of hard times to get here now.

Future and current college graduates, let me leave you with this: you are going to have a hell of a first year. Your life is going to change, and it will be different from what you have now and probably what you think it will be. There is no shame in not knowing what the right path is. This is tryout time to try everything and anything out! This is your time to apply what you learned in school to the real world by taking on jobs with flexibility so you can travel, create a life for yourself, and discover what it is like to no longer be a student! This year is going to take you crazy places, but you will get through it all and find so many things out about yourself if you just hold what knowledge you gained tight!

I had a tough year, but I also had a year that allowed me to become a better friend, a better daughter, a better sister, a better teacher, a better role model, and overall a better person. Yes, there were MANY downs and rock bottom points, but where I am now is worth every single one of those low points. Believe in the power of your education, believe in the power of your journey, and believe in yourself. Cheers and namaste to my one year anniversary since completing my under grad studies and becoming a CSU Channel Islands Alumni!

But you’re so happy and outgoing!…You don’t have anxiety.

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Photo by: Makena Volzing

If I had a dollar for every time someone said this to me, maybe I would have enough money to better educate others on mental illness. I am overall a happy and positive person, but that does not mean that I don’t have my own struggles with mental illness. I think sometimes we truly believe that those who help others and take the time to smile at strangers do not have struggles. I am often told that because I want to be in the mental health field, I should have full control over my own mental health. Yes, that is partially true, but I am only human and I can only do my absolute best. I have never been one to fully speak out about my anxiety, but at this time in my life, I know that by speaking out about it, I can help others. This is my story; I am in no way saying that this is the only way anxiety affects us, but this is how it affects me and my life. This is my anxiety; this is my mental illness.

As a young child, I showed various symptoms of anxiety. I was highly emotional, unable to control myself, I panicked in situations most children do not, and I had fears that were unexplainable. I can remember how upsetting it was to not understand why I felt the way I did. It was frustrating for my family, especially my parents, because I would become hysterical but none of us understood why. Eventually, my parents took me to both group and solo therapy sessions. I was about 9 years old when they finally said it was clearly anxiety. However, this did not mean that I was going to miraculously get better. It meant that the fight and the journey was only beginning.

I do not remember a ton of exact details. But I do remember in 6th grade my anxiety symptoms started becoming physical. I had this fear of going to school, and I would almost daily get a nauseated stomach ache, go to the office, and get picked up by my mom. I would then feel completely fine when I got home. I remember just being afraid of leaving my house, and this is also when I developed my number one fear: vomiting. I am terrified even now as an adult of anything having to do with throw up (yes, this is a challenge while working with kids.) I was afraid of getting carsick, I was afraid of throwing up at school, and I was afraid that anywhere I went, someone would vomit.

I eventually was told by my parents and the school that I could not be going home anymore. So I started seeing the school counselor…almost everyday. I would be fine one second, then go running to the office crying and demanding to see her right away. What was even scarier was not understanding why this was happening to me. I remember we tried to use a mediation tape that would help guide me through breathing exercises to calm me down. But I also remember just being such a wreck all the time and my parents being just as clueless about why this was happening as I was.

Things did start to get better, I started learning how to deal with my fears a little better and I had less hysterical moments. However, my anxiety shortly turned into me becoming easily manipulated by others because my head told me I needed as many friends as possible. No, I never did anything absolutely awful, but I did do a lot of things to other people that I regret. But it was because I allowed myself to befriend others that made me feel like I had an abundance of people around me so that I could feel supported. Sadly, I didn’t know that a majority of my “friends” were actually tearing down my self-esteem which in turn, allowed my anxiety to creep back up and be extremely present my senior year.

Then came college; a new city, new people, and a new chance. This triggered my anxiety for obvious reasons, but also for reasons that weren’t easily detected. I had a really tough time with roommates my freshman year and I would constantly feel like I was losing my mind. I had the same symptoms as I did in middle school: I wanted to go home. But I was an adult, I knew I had to learn to push through. But, as most of you know, pushing through is not healing; pushing through is not the solution to the overall problem. So, I again knew I needed extra help and saw the therapist on campus. I am so grateful to this day for her compassion and understanding when she asked me to just tell her what was going on and I immediately broke down sobbing. She confirmed that what I was feeling was valid and that we would find solutions together. So we did. She helped get me out of my completely toxic living situation as well as proactively checked in on me. As an adult, you think you can and should do it all on your own but without my therapist, I would have definitely dropped out of school. I finished Freshman year strong, and I felt better.

Then, things changed in my life again. Something else I do not often speak out about is the Title 9 case I went through during my college career. It is still very much a fresh, open wound and I cannot yet put into words the amount of destruction it had on myself as well as others in my life. This case made my mental status go from knowing how to get through the anxious moments to never not being anxious. This was because I was afraid of being on campus, which meant I was afraid of going to classes and going to my on campus job. But this time, it was different. This time, my anxiety was 110% caused by something that was very, very real. I was afraid of these things because I was afraid of a person. My anxiety continued to get worse and worse as this case continued to get worse. I would have panic attacks in the restroom, leave classes when triggering topics were brought up, and constantly call my parents when things were just too much. It was truly dangerous, and it continued to be a serious problem even after graduation. Although this case is now officially “resolved” on paper, it still deeply effects who I am and how I act in certain situations.

This past year, I was able to start to really control my anxiety again. I was able to return to happier mindset and breathe in the good while breathing out the bad. However, recently, I have been experiencing more and more panic attacks. In fact this past Sunday, I had one on an airplane. In case you’re wondering, no, I do not have a fear of flying. However, I do fear flying because I still fear vomit. I get carsick, and sometimes planes can cause me to get pretty motion sick. Not to mention, other people around me have thrown up on planes so it really makes me extremely nervous when it comes to my vomit fear. Sunday, my flight was 45 minutes of pure turbulence…and I mean extreme turbulence. I have never been so terrified on a plane and the fact that I could not escape made it even scarier. I was shaking, I felt like I couldn’t breathe, and the entire plane was jumping up and down. What’s worse is that I cannot just avoid flying for a little bit, but I have to fly this upcoming Sunday from California to New York. So yes, I have some emotions to work through and things to figure out.

I am not sure the true reasons why I have been feeling this way, but I do know that ultimately I am in charge of what I should do. I know that psychologists and counselors can help me, but I also know that it is tough to admit you need to see someone when you are working on studying to become a therapist. I think that is the really tough part for me in this state and time; knowing that I have the tools to help others work through panic attacks, but not being able to use the tools on myself. But I know that I need to be gentle and kind to myself. I know that I need to do whatever I can to try to get in tune with my mind and get to the bottom of this. It isn’t easy, and it does not happen in a day, but I am willing to put in the same amount of work into my mind that I put into my body.

Somethings that help me work through my anxiety on a daily basis include:

  • Dancing it out. Dancing connects your body and mind, creating a state of equilibrium and allowing you to work through your emotions. It also raises endorphins, boosts your mood, and allows you to focus on movement and music rather than your anxiety. Just turn on some of your favorite songs and move how ever your body tells you! Trust me when I say to dance it out; I did my Capstone on Dance/Movement Therapy.
  • Essential oils. Lavender, lemon grass, and peppermint have become my best friends. I have a blend that I put on constantly, and I also put it in my diffuser to help release their powers in my room. Lavender reduces stress, lemon grass is a natural mood booster, and peppermint helps with the physical side of anxiety such as nausea and headaches.
  • Being open with my friends and family. Sure, they will not all understand, but when you explain to those who are close to you that you are having a tough time, they could surprise you and help you. If you aren’t comfortable with this, trying seeking help through your doctor or support groups. You do not have to go through anxiety alone, and that is such an important thing to remember.
  • Being honest with myself and giving myself time to heal. I used to bottle up my anxiety until it exploded into full blown panic attacks. I’ve noticed that the more I allow my emotions to release and give myself time to take deep breaths and focus, the better I am in the long run. Let yourself cry, let yourself scream, let yourself laugh. Allow your emotions to run their course. I do this often in the shower and in my bedroom while I am alone and letting myself be vulnerable. However, I am also know to release emotions and stress during yoga. No, I do not scream, but sometimes I cry a bit because I am letting my body fully release all toxins.
  • Relaxing. Make the time to relax. If you are like me and almost always on the go, you need to make a change to your life. You should schedule at least 30 minutes of your life to be just yours. It isn’t selfish, it is practicing self-care. Whether it be 15 minutes in the morning, and 15 at night, or all 30 minutes during a lunch break…unplug and do something for you! I like to practice yoga, paint, meditate, cook/bake, and pet my sweet puppy. If I am out and about I like to treat myself to lunch, fit a spot to lay in the sun, go on a walk, or even just go on a drive.

Now, I realize that these options are not going to get to the bottom of your anxiety, and I do not think that they replace seeking professional help. However, I do think that these are ways to help yourself learn more about you and your anxiety. I believe in therapy and counseling (I mean, it’s my future career) but I also believe in taking time to get in tune with yourself and the power that can have on your relationship with your body and mind.

If you have anxiety, please know that you are not alone. Yes, your mind is uniquely yours, but you do not have to go through this feeling lonely. If you need help, call a friend, family member, or the Panic Disorder Information Hotline: 1-800-64-PANIC (72642). Reaching out is the hardest step, but when you do, you are already making so much progress. Anxiety is something that you will always have inside of you, but you can get to a place of control. Always remember, your health (both mental and physical) is the most important thing. You cannot be you without your body or mind, so allow yourself to come first.

Banana Bread Muffins (All natural, Gluten-free, Dairy-free, Paleo/Keto Friendly!)

IMG_7295Banana bread is one of my favorite treats. I have never been wild about bananas (in fact the texture really freaks me out), but I love the flavor! I love the depth of flavor they bring to a simple bread recipe, so it is no surprise that I often let bananas become overly ripe just so I can use them in banana bread. However, the banana bread I am most familiar with is filled with butter and flour and things that make my stomach hurt and body feel sluggish. So I made it a goal to create the same comfort that banana bread brings but with a healthy twist (surprise, surprise).

Now, I love these muffins, but it was one of those recipes that I was nervous for my family to try because they are not as fluffy or full of buttery goodness. Thankfully, these muffins made my parents question the “healthy” factor. They could not believe it was only sweetened with Pure Maple Syrup and that the buttery notes were replaced by coconut oil! They loved the denser texture and the fact you could really taste the bananas. I was obviously thrilled and we consumed all 16 within 2 days.

I honestly do not have as many words as I typically have to share with my other recipes because there are no secret benefits and I am honestly not trying to convince you to try anything too new. These are simply banana bread muffins and if you are looking for a little comfort food in your life, these will give you that comfort without giving into bread made with potentially harmful ingredients.

Banana Bread Muffins Recipe

This recipe yields anywhere from 12 to 16 muffins depending on how big you make them. Feel free to heat them up and add almond butter before consuming. Trust me, it is a great treat!

Ingredients

  • 3 bananas; the riper the better
  • 2 cups almond flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 cup pure maple syrup
  • 3 tablespoons coconut oil
  • 1 tablespoon baking power
  • 3 tablespoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 2 tablespoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • Optional: walnuts, coconut flakes, dark chocolate chips

Directions

  1. Preheat your oven to 350 °F.
  2. Peel and mash your bananas until smooth.
  3. Add eggs, maple syrup, coconut oil, and vanilla extract. Combine with a handheld or standing mixer.
  4. In a separate bowl, mix almond flour, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, and sea salt. Slowly pour mixture into the banana mix and stir until smooth. If desired, add optional ingredients such as walnuts, coconut flakes, or dark chocolate chips.
  5. Grease your muffin tins (or use cupcake wrappers) to make sure your muffins do not stick! Slowly scoop about 2 tablespoons of the mixture in each muffin tin. This should make 12 to 16 muffins.
  6. Bake for 25-30 minutes depending on your oven.
  7. Melt dark chocolate chips and drizzle on the muffins while cooling (if wanted!)
  8. Enjoy!

 

Miracle Noodles with Steamed Veggies and Almond Butter Sauce (Dairy-free, Gluten-free, Paleo/Keto Friendly, Grain-free, and Vegan!)

IMG_7258What the heck are you talking about? Miracle noodles? What could those be? Well, if you haven’t heard of them, I highly recommend trying them. I have found them at most grocery stores, but I find them to have a good deal on them at Whole Foods (less than $2 per pack!) What are they exactly? Miracle noodles, also known as zero noodles, have zero calories, fat, and very few carbs. They easily replace regular noodles in any dish and trick your mind into thinking you are eating actual noodles!

Miracle noodles are made with 3 simple ingredients, none of them being harsh or crazy chemicals. If you read the package you will see the short list: water, konjac flour, and a calcium additive. Let’s break these ingredients down so you can understand what you put into your body, because although it might sound foreign, there are actually benefits.

Water: Well, I feel like I really don’t need to explain this one…

Konjac Flour: Konjac flour is made out of a fiber that comes from the Konjac plant. It can also be known as Amorphophallus, but can be called konjaku, elephant yam, devil’s tongue, snake palm, and voodoo lily. Do not be intimidated by these oddly descriptive names. It is honestly tasteless so whatever you mix it with, it will bind that flavor instead. A couple of health benefits that come from konjac flour are improvement in the digestive system, high fiber, and probiotics to help improve gut health. Think of it this way, higher fiber foods help keep us fuller longer, so it will also aid in weight loss!

Calcium Additive: This is a simple ingredient that is just old-fashioned picking lime. It is used to help the noodles keep their shape and stay completely natural. Do not let the word calcium fool you because it does not actually supplement calcium. Honestly, it does not harm or benefit you in any specific way!

Miracle Noodles are really simple to make, but you do need to thoroughly follow the directions. My mom instantly snuffed her nose up at these when I brought them home because she had tried them in the past but found them to be absolutely awful. I asked her how she made them, and she didn’t remember. I asked her if she followed the directions, she said, “Of course not!” So, my goal was to change her mind and create a dish that would fulfill a craving I constantly have…Asian Cuisine. I love Asian noodle dishes, but I am gluten-free, so between noodles (even rice noodles can mess with my tummy and they are higher in carbs than I prefer.) So, I like to play around with clean ingredients and create my own twist on dishes.

I am not sure what dish this is a twist on, but I know that it turned out delicious the first time I made it, and even better the second time. It’s spicy, nutty, savory, and full of flavors. I absolutely love spicy peanut sauces, so I made a spicy almond butter sauce for added benefits. I also added some of my favorite steamed veggies and crunchy peanuts on top for an added texture.

This recipe might seem impossible, because it is labeled as Dairy-free, Gluten-free, Paleo/Keto Friendly, Grain-free, and Vegan…how could something be all of those things and be delicious? Well, try it out for yourself and enjoy a very low calorie, high protein dish!

Miracle Noodles with Steamed Veggies and Almond Butter Sauce

This recipe yields one bowl that will fill you up for hours!

Ingredients

  • 1 package of Miracle Noodles; I used the angel hair
  • 1/2 cup carrots; I used baby carrots but use whatever you feel
  • 1/2 cup bell pepper; sliced
  • 1 cup broccoli
  • 1/2 cup mix of green onions, white onions, cilantro, and minced garlic
  • Optional: crushed peanuts for topping

Sauce Ingredients

  • 2 big tablespoons almond butter
  • 2 tablespoons coconut aminos (or soy sauce)
  • 2 tablespoons sesame seed oil
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon powdered ginger
  • 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper

Directions

  1. When you open your noodle package, they will smell fishy and off putting, but I promise after cooking they will smell like nothing at all! Start by draining them in a colander and then rinsing for about 20 seconds in cool water. Really make sure to rinse and mix around the noodles.
  2. Next, boil about 2 cups of water in a small pot. Put the noodles in the boiling water for about 2-3 minutes.
  3. This is an important step that should not be missed: drain your noodles and put the noodles in a medium preheated pan (about 6 or 7). Dry your noodles out for 5-7 minutes to get the best result. Then place in a bowl and set aside. These instructions are all on the package, but I thought I would write them here so it’s all included!
  4. Next, steam your veggies. Do this whatever works best for you, I personally reused my small pot from earlier and just boiled some fresh water to pour my veggies in. I’m all about less dishes.
  5. In your pan from earlier, sauté and soften your mix of onions, cilantro, and garlic in olive or coconut oil. Mix these immediately with your noodles for maximum flavor!
  6. To make the sauce, simply stir all the ingredients together in a small dish. Mix half of the sauce with your noodles.
  7. Place your steamed veggies on top of your noodles. Pour the other half of your sauce on top of the veggies. Top with crushed peanuts.
  8. Enjoy every single bite!

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!