Thursday, December 18, 2014

December Randomness

- Excited to do some Christmas baking, but even more ecstatic to eat the finished products.
- Happy to be back in Sacramento for the holidays.
- Almost completely done with my Christmas shopping. This never happens this early.
- Loving the comfort and warmth of flannel sheets.
- Figuring out a good solution to make sure I get my 10,000 steps a day in the new year.
- Bummed I have to restart knitting my hat, but I know I'll like it a thousand times more once it's knit on smaller needles and I've had more practice with cables.
- Trying to find the motivation to run more often.
- Hoping to have enough room in my suitcases to bring all of my stuff back to Philadelphia.
- Craving oatmeal, trail mix, and smoothies all the time.
- Remembering how delicious California oranges taste.
- Trying to keep my December Goals in mind.
- Needing to give myself a manicure badly.
- Planning my vegan Christmas menu. It's going to be pretty similar to what I had for Thanksgiving since it was amazingly delicious.
- Starting to appreciate bananas a lot more, especially blended.
- Feeling so weird to be driving everywhere now.

It's so good to see you again, California!

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Best Friend Friday No. 9

Yesterday's Best Friend Friday adventure was one of the best I've had in a long time! It was the epitome of Best Friend Fridays!

We started the cold and slightly drizzly day at Starbucks where I picked up a chai to take with me on the subway ride to Old City. I don't go to Starbucks that often, so whenever I do it seems like a huge treat. They have so many cute holiday mugs this year. I especially like all of the ones with gold accents, but I was good and didn't take any of them home with me.

A few weeks ago I asked my siblings what they wanted for Christmas and all of them responded with, "surprise". That doesn't help at all. My brothers are seriously the hardest people to buy presents for. I don't know what kind of things boys like. Girls are easy to shop for; clothes and jewelry are always a safe bet. A few days later Nate texted me again and asked for a Philadelphia sweatshirt. That was so relieving! I knew exactly where to get the perfect sweatshirt for him. So yesterday, Lauren and I headed out to Old City and stopped at Old City T-Shirts (again). The owner was super friendly as usual, and even gave us candy canes and a complimentary "Shop Small" tote bag!

Because it's super important to get my 10,000 daily steps in, we then walked over a dozen blocks to hit up Staples. I still had more rewards to use up before the end of the month, but even more essential, my printer ran out of magenta colored ink that morning and I actually needed to come here. Of course we picked up more than just ink though. Lauren picked up some supplies to start a new planner and I selected a fun book for Abby as part of her Christmas present.
The big highlight of the day though, and the main reason for venturing out yesterday was to visit Christmas Village in the iconic Love Park. I've been reading and looking at pictures of the event, so I was pretty excited to go and take a gander at all of the vendors' booths. I was hoping to get even more Christmas shopping done. There were several dozen booths there, each one occupying their own little wooden makeshift shop. The event's set up was so cute and festive! Both mine and Lauren's favorite attraction by far was the indoor German holiday market, featuring hundreds of ornaments and holiday decor handmade in Germany. I wanted to buy all of the ornaments and lots of the nutcrackers, but sadly money doesn't grow on trees. Just as exciting though, we both picked out our favorite ornament to receive for Christmas. I know this will become a yearly tradition for us besties!

After walking around Old City and Center City throughout the day, it was time to head back home. We stopped at the grocery store on the way and much to our amusement, we found two bags of Tings (basically, vegan cheetos) tucked in with the regular Pirate's Booty. It seems like this particular store received these few bags by mistake since we've never seen them here before and there wasn't a respective tag for the item on the shelves. But a happy mistake this was. We quickly scooped these two bags up and along with our other groceries, walked back home.

As soon as we got back to our apartment, you can bet I immediately started making pizza dough. No Friday is complete without pizza, but I'm sure you're tired of hearing me say that.

Christmas present shopping, Christmas Village, finding Tings, and indulging in pizza...what could make a Best Friend Friday better?

Friday, December 5, 2014

Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread

Two weeks ago I made bread! Whole wheat sandwich bread, more specifically. Lately I've been eating an almond butter sandwich for lunch on days where I was lazy and just wanted something quick. Because I like to indulge in pizza made from white flour most Fridays, I try to eat as much whole grains throughout the rest of the week. I also find that whole wheat flour tends to give food an extra dimension in flavor, especially in breads. I was so spoiled back in California. I didn't live too far away from Costco where they sold several vegan whole wheat breads (in packs of two!) for a very reasonable price. Unfortunately, there aren't too many whole wheat bread options at my neighborhood grocery store here in Philadelphia. The one vegan brand that they do sale is over $5 per loaf, and while that doesn't really break the bank in the long run, I do try to stick to a monthly budget and every little bit that I can save allows me to do more things that I enjoy. Plus the only store-bought option here isn't my favorite. I figured I'd give bread making a go and if it turned out to be a complete failure or it tasted like cardboard, then I could just go back to buying bread like a normal person. If on the other hand I actually liked the taste of homemade bread and it wasn't super time consuming, well then this little lesson in baking would save me from depending on the grocery store to support my almond butter sandwich addiction.

I googled "vegan whole wheat bread recipe" and looked at several different variations before selecting this one. I wanted a recipe with minimal ingredients (sandwich bread doesn't need to be super fancy when you're going to be dressing it up with sandwich fixings, just my opinion), and I didn't want the entire process to take over a day to make a single loaf of bread (this needs to be something that I can do pretty often if I want to make this a permanent change). The only change I made was using honey instead of maple syrup or agave. I know that most people don't consider honey to be vegan, and that's fine. I on the other hand eat honey and still consider myself vegan, but that's a whole other story. Anyway, I also did not take advantage of the cold dough fermentation option because I felt that was too time consuming for my needs.
The entire process of this bread baking experience took about 5 hours from start to finish, with the majority of this time spent waiting for the dough to rise.
I ended up overcooking the bread a little bit, so next time I'll bake it for only 40 minutes instead of 45.
I cut the bread into thicker slices and yielded 11 slices, including the heels. The bread doesn't taste that great on its own since there aren't really any flavorful ingredients, but an almond butter sandwich sounds delectable!
Yesterday I used up the last few pieces of bread to make myself a hearty veggie sandwich. Mostly I wanted a reason to eat more Field Roast Chao cheese slices. With the cheese I added Tofurky slices, hummus, shredded carrots, sliced olives, tomatoes, onion, and spinach. This was the best sandwich I've had in the longest time and it was honestly due to the bread. Even though the bread was in the freezer for several weeks and after defrosting it in the microwave for a minute, it still tasted really fresh. I've never had any brand of store-bought bread, vegan or non-vegan, taste this freshly made (except of course for bread bought directly from a bakery).

This recipe produced the perfect whole wheat sandwich bread and I'll definitely be making it again, probably like every other week to be honest actually!

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Vegan Friendsgiving

This was my first year in my entire life not being with my family for Thanksgiving. Sadly this meant that I missed the delicious feast my aunt prepares every year. She even makes me an entire vegan spread, just for me!

Also spoiled by past traditions, Lauren was sad that she couldn't partake in her family's festivities on Thanksgiving. We were lucky to be able to spend time with some of my other relatives this holiday though, but nothing tops tradition. We're so used to having certain dishes, prepared a certain way. Instead of hijacking Thanksgiving as guests, we decided to have our own vegan Friendsgiving the day before the real deal. This way we could make all of the dishes we wanted to, however we wanted. This plan also allowed us to bring some leftovers to the actual Thanksgiving dinner.

For having a relatively tiny kitchen to prep and cook in, Lauren and I worked together pretty well to get Friendsgiving prepared. Lauren did most of the cooking though. 

This Friendsgiving we enjoyed:
- Mashed potatoes with gravy
- Sauteed green beans with slivered almonds
- Roasted brussel sprouts
- Cranberry sauce
- Gardein Holiday Roast
- Lauren's homemade stuffing

And for dessert Lauren baked a chocolate pudding pie with a homemade graham cracker crust!

Everything was delicious. Friendsgiving is now one of my favorite holidays!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Best Friend Friday No. 8

This past Friday happened to be the day after Thanksgiving, aka: Black Friday. Fortunately (perhaps a little unfortunately too), I didn't buy anything! And for that I'm pretty proud of myself. That's not to say that I didn't purchase anything this past week though. I mean Black Friday deals basically run all week long now; it makes it basically inevitable to pass up on shopping.

Anyway, back to the point of this post, being that it was basically a holiday Lauren and I didn't have our traditional "Best Friend Friday". On Wednesday we took a train out to New Jersey to spend Thanksgiving with some of my relatives, then we came back to Philadelphia on Friday.

Amtrak train rides always make me so sleepy. I don't know what it is. I can get on the train very well rested, but as soon as I sit down in my seat, I get so tired. Even though we got back to Philadelphia in the early afternoon, I was so tired and just wanted to nap the rest of the day. So, we didn't do any best friend activities when we returned to the city.

However, this week "Best Friend Friday" meant stuffing our faces with banana muffins at the train station, boarding a train back to Philly, and indulging in leftover Friendsgiving dishes for dinner. Not too shabby, I'd say.

We will return to our normal scheduled "Best Friend Friday" this week! ;)

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

12.14 Goals

In an effort to be more productive and accomplish my goals during my 24th year of life, I've decided to post a "to-do list" of sorts at the beginning of each month. At the end of the month I'll go back over my list and talk about what I was able to conquer and note the tasks I have yet to tackle.

1. Make some type of scrapbook or album in an effort to take lots of pictures.
2. Read two books.
3. Run at least 50 miles.
4. Finish gifting all of the Christmas presents ON TIME.
5. Complete Summer Sampler blocks 16-20.
6. Run one mile in under eight minutes.
7. Clean up and organize my room at my parents' house.
8. Ride my bike.
9. Craft something that I pinned.
10. Try a new recipe.

Monday, December 1, 2014

11.14 Goals Roundup

November was an interesting month to say the least. The weather did a complete 180 on me and I had my first experience of living in the snow. There was just a little bit of snow, but still. While I've been to the snow countless times, I've never actually lived in it. The cold temperatures (which I'm not used to at all) made it feel a lot like Winter which kind of put me more into the holiday mode. I know it's only going to get colder here within the next month and I better soak up the remainder of the "warmer" days, but I don't want to even think about that yet!

Because it's been so cold I holed myself up inside a lot more than usual. Although this should make me more productive with getting stuff done, my productivity level hasn't actually been that great. This past week I've been sucking at blogging, but starting now I'm vowing to get back on track and blog more regularly.

So here's November's roundup since I know everyone has been on the edge of their seats!

1. Read a book: I borrowed "The Marriage Plot" and loved reading it. This is the second book I've read cover to cover by Eugenides and his style of writing just resonates with me perfectly. The topics he chooses to cover are really interesting to me and the way his stories unfold keeps my eyes glued to the pages. I also read "Middlesex" by the same author a few months ago.

2. Finish Summer Sampler blocks 11-15: I like to multitask while I watch T.V. Last month this meant that I got more knitting done in a few weeks than I had all last year. This month my Netflix addiction allowed me to have more cross stitching time. I finished these blocks and even started the 16th one!

3. Knit myself a hat: Sadly no hat was made this month, although I really should get going on this since my ears freeze every single time I step outside.

4. Finish THE quilt: I didn't finish the quilt either. I think my fear of messing up is preventing me from even trying. All that is left to do is the binding. I don't mind the tediousness of this step, but I really don't want to do it wrong.

5. Complete a project I've pinned: Although I've made a lot of recipes on my "Vegan Food" board this month, what I really wanted to accomplish was completing something off of my "Crafty" board. Yesterday morning as I was going through my list of goals to see how many things I actually got done, I noticed that I hadn't really crafted anything that I pinned. For the past month (at least) I've been meaning to sew up a yoga mat bag. About a month ago I pinned several styles and tutorials that I liked, but I knew that ultimately my finished product would be something I created. The links I pinned were good starting points, but I pretty much knew exactly what I wanted. I ended up taking ideas from the different pins (just looking at the pictures and not reading the tutorials) and created something I'm fond of. I enjoyed digging through my pins and making time to create something that I've been wanting to.

6. Get a good start on Christmas present making and buying: Even though I'm not completely done with my Christmas shopping or making, I'm still going to consider this goal complete. I pretty much know exactly what I'm going to get everyone on my list, which never happens this early. I've bought many of the presents that I plan on purchasing and got a decent start on making gifts. I still have a few more items to make and I hope to have the majority of them finished within the next two weeks since I'm not taking my sewing machine back to California for the few weeks I'll be there.

7. Use my big camera a lot: I started the month off taking a lot more pictures than I normally do (mostly of food), which was great. But about halfway through the month my big camera was pushed to the side and I was just using my phone to take daily photos for Project 365, and even that started seeming like a chore. Not good.

8. Run at least 100 miles throughout the month: Not even close. I ran slightly over 20 miles in November and I'm bummed about that. My only excuses are the coldness that I'm not used to and just pure laziness. I need to get my miles in so that I'm ready to participate in a few fun races next year without dying!

9. Try a new recipe: I loved this goal. I made chocolate chip apple pulp muffins, apple pulp pancakes, banana muffins (adapted), dinner rolls, whole wheat sandwich bread, and chocolate pudding pie

10. Paint my nails: I wanted to paint my nails in a festive color for Thanksgiving but never got around to it. Cooking for Thanksgiving was obviously more important. Seriously. So, instead I painted my nails a non-festive dark purple a few days after the holiday.

Score for November: 6 out of 10

Now it's your turn, December!