Things I’m Loving Lately


Below’s just a quick list of some of my favorite things as of lately in all part of my life! Hopefully you’ll be inspired to check out some for yourself!

Avocado Toast  – I used to be all about sweet breakfasts, rarely breaking from my oatmeal, berries & peanut butter mix but for the past few months I’ve been digging this savory breakfast — rotating my avocado toast toppings between salmon, chive cream cheese, and cucumbers or lemony ricotta and hard boiled eggs. It’s delish!

Chainbreaker White IPA – <3M and I stumbled upon Descheutes Brewery earlier this Spring and although I have yet to have a beer of their’s I didn’t like, this Chainbreaker White IPA is by far my favorite. It’s a mix of traditional hefeweizen with the slight bittery hops of an IPA. Perfect for summer sippin’

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Sally Hansen Miracle Gel – This is not a new to me product, I’ve been loving it for over a year now and am still obsessed. This is the route to a flawless, perfect at-home manicure every time. It’s truly rock solid in 5 minutes. Perfect for the busy girl! My current color is Sugar Fix!

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Instacart – I am obsessed with this service. I LOVE grocery shopping but somedays, it’s just not in the cards and Instacart makes picking up our weekly groceries so much easier. They also have an option to choose alternative items should your first pick not be in stock or you can text your shopper if needed. It’s all seamless and you can get your groceries delivered in less than two hours!

Yasso Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Bars – I love ice cream but keeping a tub of it in the house can’t happen, it’ll disappear within a week. These cookie dough bars are portion controlled (100 calories, 2.5g fat, & 5g protein), made with Greek yogurt and best of all, are seriously delicious! Try them. You’ll thank me.

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iHeart Radio App – I know live radio is dwindling but I still love a good morning radio talk show — specifically the Bobby Bones Show. And since I no longer own an actual radio outside of my car, this app lets me tune in each morning as I get ready for work. I can also listen to my old favorite Rochester station, Drive 100.5 anytime, anywhere! This is by far, one of my favorite, most used apps!

Camp Gladiator – This past Spring I got into a real workout rut — I was either at the gym on the elliptical with a magazine or heading to spin class and my body had become complacent. In March both <3M and I started CG and we’ve been going 3-4 times a week ever since. We absolutely love it! The workouts are challenging, forever changing, and there’s a huge community/social aspect that ties everything together. I’ve also noticed physical improvements since joining which is a major plus and it has definitely pulled me out of my workout rut! <3CG

Screen Shot 2015-07-24 at 1.50.52 PM (Photo cred, courtesy of CG trainer!)

Johnson’s Backyard Garden CSA Box: Meal Round Up, Part II


Our 2nd CSA box from Johnson’s Back Yard Garden contained a lot of the same veggies as last time – which meant we repeated a few of the recipes from the first box and threw in a few new ones too.

Photo from of JBG, Week of April 20th CSA Box

Photo from of JBG, Week of April 20th CSA Box

Artichokes & Leeks – I really hate fresh artichokes. They’re so fussy and the end result is hardly worth my efforts. Personally, I’m more than wiling to pay a premium at the grocery store to have someone else do all the prep work so I can easily begin cooking with just the artichoke hearts.

That being said, I did waste a half hour of my life trimming the ‘chokes, steaming them and plucking out the rich hearts in order to make an Artichoke & Leek Frittata (recipe below). It’s something I’ve made before, it’s delicious, healthy, and filling. We enjoyed ours as is but it’s also great served with a side salad or some garlic bread!


Beets  – If it ain’t broke, why fix it? I went with the same pickled beet recipe as last time and am still enjoying them on my salads and in wraps for lunch!

Carrots & Red Spring Onions – Carrots in our house usually end up as hummus dippers on the side of a salad or as roasted carrot fries, as last time. But with this CSA box, I wanted to get a little creative and was inspired to make a carrot soup.

The bright orange color and the fresh carrots just sang spring, making this soup delicious, filling and satisfying.  The soup is very simple with only a handful of ingredients but the result is a refined, slightly spiced, carrot soup.  I garnished our soup with some homemade, roasted chickpeas which gave the soup texture and a wonderful crunch. Here’s a recipe similar to what I made for both the carrot soup and the spiced chickpeas.

Carrot Soup, Tahini Kale Salad & Spiced Chickpeas

Carrot Soup, Tahini Kale Salad & Spiced Chickpeas

Kale – Sometimes simple is best. This time around, I made a simple kale salad with a tahini-lemon dressing massaged into the kale. This salad is flavorful, slightly nutty and has a fresh, spring lemon flavor that compliments the earthiness of the kale. We paired the kale salad with the carrot soup and topped the salad with more of the roasted chickpeas. I’ve detailed the kale salad recipe below.

Parsley – Last CSA box, we really enjoyed the Chimichurri sauce and used the leftovers as dressing on salads for lunch the remainder of the week. So when we received another beautiful bunch of parsley, I had to recreate the Chimichurri sauce once more.  We topped both grilled chicken and grilled salmon with the sauce. While creating the sauce, I also utilized a few of the red spring onions from our CSA box.  This time around, I did tweak the Chimichurri sauce, reducing the olive oil by half and swapping in vegetable stock to ‘healthily’ it a bit.

Romaine & Spinach – At heart, I’m a true salad lover. So our two heads of romaine and bundle of spinach were quickly turned into salads for lunch, wilted into tomato, feta, and spinach omelets and made into lettuce buns for turkey burgers, keeping with the low-carb dinners M

Aritchoke & Leek Frittata


  • 2 medium leeks sliced and cleaned,
  • 8 artichokes heart, chopped into 1/2 inch pieces
  • 1 tablespoon, chopped fresh tarragon (or 2 tsp dried tarragon)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt & 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/2 cup non-fat ricotta cheese
  • 2 Tbsp all purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese


Preheat oven to 425 degrees 
Spray an 8×8 or 9×9 oven proof pan with olive oil or non-stick spray and set aside.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs and ricotta. Whisk in the flour, salt, pepper, Parmesan, and baking powder. Set aside.
Spray a large skillet with olive oil and place over medium-heat on the stove.  Once warm, add the sliced leeks and gently cook until softened, about 10 minutes stirring often to avoid excessive browning.
 Once the leeks are cooked through and softened, add the artichoke hearts to the skillet until warmed then remove from heat.
6  Gently tir the artichokes and leeks into the egg  mixture. Note that the color of the mixture may change, don’t worry if this happens, it will go back to normal when cooked.
7. Pour the mixture into the prepared 8×8 or 9×9 baking pan and place in oven to cook for 20 minutes.  After 20 minutes, the top should be slightly brown check for doneness by pricking a toothpick into the center. If it comes out clean, it is done. If not, return to over for 5 additional minutes and repeat toothpick process until the toothpick comes out clean.
To serve, cut into 4 large pieces and sprinkle each with a bit of additional Parmesan.

Tahini-Lemon Kale Salad


  • 10 ounces kale, washed and torn into pieces
  • 1/4 cup tahini
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable stock (or water)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • juice from 1 large lemon
  • 1 clove garlic, pressed or finely minced


1 Whisk together the tahini, lemon juice and vegetable stock 
2 Add in the garlic, salt and pepper
If the sauce begins to stiffen, drizzle in a bit more vegetable stock until it thins to a dressing consistency
4 In a large bowl, toss the kale and tahini dressing until the kale is well coated
 Season with additional salt and pepper to taste then refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before serving.

Wine Country & a California Breakfast


Last month M<3 and I took a trip to California’s Wine Country.

We both love wine and thought a trip to Sonoma County and Napa Valley would be a great, long weekend getaway where we could relax, enjoy some delicious California reds, and refine our wine pallets.


We started our trip off with a tour of Lagunitas Brewery in Petaluma. This was, by far, the BEST brewery tour either of us had ever been on. The guide was engaging, the beer (and oh, there was a lot of beer) was delicious, and learning about the history of the brewery was fascinating. I highly suggest a visit to Lagunitas if you make your way to California. It’s quickly become our favorite brewery.


We also visited many wineries, including Buena Vista Winery, the oldest winery in California, Robert Mondavi (home to Mondavi’s high-end wines, not the cheap-mass produced bottles you find at your local wine shop), Failla Wines, which cellars its wines in caves within the mountains of Napa Valley, and a few other select wineries. All were wonderful. We split tasting at most wineries, which kept us even-keeled throughout the whole trip.


Over the weekend we enjoyed ourselves, indulged in some delicious red and white wines, relaxed and bought 5 bottles to ship home to Texas.

What surprised us during our trip though, is that most of the other winery visitors were at least twice our age — making us the youngest patrons at all of the wineries! We always knew we were old souls but we were surprised by this fact.

Evenings during our trip were a bit slow. We found that most of the attractions and shops within Sonoma (where we stayed) closed by 6pm. Restaurants, of course, remained open but after sipping wine all day our appetites were small.

We weren’t sure if shops were closed because most people had gone home after wine tasting all day (and passed out) or if the town just didn’t offer many evening activities.


During our trip, we indulged in some delicious, wine country food. The Girl & the Fig in Sonoma. We split a memorable goat’s milk cheese plate there one night for dinner and came back again the next evening to enjoy a true meal. I even came home with a fig spread to enjoy with our own cheese plates!


And of course, I couldn’t go on vacation without trying a local cupcakery. Healdsburg’s Craft Cupcakes was recommended to us but we were sadly disappointed with our choice of cupcake – the Cherry Almond – which tasted like nothing more than a vanilla cupcake.

Although many meals throughout our trip were wonderful, fresh and delicious, my Avocado & Egg Toast I had for breakfast at Sunflower Caffe in Sonoma stood out as a favorite — something I knew upon first bite that I had to make at home.

The breakfast is simple, light and refreshing with an added twist of a lemon-y ricotta smeared beneath a layer of avocado on a crusty multi-grain bread. The lemon added a brightness to the dish while the creamy, cool ricotta gave it a contrasting texture when compared to the chewiness of the bread.

Arriving back home in Austin, I immediately recreated this dish, of course, healthifying it some with a skim-milk ricotta so it could be enjoyed on a daily basis rather than as an indulgent vacation breakfast.

Here’s my version of Sunflower Caffe’s Avocado & Egg Toast – though I call mine, the California Breakfast. It isn’t as grand of a meal as Sunflower Caffe’s but I am definitely willing to bet on the flavor and the ease of which it comes together during a weekday morning rush!


California Breakfast

  • 1 slice Oroweat, Health Nut bread, toasted
  • 1/4 cup fat free ricotta cheese
  • 1 hard boiled egg, sliced
  • 1 tsp lemon zest
  • 1 tsp fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/4 of an avocado (about 1 ounce)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • White Lemon Balsamic Vinegar, optional

In a small bowl, mash the avocado and set aside.
In a separate bowl, stir together the ricotta, lemon zest, lemon juice, and salt & pepper to taste.

To assemble, spread your toast with the avocado, layer on the lemon-y ricotta followed by slices of the egg. Sprinkle with more salt & pepper to taste and a drizzle of balsamic.

Serve with a side of fruit for a complete meal.

Nutrition: 260 calories, 26g carbs, 11g fat, 17g protein,

Johnson’s Backyard Garden & Our CSA Meals


Lately, M<3 and I have been trying to eat low-carb dinners. We’ve found that since cutting out carbs and starches in the evening – as in no pasta, rice, potatoes, beans, or legumes  – that we’ve felt a whole lot better! We don’t feel as stuffed or bloated after dinner, we sleep a little better, and in general, it’s helped us eat a bit healthier.

Most of these meals have consisted of some type of roasted or grilled vegetable and a protein. We have a shared love for grilled brussel sprouts, sautéed asparagus, and grilled zucchini.  One or sometimes, all, of these are included in our weekly dinner rotation.

We are by no means sick of eating these veggie and protein meals but I thought it would be fun to throw in a new mix of vegetables so M<3 and I decided to become CSA members at Johnson’s Backyard Garden [JBG] hoping it would give us more of a ‘grab-bag’ of veggies, forcing us to eat them before they go to waste.

CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. Basically, you pay a fee to a local farming organization and in return, you receive a share of seasonal vegetables delivered to you.  You have some say in what vegetables you receive, depending on the season, you can customize the size of the delivery, and you can also choose the frequency of the delivery.

Mayank and I chose the medium size box from JBG with delivery every other week.  Conveniently, they deliver to our office so it makes receiving the vegetables super easy! They also have farmer’s market pick-ups and additional locations around the Austin. They are also located in other cities all across Texas including Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio!

Our first CSA box contained…

  • Beets
  • Curly Kale
  • Mixed Lettuce
  • Artichokes
  • Purple and Orange Carrots
  • Rainbow Chard
  • Flat Leaf Parsley
  • Yellow Spring Onions
  • Red Radishes and..
  • Leeks

And here’s how we used everything!

Beets – I love beets and decided I wanted to recreate two of my favorite meals form local restaurants around Austin. One is a beet, kale & goat cheese salad from Cenote and the other is a Pickled Beet sandwich from Fado’s. I pickled the beets using Alton Brown’s recipe then added them to a kale salad for lunch a couple of days while using the rest as part of a hummus, feta, and beet wrap, similar to Fado’s!

Curly Kale – I used this as my base for my kale & beet salads. I made the Cenote salad my own by massaging the kale with mashed avocado, a squeeze of lemon, plus salt & pepper. I also add in feta rather than goat cheese, some cucumber, garbanzo beans, and some baby carrots + hummus for some crunch on the side!


Kale & Beet Salad

Mixed Lettuce – M<3 and I used this as our Chicken Caesar salad base one night (keeping with our low-carb dinners!). We kept the salads light by using Bolthouse Farms yogurt based Caesar dressing, which we also used to marinate the chicken in before grilling!

Artichokes – These were tough as fresh artichokes don’t really result in a lot of edible meat and trimming them down is a rather tedious task.  To keep is simple and quick, I went with Guy Fieri’s roasted baby artichokes recipe. We stuck them on the grill and it was quite easy but I’d rather buy the frozen artichoke hearts and save myself the work!

Purple & Orange Carrots – This sounds rather odd, but I made carrot fries out of these! We absolutely love carrot fries (aka roasted carrots) and love to pair them as a healthier alternative to roasted potato fries. My recipe’s nothing more than slicing carrots into strips, tossing with fresh garlic, salt & pepper and roasting at 425* for 30 minutes! We had these fries with lettuce-wrapped turkey burgers one evening! Here’s a similar, more complicated recipe.

Carrot Fries + BBQ Turkey Burger

Carrot Fries + BBQ Turkey Burger

Rainbow Chard – This one required a bit of research as I wanted to make something that M<3 would enjoy and wanted something a bit more creative than ‘garlicky sautéed chard.’ In the end, we decided to make Chicken & Swiss Chard Enchilada Casserole. We halved the recipe since it was just the two of us, added some mole sauce into the layers as well as shredded jalapeño cheese, and rather than frying the tortillas we toasted them on the stove to save on fat! We both enjoyed this meal and it introduced M<3 to chard! He even loved it as a leftover lunch later in the week.

Flat Parsley – I used this to make a chimmichurri  sauce that was served over some grilled chicken one night. If you ever have a large bunch of parsley in need of use, I highly suggest making chimmichurri.  We used this recipe but lessened the garlic!

Yellow Spring Onions – I included these in a recipe we already love for Chicken with Herb-Roasted Potatoes & Peas. I quartered the onions and threw them in to roast with the potatoes! This meal is super simple yet flavorful. Plus clean up is easy as it’s a one-pan kind of meal!

Red Radishes – These were simply enjoyed as crudités with this lemon hummus. It’s lovely and has just the right zest of lemon paired with a bit of spice from the radishes.

Leeks – M<3 happened across a Men’s Health breakfast recipe for Crispy Leek Hashbrowns that seemed right up his alley. It included potatoes, [turkey] bacon, and cheese and he made it for me one Sunday for breakfast. We both enjoyed it with a fried egg on top. The leeks added great flavor without the harshness of traditional onions.

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Crispy Leak Hashbrowns

Overall, we’ve enjoyed our first CSA box. It’s definitely allowed us to try a few new recipes that we otherwise wouldn’t have and it’s added the veggie variety we were looking for! I’ll share our next box and round of recipes when it comes at the end of April!


Indian Cupcakes: Rose Cake with Orange Cardamom Frosting


I’m not sure all of you know this or not but I am not a fan of Indian desserts. They’re either too sweet – as the case with kaju burfi or the texture is too different for me – such as ras malai.

Since I usually pass on desserts when at an Indian restaurant or at <3M’s family’s home, I wanted to create a dessert that still had Indian flavors but catered more to my taste and texture preference while still make it something <3M would enjoy and associate with home.

In all, this cupcake was truly inspired by <3M. Indian desserts are something I would never make myself but I wanted to treat him to a Indian sweet of my own and thus I was inspired to merge an American favorite (cupcakes!) with Indian flavors.

The idea for rose cupcakes had been floating around in my mind for months. Now, in all honesty, I don’t even care for rose!
I’m not a fan of it in perfume, I don’t like it in a lassi or kulfi but the thought of it as a cupcake appealed to me – maybe because I knew I could control the depth of the rose flavor if I myself were making it.


Now, the rose cupcake idea was easy, it was the frosting that had me stuck for a while. I have always loved Orange Cardamom cupcakes. The flavors are unique – it has a citrusy sweet touch from the orange and a slight spiciness from the cardamom. Since cardamom is a prominent flavor in Indian foods, I wanted to incorporate it into the cupcake in some way.

How they’d pair with rose, I wasn’t quite sure. I was hopefully though that the delicate rose would off se the spice that cardamom brought and decided to wing it.

I initially searched online for a cupcake recipe within the rose & orange cardamom spectrum but was unable to find one. There were lots of rose vanilla cupcake recipes out there but after reviewing the recipes, they didn’t fit with my baking preferences. Most used a rose extract which I thought would be too strong or too fake tasting.

In my mind, I was set on using rose water. Rose water itself is slightly diluted but fragrant. And after tasting these cupcakes, I knew my intuition was correct – using rose water was perfect. The cake itself doesn’t have a strong flavor of rose but the scent is there and because eating is a multi-sensual experience, you believe you truly are eating a rose flavored cupcake – but it’s enjoyable without the flowery potent taste one tends to associate with rose.

As for the frosting, again – that citrusy sweet, spice combination pairs perfectly with the delicate rose. And there’s the added crumble of pistachios on top for a bit of texture to balance the light fluffy cake and the creamy frosting.

If you decide to make them, I’d love to hear your thoughts!


1 and 2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
2 egg whites
1/4 cup greek yogurt
1/2 cup milk (any kind – almond, coconut, cow..)
1/4 cup rose water
2-3 drops red food coloring (if you wish cupcakes to be pink)


1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
2 1/2 – 3 cups powdered sugar
3 tablespoons half and half
1 tablespoon orange juice (fresh or bottled)
zest from 1/2 orange
2 teaspoons cardamom
1/4 cup pistachios, finely chopped
**If you care to color your frosting orange, follow your food coloring’s directions for doing so. My coloring was 7 drops yellow to 1 drop red.


Preheat oven to 350F degrees. Line muffin tin with 12-15 cupcake liners. Set aside.

In a bowl, mix together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the melted butter and sugar. Once combined, whisk in the egg whites, yogurt, milk, and rose water until combined.

Slowly add the dry ingredients into the butter, egg, milk mixture ingredients until well combined.  If using food coloring, add it at this time.

Divide batter among 12-15 cupcake liners (or 24-30 mini) and bake for 14-17 minutes.  Meanwhile, make the frosting.

To make the frosting, beat softened butter on medium speed with a stand mixer until smooth and creamy (at least a minute)

Add 2 1/2 cups powdered sugar, half and half, orange juice, orange zest, cardamom. Increase to speed and beat for 1-2 additional minutes. At this time add the food coloring (if using) and additional powdered sugar if the frosting is too thick – or more cream if the frosting is too thick.

Chill frosting for 15 minutes prior to using.

Once the cupcakes are completely cooled, frost the cupcakes and sprinkle with pistachios.

One Year of Fostering..


A year ago at Thanksgiving, <3M and I began volunteering with Austin Boxer Rescue as fosters. We began with the intention of fostering a dog until we found one that truly fit our family and could be a true buddy with our puppy girl Stella. One year and 5 foster dogs later, we don’t have a new, permanent furry resident but we do have a few lessons learned and many fond memories as foster parents

Saying Goodbye
A lot of our friends ask how we could love a dog for a few weeks or months then one day, most of the time unexpectedly, say goodbye.  Since saying goodbye to our first foster Jack (ABR – Sean) we’ve learned that each dog has a family it’s destined for.  Although we’ve loved each of our fosters, we’ve been able to objectively look at each temporary family member and pinpoint why that dog isn’t the perfect fit for our family and kept these reasons in mind when kissing the pups goodbye, reassuring ourselves we made the right decision by letting him go.

Boxer Collage

We also learned that saying goodbye is not only hard on us but also on our puppy girl Stella. Each time a new friend comes and goes, Stella goes through a short mourning period – often watching for her friend from the window, worriedly whining about their whereabouts, feeling she needs some extra love and cuddles, and being too heartbroken to eat. This is by far the hardest part for us, not saying goodbye to our recent foster, but watching Stella work through the goodbye without fully understanding.

Every dog has a story
Each dog has a background that’s shaped him into the dog they are when we receive them.

Jack arrived to us with mange.

Jefferson came to us with cuts and bite marks.

Apollo (ABR La Bamba) was surrendered by his owners.

No matter how they ended up with us, we always tried to remember that these dogs needed to feel safe, cared for, and loved. They were all scared, confused, and had been sleeping in a different place each night. What they needed was a calm environment and a steady routine to bring their life back to normal.

Apollo So when they have a small accident on the carpet or become a bit territorial over a toy, blanket, or human – we often had to remind ourselves that our fosters are still in training. That somedays, we just have to bend down, clean up the mess and remember that they’re still learning how good life truly can be.

Every Dogs Has a Perfect Family
After having a dog in your home for a while, you come to know what exact needs they require in order to get adopted and begin looking for that perfect family – the family that fits the dog to be their forever home.

Sean : Jack 2 You learn that your foster won’t fit the needs of every family that finds their fuzzy little face adorable. You learn how to nicely direct the family to a better fit while petting your foster pup and letting them know, as another potential adopter walks away, that it wasn’t meant to be and that his future family is still out there.

Jefferson was one in particular that <3M and I had a hard time letting go but we knew he wasn’t a great fit for our family and that he needed some special attention to break his overprotective nature. Jefferson found his forever Daddy one adoption day. His behavior has improved greatly and he’s now a daily presence at the gym his Dad owns! Knowing Jefferson found the right fit in his adoptive home gives us peace of mind, in knowing we made the right decision in letting go and taking the time to find him the right family.

Jefferson & Dad When it came to Kringle, we knew exactly what type of family to match him with. We lived in an apartment and he simply needed more room, he had a ton of energy and needed space to let it all out. Kringle needed a place to run and stretch his legs – he needed a backyard. One adoption day, he met a Dad looking for a fur-brother to keep his current boxer entertained when his 2 little girls weren’t around. Kringle met his potential fur (and skin) sisters and it was a perfect match. The girls play with him to keep his energy level in check and when they’re away, Kringle has is fur sister to play and tumble with in his very own backyard!

Apollo, our most recent foster, was a rambunctious 2 year old who becomes a little too playful when having another dog around. He also needed a lot of attention in order to become properly trained on a leash. Getting to know Apollo over few months he was with us, we came to learn that he’d be best as a solo dog. When it was just him and I, this guy was super cuddly, super responsive and just simply wonderful. As we meet potential adopters, <3M and I knew to keep our single dog family recommendation is mind in order to ensure Apollo’s match truly would be his forever home.

Sean : Jack

It’s hard. And Fulfilling.
Fostering’s hard. It requires patience and understanding. It requires sacrifice. And sometimes it’s heartbreak for all those involved. But overall there’s joy in know that even for a short period of time, you were able to share your home and love with an animal who truly needed and appreciated it. Who with your love and attention, was able to regain that sparkle of love and trust in their eyes.

An Apple (Pie) a Day..


Apple Pie is an iconic American dessert.  And in my family, it was a regular.  I have quite a few childhood memories that include making and eating apple pie with my family. It was always around for holidays, made every year for my Dad’s birthday [because it was his favorite], and was enjoyed after most Sunday night dinners.  

Making the pies, at least when I was younger, was a family affair.  I remember my Dad sitting at our kitchen table running apples through a hand-cranked apple peeler and watching the thin strips of skin drop to the floor.  These were my apple strings were favorite part, I always loved eating the long ropes of apple skin while watching him crank away.

While Dad was peeling the apples, my Mom would begin making the homemade pie crust using her Mom’s recipe [obviously, because in our family, we just don’t do store-bought pie crust].  I remember her carefully rolling out the dough so it wouldn’t tear and crimping it perfectly around the edge of the pie pan, creating perfect edges with ease.  Once the apples were peeled and cut, she’d mix the apples in with the sugar and cinnamon and pile them high into the crust, neatly topping everything with a buttery-rich crumb topping.  In our family, crumb topping was the only way to enjoy apple pie.  Not only did you NOT have to roll out two pie crusts but you got that extra crunch & warmth from the topping that made eating apple pie that much more comforting.


My mom would bake the apple pie an hour or so before dinner so by the time our meal was complete, we’d be able to enjoy warm apple pie – which is the only way an apple pie should be enjoyed, warm & fresh out of the oven.  In fact, my Aunt Val didn’t even realize apple pie was served cold until she was in her 20’s.  Some may say she was considered spoiled but I’d save she was privileges for never having to eat cold apple pie [yuck!]

Most people love enjoying a slice of apple pie topped with vanilla ice cream, and in my family, we enjoyed that once in a while but our standard was to accompany apple pie was with a few slices of sharp cheddar cheese on the side.  It might sound strange, maybe even a bit “Polak” but apples & cheese are a common pair and the creaminess of the cheese and its slight bite paired perfectly with the sweet-tartness of the apple pie.  My Grandma Hellert would be the to initially make the cheese request and at times, she’d simply show up with blocks of cheese whenever she knew apple pie was on the menu.

Although I have fond memories of apple pie from my childhood, my current apple pie indulgence is limited to visits home or in this past Christmas’ instance, my Mom’s visit to Austin. And honestly, I’m fine indulging in it every few years but in between these homemade treats, I still enjoy the flavors of apple pie by mixing up an Apple Pie Protein Smoothie – the healthified apple pie!

This smoothie recipe is something I came up with years later, after first enjoying an Apple Pie Milkshake during my 3rd grade class’ Apple Day celebration.  The original recipe had applesauce, cinnamon, milk, and of course, ice cream.  Mine on the other hand has fresh apples & applesauce, spices, almond milk & vanilla protein powder. It’s a slimmed down version of the milkshake but still delivers all the flavors of Mom’s apple pie without the fat, calories, and post-indulgence guilt.  It’s great for breakfast, a mid-afternoon snack or even a late night dessert!


Apple Pie Protein Smoothie
Makes 1 smoothie


  • 1 cup almond milk, vanilla or original [I use unsweetened]
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 1/2 apple finely diced* [I prefer Fuji or Empire but I’ve also used Granny Smith for some extra tartness]
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ground clove
  • 1/2 scoop vanilla protein powder [I use about 40 grams]
  • 6-8 ice cubes


Place everything in the blender beginning with the top of the ingredient list and working you way down.

Add additional ice cubes as needed to acquire your desired thickness.
Pour into a glass, sprinkle with cinnamon & enjoy!

*Note: Sometimes, I only add half of the apple to the smoothie and choose to stir in the rest to the smoothie after blending. Obviously, you can’t drink the smoothie but I enjoy eating it with a spoon, kind of like a soup smoothie!


This smoothie requires a spoon!

Mom’s Choclate Chip Cookies


Some recipes aren’t meant to be healthified.
In fact, healthifying them might actually be WRONG.

Case in fact – my mom’s chocolate chip cookie recipe.  I’ve learned this from experience.  When you want your mother’s chocolate chip cookies, you aren’t truly craving cookies – you’re craving comfort.  And healthifying the recipe will only leave you unsatisfied and still in need of comfort.


My mom’s chocolate chip cookies are my comfort food.  I specifically remember a time in college when I came home one weekend, devastated and upset by an event that happened [something that I look back on now as trivial but at the time viewed as detrimental].  When I arrived home that morning, my mom was in the kitche20140221_135843n baking chocolate chip cookies.  I sat at the kitchen table with a glass of milk, ate those cookies, and cried while I talked to my mom about what was bothering me. And afterwards, I felt better.  Yes, sharing my thoughts with my mom while eating her warm, fresh out of the oven chocolate chip cookies, made me feel better.

It’s often stated that you shouldn’t comfort yourself or hide your feelings with food – but there’s always an exception.  And in this case, my mom’s chocolate chips cookies are love in a physical form. They are comfort and they make people feel better.  So when I need some comforting and am miles away from my mom but yearning for her comfort and a hug – her cookies are the closest I get to feeling that embrace.

I’ve also learned that in order for them to truly be comforting, I need to be made using the exact same brands of ingredients she uses.  Using an alternative will not deliver the same taste, love, or comfort.

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So, here’s my mom’s chocolate chip cookie recipe – with the exact brands you need to make them to feel my mom’s comforting, loving hug via chocolate chip cookies.

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Mom Hellert’s Chocolate Chip Cookies

  • 1/2 cup Butter Flavored Crisco
  • 1/2 cup Land O’Lakes Unsalted Butter
  • 1 cup Domino Granulated Sugar
  • 1/2 cup Domino Light Brown Sugar
  • 2 eggs [white eggs please…] 
  • 1 tsp McCormick Pure Vanilla Extract
  • 2 1/2 cups Gold Medal All-Purpose Flour, sifted
  • 1 tsp Arm & Hammer Baking Soda
  • 1 tsp salt [table salt, none of that fancy sea stuff]
  • 2 cups Nestle Semi Sweet Morsels*


Preheat oven to 375*

In a stand mixer, cream together crisco, butter, sugars, and vanilla until light & fluffy.
Beat in eggs. In a separate bowl, sift together flower, baking soda, and salt.
Gradually add the flour mixture to the butter mixture [in 2 – 3 batches].
Fold in chocolate chips.

Place tablespoon-sized mounds on a cookie sheet and bake for 10-11 minutes or until lightly golden in color. [It’s best to rotate the sheet half way through baking to ensure cookies are evenly browned.]

Let cookies cool slightly on tray.  They’re best eaten warm, minutes out of the oven!

*Note: My mom actually used 1 cup Nestle Semi Sweet Morsels and 1 cup Nestle Semi Sweet & Premier White Chocolate Morsels but these are often difficult to find.  An adequate replacement would be to sub a 1/2 cup of Nestle Premier White Chocolate Morsels for a portion of the semi sweet.

*Note: My mom would also, sometimes, add in chopped walnuts.  If you like nuts in your chocolate chip cookies, add in a 1/2 cup chopped walnuts when folding in the chocolate chips.

Cooking for the Family


So I’ve been gone for a few weeks but as I mentioned earlier, it’s because I was in India getting married – no big deal.

We had a great wedding, my parents thoroughly enjoyed all the Indian wedding traditions, we were able to visit with some of my new Arora family members, and were even swept away for a mini honeymoon to Udaipur – where we got to ride a camel and relax a bit, just the two of us, before heading back to the States!

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Ramu the Camel

In India, after the marriage, it’s tradition for the new wife to cook for her husband’s family for the first time.  Which isn’t a problem, because obviously, I love to cook! But prior to our travels, <3M had mentioned to his family that I had made a healthified version of Dal Makhni and THIS was the meal they requested me to make. It doesn’t sound like that big of a deal but I had only made it once before…in the States…using a crockpot…with proper measuring tools.

My first time making healthified Dal Makhni, <3M doubted my ability to make the traditional, creamy dish – as Dal Makhni translates to Butter Lentils.  He even refused to call it Dal Makhni when I told him I was making it, saying lets just call it “dal” [aka lentils] so I didn’t set false expectations.

M<3 was skeptical because to him, Dal Makhni is a signature dish. It’s the dish that he judges all Indian restaurants on. He believes that the quality of a restaurant’s Dal resonates to the quality of the restaurant overall.  So for him – Dal Makhni is a BIG DEAL.

So when he tasted my healthier version of Dal Makhni, he [and our friend Punit who also came to judge] were pleasently surprised to find that I did in fact make a traditional Dal Makhni – maintaining its authentic buttery and creamy flavor without all the actual butter and cream.  To them, that night, I was a food hero – making them homemade Dal Makhni – the same Dal which they recalled eating at home in India.

So really, making my healthier Dal Makhni is truly no big deal but having to make it in India WAS a big deal.  Not only was I cooking in a kitchen I wasn’t quite used to,  I’d be making this meal without measuring tools, hoping the ingredients in America translate to the same thing in India, cooking it on a stovetop rather than a crockpot, and on top of everything else – when we arrived, I found out that the family had a professional chef cooking for them that week to lessen the household chores.

This was just the icing on the cake – not only was I cooking for the family for the first time but I had to do it in front of a professional chef who would undoubtedly be watching me and judging my Indian cooking skills with skepticism.


The Professional Chef

In my family, my Mother, Grandmothers, and Aunts are all wonderful cooks.  Cooking is our thing. It’s how we show our love to the people close to us.  It’s how we show we’re the caretakers.  To me, cooking a wonderful dish for <3M’s family for the first time was significant.  It was proof to them that I’d take care of him forever and always, and that he’d be well fed and forever loved.  Because as I mentioned, to me, in my family, Food = Love.


Since failure was not an option, I prepared for my cooking adventure prior to packing for India – by ensuring I packed two basic measuring tools that I knew could get me through cooking for the family the first time. My tools of choice were a measuring cup – a bright orange, Tupperware quarter cup and a stainless steel measuring spoon – the 1 teaspoon to be exact [both belonged to my Grandma Greene – so I was stacking the the deck by bringing good cooking ju-ju with me]!  With these two tools, my knowledge of cooking, and by writing a detailed grocery list, I set out to cook Healthified Dal Makhni for the family!

And it was a success [or at least they told me it was!].

Everyone said they loved it, the professional chef even signed off on my Dal Makhni, complimenting me saying even home cooks and Indian chefs have trouble making an authentic Dal Makhni the way I did.

So here it is, here’s healthified Dal Makhni [the crockpot version].  It has the same creamy, buttery, rich, savory flavors as traditional Dal Makhni but with less than a quarter of the fat and calories of the original [I ran the nutritionals!]. It’s the perfect comfort food served atop some rice [I prefer brown]!

Crockpot Dal Makhni
Serves: 4-6


■ 2 cup urad saboot [black lentils]
■ 15 oz red kidney beans [I used canned]
■ 2 tbsp butter
■ 1½ tsp salt
■ 3 cups vegetable broth [or water]
■ 1 cup tomato puree [2 large tomatoes, roasted & pureed or used canned]
■ 3/4 tsp nutmeg powder
■ 1/2tsp garam masala
■ 3 tsp roasted cumin powder
■ 4 tbsp kasoori methi [dried fenugreek leaves]
■ 1 tsp ground fenugreek powder
■ ½ tsp red chile powder
■ 1 ½ tsp aamchoor powder
■ 1 tsp kati salt [black salt]
■ 2 ½ tsp ground coriander
■ ½ tsp cinnamon

Grind to a Paste

■ 2 dry, whole red chile
■ 1 tbsp ginger
■ 4 medium to large cloves garlic

To Add Later

■ 1/3 cup fat free half and half
■ 2-3 tbsp more unsalted butter

Make the tomato puree:
If roasting your own tomatoes, pre-heat oven to 450 degrees.  Place tomatoes upside down on a baking sheet and score and “x” on the bottom of both.  Roast in the oven for 30-40 minutes.  Let cool, peel away skin, and puree until smooth.

Par-cook the lentils:
Bring water to boil. Add lentils and boil 10 minutes. Turn off heat and let sit for roughly 30 minutes. Drain lentils & set aside.

Prep the chile-garlic-ginger paste:
Make the chile-garlic-ginger paste by grinding together with a mortar & pestle.  Set aside.

Once everything is prepped, the crockpot comes in to play to do the remaining work:
Add the par-cooked lentils & 3 cups vegetable broth [or water] to crockpot with first 2 tbsp butter, and the chile-garlic-ginger paste. Add in spices [salt, nutmeg, garam masala, cumin,fenugreek leaves & powder, chile powder, aamchoor powder, kati salt, coriander & cinnamon] and tomato puree.

Let everything cook on high for 4 hours [or on low for 6-8 hours]. Before serving, add red kidney beans, half & half and additional butter. If you like your dal a little less thick, stir in an additional ½ to 1 cup vegetable broth [or water]. Let cook another 20-30 minutes before serving.

Serve over rice & garnish with cilantro and a cool size of yogurt.

Adapted from:

I’m getting married in a week



Did you know I’ll be married in a week?

Well, not legally – not filing for taxes together legally – but married in at least one half the world.

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We’ve been referring to these upcoming nuptials as “being married in the Eastern hemisphere.” And we’re constantly being asked how we’ll respond afterwards, when asked if we’re married, if we’ll refer to one another as husband and wife, if he’ll wear a ring back in the States, which anniversary we’ll  celebrate, etc?

The real answer isn’t I don’t know.

I’m pretty sure we’ll do whatever feels right or maybe the Eastern hemisphere joke will be carried out until the wedding in Austin – which is exactly 210 days after the wedding in India.

It’s strange – we never really had to talk about whether or not we should have two weddings or one. We both just knew we were going to have two weddings.  Because honestly, both <3M and I have different ideas of  “tying the knot.”


To him, getting married meant a week of traditions and rituals, festive activities, grand attire, joyous music, dancing, and hundreds of people.

My idea included a white dress, a walk down the isle with my dad, cake cutting, sharing the experience with a handful of  people, and a day of romance.


Both drastically different yet each completely traditional.

And I love it.


I love that we’re honoring both our cultures.  I love that we get to share this event with friends & family across the globe – not forcing them to choose whether or not they should make the 2000 mile journey one way or another to attend a single event   I love that they get to see our love and I’m looking forward to sharing the experience with them in India or Austin as <3M & I begin a new chapter of our life.

For us, two weddings means twice the opportunity to celebrate our love.  For us, it’s our normal.