strawberry rhubarb pecan crumble pie bars

It’s rare that I go back and make changes to desserts. Once we have something that we love, it usually stays the way it is. Just how I like most things. But sometimes, you have to change it up a little bit.

strawberry rhubarb crumble pie bars

It’s June, which means we’re finding every excuse to as many strawberries as humanly possible.

Strawberries on their own and mixed into fruit salads. Strawberries in oatmeal and smoothies, in salads and dressings, in pie and jam.

And specifically, and especially, these bars.

strawberry rhubarb crumble pie bars

I first made these for a work picnic a few years ago, and most recently made a batch to take to my nephew’s 4th birthday party as a dessert for all of the adults.

As expected, most of the bars were gone by that evening. I’m pretty sure one was eaten for breakfast the next morning, and the last couple in the pan ended up being an afternoon snack for my mom, Nick’s mom, and me while we chatted – and ate, straight from the pan – around the kitchen island. I think if the last crumbs are being scooped out of the pan with a spoon, you’ve got a good thing going.

Today is a very special day.

Nick and I were married, 10 years ago, on a sunny Saturday morning of Memorial Day weekend with all our friends and family around, just steps from the beach.

brown butter macadamia cookies

I feel like there’s no way that 10 years have gone by…but at the same time, I feel as though I’ve known and loved Nick for as long as I can remember. We’ve been together for 1/3 of our lives already, which just sounds crazy!

Last year, I shared a salted chocolate pecan cookie recipe on our anniversary, and I think that sums us up perfectly so I knew I had share this one today.

brown butter macadamia cookies

These cookies have quickly become a family favorite and are already being requested anytime we’re visiting.

The secret?

Roasted, salted macadamia nuts. I like macadamias, but I had know idea how much I loved them until I had them salted. They taste so different! Still buttery and rich, but balanced out with that little bit of salt. As soon as we tried them, we knew we needed to throw them in some cookie dough.

my favorite breakfast casserole

I’m always up for is a challenge in the kitchen. Especially when it’s tied to very specific memories and family recipes. There’s something special about being in the kitchen – with others, or even alone – and making something that feels like home to you.

breakfast casserole

So it may be an understatement to say that I’m super excited to be sharing about my favorite breakfast casserole with you again.

nick's hands Kitchen Play and McCormick emailed a bunch of bloggers, wanted an inside peek at what cooking for our family looks like and what makes it special. And I couldn’t think of a better example than this breakfast casserole.

Do you have holiday food traditions?

Not your normal turkey-at-Thanksgiving or ham-at-Christmas, but other holiday food traditions?
Read more at http://www.branappetit.com/2011/11/16/breakfast-casserole-blog-for-a-cause/#6oWRu4XgtbG258i1.99

Do you have holiday food traditions?

Not your normal turkey-at-Thanksgiving or ham-at-Christmas, but other holiday food traditions?
Read more at http://www.branappetit.com/2011/11/16/breakfast-casserole-blog-for-a-cause/#6oWRu4XgtbG258i1.99

Do you have family food traditions? And not just a turkey at Thanksgiving or ham at Christmas. Cinnamon rolls for birthday breakfasts? Giant cookies in place of the usual birthday cake (my personal favorite)?

While Thanksgiving as a whole has always been my favorite holiday, there’s something incredibly special about our Christmas mornings at home, and it has nothing to do with stockings or what is sitting under the tree.

Christmas morning, for me, will always be filled with memories of my mom and dad, two sisters, and friends might as well be family.

Every Christmas morning that I can remember at home meant going over to my parents’ best friends house, trading gifts – usually in pajamas, at least for us kids – and then sharing breakfast together. Always breakfast casserole. Always mom’s, and always Jill’s. Plus some fruit, coffee for the adults, Five Alive juice for us kids. Sometimes monkey bread or donuts, too, but the mainstay was always – and is still – the breakfast casserole.

There are times that this casserole makes an appearance at other times during the year, but it’s rare. I love it for a weekend breakfast or easy dinner, but I don’t make it often because it is so closely tied with Christmas morning and my family and the Lowell’s that it seems strange to have this in the middle of summer or on a cool spring morning.

It is a Christmas morning dish. The only Christmas morning dish.

Christmas morning

Christmas morning means:

Early wake up

Bed head pictures while opening stockings

Moving into the room with the tree and shiny bows and name tags from Santa

Taking turns opening gifts

Maybe, sometimes, accidentally giving away the presents before the person actually unwraps the gift…

And then breakfast, with extended family

In pajamas

Coffee, 5 Alive, fruit, donuts or danishes, and breakfast casserole

Mom’s and Jill’s versions, a piece – or two – of each, please

Laughs, oh the laughs we have

Retelling stories that we’ve heard a thousand times and still smiling at the memories
Read more at http://www.branappetit.com/2011/11/16/breakfast-casserole-blog-for-a-cause/#6oWRu4XgtbG258i1.99

Christmas morning means:

Early wake up

Bed head pictures while opening stockings

Moving into the room with the tree and shiny bows and name tags from Santa

Taking turns opening gifts

Maybe, sometimes, accidentally giving away the presents before the person actually unwraps the gift…

And then breakfast, with extended family

In pajamas

Coffee, 5 Alive, fruit, donuts or danishes, and breakfast casserole

Mom’s and Jill’s versions, a piece – or two – of each, please

Laughs, oh the laughs we have

Retelling stories that we’ve heard a thousand times and still smiling at the memories
Read more at http://www.branappetit.com/2011/11/16/breakfast-casserole-blog-for-a-cause/#6oWRu4XgtbG258i1.99

From elementary school through college (and even still when we’re home visiting at Christmas), this has stayed the same. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

peanut butter & co. giveaway

Happy hump day!

I’ve got one of my favorite things for you guys today – peanut butter! But not just any any peanut butter…Peanut Butter & Co. peanut butter.

Their white chocolate wonderful is crazy addicting. The dark chocolate is delicious in smoothies and on toast. The cinnamon raisin is so, so good melted into oatmeal or spread on a bagel.

peanut butter and company

One of you will win the Big Six — 6 assorted jars of peanut butter in this cute little carrying case. Then you can be just as addicted as we are! I haven’t tried a flavor of theirs so far that I didn’t like, but seriously, the white chocolate wonderful is my kryptonite.

To enter:

Tell me your favorite way to eat peanut butter – on a sandwich? in a smoothie? in oatmeal? on a spoon?

Good luck!!

conscious cleanse review

Let’s talk cleansing!

I know – not a normal subject around here, but a few weeks ago, I participated in The Conscious Cleanse, and I LOVED IT.

conscious cleanse smoothie

Just over two weeks ago, I was starting my two week trial on the Conscious Cleanse – a program that focuses more on mindfulness than deprivation, which is common to see in other cleanse programs. My friend Holly asked if I wanted to try the cleanse for free in exchange for a review, and, since I’m usually up for exploring new healthy eating programs, I agreed.

So… what is it?

This was my first question, too. I’ve seen and read about other cleanses. Just juice for days on end? No thanks. This is where the Conscious Cleanse is different – it’s more of a learning process than a diet. The two weeks on the program give you the chance to really focus on food and how it nourishes (or causes issues in) the body. For me, I definitely noticed how different I felt after cutting out certain foods over the two weeks.

conscious cleanse brown rice with broccoli and avocado

The cleanse is run by nutrition coaches Jo Schaalman and Jules Peláez. By eliminating things from your diet for two weeks - gluten, dairy, sugar, alcohol, peanuts, corn and caffeine - it gives your digestive system a break. And I know – it may look restrictive, but doing this cleanse actually got me OUT of a cooking rut and excited about planning meals again! Plus, I didn’t miss those things as much as I thought I might.

How do I prep for this? The planning process was a bit of a doozy simply because you really do have to have meals and snacks planned out…and because meal planning is one area that I’ve really been slacking on for the past couple of years. I used to be on top of things when it came to meals, but I’ve been struggling to get back into a good routine, so this was really, really helpful for me.

To plan, I simply read through my manual and the book, listened to all the support calls (these were really helpful to me and kept me motivated during the two weeks), and then planned out two weeks worth of meals and snacks.

The biggest question: What did I eat?!

For breakfast: Most mornings, I made a smoothie of some kind. Some of these recipes came from the Conscious Cleanse manual or book; some were just ones I made up with what we had in the fridge. One of my favorites was water, spinach, frozen peaches, pineapple, and mango. Yum. I usually made enough for me and Nick in the mornings. This went with a big mug of warm lemon water, which is great for clearing skin and jump starting your metabolism in the morning. I also had hot herbal tea most mornings that I took to work with me. I  didn’t notice any big drop in my energy without coffee, but I had already been cutting down on caffeine before starting the cleanse.

almond tuna salad

Lunches and Dinners: These meals were either a big salad or leftovers from dinner. Of course, all of these were made from scratch and were cleanse friendly, meaning they were dairy, gluten, sugar, soy, peanut, and corn free.

Some of my meals?

An adapted version of this Almond “tuna” salad, which I’m completely obsessed with.

Chicken with a celery / radish / olive salad and asparagus (first ever from our yard!).

Brown rice with broccoli, lemon zest, avocado, and olive oil.

Spiced chicken with sauteed kale and carrots over mashed cauliflower.

Bison meatloaves with cauliflower, mushrooms, green beans.

celery salad

Snacks/dessert: I made little almond joy balls Jo and Jules created for the cleanse that were made of nuts, dates, and almond butter. They were SO good. I purposefully only made one batch during the two weeks, just to keep myself from reaching for those instead of other non-sugary options.

How I felt:

Honestly, for the first week of the cleanse, I was battling horrible allergies along with a sinus infection and a viral respiratory thing that was going around. So I felt like crap and couldn’t really taste anything. But I stuck with it. And into week two, once my head was clearing up, I felt amazing, especially in the last few days. Clear headed, lighter, way less bloated, sleeping better, more energy, more mindful – all around feeling great!

But the biggest change in how I felt? My daily random pains (thanks to a history of endometriosis and cysts) were gone. Completely gone. Since eating this way is basically taking out things that can cause inflammation, I’m sure it gave my system a break from all the things that make the pain even worse. I couldn’t believe how great I felt!

conscious cleanse dinner

So…what do I really think?

After doing the Cleanse for two weeks, I felt like my body and mind began working together – maybe the best they ever have. It was a mix of moving past bad eating habits I’d fallen into, getting rid of foods that were doing my body more harm than good, and giving myself foods that heal and work together rather than against each other.

Did the changes stick?

Even though the official cleanse is over, I’m still mostly sticking with the foods I was eating during the two weeks and limiting everything else. In the book, Jo and Jules note that an 80/20 approach is one of the best ways to keep your diet mostly clean/allergen free, while still allowing for the things you enjoy in moderation.

turkish chicken

Would I recommend it?

Yes, yes, a thousand times yes! I’m so grateful for the experience I had on the Conscious Cleanse and was surprised (and excited!) at how different I felt even within the first few days. I cannot recommend the cleanse enough.

And one of my favorite things about the Cleanse? Besides the support calls, there is a Facebook group for everyone that’s doing the Cleanse, so you have great support and a place to voice concerns, ask questions, and get/give encouragement if you’re having a hard time. Both Jo and Jules contribute in the group, and they also have coaches for the Cleanse there to answer questions and give tips.

If you’ve ever considered doing a Cleanse for any reason – to see if you have food allergies/sensitivities, to clear out some bad habits, to fall in love with good food again, even to lose a few pounds – I would suggest this in a heartbeat. In fact, I already know that this will become a regular thing for me. I never felt deprived – or hungry!

If you’re interested in joining the next round, it starts on June 7 and registration is opening officially on May 12. If so, make sure to use code RFCC614 at checkout to get $25 off! If the timing works out, I might be doing it again, too ;)

I was given the opportunity to try the cleanse for free, but I was in no way compensated for my time or for this review. My opinions remain my own.

Iced Spicy Chocolate Chai Tea

I am usually the first one to argue that coffee beats tea. I don’t even consider them in the same category, really. Hot drinks for the morning? Sure. But they couldn’t be more different.

chocolate chai tea latte

Don’t get me wrong – I love tea! But coffee has a depth of flavor that tea just can’t touch. From the slight varieties in the beans to the roasting, there are a million little flavor punches in coffee that I’ve never found in tea.

But when you give me something like a spicy, sweet, chocolatey chai to sip on? Then coffee and tea are basically on the same level.

chocolate chai tea latte

A few months ago, I saw an ad for a **new** Chocolate Chai latte at Starbucks. Of course I had to try it. But silly me – I was thinking it was either a chocolate chai tea bag steeped with the steamed milk or something they made. I didn’t even think about it being a mix until I saw the barista break out the box of tea concentrate.

It was pretty good, but way too sweet for me. I knew I could try to make it better at home. And it would be cheaper! And with ingredients that I know and love.

chocolate chai tea latte

And you know what? This was way better than the box concentrate! And it’s super easy to make.