Monday, February 25, 2013

Belize Honeymoon

Today is a little day of celebration! We moved into our house over the weekend! So I decided to treat myself, and torture you, with a completely selfish post about our honeymoon! And because, I finally finished all my wedding posts, and I'm, of course, having wedding post withdrawals. In fact, it's not just posting about the wedding I'm having withdrawals from, I'm having wedding related EVERYTHING withdrawals! I wonder if Adam would be up for renewing our vows in a year... hmm... 
KIDDING! Kidding... kinda.

Belize vacation
{Honeymoon in Belize on Ambergris Caye}

But I haven't talked about possibly the best thing about having a wedding, well besides the whole marrying the person you love thing and getting a Kitchen Aid mixer as a wedding present, and that is the honeymoon! I can not express how happy I am that we decided to go on a long honeymoon immediately after the wedding. It's totally worth the credit card bill we are currently paying off. And that is a testament to how awesome this honeymoon was because that money could really come in handy now with the whole house thing. But, for me, it was just what I needed to start our married lives together (and to recoup from the madness of wedding planning). I can't see myself having been ready to buy a house (and all the scary grown up settling down implications that come with it) without getting a little bit of the travel bug out of my system first.

Belize vacation
{Snorkel Trip to Mexico Rocks}

We decided on Belize after extensive fights discussions about where to go. Let's just say, the right side won. Quite literally, if you are looking at the picture above. (Get it! I'm on the right.) And it turned out to be everything I dreamed of and none of the negative stuff Adam conjured up in his crazy head. Love you, hunny. 

Belize vacation
{Canoeing Down the Macal River}

Belize is incredible. Looking at these pictures makes me miss it so much. What I wanted in a honeymoon was a little bit, well really a lot, of adventure, some relaxation, good food, and of course quality time with my new hubby. A friend suggested Belize because she had some friends who just went there on their honeymoon and loved it. It was the perfect fit for us because it offered the adventure I craved and the ability to kick it on the beach as well.

Belize vacation
{At Chaa Creek Resort Before Our Amazing Massages}

Belize vacation
{Garnaches Poolside at Chaa Creek Resort}

We went for 10 glorious days. And no, it wasn't too long. It was just perfect. We split the trip into two portions. Five days in the Cayo District of inland Belize near San Ignacio and only about a half hour from the Guatemala border and five days on the island of Ambergris Caye.

Belize vacation

What we loved so much about our time in Belize is that the two portions of the trip felt like completely different vacations. The landscape, food, culture, and activities were totally unique to the two regions we visited. It felt like such a bargain getting two different vacations in one vacation! If that makes any sense. Belize is also such a small country, under 350,000 people in the whole country, that we found ourselves continually running into the same people, albeit tourists. We ran into our friends from our time inland at our jungle resort at a restaurant on the island. The people who took our photo on the top of a Mayan ruin in Guatemala ending up staying at the same resort as at the beach. It was crazy! We made some good friends and had a few nights that are both hard to remember (oh, Belize rum and Belikin beer) and hard to forget.

Belize vacation
{Rum Drink}

Belize vacation
{Belikin Beer}

I can't say enough good things about Belize. The people were friendly, the food was great, I always felt  safe, and it was adventurous. We went hiking in an ancient Mayan sacrificial cave and walked among pottery and skeletons! from 800 AD or earlier. The coolest part about this was that you had to hike 45 minutes, forge a river three times and swim through a lagoon to get into the cave. Once in the cave you waded through water, squeezed through rocks and eventually came upon a huge open room with bits of Mayan history left exactly where the the Mayans left them. Nothing has been moved, there are no ropes and rails. It's just you and your guide (and a few other guides and tourist that you encounter along the way). This was our favorite thing we did in Belize, but no cameras were allowed so I don't have any pictures. But I wouldn't feel right talking about the honeymoon and not mentioning our experience at Actun Tunichil Muknal. That cave was a once in a lifetime experience. Another favorite, venturing across the border (with a guide) to Guatemala to see the Mayan ruins of Tikal.

Belize vacation
{Tikal}

Belize vacation
{Tikal}

Belize vacation
{Tikal}

Belize vacation
{Tikal}

Belize vacation
{View From the Top of a Temple at Tikal}

Belize vacation
{Cave Tubing}

Belize vacation
{Ziplining in the Rain}

We went during the low season. And it was very much the LOW season. We were the only ones at our resort in the jungle for the first 2 days. And when we got to our resort on the island it had just opened the day before. It actually made the trip really enjoyable. No crowds on tours and stuff like that. And it only rained 3 times  in the 10 days we were there and it never really was much of a bother. 

Belize vacation
{View from inside a Cave looking Out}

Belize vacation
{Tamales in Guatemala}

Belize vacation
{Our Cabin at Our Jungle Resort - Crystal Paradise}

Our jungle resort was secluded and we went on tours most days we were there. Meals were served family style at the resort and were home cooked by the family that lived at and owned the resort.

Belize vacation
{Our Resort Dog, Shane, on the Island}

Belize vacation
{Traditional Belize Fast Food}

Belize vacation
{At the Belize Zoo}

Belize vacation
{Tiny Plane to the Cayes (Islands)}

Belize vacation
{Island Feast}

Belize vacation
{Fresh Coconut!}

Belize vacation
{Our favorite Bar on Ambergris Caye - The Palapa Bar}

Belize vacation

We went on two snorkeling trips while on the island our favorite was Hol Chan Marine Reserve and Shark Ray Alley where we got to snorkel with nurse sharks and sting rays!!

Belize vacation

Belize vacation

Belize vacation

Belize vacation
{Coconut Shrimp}

The whole experience was out of this world! I would highly recommend Belize if you are looking for a  vacation / honeymoon that is both adventurous and relaxing. 

Belize vacation
{Our Last Night in Belize}

Where did you / do you want to go on your honeymoon?

Love, Luck, and Happiness!


Thursday, February 21, 2013

DIY: Cinnamon and Honey Beeswax Candles

We move on Saturday. It's a new chapter of our lives and I'm excited about it, but I'm also sad to be leaving behind Long Beach, our friends here, our first place together, and everything that I've become so used to for the last 2 1/2 years. There is one thing that I won't miss - the commute. Last Thursday and Friday my commute from work in North Hollywood to home in Long Beach took 2 hours and 15 minutes and I thought I was going to LITERALLY loose my mind. So, there are lots of pros and cons to this whole moving to Valencia thing, and trust me, I've weighed them all. But when it is actually happening, like as in, in two days, the whole thing feels very real and a bit scary. We spent our last weekend in Long Beach, doing what we do - really a whole lot of nothing and some cooking (cooking for me, not Adam, he continued to do a whole lot of nothing). We went for a run, went for a bike ride down the beach path, and took Penny to the dog beach. It was a wonderful last weekend in Long Beach.


To ease my leaving Long Beach blues, I wanted to do something to warm the new house a bit, and I thought homemade candles would do just the trick. I've been wanting to make my own candles for some time now, since Adam has horrible allergies and occasionally the candles I buy set him off. And then he is a sniffling, runny nosed, annoying mess. Something with a natural scent would be the best fit for us, so I purchased some beeswax and cinnamon sticks and got to work on some Cinnamon and Honey Candles. Beeswax has a delightful light honey scent. The cinnamon sticks don't release quite as much cinnamon scent as I had hoped, but I still think they are a nice touch. As your candle burns down to the bottom, the cinnamon sticks are revealed, making the candles rustic and unique.


Here's how I made two eight once jar candles and two four once jar candles:

Supplies:

1 pound of natural beeswax - I bought mine on Amazon
1 package of soy wicks, the ones with the wick attached to a metal bottom
10-12 cinnamon sticks
jars - I used 2 - 8 oz jars and 2 - 4 oz jars
a large metal can - I used a 28 oz tomato can, rinsed and cleaned
a small pot
oven mitts
a chisel (or flat head screw driver)
a hammer
ribbon for decoration

Method:

If you have a block of beeswax (and not pellets) use the chisel (or flat head screw driver if you have to improvise like me) and the hammer break your beeswax into chunks that will fit in your can. Place beeswax chunks inside the metal can.

Heat water in the pot over medium high heat. Carefully place the can of beeswax into the pot of water, being careful that it doesn't tip into the water. You now have created a double broiler with minimal cleanup! You can just throw out the waxy can when finished melting your wax and creating your candles. 


While the wax is melting, prep your cinnamon sticks by breaking them into pieces. I used scissors, my hands, or the hammer and chisel depending on the size of the stick. After that, and once some of the wax has melted, dip the metal end of your wick into the liquid wax. Place the wick centered inside the jar with the wick as straight as possible. Repeat with other jars. Now place cinnamon stick pieces around the wick in the bottom of each jar.


Stir the wax occasionally, I used a whole cinnamon stick to do so, that way I didn't have to get a kitchen utensil all waxy. Once the wax is completely melted, use a oven mitt to remove the can of wax from the boiling water. Place a rag underneath the can to protect yourself from boiling water drips. Carefully pour the wax into each jar, avoid pouring directly on the wick, you don't want to topple it over. 


Discard your empty waxy can and let the wax cool. And that's it! If your wicks are tilting too much to the side you can use toothpicks or shish cabob sticks laid across the top of the jars to help center them. Once the wax is fully cooled, trim your wicks to 1/4 to 1/2 inch. Decorate the jars and enjoy!


*Do not leave candle unattended. When wax burns down to the cinnamon sticks in the bottom, the last half inch or so, discard. Do not keep burning down to the bottom. 

Love, Luck, and Happiness!

Monday, February 18, 2013

The BEST Cauliflower Crust Pizza!

Yep. I'm making that claim and I'm sticking with it. This IS the BEST cauliflower pizza crust you will ever make. I've worked out the kinks from my previous cauliflower crust and from all other cauliflower crust posts I've read, and I'm confident that this pizza, this very one here, with a crust made out of a vegetable, is so damn delicious that you won't even think twice about the whole crust being made out of a vegetable thing. And yes, you can slice it and pick it up like a real piece of pizza. 
Now, let's hold hands and dance. 


If, despite my description and the holding hands and dancing, you are still feeling a little weird about the whole cauliflower crust thing, or maybe it was the holding hands and dancing that got you feeling weird? Well then all I can say is, you shouldn't feel weird, about the pizza or the dancing, and this is picky husband taste tested and approved. Wait, let me say that one more time. This is PICKY HUSBAND taste tested and approved. And pizza is his FAVORITE food, so that was a tough test to pass. In conclusion, you MUST make this pizza, if not because it's the BEST, like I've clearly stated, then at least because I woke up early on a work day and whipped out my food processor and camera and went to work on this JUST. FOR. YOU. Pizza at 7 am is totally normal. And delicious. Also, a trip to the grocery store in pajamas and slippers mid pizza making for an egg because your husband didn't tell you he used the last one, all the while praying your food-crazed dog doesn't knock over the bowl of cauliflower crust you left sitting precariously close to the counter's edge is also totally normal. 


SO, what are you waiting for?!!!
 Oh, yeah the recipe. 

Since I'm guaranteeing the best cauliflower crust pizza, I want to make sure you get it right and don't come back all hassling me for your money back and what not, so I'm going to do a little step by step, photo guide. (Well, except for the steps I forgot to take photos of... I had to run out and get eggs BEFORE work! There is only so much I can do people.)

Let's get going...

Place a pizza stone in the oven, or baking sheet if you don't have a pizza stone. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. On a cutting board, place a large piece of parchment paper and spray it with nonstick cooking oil. 


Wash and throughly dry a small head of cauliflower. Don't get one the size of your head unless you are planning on making 2 pizzas. Cut off the florets, you don't need much stem. Just stick with the florets. Pulse in your food processor for about 30 seconds, until you get powdery snow like cauliflower. See above photo. You should end up with 2 to 3 cups cauliflower "snow" - In this case I ended up with 2 1/3 cups. Place the cauliflower in a microwave safe bowl and cover. Microwave for 4 minutes. Dump cooked cauliflower onto a clean tea towel and allow to cool for a bit before attempting the next step.


Once cauliflower is cool enough to handle, wrap it up in the dish towel and wring the heck out of it. You want to squeeze out as much water as possible. This will ensure you get a chewy pizza like crust instead of a crumbly mess. I got a 1/3 cup water out of this cauliflower.


Dumped cauliflower into a bowl. See how nice and light it is now, almost like flour! Well, kinda. Now add 1/4 cup parmesan cheese, 1/4 cup mozzarella cheese, 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, 1/2 teaspoon dried basil (crush up the leaves even more between your fingers before adding), 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano (crush up the leaves even more between your fingers before adding), 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder (not garlic salt), and a dash of red pepper if you want. I also added 1 tablespoon almond meal because my cauliflower yielded closer to 2 cups of cauli snow, this is optional and I would not add the almond meal if you have closer to 3 cups of cauli snow. Now add your egg (and hopefully you made sure you had one before you started) and mix away. Hands tend to work best. 


Once mixed together, use your hands to form the dough into a crust on your oiled parchment paper. Pat it down throughly, you want it nice and tightly formed together. Don't make it too thick or thin either.


Now, using a cutting board slide the parchment paper onto your hot pizza stone or baking sheet in the oven. Bake for 8 - 11 minutes. Until it looks like this:


Delicious, right? Just wait till you add the toppings and finish it off! Now add however much sauce (Make your own 30 minute pizza sauce using my recipe!), cheese, and toppings you want. I'm not gonna give you measurements for this. You know how you like your pizza - so go for it! Slide parchment with topped pizza back in the hot oven and cook for another 5 to 7 minutes until the cheese is melted, bubbly, and slightly golden. Oh yes.


Test your patience and allow it to cool for a minute or two. Probably closer to two. Then using a pizza cutter and a spatula serve up your delicious grain-free cauliflower crust pizza!

*If you are looking for a dairy free version - Here is the link to my cheese free cauliflower pizza crust!*


Grain-Free Cauliflower Crust Pizza
makes one approx. 10-12 inch pizza
(PRINTABLE)

1 small to medium sized head of cauliflower - should yield 2 to 3 cups once processed
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon dried basil (crush it even more between your fingers)
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano (crust it even more between you fingers)
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
optional a few shakes of crushed red pepper
1/4 cup shredded parmesan cheese
1/4 cup mozzarella cheese
1 egg
optional 1 tablespoon almond meal

Desired amount of sauce, cheese for topping, and other toppings. Make your own 30 minute pizza sauce using my recipe!

Place a pizza stone in the oven, or baking sheet if you don't have a pizza stone. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. On a cutting board, place a large piece of parchment paper and spray it with nonstick cooking oil. 

Wash and throughly dry a small head of cauliflower. Don't get one the size of your head unless you are planning on making 2 pizzas. Cut off the florets, you don't need much stem. Just stick with the florets. Pulse in your food processor for about 30 seconds, until you get powdery snow like cauliflower. See above photo. You should end up with 2 to 3 cups cauliflower "snow". Place the cauliflower in a microwave safe bowl and cover. Microwave for 4 minutes. Dump cooked cauliflower onto a clean tea towel and allow to cool for a bit before attempting the next step.

Once cauliflower is cool enough to handle, wrap it up in the dish towel and wring the heck out of it. You want to squeeze out as much water as possible. This will ensure you get a chewy pizza like crust instead of a crumbly mess. 

Dumped cauliflower into a bowl. Now add 1/4 cup parmesan cheese, 1/4 cup mozzarella cheese, 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, 1/2 teaspoon dried basil (crush up the leaves even more between your fingers before adding), 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano (crush up the leaves even more between your fingers before adding), 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder (not garlic salt), and a dash of red pepper if you want. I also added 1 tablespoon almond meal because my cauliflower yielded closer to 2 cups of cauli snow, this is optional and I would not add the almond meal if you have closer to 3 cups of cauli snow. Now add your egg and mix away. Hands tend to work best. 


Once mixed together, use your hands to form the dough into a crust on your oiled parchment paper. Pat it down thoroughly, you want it nice and tightly formed together. Don't make it too thick or thin either.

Using a cutting board slide the parchment paper onto your hot pizza stone or baking sheet in the oven. Bake for 8 - 11 minutes, until it starts to turn golden brown. Remove from oven.

Add however much sauce, cheese, and toppings you want. I'm not gonna give you measurements for this. You know how you like your pizza - so go for it! Slide parchment with topped pizza back in the hot oven and cook for another 5 to 7 minutes until the cheese is melted, bubbly, and slightly golden.

Test your patience and allow it to cool for a minute or two. Probably closer to two. Then using a pizza cutter and a spatula serve up your delicious grain-free cauliflower crust pizza!

*3/15 update - If you are using a larger sized cauliflower, up the eggs to 1 egg  plus 1 egg white. You want your "dough" to be sticky. When I make a bigger sized pizza (using more cauliflower) I up the seasonings and the egg, but often leave the amount of cheese the same. Make sure you pat the dough tightly together when forming your crust. It really helps to place the crust (on an oiled sheet of parchment paper) on a HOT pizza stone or baking sheet. Make sure the crust is golden in color before topping it and baking it again. I truly believe cooking it the proper length before topping it helps keep the crust together. 
Also I really like the addition of 1 to 2 tablespoons of almond meal to the crust mixture. 
*Disclaimer - the slices will still be kinda floppy, but they shouldn't be crumbly.

***UPDATE - My new oven requires that I pre-cook the crust for closer to 15 to 20 minutes to get it a nice golden brown. Go off of looks rather than time! You want the edges to start to be crispy brown but not too much so that when you cook it again after adding toppings it will burn. 

*If you are looking for a dairy free version - Here is the link to my cheese free cauliflower pizza crust!*


Love, Luck, and Happiness!

DUE TO THE POPULARITY OF THIS RECIPE, I HAVE TO ASK PLEASE DO NOT POST THIS RECIPE IN FULL ON ANY OTHER BLOG OR WEBSITE. THANK YOU!



Thursday, February 14, 2013

Almond Butter and Jelly Cookies! Gluten-Free!

Happy Valentine's Day lovers! In true Valentine's Day fashion I have a sweet treat for you! And let me tell ya, this was a much needed sweet treat for me!

gluten-free cookies

I talked briefly about the Whole30 challenge I was doing in the month of January, well, I made it! 30 whole days with no grains, no soy, no processed foods, minimal dairy (I cheated a little bit), and almost no added sugar! I have to say almost because technically bacon has added sugar in it and I couldn't give that up, annnndddd there may have been this one little time  when I scarfed a piece of peanut butter pie at a work birthday party and then followed it up with a healthy helping of banana cream pudding and a massive headache. So, there's that. But I still think I did pretty good! And I feel good! Which was what it was all about... well, that and maybe trying to lose 5 pounds for bikini season.... which I might have started a bit early for, but hey it's SoCal, you never know when beach weather is going to present itself. So, back to these much needed cookies. After 30 days of no sweets, I was surprisingly craving something sweet. I say surprisingly because I've always stuck to my guns that I'm not a lover of sweets. I'll chose salt over sugar any day. But there is something slightly embarrassing about being a food blogger and admitting that you aren't that into desserts, so it was much to my relief that after my thirty days of strictness the first thing I wanted to do was get in the kitchen and play with my Kitchen Aid and sugar.

gluten-free almond butter cookies

But old habits (of 30 days) die hard and my first attempt at making something "sweet" for you - a flourless AND sugarless chocolate cake - was a complete fail. Not surprisingly, the problem was the lack of sugar. It tasted like a slightly chocolate flavored pile of dry mud. Yuck. So, I rolled up my sleeves and dipped my measuring cup deep into a bag of brown sugar and came up with these Almond Butter and Jelly Cookies. And they are SO good! I seriously could eat a dozen in one sitting. Not kidding. I love them because they taste like a cookie but they have no flour. They are sweet, but not too sweet. And I love the little jelly center. You could make them peanut butter and jelly cookies by subbing the almond butter with peanut butter! I chose almond butter, because it felt healthier... not entirely sure why... but after 30 days of eating super strict I had to take baby steps back into the world of desserts and decadence. But let me tell you, I'm very happy I've returned.

Almond Butter and Jelly Cookies
makes one dozen cookies

1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon creamy almond butter (or peanut butter)
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 egg white + a smidgen of yolk - I know this is tricky, but just break the yolk and allow about a teaspoon or less to run in with the egg whites. Discard the rest of the yolk.
a pinch of salt (only if your almond butter is unsalted)
About 12 teaspoons strawberry jelly

Preheat oven to 350. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicon baking sheet.

Stir almond butter to make sure the oil is well incorporated. Measure out almond butter, brown sugar, egg white, vanilla, and salt (if needed) into your Kitchen Aid mixing bowl. Using the paddle attachement mix for 1 to 2 minutes scrapping down the sides occasionally until everything is well incorporated and the mixture looks more doughy and less sticky. (You could mix by hand if you want, but I find that almond butter needs a good mix to make sure the oil isn't separating.)

Wet your hands to keep the dough from sticking and roll the mixture into 12 even balls. Place on the baking sheet. 

Using the back of a measuring teaspoon indent the center of each ball. Fill the center with a scant teaspoon of jelly.

Bake for 11-13 minutes until edges are just slightly darker and bottoms start to crisp up. Cool on a cooling rack and enjoy!

gluten-free cookies

P.S. If you haven't already, check out my Valentine's Dinner for Two Series! There is still time to make your honey a home cooked meal on this glorious day of love! Or just get him to take you to a fancy dinner and then make him a home cooked meal over the weekend! ;)

Love, Luck, and Happiness!



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