We’re going to get straight to point here, because I’ve worked way too many hours this week already and it’s not even Tuesday:

fresh cranberry relish via @floptimism

An apple. Two oranges. Some cranberries. A halfway decent food chopper to obliterate it into one big shredded mountain of fruit. Let it sit in your fridge until Thursday so the cranberries mellow out a bit. Add some cloves if you want, or cinnamon, or don’t. One Thanksgiving side dish, done.

fresh cranberry relish via @floptimism

Seriously, this is the best non-recipe recipe I’ve made in a while. It’s quite tart, especially when you first make it, but that’s ok. It’s not competing with dessert. Dollop it over a honey whole grain corn muffin. Layer it with sweet potatoes. Toss it with green vegetables, like fresh string beans or roasted brussels sprouts. Definitely spread it on a sandwich with hearty bread and leftover roasted turkey the next day. There is beauty in the cranberry’s natural, tart bite, tempered by the sweetness of an apple and the refreshing zing of an orange’s flesh and peel. There’s something alluring about this dish’s vibrant hues. There’s something calming about a recipe that takes just minutes to put together and is better when made days before the panic of holiday festivities sets in.

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QUICK! Before we get into the links, go add these 4 ingredients to your weekend grocery list:

fresh cranberry relish via @floptimism

1 apple, 2 oranges, 1 big bag (or 2 small bags) fresh cranberries.

Now come back on Tuesday morning for an amazing and ridiculously easy make-ahead recipe made of only those fresh ingredients! I’d say come back Monday, which is when I’m making it, but I’d imagine that the pictures I’d take of the finished recipe on Monday night after work will be supremely atrocious.

love in this moment

bookmark love.
this french silk pie ice cream – so much more than the name suggests.
a confession that I’ve crossed over to the coconut oil dark side, leading into this whole grain coconut oil pie crust.
this lentil veggie loaf is actually all I want for Thanksgiving this year. And pie. Always pie.
oh, and this roasted butternut squash & brussels sprouts with dried cranberries & dijon vinaigrette….perfect Thanksgiving, period.

If you’re looking for an easy, nutritious crowd-pleaser for Thanksgiving, you’ve come to the right place. These honey whole grain corn muffins come together quickly, can be made in advance, and are just waiting for a bit of gravy or — my personal favorite — homemade cranberry relish to mingle with on your plate.

honey whole grain corn muffins via @floptimism

You have no idea the torment I’ve been through with these corn muffins. No. Idea. People, they have their opinions of what true corn bread should be. The dryness must be captured perfectly, the sweetness a tender balance, the color, the texture, did you add corn or did you not? Growing up, I think the grit and dryness made me uncomfortable, and I eschewed any and all recipes presented to me for years. I thus never developed a staunch belief in “proper” corn bread characteristics for myself, and so people’s very strong reactions to this recipe as I began to play around with it took me by surprise. They were adamant, filled with conviction, overflowing with critique — all different and few, to be honest, constructive, as though they knew at once that this was not Corn Bread as they knew it, but they could not pinpoint exactly what made it so blasphemous to them.

honey whole grain corn muffins via @floptimism

My first attempt was deemed by all to be not nearly sweet enough, though all I could taste was the honey. Then it wasn’t dry enough, then too dry, then L revealed that Real Corn Bread shouldn’t have actual corn kernels in it, then, then…then, after months or quite possibly over a year of rejected attempts, I finally put a corn muffin on the table that was met with smiles. It’s just sweet enough, the honey melting into the crevices of the batter and infusing the entire muffin beautifully; it’s dry and gritty without parching your mouth or losing its ultimately fluffy texture; and whether you choose to dot your batter with corn kernels or not, it’s the kind of recipe you’ll want to make for yourself.

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love in this moment

bookmark love.
these salted caramel pumpkin thumbprint cookies because…how can you not?
this vegan pumpkin ice cream, followed by…
this pumpkin bourbon milkshake to make with it.
this chocolate cake with salted caramel buttercream.
these amazingly beautiful harvest hash breakfast tacos.
these salted caramel dark chocolate & brown butter shortbread bars…with sprinkles look 100% like something ridiculous I’d smash together for an evening treat.
I’d say these confetti cupcakes with cake batter frosting, but let’s face it, I pretty much just bookmarked them for the frosting.
these loaded junk food brownies that have me convinced that brownie+popcorn+potato chips is an ok plan.
this carrot cake oatmeal.

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[This is part of my Strong&KIND series, a reflection on and celebration of the path I took to become a Certified Personal Trainer. Congratulations to Brittany, the winner of my coinciding Strong&KIND protein bar giveaway, which ended on Friday, November 7th 2014. For more on my personal training journey, click here and here.]

Honey Mustard2

A huge thank you to everyone who entered my Strong&KIND giveaway last week, and also to KIND, for supporting the giveaway to begin with! Being able to share my celebration with you has meant a lot to me, and I hope you’re all as excited as I am to see where this new branch of knowledge takes Floptimism.

sunrise via @floptimism

To be perfectly honest, I don’t know exactly where that is going to be. Maybe (probably, eventually) I will develop some fitness routines. Maybe (ahh!) I will even do something insane and record an actual fitness-related video. Maybe (definitely) I will just talk a lot. Just as I no longer want to curl up in a corner of my own personal sphere and hide from life, I want this blog to grow into something I couldn’t have imagined four-almost-five (what?!) years ago when I wrote my first entry.

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[This is part of my Strong&KIND series, a reflection on and celebration of the path I took to become a Certified Personal Trainer. Don’t forget to enter my Strong&KIND protein bar giveaway, open until 11:59pm EST on Friday, November 7th 2014.]

In my last post, I wrote a lot about the shift in perspective that happened within me that led me to pursue personal training. Today I want to change gears a little bit and talk about the nitty-gritty of the certification process, for anyone who has been thinking about going down this path. No flowery phrases or hidden metaphors; just straight-up, down-and-dirty information.

CHOOSING THE AGENCY. I did a lot of research on the different certifying agencies, and there seemed to be, for the most part, three groups of people: those who went with NASM, those who went with ACE, and those who wish they had gone with one of those two. NASM and ACE are known for having two of the most challenging exams, and if I can’t pass the hardest exam, then, for me, I don’t really know the material. Plus, ACE and NASM are the two most widely recognized and accepted certifications, and although I don’t anticipate working in a formal gym setting where that is absolutely necessary, it still felt important to me. Ultimately, I chose NASM because it seemed like more people recommended it.

CHOOSING THE STUDY PACKAGE. After much hemming and hawwing over the different study packages, I chose the the CPT Self-Study with Live Workshop. I’ve always been a very disciplined person with academics, studying at my own pace and keeping up with work loads without much guidance, so I figured the online classroom option (the next tier up) was overkill. The next tier down, the CPT Self-Study (no live workshop) was also tempting, but I really wanted at least 1 day of hands-on experience before the exam. In one sense, it felt absurd to be spending darn close to one thousand dollars on, essentially, a text book and exam, but in the grand scheme of most educational courses, that’s really not that far off. We could go back and forth about whether it’s a major rip off or if the price is justified, but then we’d be here forever. What it boiled down to was this: if you want to be a personal trainer, you have to study for and pass a certifying exam; and if you want to pass a certifying exam, this is the reality of what you need to do. So, I did it.

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[This is part of my Strong&KIND series, a reflection on and celebration of the path I took to become a Certified Personal Trainer. Don’t forget to enter my Strong&KIND protein bar giveaway, open until 11:59pm EST on Friday, November 7th 2014.]

The details of the conversation and where it was borne from fade into the confused background of another life, but my position in time and space, sitting in the passenger seat of my roommate’s car as we veered into the exit lane of the highway home from classes — of that much, I’m sure. I had said something, or she had said something, or we had both, together, organically come to contemplate our bodies. There was an honest confession from her that she did not envy my body, my slender frame, my collar bones and hip bones and size 0 jeans. She did not want to be skinny, small, insubstantial. There was no malice from her but there was, to some degree, surprise from me. I had spent the better part of my post-pubescence wanting, preferring, feeling comfortable in, my thin skin, and never really considering that others might not feel the same. My roommate, on the other hand, wanted to be strong. It was a concept that I, at 22 years old, couldn’t quite comprehend.

Looking back on it all, I can see how the more I grew up, the smaller I wanted to be, as though I was subconsciously searching for Alice’s magic cookie that would shrink me down until, I suppose, I would just disappear altogether. My voice was a soft whisper. I blushed when I spoke in class. I self-deprecatingly referred to myself as indecisive, so unsure of my own existence that I couldn’t even announce my preference for a restaurant, a movie, a music station. It doesn’t matter, I’d say; you choose. I physically tried to compress and contort my posture to bring my entire body closer to the ground beneath my feet. I wanted to be tiny. I wanted to fit into the nooks and crannies of the world and be cute. That’s what people liked, wasn’t it? It’s what I liked. And though I never deprived myself of a meal or food group, or punished myself with exercise to force my body into the pint-sized box I kept myself folded into, I can admit to you and myself now that I was, all the while, relieved that my “skinny genes” meant that I didn’t have to do those things to stay so small.

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NASM personal training certification, here I come! #100HappyDays day 93 (also, omgnerves!/amicrazy?

Six months ago, I decided that I was going to become a Certified Personal Trainer. I had been contemplating it for months, waiting for the “right time:” when all of my ducks were in a row. When things settled down. When I wasn’t so busy-stressed-distracted-_____. It took me several months to understand and accept that maybe, just maybe, that wasn’t in my cards, and if I was going to do it, I would just have to dive into this mess head first and entangled in all of the other responsibilities and circumstances I have been juggling.

Exactly two weeks ago, I passed my exam with the National Academy of Sports Medicine. I am a Certified Personal Trainer.

These last six months have not been what you might call smooth sailing. I’d like to take the next week to talk about it — the course, my life while studying, what I learned, what I hope to do with this new credential I’ve tacked onto my signature — but for now, I’d just like to celebrate. The flashcards have gone to the recycling, my textbook is nestled safely on my office bookshelf, and for once, I’m not starting my mornings with 2+ hours of studying. Right now, for the first time in pretty much my entire life, I am not a student, and I plan to take a good chunk of time to enjoy that.

And I want you to help me celebrate, too.

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Just the other week, I posted this picture on instagram:

I wonder what I could be decorating cookies for…

Prompting a college friend to ask, are those for you? Lest we all give my grandmother a heart attack with these questions, no, no, and definitely not, no. L and I are still contemplating whether we’re ready for a kitten, much less an actual, live little human. SO, no baby floptimisms in the foreseeable future, but there will be a niece floptimism!

gender reveal balloon via @floptimism

My sister and brother-in-law announced the pregnancy a few months ago, and they had an adorable, intimate “gender reveal” party this past weekend. They asked me to put together some Pinterest-inspired desserts for the big day:

  • blue and pink question mark sugar cookies with royal icing
  • vanilla and chocolate cupcakes with blue-and-pink swirled vanilla buttercream
  • chewy brownies

gender reveal savory food via @floptimism

We also had a full menu of other delicious food, including homemade kale chips, a hemp seed tabbouleh, fruit, veggies and hummus, spanakopita, samosas, crackers and cheese, and, of course, some blue and pink m&ms, because how can you not? Some nutritious foods, some treats; some homemade, some store-bought. It was a simple spread, the focus more on celebrating a new baby-on-the-way and the excitement of learning if blue or pink balloons would pop out of the cutely wrapped box in the living room.

I know what you really want to hear about is the food, though, am I right? So here’s a little run-down of the recipes I used:

gender reveal cookies vertical via @floptimism

THE COOKIES. I will never, ever, not ever get back together bake a sugar cookie recipe that is not this one from bake at 350. It is simple, pillowy, buttery, rich, soft but sturdy — in short, utter perfection. I always use this royal icing from annie’s eats, though I’m still getting the hang of the proper consistencies for piping vs flooding. I used all-natural, vegetable-based food colorings to tint the icing blue and pink.

gender reveal cupcakes via @floptimism

THE VANILLA CUPCAKES. There’s one thing I know for sure: brown eyed baker never steers me wrong. Her snickerdoodle recipe is the inspiration for this post, and she has me sold once again on these cupcakes. They’re very rich and buttery, almost like a pound cake, but with a slightly more tender crumb. Also, the directions are little more than “dump everything into a bowl and mix.” Bonus points for simplicity. Do you know what isn’t simple, though? Artfully swirling together two colors of buttercream. That’s a project for another day, mastering the swirl. The bottom line is they tasted amazing.

THE CHOCOLATE CUPCAKES. Though the buttercream recipe came from the vanilla cupcake recipe, I used a cocoa cupcake recipe from my recipes for the base of these. The one I tried the day of the party, I enjoyed. I got very positive feedback from my dad. They’re not at all sweet — dense and dark, so full to the brim with chocolate flavor that there’s little room for anything else. However, when I had one the next night after being refrigerated in an airtight container, they just tasted bitter and dry. There’s a chance they just can’t stand up to the refrigerator, or perhaps need to be eaten the day they’re baked. Or, maybe I was tasting them through rose-colored frosting and when the excitement of the day wore off, I tasted them for what they were. I don’t know that I’ll bake them again to see which it is. Take that as you wish.

gender reveal brownies&cookies via @floptimism

THE BROWNIES. Last but not least, there are the most amazing chewy brownies by, once again, brown eyed baker. I’m telling you, this woman’s recipes are gold. I didn’t follow the recipe to a T, but mostly stayed true to it, and everyone raved about them. They are like your favorite boxed brownie, only better. They have that crackly top and fudgy, dense centers. They’re rich. They’re wonderful. I didn’t think a humble brownie could usurp my sugar cookies as the most talked about dessert on the table, but these absolutely, completely, 100% blew them out of the water. The cupcakes, a few people tried. The cookies, a few more. The brownies? Demolished. Gone. Out of I think 70 little brownie bites, there were maybe 10 left. If you’re in the chewy/fudgy camp of brownie lovers (is there really any other camp? I don’t know if we can be friends. I’m kidding, of course. More or less.), you have to make these.

gender reveal family via @floptimism

And that’s that! Another big congratulations to my sister and brother-in-law, who will make wonderful parents to a beautiful baby girl in just a few short months! The party was a fun excuse to gather together with friends and family, eat delicious food, and celebrate…and practice my buttercream swirling technique!

love in this moment

pinterest love.
some amazingly useful tips for storing and using fresh produce.

bookmark love.
these cocoa dumplings with bourbon maple sauce, seriously.
the crispy egg of my dreams.
this carrot & cider loaf cake, because deb can make me bookmark anything with her descriptions.
this pumpkin-y spin on hummus.
this easy sourdough, because sourdough wins at life and easy’s pretty nice, too.
stunning steel cut oats with cinnamon-stewed fruit.

just love…love.
the great food blogger cookie swap that I want to participate in but how in the world do you choose ONE cookie recipe to send out to 3 strangers?? That’s like trying to decide what to wear on your first day of high school, all over again.
And on a kind of more serious note, this on-point synopsis of the quarter life crisis, which is 100% a real thing. Or so I tell myself.