Healthier Baking 101


Sweets are in abundance during the holidays. From the cookies, cakes, and more, there always seems to be something tasty in my kitchen. However, too many sweet treats can be a problem. Many baking recipes include sugar, butter, and other fatty ingredients that are unhealthy for a person’s body. The good news, though, is that there are still ways for you to have your favorite confections that include healthier ingredients. Put the tips below to use this holiday season. Trust me, your recipes will taste the same, and your loved ones will never know that you swapped oil for applesauce.

Replacing Oil: 

  • As mentioned above, a great way to replace some of the fat is using unsweetened applesauce instead of oil. A common rule of thumb is for every one cup of oil in a recipe, switch out for ¾ a cup of applesauce. Don’t have any on hand? Combine one mushed apple and a splash of lemon juice.
  • Greek yogurt is another favorite of many and works fantastic in place of oil or fat. It keeps the moisture and flavor of the dish. Plus, the yogurt is full of calcium, protein, and probiotics.

Replacing Sugar: 

  • You can’t have a dessert without sugar! Or so they say. Instead of artificial sugar, mash up a banana into your ingredients. Make sure the banana is ripe. This substitution keeps the sweetness of the dessert but has healthier advantages, such as being rich in glucose, easy to digest, and improves your energy, preventing a sugar crash.
  • Alternatives to white table sugar are honey, maple syrup, or dates. These natural forms reduce the amount of added sugar but still should be consumed in reasonable amounts.
  • Lastly, spices work well in adding flavor and taste to treats with excessive amounts of sugar. Cinnamon and nutmeg are common replacements and boost metabolism, an extra benefit.

Replacing Flour: 

  • Almost all baking recipes include flour. Yet flour can affect your health in many ways, both good and bad. One simple way to add more health benefits is using whole wheat flour in lieu of white flours. The latter is made from heavily refined and processed wheat grain that isn’t good for you. As for whole wheat flour, it is processed differently and has more health advantages.
  • Try making your own flour from oats, flax, and nuts. All you need to do is blend up the items in a food processor or blender, and you are good to go. There is no need to change the needed amount the recipes call for; just blend until you have the same amount of fine dust.

Other Tips and Tricks: 

  • Even though it is a baking recipe, all desserts don’t have to actually be baked. Research and find a no-bake treat for your favorite sweet. No-bake desserts can include healthier ingredients and possibly use less fatty ingredients than are needed for a baked dessert.
  • Dark chocolate is known for its advantages, including aiding in weight loss, reducing stress, and controlling a person’s appetite. Moderation is key, but don’t hesitate to switch any type of chocolate with dark chocolate.
  • Avocados are a healthy fat and a unique way to replace butter. This fruit is packed with protein and nutrients. In addition, it gives a smooth texture to the item.

I love to bake, but sometimes the recipes aren’t the healthiest. The solution to that problem is incorporating these tips. Using substitutions in baking is easy and simple. Plus, you won’t feel guilty eating a few more pieces of a sweet treat, because you know it is healthier.




New Neighbors? No Worries!


There’s a house in your neighborhood that’s for sale. After anticipating who will move in, the big day finally arrives and now you have new neighbors. You’re excited to go over and meet the newest additions to your community, but when is too soon or too late to introduce yourself? Do you bring a welcome gift or not?

For new neighbors, moving to a new neighborhood can be a time full of anxiety. Making an effort to introduce yourself helps them feel more comfortable. There are many polite gestures a person can make to help welcome the new neighbors into the community.

  • Introduce yourself  However, wait a few days before going over. Let them settle and start unpacking before stopping by to introduce yourself. If you happen to bump into them while outside, keep it brief with a simple hello, give your name, and say you’ll stop by again.
  • Bring other neighbors with you  There is no better way to introduce the new neighbors to the whole neighborhood than by bringing others with you. This tip can help relieve any possible awkwardness in creating a new conversation. Also, introducing yourself as a group will limit the number of times neighbors will stop at the new family’s house. This is also a great way to get your new neighbors interested and involved in neighborhood communities or watches.
  • Include baked goods  There is nothing a sweet treat can’t overcome. This traditional gesture is one many people appreciate. However, keep in mind possible allergies people might have and include a list of ingredients. Another option would be purchasing baked goods to deliver.
  • Bring a bottle of wine  Another kind gesture is gifting a bottle of wine. This drink is considered a traditional housewarming gift and can be a great accent to food. Some tips to remember are to choose a bottle of wine you enjoy. This way, if you are invited over, it can be used as a way to get to know each other. If including the wine in a welcome basket, pair it with foods or snacks that go well with that type of wine.
  • Host a party in their honor  Whether it is a cocktail party, block party, or dinner party, host an event for a few families or the entire neighborhood. This provides the new family one place to meet everyone in a comfortable environment. Block parties are great ways to introduce the children to neighborhood kids. Remember to give the new neighbors time to settle in before throwing the event.
  • Create a local list  This is helpful especially if the family has moved from another town. Create a list of local services, restaurants, and businesses, as well as other valuable information. Also, provide contact information for the Neighborhood Watch and a neighborhood directory.
  • Give them a local specialty  Each town has its own local treats. Give your new neighbors samples of local specialties or add them in their welcome basket. Gift certificates are also a nice way to help ease the stress of moving. Presenting them with a local specialty will help them learn about their new home and community.
  • Invite them to neighborhood groups  If your neighborhood has community groups, invite the new neighbors to attend a meeting with you. It will give them a chance to meet other members in the neighborhood and hear their views. Also, consider inviting them to book clubs, garden clubs, or school groups, such as the PTA.
  • Respect their privacy  The most important thing you can do for your new neighbors is respecting their privacy. It can be tough being the strangers in the neighborhood. Sometimes people don’t like meeting new people and might not seem friendly. It could also be because they are adjusting to a new area or they are more private people. Whatever the reason is, don’t take it personally and still smile when you see each other. When it comes to introducing yourself to these types of neighbors, keep it brief and polite, and then leave. If they are busy, suggest possibly meeting another time that works for them.

When a new family moves in your neighborhood, it can be an exciting time. But, it can also be stressful for the new neighbors. Remember to be polite and do your best to help make them feel comfortable in their new surroundings.



My 5 Purse Must-Haves


Earlier this week, I looked inside my purse and noticed a few things that shouldn’t be there. Let’s just say my purse was more of a tote bag. Inside, I had a CVS bag full of items, contacts, medicine, a water bottle, granola bars, a PRAXIS review book, and a notebook. Normally, I don’t carry this much stuff and half of the time I don’t carry a purse at all. However, this moment got me thinking about what I had to have with me when I go out. So, here is my list of my 5 purse must-haves.

  1. Chapstick – usually, the chapstick has a tint of color to it and also serves as lipstick. My lips always stay dry, so having chapstick is a must!
  2. Granola bar – when I get hungry, I can get hangry and develop a headache. This quick snack helps keep my hunger under control between meals.
  3. A pen and notebook – you never know when you’ll have an idea that just needs to be written down.
  4. Coupon organizer – I hate shopping without a coupon. To avoid this, I always make sure I have my coupon organizer in my purse.
  5. Mints or gum – This one might be self-explanatory… 🙂

What’s in your purse?



Thank YOU! Thank YOU!


Thank you so much to ALL of my readers! Because of you, I have reached one of my goals and have 101 followers! Thank you for giving me the opportunity to write from my heart on topics that are important to me. Thank you for reading my posts!

I look forward to what the future holds for this blog. All my readers hold a special place in my life! Now, onto writing new posts!



Quick Bites for New Year’s Eve

As another year comes to a close, there is no better way to celebrate than with family, friends, and delicious food! Sometimes it can be hard to find quick and easy recipes, but never fear, I’ve done the hard work for you. Enjoy these 3 simple appetizers for your New Year’s Eve festivities!
Mini Lasagna Roll-Ups
7-31-10 017.1
  • 2 cups whole milk ricotta
  • 1 egg
  • The zest of 1 lemon
  • 2 tsp lemon juice
  • 1 Tbsp. fresh thyme leaves, minced
  • ½ tsp kosher salt
Lasagna Roll-Ups:
  • 10 cooked lasagna noodles
  • 1 cup mozzarella cheese, shredded
  • Tomato sauce
  1. In a large bowl, mix all of the filling ingredients together.
  2. Cut the cooked noodles individually in half widthwise.
  3. Spread the filling on each noodle half, leaving about an inch at one end.
  4. Roll the noodle up, beginning at the end with the filling.
  5. Cut the rolled noodle in half widthwise.
  6. Spread a small amount of sauce in the bottom of a casserole dish and place the noodles on top.
  7. Place a small scoop of sauce on top of each roll and top with mozzarella cheese.
  8. Bake at 350 degrees F for 15-20 minutes or until cheese is melted.
Cranberry Pinot Noir Meatballs
  • 1 (1 lb. 10 oz.) bag of Italian Style Meatballs
  • 1 (16 oz.) can whole cranberry sauce
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 cup Pinot Noir
  • 1 tsp spicy brown mustard
  1. Prepare meatballs according to package directions.
  2. In a saucepan, combine cranberry sauce, brown sugar, Pinot Noir, and mustard. Whisk to combine over medium heat. Bring to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes or until mixture has thickened.
  3. Remove from heat and pour sauce over meatballs. Serve immediately or place in a crock pot on warm or low setting.
Homemade Soft Pretzel Bites with Cheese Sauce
Soft Pretzels:
  • 1 ½ cups warm water
  • 2 Tbsp. light brown sugar
  • 1 package active dry yeast (about 2 ¼ tsps.)
  • 3 ounces unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 ½ tsps. kosher salt
  • 4 ½ cups to 5 cups all-purpose flour
  • Vegetable oil
  • 3 quarts water
  • ½ cup baking soda
  • 1 whole egg, beaten with 1 Tbs. cold water
  • Coarse sea salt
Cheese Sauce:
  • ½ Tbs. unsalted butter
  • ½ Tbs. all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup milk
  • 8 ounces grated cheddar cheese
  1. Combine 1 ½ cups warm water, sugar, yeast, and butter in the bowl in a mixer with dough hook. Let sit for 5 minutes.
  2. Add the salt and flour and mix on low speed until combined. Increase speed to medium and continue kneading until dough is smooth and begins to pull from bowl. If dough appears too wet, add flour, 1 tablespoon at a time.
  3. Remove dough from bowl and knead into a ball.
  4. Oil a bowl with vegetable oil, add the dough, and coat with oil. Cover with a clean towel or plastic wrap and place in a warm spot until the dough doubles in size.
  5. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
  6. Bring the 3 quarts water to a boil in a small roasting pan over high heat and carefully add in the baking soda. It will boil over; add slowly and be careful!
  7. Remove the dough from the bowl and divide into 8 equal pieces, about 4 ¼ to 4 ½ ounces each. Roll each piece into a long rope, about 22 inches. Cut the dough into one inch pieces to make the pretzel bites.
  8. Boil the bites in the water solution about 15 bites at a time for about 30 seconds. Remove with a large slotted spoon and place on a greased baking sheet.
  9. Brush the tops with egg wash and season with salt. Place into the oven and bake for 15-18 minutes until golden brown.
  10. Remove from oven and let sit 5 minutes.
Cheese Sauce:
  1. Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add in the flour and cook for 1 minute. Whisk in the milk and cook until slightly thickened. Remove from heat and stir in the cheddar cheese until smooth and all of the cheese is melted.
  2. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  3. Pour of the pretzel bites or serve as a dip on the side.

My Christmas Wish


Yesterday, I went to go pick-up a medicine for my grandmother. This medicine happened to be at the pharmacy in the local hospital’s cancer center. As I walked through the doors, a sense of empathy overcame me. I remember walking these floors before when I took my grandmother to chemotherapy or attended a doctor’s appointment with my mom. However, this time it was different. No one in my family has cancer, but I understood the battle everyone in that building was facing.

While I waited for the medicine, a couple came in to speak with the pharmacist. The husband had just been diagnosed with cancer and was being informed about his treatment. While I listened to the conversation, I kept thinking “why would God let this happen to someone right before Christmas and how can I help?”

The question “how can I change the world” has laid heavily on my heart this past week. There are so many causes I care about: veterans, mental health, cancer patients and families, children, pets, and homelessness. How can I help them all? My answer: complete a random act of kindness every day and God will do the rest.

I talk about spreading kindness and giving to others a lot; however, it is so important to do in today’s world. My Christmas wish is that by next Christmas, the world will be a better place and that everyone will be on their way to making a difference.

Merry Christmas!




End of Year To-Do List

Can you believe 2017 is almost over and 2018 is right around the corner? For many people, the last month of the year is a time to reflect and wrap up the previous 11 months. Below are some ways for you and your family to make the most of the rest of 2017 and start 2018 on the right foot!
1. Continue reading a book that you started but never finished.
2. Drink more water.
3. Eliminate one unhealthy habit for the rest of the year.
4. Reflect on the year’s accomplishments and challenges.
5. Take a day to relax and do nothing besides binge-watching your favorite show and sleeping.
6. Host a nice dinner or holiday party for your family and friends.
7. Volunteer.
8. Spend a day exploring tourist sites in your own city.
9. Call relatives you haven’t seen in a while.
10. Learn a new skill or take up a new hobby.
11. Declutter and spend a day deep cleaning your home.
12. Before going to bed, write down five things you are grateful for that day.
What’s on your end-of-the-year to-do list?

Holiday Mishaps: When Things Don’t Go as Planned


Often during the holidays, we picture a perfect family gathering or party with friends, where everything goes exactly as planned. We imagine a Norman Rockwell Christmas Eve and Christmas day. However, sometimes life throws a curveball and our ideal Christmas can turn into something resembling a Griswolds’ holiday.

Holiday mishaps happen to everyone and can end up being great memories to look back on. Although they might not be too funny at the time, they can bring lots of laughs for years to come. My family has had their share of funny Christmas stories. From finding our dog on top of the table, eating 16 gumdrops from our gingerbread house when she was a puppy, to numerous Christmas trees falling to the ground, recalling these stories always make the corners of our mouths turn upward. Another favorite tale is while my family was at a school event, my dog somehow got into the teachers’ presents sitting on the floor. She managed to remove all the Hershey’s kisses from the bags, unwrap them (wouldn’t you love to watch her do that?), and then proceed to eat all of the chocolate. Let’s just say there was a surprise waiting for us when we returned home. Lastly, one of my relatives recalls the story about their family’s tradition of eating cheesecake crescent rolls during Christmas. However, one year the dish was accidentally made with garlic crescent rolls. To this day, they still chuckle at the mistake.

Other common holiday mishaps are family photos gone wrong, thinking a Christmas sweater is ugly when it wasn’t meant to be, or gifting the incorrect present to someone.

It is important to remember there are tips for when things don’t go as planned. Read below whenever holiday mishaps and stress get to you.

  • Keep your expectations reasonable and be flexible. If your quintessential Christmas morning of opening presents, drinking hot chocolate, and listening to Bing Crosby sing on the radio turns out to be a morning of kids unwrapping all of their presents at once and bowls of cereal with the dog barking in the background, know that is okay. Don’t beat yourself up and make unrealistic expectations. Holiday moments are more meaningful if you remember to actually enjoy them.
  • Give yourself a break and let your family and friends help out. Cramming all of the cooking in, beating the crowds shopping for last minute presents, and staying up past Santa’s visit wrapping gifts can take a toll on a person. It can also eliminate the holiday joy they feel. Make the holidays a family event and get everyone involved. Let your kids pitch in with the Christmas dinner or send your husband to fight the rush at the grocery store. In addition, having everyone’s help gives you more time to make those special memories. Lastly, create a schedule and to-do list for everything that needs to be accomplished. However, forgive yourself and let go of your guilt if you don’t finish everything you put down for the day, week, or even holiday season. This is where setting your priorities comes into play. Consider what is most important for you, your family, and friends. Is it necessary to go caroling in the neighborhood? Do you need to make a 12-course meal for Christmas Eve? Or will your family still have a great holiday with pick-up food? Don’t sacrifice time with loved ones just to outdo yourself.

The holidays are a time for fun, family, friends, and love. When a mishap happens, just sit back, relax, and remember nothing is ever perfect. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!



Article written for Forsyth Woman Magazine. 

The Beauty of the Holiday Season


The holidays are a memorable time for many. It’s the season for decorating, singing, and enjoying each other’s company. During this season, people have their own special traditions. From Christmas to Hanukkah to St. Lucia’s Day, let’s take a look at some of the various holiday traditions throughout the world.

Christmas: This Christian holiday celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ and is a religious and cultural holiday. During Christmas, people will exchange gifts, decorate trees, attend special services at church, mail holiday cards, and eat hearty meals with family and friends. Another favorite tradition is Santa Claus. Within the Greek and Russian Orthodox churches, the holiday is held 13 days after the 25th, on the Epiphany, or Three Kings Day, when it is believed that the Three Wise Men finally arrived at Jesus in the manger. Some fun facts about well-known Christmas traditions are: in 1931, construction workers put the first Christmas tree in Rockefeller Plaza; poinsettias were brought from Mexico to America in 1828; and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer was created in 1939 in a poem used to bring customers to the Montgomery Ward department store.

Hanukkah: For eight days in November or December, the Jewish holiday Hanukkah or Chanukah occurs. Also known as the Festival of Lights, the holiday commemorates the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem during the second century B.C. At this temple, one day’s worth of oil burned for eight days in it. Lighting of the menorah, food, games, and gifts are just a few traditions of Hanukkah. The menorah is a nine-branched candelabra holding nine candles. Each night during the eight days, another candle is added after sundown and the ninth candle, the shamash, is used to light the others. Blessings are recited during the lighting and the menorah is kept on a windowsill. Potato pancakes, latkes, and jam-filled donuts, sufganiyot, are served in Jewish families. As for games and gifts, dreidels are spun and presents that are thoughtful and meaningful are given. According to historians, gift-giving took off in the 1950s when child psychologists and rabbis started using gifts to make post-Holocaust Jewish children happy about their heritage and not sad about missing Christmas.

Kwanzaa: Based on ancient African harvest festivals, the word “Kwanzaa” means “first fruits of the harvest” in Swahili. Held from December 26th to January 1st, the holiday is a time when many African-Americans celebrate their African culture and heritage. Created in 1966 by Maulana Karenga, Kwanzaa traditions include meditations, decorating houses, wearing culturally significant clothing, and ceremonies with drumming and music. In addition, there are seven core principals related to African heritage. Karenga once described this as “a communitarian African philosophy.” The principles are umoja (unity), kujichagulia (self-determination), ujima (collective work and responsibility), ujamaa (cooperative economics), nia (purpose), kuumba (creativity), and imani (faith). Kwanzaa symbols are a mat, a candle holder with seven candles, corn, and unity cups, as well as, the black, red, and green flag, African books and artwork.

St. Lucia’s Day: Known to honor the saint of the third and fourth century, St. Lucia’s Day is celebrated on December 13th. The holiday was started by stories told by monks who brought Christianity to Sweden. In 304, St. Lucia was a young Christian girl who was killed for her faith and martyred. It is said that she secretly brought food to the Christians being persecuted in Rome. St. Lucia would wear candles on her head, leaving her hands free to carry food. Today, holiday traditions are celebrated by girls in white dresses with red sashes around their waists, and a crown of candles on their heads. In addition, national Lucias are chosen to visit hospitals and nursing homes. While there, they sing a song about St. Lucia and hand out ginger snap biscuits, known as pepparkakor. Families will gather and eat lussenkatts for breakfast, which are buns flavored with saffron and raisins. St. Lucia’s Day is celebrated in Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland, Bosnia, and Croatia.

The beauty of all the holidays is that they all hold a special meaning for people across the world. In addition, they all offer everyone a feeling of peace on earth at the end of the year.



Helping the California Wildfire Victims


I’m in North Carolina and as I sit writing this post, snow is melting outside. Snow? In the south? On December 10th? Yes, a majority of the south was covered with blankets of the white fluff over the weekend. However, the western part of the nation is fighting something a little hotter than snow.

Southern California is currently battling six fires, spanning over 175,000 and 212,000 residents have evacuated from their homes. In addition, almost 8,500 firefighters have been working around the clock, trying to put out the blazes. Every day, more and more people are leaving their homes; animals and nature are becoming innocent victims.

If you are like me, you can’t imagine leaving your home at Christmas and not knowing when you might be able to come back. The holiday season is a season of giving. Below are some ways for you to help the victims of the California wildfires. I encourage you to donate whatever you can.

Give back to those affected by the California wildfires this holiday season!