These 6 Animals Need Our Help

Small-Acts-Can-Transform-the-Planet

Have you heard about the Buddhist temple in Thailand where wildlife authorities discovered 40 dead tiger cubs in a freezer earlier this month? They were able to rescue 137 living tigers which had been kept in cages for tourists to pose alongside. Their’s is just one of many similar stories where wildlife is caught, kept, or killed at the whim of humanity. I don’t want to be too big of a downer – animals can be our greatest source of joy, after all – but I do want to share the plights of a few of our four- and two-legged friends who need our help.

Elephantselephant

I have to start with one of my favorite obsessions since I spent a summer in South Africa: Elephants. Any girl could get behind this matriarchal species of sensitive giants. Fun fact: researchers have found that elephants grieve the loss of their own and even the loss of men. Researchers in Kenya discovered an elephant can even recognize its deceased loved ones by its bones. Before humans began stealing all their tusks, elephants would take the tusks of fallen companions as commemoration.

Not so fun fact: Every 15 minutes, an elephant is killed for its ivory. Over one-fifth of the worldwide elephant population was killed between 2010 and 2012.

What we can do:

  • STOP BUYING IVORY. Just stop it. It’s not worth innocent lives and ultimately the entire elephant species.
  • Support World Wildlife Fund – the WWF (not World Wrestling Federation, though they should really get on board, too) is a leader in wildlife conservation. They work to preserve the lives and habitats of all wildlife, elephants included.
  • Save the Elephants and the International Elephant Foundation are two other great resources and causes we can and should support.
  • Let your government hear you – it can be as easy as signing WWF’s Stop Wildlife Crime campaign. I did it, and so can you. Last year, Thailand banned their ivory trade. Change is possible. Let’s make it happen!

 

Pangolins

pangolin2

Pango-who?

If you’ve never heard of a pangolin, you’re not alone. These scaly, four pound animals are like overgrown roly polies that look like lizards. When startled, a pangolin will cover its head with its back legs and roll into a ball.

It's a pangolin ball, not a soccer ball.
It’s a pangolin ball, not an alien soccer ball.

Pangolins (named after the Malay word for “roller”) are “the most illegally trafficked animal in the world.” Killed for their meat (which is considered a delicacy in some parts of the world – ech-hem, Asia!) and scales, the pangolin is now listed as critically endangered. As many as 233,000 pangolins were estimated as being killed in the three years between 2011 and 2013 alone.

What we can do:

  • Support thy pangolin brethren – International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has a group of specialists dedicated solely to protecting our pangolins. To show our support, we can donate, join them on Social Media, and spread the word.
    Save the Pangolin is another one. They also have a page listing other organizations which support the pangolin cause right here.
  • Don’t eat him. Or drink him. Or wear him – This one’s obvious but can’t be overlooked: the best way to stop poaching is to stop demand for poached goods. Don’t eat pangolin meat when (if) you’re presented the opportunity. Don’t buy pangolin products such as medicine, wine, jewelry, scales, or leather.
  • Tell me (and him and her and them) about it – The simple act of talking about the plight of our pangolins in conversation can make a big impact. Just think: if you didn’t even know what a pangolin was until you read this post, how many other people are likewise oblivious to their desperate condition?

A possible opening line: “Hi, how are you? Did you know the most illegally trafficked animal is a four pound roly poly?” Or, next time your waiter asks if you’d like more water, tell him, “No, but I’d like more pangolins.”

Chimpanzees

Thirsty chimp

Already extinct in many African nations, such as Togo, Gambia, Burkina Faso, and Benin, chimpanzees are on the bring of total, worldwide extinction. Today, experts estimate the chimpanzee population at only 173,000 to 300,000 chimps.

There are only five nations with significant chimpanzee populations remaining. Advocates say if we don’t stop poaching and habitat loss, chimpanzees could be extinct in 15 years.

What we can do:

  • Give what you can give: The Jane Goodall Institute concentrates on the protection and welfare of great apes. The WWF allows donators to give specifically to the chimpanzee cause by adopting a chimpanzee. Center for Great Apes (four star Charity Navigator rating) is another great charity devoted to the plight of the chimp.
  • Think before you buy: – Habitat loss is one of the biggest threat to chimpanzees. Before you buy any products such as wood or paper, ensure they aren’t coming from Central Africa and thus contributing to the chimpanzee’s habitat loss. WWF can help you make sure you’re choosing good wood.

Tigers

Guess what: I took this pic. Just thought I'd share =D
Forgive the picture quality – this photo was taken by yours truly.

Once there were nine, now there are six. Subspecies of tigers, that is. Three subspecies of tigers have already gone extinct thanks to us. The worldwide tiger population lost 97% of its members in the 20th century, reducing its numbers to as few as 3,200 tigers in 2010. If some of us have more dollars on our (bi-)weekly paychecks than there are tigers in the world, we’ve got a serious problem of inequality on our hands.

The governments of the 13 countries blessed with tiger populations set a goal for all of us called TX2: to double the tiger population by 2022, the next Chinese year of the tiger. Latest estimates put the wild tiger population at a whopping 3,890 as of April of this year, but even that is up for debate. Whether or not we’ve managed to not kill 690 new tigers in the last 10 years, we’re a long way from the 2022 goal of 6,400 and even farther from the population’s 1900 population estimate of 100,000 tigers.

Just imagine having to explain to the next generation that Jasmine’s Raja is extinct.

What we can do:

  • ADOPT A TIGER– We can adopt a tiger, guys. Did you hear that? ADOPT. A. TIGER. Whaaat?? Yes! You don’t get to take your tiger home with you because that’d destroy the purpose of conserving wildlife (duh), but you do get a cuddly toy and adoption pack. For $55 you can adopt a tiger and for a little more you can throw in an adoption goodie basket with the toy and other tiger paraphernalia. The WWF (we’re going to be best friends with these guys by the end of this post) points out that this could make a great gift.

REALLY, REALLLY FUN FACT: You can actually adopt 124 different animal species, including tigers, elephants, giraffes, foxes, snowy owls, puffins, and so, so many more. All right here. At the tip of your mouse cursor. Click! Click, click!

  • Support conservation organizations like Big Cat Rescue (4 star Charity Navigator rating, located in Tampa, FL)
  • Educate yourself, then educate others – Simply learning about the plight of the tiger is a huge step towards saving them. (The first step in fixing a problem is recognizing it, right?)

Gather as much knowledge as you can, then spread it like a sneeze. Seriously. Every time your nose starts to itch, think “Tigers are dying!” and tell the closest person everything you can remember about tigers off the top of your head. In fact, do this every time any part of your body itches. And even when nothing itches but you see a person within shouting distance.

  • Don’t buy tiger products. Period. This includes: “Tiger skins, jewelry made from claws and teeth, tiger whiskers, tiger bone wine, tiger meat and any medicine that contains tiger derivatives,” as WWF says.

 

RhinosHappy rhino

Last year alone, 1,175 rhinos were killed in Africa. Search “rhino conservation” on Google and you’ll see an extinction status of “Not extinct.” What it should say is “Not extinct yet.” Or, better still: “Not for long.”

Down from 500,000 at the start of the 20th century, today there are now closer to 29,000 rhinos in the world. Poaching poses the greatest threat. Rhino poaching claimed the lives of 96% of the black rhino between 1970 and 1993 (there were 96,000 black rhinos in 1970 but by 1993, that number had dropped to 2,300).

Of the five species of rhino, the one closest to extinction is the Javan rhino. How many Javan rhino exist today? I’ll give you a hint: If you’re over 60, your last birthday cake held more candles than there are Javan rhinos. Today, the Javan rhino population is between 58 and 61 members strong. Or should I say, “61 members not-strong.”

What we can do:

  • Save the Rhino funds rhino conservation efforts with grants and the collaboration of other conservation partners. Buy a limited edition rhino tee, donate, volunteer, become a member, or start a fundraiser.
  • The International Rhino Foundation (four star Charity Navigator) is devoted to “the survival of the world’s rhinos through conservation and research. ” We can adopt, donate, or buy fun rhino apparel. I mean, come on, what baby doesn’t need a Team Rhino onesie?
  • And of course there’s the NO BUYING RHINO PRODUCTS, such as rhino horn.

Park Rangers

Okay, I know this is a case of “which one of these doesn’t belong?” but technically speaking park rangers are animals, too. And their lives are at risk every day. Park rangers are often on the front lines in the battle against illegal poaching. In the last decade, 1,000 park rangers have lost their lives in an effort to stop illegal wildlife trafficking. The most recent estimates puts the death toll at one park ranger killed every four days.

What we can do:

Help them do their job – Support park rangers and honor those who have fallen by helping us win the battle against illegal wildlife trafficking and poaching. Stop Wildlife Crime  and 96 Elephants  both strive to support and protect park rangers.

 

Here’s what I propose:

There are 7.125 billion people in the world (more, actually seeing as that’s a 2013 number). If we each choose one cause (or two causes or thirty), we can save all the animals through our combined effort. Everyone has a favorite animal, right? If not, take a look at the list above and pick one, any one, then advocate for that animal as if it were your life on the line. You don’t have to funnel all your savings into WWF or quit your job to volunteer full-time with the Clearwater Marine Acquarium, but we can each skip one latte or pack or own lunch one day this week to make a contribution. As Howard Zinn said:

Small-Acts-Can-Transform-the-Planet

How to Avoid Paying Tolls Without Avoiding Toll Roads

How to Avoid Paying Tolls

One day I will become an upstanding citizen and buy an EZ Pass. Until then I’m going to play Toll Booth Monopoly because I’m cheap and I hate paying tolls.

My favorite feature on Google Maps is “Avoid Tolls.” I never needed it in California, but out here in Pennsylvania, I seldom leave home without it. And when I do, I kick myself all the way there.

The trouble with avoiding tolls is some destinations just aren’t “Avoid Tolls” friendly. I’m sure we’ve all found ourselves weighing the pros and cons of avoiding tolls versus adding an hour to our travel time. (If gas is $X per gallon, I get Y miles per gallon, and I’ll have to drive Z miles out of my way to avoid the toll… I need mint chocolate chip ice cream with hot fudge – and a brownie – to make it worth it.)

If you’re sick of going miles and miles out of your way just to avoid paying tolls, I’ve got good news for you: with Toll Booth Monopoly, you don’t have to.

(Disclaimer before we continue: Toll Booth Monopoly has the ability to save you money on tolls, but not to save you from tolls entirely. To do that, you must Avoid Toll Roads.)

How do you play to win at Toll Booth Monopoly? Allow me to explain.

See, there are three types of toll booths in the world:

  1. Those that take your money
  2. Those that give you a ticket so they can take your money later, and
  3. Those that take your ticket and your money.

Toll Booth Monopoly won’t help you with the former type of booths – them greedy b——s can’t be stopped. The latter two, on the other hand… Well, now they’re a different story. Here’s how you can outsmart the toll system with ticket toll systems:How to Avoid Paying Tolls

Next time you come upon a Take a Ticket toll booth, go ahead and take your ticket from the Cash lane like a good non-EZ Pass motorist. Stash your ticket somewhere out of sight but where you can find it later (you’ll need it again, but not today).

When you come to the toll collector at the next toll booth, put on your best sheepish face and say:

You: “I’m such a dope. I accidentally pulled into the EZPass lane instead of the Cash lane at the last toll booth.”

Toll Collector: “And you don’t have EZ Pass?”

You: “No, I don’t. I pressed the call button but no one came.”

Toll Collector:”So you don’t have a ticket either, then.”

You: “No.” [Extra sheepish face here.] “I feel like such a dummy”

Toll Collector:”Without a ticket it’s [insert exorbitant amount – e.g. $32.95].”

You: “Oh, no. Really? I don’t have that much cash.”

Toll Collector:”Unfortunately my hands are tied here, so I can’t charge you less than the full fee. But what I can do is scan your driver’s license and give you a Certificate of Passage. You’ll have 10 days to pay it online.”

You: [Looking defeated.] “Okay. I understand.”

Toll Collector:”You can dispute it, though.”

You: I can?”

Toll Collector: “Call the number on the back of this sheet for the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission. Explain what happened and they may be able to reduce the fee.”

You: “Really? Oh, that’d be wonderful! Thank you!”

Toll Collector:”You’re welcome.  It happens all the time. Next time just wait until someone comes to help you, though. Even if they back up behind you.”

You: “Oh, I will. I will!”

Now, let the toll collector scan your driver’s license and take your $32.95 Certificate of Passage. Before your 10 days are up, call the number on the back of the [Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission] Customer Information sheet. Important: Make sure you have your toll booth ticket in front of you when you call.

How to Avoid Paying Tolls
Josh tests his theory that by driving backward through a quick-pass toll lane, he can get money ADDED to his credit card account.

If you’re lucky like me, you’ll get a very friendly operator who will understand immediately what happened (because “it happens all the time”). He’ll ask you where you got on the freeway. Scan your toll booth ticket for the cheapest place on the list – hopefully somewhere far closer than where you actually got on to maximize your savings in Toll Booth Monopoly.

For instance, let’s say you got on the freeway at Mile One and you exited at Mile Twenty. Tell the operator you actually got on at Mile Eighteen or Nineteen. Since these ticket toll booths charge on a sliding scale based on how long you were traveling on the freeway, by pretending to get on at Mile Eighteen instead of Mile One, you can save yourself a pretty penny or two (or five hundred).

The operator will determine the amount you would have been charged had you held a ticket from Mile Eighteen. If you pick wisely, it’ll be a far cry less than $32.95 and even less than the amount you rightfully owe from Mile One.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how you play Toll Booth Monopoly and win. And all without breaking any laws – only bending them some. If anyone asks, you didn’t hear about it from me. Capiche?How to Avoid Paying Tolls

We’re Going on a Hike. What Will You Bring? No-Bake Energy Bites!

Wildwood Park, Harrisburg, PA

Remember that picnic game you played as a kid? “We’re goin’ on a picnic; what are you gonna bring?

On my picnic, I’m bringing… Marshmallows, an umbrella, and clean underwear.

Can you guess the pattern?

I never really understood the point of that game. Until now.

Except I’m going to modify it: “We’re going on a hike, what will you bring?”

You: _____

Me: No-Bake Energy Bites!

What are No-Bake Energy Bites, you ask? They’re healthy, delicious, oven- and stove-free bites of wonderfulness that are perfect – just perfect, I tell you! – for summer snacking. And they come in infinite varieties!

Before we get into the best of the best of No-Bake Energy Bites, let me tell you a little story in pictures of another of my recent hiking adventures. This one took place at Wildwood Park in Harrisburg, PA. I shall call this picture story…

When They Blew Out the Bridge in Wildwood Park

The day was overcast, but the weather not cold. It started out docile enough…

20160505_144327

…with quaint little paths to guide our way. We meandered through the trees, happy as could be. You couldn’t really call this a hike, we said, but it sure is lovely. Spring was alight in this Wildwood Park and the way seemed to promise only more beauty to come…

Fate, it would seem, had different ideas.

Our path soon ended at a stream where the bridge had been blown out.

No bridge at Wildwood

Oh, well. I guess it’s time to turn around, though the little brown dog… Right?

Oh, ye of little faith. You think just because one little bridge is missing we’re going to call it a day? Not likely. Ever heard that saying, where there’s a will there’s a way?

Annotated Part One

One shoe

Successful Crossing sans Ruby

We may have  lost a shoe and a dog in the process, but it was well worth it in the end.

 

 

Wildwood Park, Harrisburg, PA
Wildwood Park, Harrisburg, PA

 

Wildwood Park, Harrisburg, PA
Wildwood Park, Harrisburg, PA
Wildwood Park, Harrisburg, PA
Wildwood Park, Harrisburg, PA

The next time you’re in Harrisburg, PA, I highly recommend a trip to Wildwood Park. Hopefully your experience will be less eventful than ours…

RIP Ruby

RIP What

Just kidding!

Ruby is alive and well. She also happens to be very good at slipping out of her collar when water is involved.

 

Now, I did promise to bring No-Bake Energy Bites, didn’t I? And bring them I shall. But first, a word to the wise: When making No-Bake Energy Bites, follow the recipe ex-act-ly. These little puppies are not substitution/modification/let’s-add-this-and-this-and-this friendly. Or rather, they are, if you don’t mind eating them like porridge instead. This is why I’m giving a round-up of other bloggers recipes instead of my own. Because my recipes = porridge. Very tasty porridge, but porridge nonetheless.

Here is a round-up of my Six Favorite No-Bake Energy Bites

Super Seed Chocolate Protein Bites by Oh She Glows (I replaced sesame seeds and cocao nibs with roasted sunflower seeds and chocolate chips)

Pumpkin Pie

Pumpkin Pie Protein No-Bake Bites by Hummusapien*

*I modified these by adding craisins and orange juice. Mmm!

Lemon Coconut 2

Lemon Coconut No-Bake Bites also by Hummusapien

cinammon-vanilla-protein-bites

Cinnamon Vanilla Breakfast Protein Bites by Cotter Crunch

Oatmeal Raisin

No-Bake Oatmeal Raisin Cookie Balls by Family Food on the Table

 

Apple-Almond-Energy-Bites-My-Whole-Food-Life

Apple Almond Energy Bites by My Whole Food Life

And of course my favorite No-Bake Bites:

ChocolatePeanutButterBalls-12-590x826

Chocolate Peanut Butter Balls by Nutritious Eats (Don’t you just love when the words, “chocolate,” “peanut butter,” and “nutritious” can be used in the same sentence? My life is complete.)

samoas by cck

Healthy No-Bake Samoas by Chocolate Covered Katie (Oops, how did those slip in there?)

Read Before Negotiating Money & a Mixed Berry Breakfast Crumble

Read Before Negotiating Money & How to Make a Healthy Mixed Berry Breakfast Crumble

I didn’t share this earlier before because I figured it would only be of interest to freelance writers and consultants like me; and how many of those are reading this blog? Then it occurred to me it’s relevant (gosh that’s a hard word to spell. I tried relevent, relavant, relavent, but nope: it’s relevant) to anyone who runs their own business and has to set the rates they charge. In fact, beyond the self-employed, this is relevant (ah-ah! I’ve got you now, Relevant) to everyone who has ever had to negotiate (or failed to) a fair salary. Or who has felt jipped when they didn’t get the raise they deserve. This is for every person who has ever walked out of a meeting kicking themselves because they didn’t stand their ground.

For everyone among us who has ever let him or herself be convinced to take less than they deserve, this is for you (and me).

I have a theory about why negotiating is so hard for women in particular. There are any number of such theories out there, but the one I believe is that it’s because we’re too empathetic. (Of course this can be the case for men, too, but we ladies are notorious for failing miserably at the negotiating table.)

The problem is, when we sit across from someone – or even talk to them over the phone – we seek to connect with them. This can be a strong asset (it certainly makes for strong friendships) but at the negotiating table, it causes us no end of agony. See, taking money from an impersonal entity like a large corporation is easy. But when you have to look in the face of the man whose wallet you’re trying to raid, it gets a lot harder to demand a fair rate. Particularly when you spot the pictures of his ten kids and disabled wife in that wallet.

Even when you know it isn’t actually that man’s wallet you’re trying to raid, but the corporation that stands behind him, as soon as we start to empathize, the business/personal waters begin to muddy.

Let’s make that Negotiating Lesson #1: Don’t make it personal.

I’ve had my own businesses since I was old enough to drive. From baby sitting to pet sitting to house sitting and now ghostwriting, co-authoring, and book consulting. You’d think with ten years of experience working directly with clients, I’d be good at negotiating fair pay. But you would be wrong. Oh, so wrong.

From the beginning, taking money from people was like having an infected tooth pulled. I wanted (needed) to get paid, but I really, really didn’t want to go through the whole process of being paid. My most dreaded question was always, “How much do you charge?” I’ve probably spent days’ worth of cumulative time Googling “how much to charge for (such and such service),” “average rate for X in (city, state),” etc.

Even armed with the knowledge that a fair market rate was $15/hour, I could never bring myself to utter the number. Instead I’d squeak out, “Maybe $10? Perhaps? If that works for you…”

The benevolent clients would insist on giving me $12. Perhaps equally benevolent, in truth, were the ones who offered me $8 in return because they became the stones that gradually piled atop my sense of self-worth.

For ten years I let those stones weigh me down, going so far as to find excuses for people not to pay me at all:

“I work out because I love it, not for the money.”

“I don’t deserve to get paid for something I enjoy so much.”

“It wouldn’t be right for me to take your money when you clearly need it more than I do.”

The simple fact was, I never saw myself as deserving to be paid. In the hierarchy of importance, everyone (in the whole, entire world) ranked above me. They deserved the money more because they had children to support or larger bills to pay. Their responsibilities were larger than mine. Their needs far greater. They deserved to keep their money because they’d worked 60 hours a week for years and years to earn it. Who was I to take their hard-earned, much-needed money away from them? 

I want to take a moment to make an important point here: “They,” as in my clients, are not the antagonists of this story. Al contraire, if anyone is the hero, it is They. More often than not, had They not insisted on paying me something, I’d have worked my whole life for free. Most assuredly, had They not tried to negotiate rates with me at all, I never would have learned to put myself first. And I did learn to put myself first eventually, but it would take many, many failed negotiations – and by failed negotiations, I mean non-negotiations – before I could.

Year after year, job after job, I took only what was offered me. I never, not once, asked for more than they proposed. In my first Big Girl, 8-5 job I accepted without a moment’s hesitation. Even while there was that nagging, little voice in the back of my mind saying, You’re supposed to negotiate. Men negotiate, I said “Yes!” to everything without question. Afterwards, I told myself it was okay that I hadn’t negotiated because what was more important was that I got my foot in the door. From that one foot, I would prove how valuable I was and then it’d be easy to ask for more money later.

Let me just say this right now: negotiating for money never gets any easier.

We’ll call that Negotiating Lesson #2: Start now. No excuses because it won’t be any easier to negotiate tomorrow unless you practice negotiating today.

I’ll also add this: your starting salary sets the base for every future raise you receive. If you come in with a salary on the bottom of the pay scale, when you get that first promotion, you’ll be offered another bottom-of-the-spectrum salary. Yes, you can negotiate for more, but you’ll always be starting from a lower place on the ladder. As such, those negotiating skills that were so weak (read: nonexistent) in the beginning will have to bulk up fast to compensate if you ever want to be earning on the high end of the spectrum.
Let’s fast-forward a bit in our story to the days preceding my creating a letter to myself titled “Read Before Negotiating Money.”

It came to a head the morning after yet another failed negotiation. By “failed negotiation,” I of course mean no negotiation at all. When the question of “How much do you charge?” came up, I hmm-ed and haw-ed my way through a prepared spiel about how “I may seem expensive but I charge the rates I do because I devote myself wholly and entirely to my work… blah-blah-blah.” Not once did I muster the courage to state a number.

At the end of my spiel, I turned it back to my client: “So, um, that said, what would be comfortable for you?”

My client, of course, gave a nice low-ball number that slashed 30% off my standard rate. I knew this was to be expected – this was how negotiations went, right? Client pitches low, I swing high. Now I was to smile and propose a rate less than my standard rate but certainly more that that pitiful number. I smiled. I opened my mouth. And I said, “Okay.”

OKAY???! Okay? What’s wrong with you? You don’t take a 30% cut without even asking for more!

My client seemed as flummoxed as me. But of course she wasn’t going to miss a good opportunity and readily thanked me for being so accommodating and reasonable. Done deal.

I kicked myself left, right, forwards, and backwards. I could all but hear the thoughts circling my client’s mind: I wonder if she’d have taken less. Maybe I should have offered only 50% of her going rate.

Here’s the funny thing about negotiations: when you settle too soon, even the “victorious” negotiator will feel jipped. Why? Because they feel like they didn’t negotiate hard enough. While you’re busy kicking yourself for not asking for more, she’s over there thinking she should have offered less. No one walks away feeling like they won.

Negotiating Lesson #3: Both parties feel better in the end if they think they had to fight for the rate they got.

The good news is our story doesn’t end here. If there is a Wrong Side of the bed, I’d like it to be known there is also a Righteous Side of the bed. The morning after my failed negotiations, as I scrubbed my teeth with uncharacteristic vigor, the thoughts running through my mind went like this:

“Dagnabbit, I do deserve to be paid. I have expenses and needs and no one to help me. I deserve food and shelter and to have a happy life as much as the next person. My needs are not less than yours, Client, or anyone else’s for that matter. I deserve fair pay because I’m good brilliant at what I do and you couldn’t do it without me.”

That morning, for the first time in my life, I stood up for myself in my own thoughts. I’ve never – honestly, I don’t think ever, at any time or in any situation – done that before. Instead of resorting to my MO of thinking, “You’re right, Client, you have larger responsibilities than me. I shouldn’t take your money. You deserve it more,” I actually thought: “You’re wrong to offer me so little. You’re wrong to think that I should be happy with less than I ask. You’re wrong to think you deserve to keep your money more than I deserve to be paid.”

For once, I felt I deserved more. Where did that come from? And how could I keep it around?

 

My answer: a letter written by me for me called “Read Before You Negotiate Money.” In it, I recount this story, the feelings of regret and disappointment after not having negotiated. I remind myself that no one feels like they win if you don’t negotiate. I also include a brilliant point Kelly James-Enger makes in her book for ghostwriters. James-Enger writes that she never lost a potential client by asking “if there’s some wiggle room in the budget.”

She makes a great point: they’ve already decided to work with you or you’ve already got the job, so what harm is there in at least asking for more pay?

Negotiating Lesson #4: You won’t lose the job because you asked for more.

My letter goes on to describe what it felt like to realize I deserved more, to be my own defender. I told myself in no uncertain (or G-rated) terms that I was deserving and wasn’t to forget this fact.

Because of those four-letter-word terms and the fact that it’s a rather personal, rambling letter, I won’t include it here. The point is, I created this letter for myself to read whenever I need a reminder – such as before I know money negotiations are about to occur. The beauty of pay negotiations is they rarely catch you by surprise. Chances are, you know when year-end bonus or raise conversations are going to occur. If you work with clients directly, often bringing up payment terms is in your court.

Whether you write yourself a letter, leave yourself a voicemail, sing yourself a song, put a sticky note on your mirror, or tattoo I deserve better on the back of your knuckles, I think the important thing is that you find a way to remind yourself every chance you get that YOU DESERVE MORE.

Negotiating Lesson #5: Don’t forget Lessons One through Four

Now that we’ve covered our Life Lessons for the day, who wants crumble? Get a load of this baby:

Mixed Berry Breakfast Crumble

 

Vegan, with no refined sugar, and low-fat, it’s dessert for breakfastNothing better than a toasty, gooey Breakfast Mixed Berry Crumble to fortify you for tough negotiations to come (or console yourself after less-than-successful ones. Don’t worry – there’s always next time!). It’s healthy, hearty, and sweet and sure to delight any visitors to your breakfast table.

Without further ado, I present to you our:

Breakfast Mixed Berry Crumble

Adapted from Pinch of YumMixed Berry Breakfast Crumble

Ingredients:

For the berries:

1 cup berries of choice, fresh or frozen (I like Trader Joe’s Cherry Berry Medley but honestly, just straight blueberries are pretty much unbeatable)

1 teaspoon lemon juice (can sub or add orange juice for sweeter flavor)

1/4 teaspoon + ground cinnamon and ginger (optional)

For the crumble topping:

1/2 cup oats

1 – 2 tablespoon(s) flour (any variety will work, even almond meal)

1 tablespoon oil

1 tablespoons liquid sweetener of choice (I like honey or maple syrup, personally)

1 tablespoon granulated sugar (brown or coconut work well because they add a molasses-y note)

1 teaspoon cinnamon (less if you’re not such a cinnamon fanatic as I am)

1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

pinch of salt

1/4 chopped nuts (may I suggest pecans and slivered almonds? oo, and walnuts. mmm!)

2 tbsp to 1/4 cup shredded coconut (optional but highly recommended)

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Grease a small baking dish or large ramekin or line one with parchment paper (if you use tinfoil, I suggest creasing it as the berries will stick to the foil).
  3. In a large medium or large bowl, combine the dry ingredients for the crumble and mix. Add the wet ingredients (you may want to warm your honey and oil in the microwave to soften).
  4. Place berries in a medium bowl and toss with lemon/orange juice, cinnamon and ginger (if using). Pour berries into bottom of baking dish. Top with the crumble mixture.
  5. Bake for 25-35 minutes or until the crumble topping is golden brown. If you want to really brown it, you can place it under a low broiler for a minute or two, but be wary as it will burn fast.
  6. Allow to cool for a few minutes (as long as you can manage) before serving. See below for some topping suggestions.

 

Toppings

Completely optional, but highly recommended – I’ve listed them in order of my personal preference, just because.

Note: I didn’t add ratios because it’s really to taste. The beauty of these is you just get to pour, stir, and sample until you like where the flavor is at.

Coconut cream (plain or stir in some vanilla & honey/maple syrup)

Maple syrup Greek yogurt: plain Greek yogurt +  maple syrup to taste

Banana Greek yogurt: Mash very ripe banana in a bowl or blender. Add plain Greek yogurt and vanilla extract. (Could also add cinnamon) – I used half a banana to 1/2 cup of Greek yogurt for this one but you can tweak to  your heart’s content.

Honey-lemon Greek Yogurt: plain Greek yogurt + honey + lemon juice to taste

Vanilla Greek yogurt: Greek yogurt + vanilla + sweetener of choice. (Or just buy vanilla Greek yogurt and call it a day)

Orange-maple Greek yogurt: plain Greek yogurt + orange juice + maple syrup (or other sweetener) (also surprisingly tasty with cinnamon and excellent with orange zest)

 

Any other topping suggestions? I’d love to hear them! As you may have guessed, I’m always up for trying new things and experimenting 😉

A Four Seasons Hike and Roasted Butternut Squash & Tomato Tikka Masala

Hike and Food FINAL TITLE

How fast a week goes by! This time last weekend, I was gorging on an all-you-can-eat brunch buffet –

(Speaking of: Have you tried one of these all-you-can-eat brunch buffets yet? If not you must – must, I tell you! They are the best thing in the world! For somewhere between $20 and $30 you get access to all the breakfast, lunch, and dessert dishes you could possibly want. It’s three meals in one and comes with free booze if you’re so inclined. Heaven on Earth? I think so!)

That brunch buffet tangent lasted longer than I thought it would. As did my brunch last weekend, coincidentally. We were dining for no less than two hours. Two wonderful, decadent, luxurious hours that I’d give my kidney and my liver to relive over and over and over again. After we couldn’t eat a single crumb more (and I did contemplate trying when they brought out another cake!), we had the most wonderful hike of my life at Bear Meadows Natural Area in Pennsylvania.

I’ve dubbed this hike the “Four Seasons Hike.” Allow me to explain.

It started like this:

Our fearless-for-now leader, Ruby, asking why we walk so slow. Maybe we should try using our front legs for running instead of picture-taking.
Our fearless-for-now leader, Ruby, asking why we walk so slow. Maybe we should try using our front legs for running instead of picture-taking.

 

Then it got a little more like this:

Note the slightly soggier ground...
Note the slightly soggier ground…

And progressively got soggier until we were leapfrogging from rocks to branches in an effort to keep our feet dry. Thankfully Mother Nature provided us some handy ground ladders to use…

20160515_154836_HDR

 

… at first. We were soon questioning if we were on a hiking trail or following the path of a stream. Needless to say, no one made it out of this hike with dry feet. But wait – it gets better! Oh, so much better!

See, the reason I call this the Four Seasons Hike is because we experienced the best (okay, some may say “worst”) of every season on our journey. What started as a docile Summer day, became a crisp Fall afternoon of wet leaves following a good rain. Just when we thought it couldn’t get any wetter, Fall reminded us of its second favorite activity after dropping leaves: Rain!

20160515_164825

 

We opted to take cover and wait it out… which turned out to be a great idea when it started HAILING!

Can you tell that isn't rain anymore?

Can you tell that isn’t rain no more?

How about now?

Hail on a Hike

Our fearless leader wasn’t feeling so fearless anymore.

Not-so-Fearless Ruby

In her defense, she’s lived her whole life in the dessert of Southern California. Hail was definitely not on the forecast in her world. Neither was SNOW, which – yes – we got next.

Luckily the hail let up after a few minutes of downpour and we were able to continue along. Until the next clearing when Winter happened:

SNOW!
That’s SNOW! On a hike!

Thankfully there was a handy-dandy bonfire pit for us to light all the sodden logs in if we got stranded. Even more thankfully, like the hail, the snow let up and we emerged into Spring:

 

20160515_170849~2

20160515_170824

 

When we made it back to our car we were a little damp below the knees, chilled to near-frozen everywhere above the knees, and utterly and completely content with our magical, Four Seasons Hike. Truly, between our indulgent, two-hour breakfast brunch and this hike, it was one of the best days of my life.

Needless to say, after a journey like ours, a warm, cozy meal was in order… So we went out for late-night nachos. But the next night, I warmed my stomach with a homemade, soul-satisfying meal that never disappoints:

Roasted Butternut Squash & Tomato Tikka Masala

Roasted Butternut Squash & Tomato Tikka Masala

I eat this dinner at least once a week. It’s the perfect combination of warm (both temperature-warm and spice-warm from the Garam Masala Spice Blend and fresh ginger), sweet (from the rich, roasted butternut squash blended right into the sauce), and savory (from the tomato curry base).

 

I love to eat Roasted Butternut Squash Tikka Masala over a bed of mixed veggie quinoa and topped with a fresh garnish of sliced cucumber, tomato, and sweet white onion. Of course you can serve yours any which way you choose. Lentils are also a great substitute for the quinoa, though they make it more stew-like than curry-like.

 

Roasted Butternut Squash & Tomato Tikka Masala

 

Without further ado, please, make me some:

Roasted Butternut Squash & Tomato Tikka Masala for One

Adapted from Feasting at Home
Serves: One
Time: 50 minutes to 1 hour

 

Sauce Ingredients:

(Note: the sauce will be blended so your chopping needn’t be perfect. Make sure you don’t dice your butternut squash cubes, though, as we want some chunks)

1 cup of ~1 inch butternut squash cubes, peeled (I buy mine pre-peeled and cubed from Trade Joe’s)

6 cherry tomatoes or 2 roma tomatoes or 1/2 of a very large tomato (the exact quantity isn’t important, these will be roasted and blended in the sauce)

1/8-1/4 cup diced sweet white onion

1 tablespoon coarsely chopped fresh ginger

1 tablespoon coarsely chopped fresh garlic

1/2 tablespoon tomato paste

2 teaspoons Garam masala spice (You can make your own with this recipe)

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon paprika

1/2 cup water

1-2 tablespoons plain yogurt or coconut milk or (yes!) coconut cream

Optional: sliced mushrooms

1 tablespoon oil (any will work: olive, avocado, coconut…)

 

Quinoa Ingredients:

1/4 cup dry quinoa

1/2 cup water or broth

Optional: frozen peas, diced carrot, kale

 

Toppings (optional):

Sliced cucumber

Sliced white onion

Sliced tomato

Chopped cilantro

More yogurt or coconut cream

 

Directions:

  1. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment.
  2. Toss your butternut squash cubes with 1/2 tablespoon oil, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1.5 teaspoons Garam Masala or more as needed to coat the squash. Add squash and tomatoes to baking sheet. Bake for 30 minutes, turning once as needed.
  3. While the squash is roasting, start your sauce. Heat a medium saucepan over medium-low heat and saute onion until translucent.
  4. Add garlic and ginger and saute another couple minutes until golden and fragrant.
  5. (It may just be me who struggles with this step, but I like to remove my pan from the heat before:) Add tomato paste and saute for another 30 seconds to 1 minute until the color deepens. (Watch out for burning! Even if it does burn, don’t worry, I’ve forged on after scorching my tomato paste and spices and it still turns out great).
  6. Add spices and give a quick stir then add water. (I’ve also had trouble with burning on this step so take care.)
  7. Make sure you scrape up any brown bits, then allow sauce to simmer uncovered for 5 to 10 minutes. If it reduces too much, simply add more water.
  8. When butternut squash and tomatoes are nicely roasted, remove from oven. Place tomatoes and about half of the squash cubes in the blender. Add sauce from pan and blend until smooth. Taste for seasoning and adjust as desired.
  9. Return your saucepan to medium-low heat. If you’re using mushrooms, add oil to pan and saute with a sprinkle of salt until they release their juices. If you’re not using mushrooms, continue to next step.
  10. Return sauce to saucepan and stir in yogurt (or coconut milk or cream). Add remaining butternut squash cubes and allow to simmer until warmed through.
  11. Serve over rice, quinoa (my personal favorite), or with naan bread. Top with any desired garnishing.

Veggie quinoa directions

Cook quinoa according to package directions. When it’s about 5 minutes from being done, add in any veggies (i.e. peas, carrots, kale…) and allow to steam with lid on until desired doneness.

Roasted Butternut Squash & Tomato Tikka Masala

 

Super Thick Toasted Coconut, Blueberry-Banana Pancakes

Pin

Hello, Morning! Never have I been so glad to see you since my Maple-Glazed Applesauce Breakfast Bars.  These Toasted Coconut, Blueberry-Banana Pancakes are… PHENOMENAL! I mean it. I wouldn’t have thought I could love something with no peanut butter so much, but oh do I.

These pancakes are the incredible amalgamation of three other brilliant pancake recipes. See, I started here, with Chocolate Covered Katie’s Blueberry Pie Pancakes; then I went here and discovered the brilliance of Toasted Coconut Pancakes from the Minimalist Baker; and finally I arrived here, at The Ambitious Kitchen where Fluffy Coconut Flour Pancakes are topped with Wild Blueberry Syrup. Yesss!!! From these three delicious recipes, the Super Thick Toasted Coconut, Blueberry-Banana Pancakes were born.

So what is it about these pancakes that make them so amazing? Where do I begin? It’s the super thick, banana-infused batter, studded with ripe blueberries…

Toasted Coconut, Blueberry-Banana Pancakes

It’s the golden, toasted coconut sprinkled on top of each and every pancake…

Toasted Coconut, Blueberry-Banana Pancakes
These ones have slices of banana in them too – that’s the dark, broiled parts you can see. Mmmmm!

And then again on top of the whoooolle stack…

Toasted Coconut, Blueberry-Banana Pancakes

It’s the AMAZING blueberry-maple syrup (compliments of The Ambitious Kitchen) poured on top while it’s all hot and gooey and delicious…

Toasted Coconut, Blueberry-Banana Pancakes

It’s everything. These Toasted Coconut, Blueberry-Banana Pancakes are pancake perfection. They’re decadent and delectable, but healthy enough to make even the meanest conscience happy. Whole grain, low-sugar and even lower-fat to begin with, you can customize them to any diet. Want gluten-free? Sub out the spelt flour for a gluten-free variety. Want low-carb? I haven’t tried it, but something tells me coconut flour would be BOMB in them. Want sugar-free? Go right ahead an omit it. With the mashed banana as a natural sweetener, you can easily do without. Vegan? There are flax eggs or no egg options…

You get my drift. The point is, whatever your diet restrictions/preferences, you simply MUST MUST MUST try these pancakes ASAP. Your life simply won’t be complete until then.

Before we begin, a quick note on thick pancakes:

That old theory about pourable pancake batter: Throw it out. For big, fat, thick mountainous pancakes, you want scoopable, not pourable. I did a test to prove this theory. On the left is the original batter; on the right the pourable batter. You tell me which you’d rather eat for breakfast.

Toasted Coconut, Blueberry-Banana Pancakes
Apologies for the blurry picture

One more thing to note: Thick and fluffy aren’t exactly synonymous in these pancakes. These are thick, and almost dense which makes them even more fantastic, in my opinion. Not heavy – the spelt flour and egg keep them light – but they aren’t airy. When you finish a stack of these you’re in the perfect happily full place. Content and ready to tackle the rest of your lazy Sunday. Or Monday. Or Tuesday. Or every day of the week!

Super Thick Toasted Coconut, Blueberry-Banana Pancakes

Ingredients

1/3 cup flour (I used spelt, but you can use anything you like – whole wheat? all purpose? Just not gluten-free)

2 Tbsp oat flour

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (I recommend more)

1 tablespoon sugar of choice (I used coconut)*

1/8 teaspoon salt

2/3 teaspoon baking powder

3 tablespoons milk

1/2 – 1 whole mashed banana depending on size of banana and banana-y-ness you want

1 tablespoon plain greek yogurt

1 egg, beaten

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon oil

Extra, Extra, read all about it:

(Un)sweetened coconut flakes

2/3 cup blueberries (1/3 cup for the pancakes, 1/3 cup for the syrup)

2 tablespoons – 1/4 cup maple syrup

Sliced banana (optional)

*You can omit if you like. I have a sweet tooth so I always include extra sugar 😉

Directions

  1. Toast coconut in a dry skillet. You could also use the oven, but I like the skillet because then I have a nicely oiled and warmed pan to cook my pancakes in. Set coconut flakes aside.
Toasted coconut for Toasted Coconut, Blueberry-Banana Pancakes
Toasted coconut for our Toasted Coconut, Blueberry-Banana Pancakes

2. Mix dry ingredients in one bowl. Mix wet ingredients in another.

3. If you turned off the heat under your skillet, this would be a good time to crank it back up to a modest medium. I also suggest heating an oven to about 200 degrees F so you can keep the finished cakes warm while you work through the batter and later make the syrup. Just a thought.

4. Stir wet into dry until just combined – don’t overmix! The batter should be thick, not pourable. (See note above about why thick batter beats pourable batter any day of the week.)

5. You can fold in half of your coconut flakes if you’d like, but I decided I prefer them all on top. Same goes for 1/3 cup blueberries: fold into the batter or sprinkle on top as you cook, either way makes for a delicious result.

6. Scoop your batter into your heated skillet. I did 2 heaping tablespoons for each pancake to keep them flippable. (I’m not the most adept with a spatula.) Top each pancake with a sprinkling of toasted coconut. Top with blueberries, too, if you didn’t stir them in. I might also suggest adding a few slices of banana if you’re feeling really wild.

7. Important message: THESE PANCAKES DON’T BUBBLE. You have to use the guess-and-check method to determine when they’re done. I would say one to two  minutes per side, but your skillet is probably far more reliable than mine. Just watch the edges to see when the doneness is creeping up and peek under the bottom once in a while.

8. Flip and repeat. Store cooked pancakes in the oven to stay warm.

9. When you’ve made all the pancakes or are on the last batch, start the syrup: Add 1/3 cup of your blueberries and 2 tablespoons – 1/4 maple syrup to saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a boil then simmer, stirring every few minutes until blueberries begin to break down and the whole bounteous bit becomes blue. Don’t simmer too long as it will turn gelatinous and become damn near impossible to remove from the pan. This is one instance where you want pourable, not scoopable.

(If you do overcook the syrup, don’t fret. Just add some hot water and allow to cook until evaporated.)

10. Pour syrup over pancakes and top with any leftover toasted coconut or sliced bananas as desired. Consume immediately.

11. Repeat at least every weekend for best results.

3 Ingredient Stuffed Mushrooms – Vegan & Fat-free

Effortless Stuffed Mushrooms

These 3 Ingredient Stuffed Mushrooms are probably the easiest recipe I’ll ever post on here. And you know what? It may be one of the tastiest. Of course, this is coming from a stuffed-mushroom devotee, but I’d be willing to wager even non-mushroom lovers getting on board with these puppies.

They’re so easy and customizable, it’s impossible to go wrong. By simply swapping one ingredient for another  (see some suggestions below), you can please anyone’s finicky taste or dietary restrictions. (This is where I list all the big-names in the healthy diet fads: Vegetarian, Vegan, Fat-free, gluten-free … You get my drift.)

With only 3 ingredients and a scant 30 minute bake time, how can you not give them a try?

3 Ingredient Stuffed Mushrooms
Three ingredients – that’s it! Doesn’t get simpler than this.

(NOTE: The finished mushrooms pictured in this post are topped with cheese and have spent a few, delightful minutes under the broiler. The cheese, however, is entirely optional. I’ve made it both ways and can vouch for how delicious they are with and without.

If you’re really feeling adventurous, you could even top them with avocado, sautteed/roasted onion, and/or fresh tomato slices. Just saying.)

3 Ingredient Stuffed Mushrooms
The options are endless!

Can’t say no, right?

Don’t say no. Trust me, you want to try these babies first. You can always come back here and tell me I was wrong. I won’t be sad. (Okay, maybe I’ll be a little sad, but then I’ll just make myself a batch of these 3 Ingredient Stuffed Mushrooms and feel all better again.)

 

Besides, if the Eggplant Spread version doesn’t do it for you, you could always try one of these filling options instead:

Effortless Stuffed Mushrooms
Try any one — better yet: try all four!

Are you ready? I’m ready! Let’s make some healthy and delicious…

3 Ingredient Stuffed Mushrooms

Ingredients:

Baby Bella (or larger) mushrooms*

Balsamic vinegar

Trader Joe’s Eggplant Garlic Spread**

Optional: cheese, your favorite seasonings**

Directions:

Step One: Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F and find a baking tray. (I line mine with tinfoil or parchment ahead of time, but that’s entirely up to you. If you’re planning to use cheese and allow me to persuade you to use the broiler, for safety purposes, I must recommend tin foil. Confession:  I always use parchment when cheese is involved because then I can make little cheese crisps, too.)

Step Two: Wash your mushrooms. Proper mushroom protocol calls for doing this using a damp towel and rubbing them down like they were a baby bottom. This is because mushrooms are essentially sponges and will soak up anything they come in contact with. I tend to follow this protocol, but that’s not to say you can’t just rinse them under the faucet. Either way, proceed to the next steps once your shrooms are clean.

Step Three: Remove their stems. You can usually just pop the stems out of the baby bellas but occasionally I’ll get in their with a spoon and scrape them out a bit more.

Effortless Stuffed Mushrooms

You can either throw your stems out (sad day) or keep them for the next time you saute something with mushrooms (yay!). You can add the stems to anything that calls for sliced or diced mushrooms and no one has to be the wiser.

Step Four: Rub your mushrooms with a little bit of mild-flavored oil (olive, avocado, grapeseed, etc.) then pour some Balsamic Vinegar over them. Don’t be worried about quantity. They’ll soak up what they want and leave the rest. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste.

NOTE: You could also toss the mushroom caps with the oil, vinegar, and salt.

Here again you can begin to customize your Effortless Stuffed Mushrooms by adding other seasoning. Garlic is always a personal favorite. So is subbing onion salt for the plain salt and red pepper for the black.

Step Five: Place your mushrooms open-side down on a baking sheet. (I like to line mine with aluminum foil or parchment paper first for easier clean up.)

Step Six: Bake for 15-20 minutes until they’ve softened nicely.

Step Seven: Remove from oven and turn your caps over. Fill each little cavity with as much dip as you can fit. If you’re so inclined (and who wouldn’t be?) top them with a sprinkling of cheese, too.

Effortless Stuffed Mushrooms

Step Eight: Back in the oven for another 10 minutes to warm through. If you used cheese, you might want to extend that time a bit or (now this would be really crazy) turn on the broiler at the end until the cheese is brown and bubbling (Mmmmm…).

Step Nine: Remove from oven and allow to cool to tongue-tolerable temperature. Eat and enjoy! (Pictured below topped with broiled cheese.)

Effortless Stuffed Mushrooms
Yummmmm…

*I’ve only made them with baby bella mushroom caps and that’s what the directions guide you through. However, there should be nothing stopping you from making them with something larger. Like, say, big bellas 😉

**This is where the customization opportunities come in. Not a fan of TJ’s Eggplant Garlic Spread? Try their Roasted Red Pepper spread, instead. I’ve used the Eggplant Spread, Red Pepper Spread, and even their bruschetta all to great success. (Personal fave is the Eggplant Spread, but that’s just lil, ol’ me.) If you don’t have a TJ’s nearby (I’m so, so sorry), you can sub just about any other dip you like. Even a simple marinara sauce would be delicious. Go crazy! The dip world is your oyster!

Just a refresher of some of the TJ’s options available, all of which have been sampled and approved of by yours truly:

Effortless Stuffed Mushrooms
Try any one — better yet: try all four!

Peanut Butter & Jelly Filled Banana Bread

Peanut Butter & Jelly Filled Banana Bread

Hello, Heaven in my mouth! Peanut Butter & Jelly Filled Banana Bread is…. it’s everything that’s good and saintly, everything that’s right in the world, everything that never lets you down. It is my new favorite breakfast. And I think it’ll become yours, too.

You may remember my recent love affair with Maple-Glazed Applesauce Oatmeal Breakfast Bars. We were going steady and exclusive for a solid couple weeks there, but I almost hate to say my fickle heart may have found a new second love. That’s not to say my Applesauce Oatmeal Breakfast Bars have been ousted as an all-time favorite. No, no, no! But this Peanut Butter & Jelly Filled Banana Bread is another thing all together. Seriously, PB&J meets banana bread: How can you go wrong?

Bursting with plump blueberries and sweet, ripe bananas, this is the way PB&J and banana bread were meant to be.

Peanut Butter & Jelly Filled Banana Bread

To top it off, it’s not your run-of-the-mill PB&J. No store-bought jelly will do for this beautiful masterpiece.

(Well, okay, you could use store-bought jelly and I’m sure it would be magnificent. Or you could use my homemade Banana Berry Peanut Butter Jam – recipe included below – and take things to a whole new level.)

Peanut Butter & Jelly Filled Banana Bread

The beauty of homemade Banana Berry Peanut Butter Jam is it’s sugar-free and so, so delicious! And it has Peanut Butter mixed in. What could possibly be better?

How about sandwiching it between two layers of healthy, spelt (or whole wheat) flour Peanut Butter Banana Bread? Also with no refined sugars.

Peanut Butter & Jelly Filled Banana Bread

Slice me off a piece of the Peanut Butter & Jelly Stuffed Banana Bread Loaf…

Okay, doesn’t have quite the same ring to it. But trust me: this delectable delight will give any KitKat Bar a run for it’s money.

The secret is in the layering. See, first we lay down a nice, thick layer of Blueberry-studded Peanut Butter Banana Bread

 

Peanut Butter & Jelly Filled Banana Bread

… then we slather it with Banana Berry Peanut Butter Jam and top that with a layer of fresh, sliced bananas

Peanut Butter & Jelly Filled Banana Bread

… and blanket it all in another layer of Peanut Butter Banana Bread

Peanut Butter & Jelly Filled Banana Bread

… to create our masterpiece:

Peanut Butter & Jelly Filled Banana Bread

Peanut Butter & Jelly Filled Banana Bread

Can you see the banana and blueberries just dying to burst into your mouth?? It’s the best thing to every happen to the morning, let me tell you.

I can’t take full credit for this bread by any means. As you’ll see in the acknowledgements later, it’s my warped brainchild from the culinary brilliance of two talented ladies: Dana from The Minimalist Baker and Natalie from Feasting on Fruit. Dana and Natalie, thank you. A thousand times over, thank you for making this Peanut Butter & Jelly Filled Banana Bread possible.

The creation of Peanut Butter & Jelly Filled Banana Bread

Servings: 1 bountiful loaf (that made 2 breakfasts for me)

Table of Contents (aka your ingredients lists):

1/3 cup spelt flour (feel free to sub another flour if you’d like. if you use a gluten-free flour, just know it won’t rise as much)

1/3 cup quinoa flakes (no quinoa flakes? use more oats)

1/3 cup oats

1 egg

1/2 cup apple sauce

1 ripe large banana, mashed

1 ripe medium banana, half mashed & the other half sliced

3 tbsp milk of choice

1 tbsp honey or maple syrup

1 tsp vanilla extract

2 tbsp granulated sugar of choice (I used coconut sugar)

1/2 peanut butter, divided (crunchy or creamy works here; if you use sweetened, you’ll probably want to cut down on the amount of sugar)

1/2 heaping cup berries (I used blue but strawberries would also work), divided

1 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp baking soda

2 tsp oil (think olive or another lightly flavored oil, though you could be a rebel and use coconut oil if you’d like)

 

Directions

Prologue: On your mark, get set…Prepare.

  1. To start things off, get your oven pre-heated to 350 degrees F and prep your bread pan (or other baking utensil). I am in a monogamous relationship with parchment (ever since I discovered its ability to create cheese crisps), so I like to line my bread pan with that. You could also oil and flour yours. But you’ll have to wait longer to slice and devour… Decisions, decisions.

Part One: Okay, now the real fun can begin. Time to make your sugar-free Banana Berry Peanut Butter Jam.

  1. Place a small or medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Add a heaping 1/4 of your berries.
  2. Add a mashed banana half (“half a mashed banana“?) to the berries. Mix them up nice and cozy.
  3. Let your berries and banana snuggle until the berries start to release their juices. In the meantime, arm yourself with 1/4 cup of peanut butter. Continue cooking the berries and bananas, stirring to prevent sticking.
  4. When it’s bubbling and their are lots of juicy things happening, add your peanut butter and stir, stir, stir.
  5. Cook all that until the berries have softened and you’ve got thick syrup. it shouldn’t be runny like maple syrup but not as thick as peanut butter. We want it pourable but also spreadable, if that makes sense.
  6. Don’t worry if it doesn’t make sense, wherever you’re at, go ahead and turn off the burner. Trust me, everything will turn out just fine in the end. It’s time for Part Two.

Part Two: The peanut butter banana bread aka our banana-berry-PB-jam transport vehicle

  1. Start with an empty, medium mixing bowl. Add all your dry ingredients and stir them together. Set that aside for now.
  2. In a separate mixing bowl, whisk your egg.
  3. Next add your honey, coconut sugar, and oil to the egg. Whisk until the sugar has dissolved.
  4. In the same liquid bowl, add the your whole mashed banana, remaining 1/4 peanut butter, and the remaining wet ingredients (applesauce through vinegar). Stir it all together into one happy, soupy mess.
  5. Pour that soup into your dry ingredients and mix until everything’s melding. Stop when you no longer see dry flour patches.
  6. Fold in your reserved 1/4+ cup of berries (if you so desire, which, I mean, who wouldn’t?).

Part Three: Assembling the masterpiece of our Peanut Butter & Jelly Filled Banana Bread

  1. Remember that bread pan you prepared ages ago? Go grab that and put it next to your batter bowl. How about that banana you sliced up? Get that, too. And while you’re at it, grab your banana-berry PB jam and put it somewhere close at hand.
  2. Pour half (more or less) of your batter into your breadpan. Spread or shake it until it’s about evenly distributed.
  3. Grab your jam and pour that on top. Gently spread it around with a spatula or knife until it’s evenly distributed, too.
  4. Take your banana slices and lay them atop your jam-covered-batter. Try to fill every nook and cranny because sliced banana inside pb-banana-jam bread is amazing.

    Peanut Butter & Jelly Filled Banana Bread
    The work in progress
  5. Satisfied? Good. Now top it all off with the rest of your bread batter. Mmmm….Peanut Butter & Jelly Filled Banana Bread
  6. Pop that beauty into the oven for 20-15 minutes or until the edges are just golden brown and a toothpick comes out batter-free.

Part Four: Waiting stinks

  1. Ideally, you’ll behave and let your beautiful BREAD cool for 10 minutes before slicing.
  2. We don’t live in an ideal world.
  3. I give you full permission to slice into that mountain of deliciousness as soon as you like. (Though, okay, flavors might be enhanced by cooling. Whatever!)

Epilogue: What did you think?

Well?? How was it? Have I converted you to a believer in Heaven? Tell me about it.

No really. Tell me about it in the comments. I can’t wait to hear!

Acknowledgements

I couldn’t have done this without two brilliant – brilliant! – chefs:

First, a special thank you to The Minimalist Baker, Dana, for her genius Peanut Butter and Jelly Muffins which inspired me to create this bountiful loaf. Dana, you are a genius. For those of you who haven’t already visited her site, I highly, highly recommend heading over there pronto. So many wonderful, delicious things are happening there I can’t even begin to tell you.

Second, an equally special thank you to  Natalie at Feasting on Fruit for her ingenious Easy Strawberry Banana Jam that became my inspiration for the Banana Berry Peanut Butter Jam which made this bread what it is today. And tomorrow. And the day after that.

Lastly, thank you to all of you dear readers, who are still here, reading this post even after I gave you the secret recipe to lifelong happiness. (Hint: It’s the recipe listed above.) Thank you for joining me and I do so hope to hear from you in the comments soon!

Healthy Sweet Potato Nachos – Gluten-free

Healthy Sweet Potato Nachos Collage 1

We’re going to talk about these Healthy Sweet Potato Nachos until both your mouths are watering, but first, a few notes on why Winter trumps Spring any day of the year.

Hey, happy first week of Spring! Exciting, isn’t it? Happy and joyous and wonderful, right?

Yeah, negative. Spring is not happy. Spring is not joyous. And Spring certainly is not wonderful. People think I’m crazy when I say I wish I lived in perpetual winter. How could I prefer the cruelest season of the year over the beauty of Spring or the warmth of Summer? Winter is cold, wet, and frozen; what’s so great about Winter?

The answer, my dear friends, is not so much what Winter provides as what it keeps away.

Beyond my undying love of warm, cozy blankets, steaming cups of hot drinks, and space heaters – Ahhh… space heaters – I have an undying, unequivocal loathing of critters. Allow me to explain:

Yes, Winter is cold and may seem uninviting, but we’re not the only species who feel this way. Rodents, insects, myriad creepy crawly things all hide from winter, too. If they don’t freeze and die (Kill them, kill them all!), they slink away to hibernate somewhere far away from my apartment. Unwanted house guests such as this:

Eeek

do not come out in the dead of winter.

The mouse who started doing laps around my bedroom two weeks ago when I was reading before bed was my first indication that Winter was coming to an end. I killed him with my landlord’s trap. And his compatriot, too. Then I dropped two bricks on their mouse hole. If you thought Winter was callous and cruel, try stealing my food while I sleep.

Photo creds: imgflip.com
Photo creds: imgflip.com

Unfortunately I couldn’t drop bricks or simply lay traps and wait for the two spiders who took up residence in my shower that same week. Nor could I simply squash or vacuum up the (as Mom put it) “malformed striped chipmunk centipede daddy long legs giant spider thing.” I had to get a jar and a piece of cardboard and carry – carry! by hand! – the monstrosity from my apartment.

Eeek2

(Don’t worry, I won’t make you look at another pic of it after this)

For those morbidly curious, the official name of my centipede-cum-daddy-long-legs is Scutigera coleptrata of the Chilopoda class, commonly known as the House Centipede. It’s 4 inches long, comes out at night to forage for food, and is known to dart at people (particularly women wearing long skirts) with startling speed. To quote Mom again: “sounds like fodder for Steven King to me!” I couldn’t agree more, Mom. Couldn’t agree more.

So please, for the love of God and my peace of mind, can we have winter back? Pretty, pretty please?

In honor of the best season ever, and because I refuse to believe it’s left us for good, I’ve decided we all need some comfort food in our lives. As such, without further ado, please allow me to introduce you to my absolute favorite Sweet Potato Vegetarian Nachos (Carnivorous options available)

Healthy Sweet Potato Nachos
Is it just me or do my nachos look like Christmas nachos? Told you I like Winter

 

Nothing spells comfort (or perhaps Christmas?) like a nice pile of roasted Healthy Sweet Potato Nachos covered in gooey, melted cheese and topped with easier-than-PBJ homemade guacamole.

In my mind, nothing is more comforting than delicious food that’s also good for you. And the best part of these Healthy Sweet Potato Nachos is they’re (you guessed it) incredibly healthy. Not only are they gluten-free, but they’re also loaded with veggies because they use roasted sweet potato fries and cauliflower instead of chips. Hello! Genius, right? I mean, who doesn’t love veggies if they’re covered in cheese and guacamole?

I can’t take full credit for these amazing piles of comfort heaven. The original recipe is the masterful creation of Tieghan at Half Baked Harvest. Let’s just say she’s a nacho genius and I will forever be indebted to her for changing what I eat at least once a week. Sometimes three times, I dunno…

Healthy Sweet Potato Nachos are so, so easy to prepare and assemble. All you have to do is chop some veggies, roast them, season, pile on the cheese and toppings and voila! Healthy Nacho Heaven!

 

Healthy Sweet Potato Nachos

Tieghan and I made the vegetarian versions with black beans, but if you need some meat on your nachos (I don’t blame you), it’d be equally easy to shred some roasted or rotisserie chicken on top, or crumble some seasoned ground beef, or even top it off with some sauteed shrimp. Go crazy – these Healthy Sweet Potaato Nachos are customizable to your heart’s content (or your fridge’s extent). Heck, you could even crumble some tortilla chips on top for added crunch.

 

Healthy Sweet Potato Nachos

Ingredients

1 medium sweet potato, cut into wedges (think thick cut fries)

1/2 head of cauliflower, sliced or cut into florets

1/2 can black beans, drained and rinsed

1/2 cup cheese of your choosing

Bell pepper, diced

Cherry tomatoes, sliced or quartered

1/2 an avocado

White onion, finely diced

Lime juice

1 tablespoon oil for roasting

Seasonings: (Remember these are customizable, but here’s what I used)

Cumin

Garlic Powder

Cumin

Onion Salt

Paprika

Jalepeno Chili flakes

Ground Cinnamon (you think I’m crazy but wait until you try it)

Tieghan at Half Baked Harvest just used taco seasoning on hers, which I thought was brilliant.

Optional:

Any other veggies you like to roast – I recommend mushrooms and sliced onions, mmmm! (I also had zucchini so I added that but to be honest, it’s a bit too soft for nachos)

Other toppings (I used kale because I’m krazy for kale. Yeah, I just did that. But the sky’s the limit on this one — or, rather, your fridge is the limit. Go crazy and be sure to tell me what you used in the comments!)

 

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 400 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Toss your sweet potato wedges, cauliflower slices or florets, and any other veggies you wish to include with the 1 tablespoon olive oil and your seasonings.
  3. Lay your veggies on your baking sheet and pop them in the oven for 15 minutes.Healthy Sweet Potato Nachos
  4. After 15 minutes flip them over and bake for another 15-20 minutes until they’re tender but not soft. These will be your chips so while soft is workable, if you want finger food, they need some backbone to them.
  5. While your veggies are roasting, prepare your guacamole. Peel your avocado and plop it into a bowl. Mash it to a guacamole-texture. Add a sprinkle of onion salt, the diced white onion, and a dash of lime juice and stir it together. Taste and adjust the lime/seasoning as desired. Set aside until ready to use.
  6. Pile or simply clump your roasted veggies together on your baking sheet. There’s no real rhyme or reason to how you do this, but the less overlap you have the more contact the veggies get with the cheese.

    Healthy Sweet Potato Nachos
    This is half of my pile
  7. Top with black beans and cheese and pop back in the oven for 5-ish minutes until the cheese is melted.
  8. If you want a nice browned top to your cheese (and who doesn’t?), turn your oven to low broil. Keep the door cracked and an eye on it at this point as things under the broiler (in particular parchment paper) are prone to burning. When  you’ve got a nice browning going on, remove from  oven.Healthy Sweet Potato Nachos
  9. If you’ve got a good spatula, feel free to try to transfer your nachos to a plate or serving dish. If you don’t (like me), just get some scissors and cut your parchment to size, then transfer to a plate. It tastes just as good 😉

    Healthy Sweet Potato Nachos
    I think I just died and went to Cheese Heaven
  10. Now for the topping. Lay it on baby. Guacamole, diced peppers, sliced or diced tomatoes, kale (if you’re crazy for kale like me) and any other toppings you like. It’s one big happy nacho family.

    Healthy Sweet Potato Nachos
    Is it just me or do my nachos look like Christmas nachos? Told you I like Winter
  11. Dig in!

    Healthy Sweet Potato Nachos
    I feel comforted just looking at it!

Maple-Glazed Applesauce Oatmeal Breakfast Bars: Best Gluten-free Breakfast Bars Ever – EVER!!

Maple-Glazed Applesauce Oatmeal Breakfast Bars

I’m in love. No really: I am in love with these Maple-Glazed Applesauce Oatmeal Breakfast Bars. I wasn’t even going to share this recipe with you guys this week, but after my first Heavenly bite, I knew I couldn’t wait. You deserve to have these in your life.

Maple-Glazed Applesauce Oatmeal Breakfast Bars
Look at that beauty: Bet you can’t have just one bite

They’re so good, when I ate the last bite of my first batch I actually began to tear up. Until I realized Hello! I could just make more. Which I did that afternoon for my 3 PM tea. (Yes, I actually have 3 PM teatime – one of the perks of working for yourself and working from home. Except my teatime is actually chocolate milk time. But I drink it out of a tea cup so it still counts. Right? Right.)

Maple-Glazed Applesauce Oatmeal Breakfast Bars
Can you see the chunks of deliciousness just spilling out? Those are the secret ingredient… 😉

About these Maple-Glazed Applesauce Oatmeal Breakfast Bars: Holy Moly! Holy Cow! Holy Applesauce! I’ve never had a breakfast as good as these and I’ve eaten a lot of very good breakfasts, let me tell you. We used to add pancake batter to our chocolate chips growing up and then add chocolate chips to the top and roll them up like a burrito so they got warm and melty… Okay, that breakfast might rival these ones for deliciousness – might – but these Maple-Glazed Applesauce Oatmeal Breakfast Bars have the added benefit of being healthy.

That’s right: the following recipe is gluten-free (though you can really make it with any flour you choose), has no refined sugar, and is low-fat with some wonderfully nutritious Greek yogurt for added moisture and oompah! (That’s Cory-speak for lift.) They’re also crazy high in fiber if if you use oat flour as I did and provide a healthy dose of protein from the quinoa flakes (again, if you use), egg, and yogurt. And we haven’t even mentioned the delicious amounts of unsweetened applesauce and fresh, diced apple that goes into them. Mmmm… Healthy has never looked so good in the morning.

Maple-Glazed Applesauce Oatmeal Breakfast Bars
Bursting with Apple-Pear Goodness

Have I made you start salivating, yet? Because I am. These bars are to die for and could stand up on their own merits sans any topping or glaze. But why would you want to do that when you could make Healthy Apple-Maple Glaze Ever? Trust me, your bars deserve this glaze as much as you deserve to devour these bars. Please, please, I’m begging you, at least try them with the glaze. It’s so easy and completely fool-proof (hey, I made it didn’t I? Like four times already- ha!): only 3 ingredients with 2 optional add-ins that come highly recommended by yours truly and can be mixed up in one bowl and 2 minutes flat.

If you make it and decide you don’t like it, email me and I’ll drive or fly or swim to your house to eat the rest of your glaze for you. You think I’m kidding, but I would seriously sacrifice my first born child to save this glaze from being wasted. Probably a good thing I’m not planning to have any children, isn’t it?

The glaze doesn’t exactly harden like a typical icing, so take care when storing them, but it’s the best thing to every happen to the best Maple-Glazed Applesauce Oatmeal Breakfast Bars ever. Ever! While we’re talking about storage, I have full faith these puppies will keep very well in the fridge. I feel obliged to admit that I’ve yet to test their durability, however, because I can’t keep my hands off them. And by hands I mean mouth: I can’t keep my mouth off them. The longest one of my batches lasted is 2 days, which I kept in a sealed container in the fridge and enjoyed equally warm or cold.

Maple-Glazed Applesauce Oatmeal Breakfast Bars
Can’t stop eating you…

Enough talk? Time for some action? Heck yes! Let’s get cooking.

Maple-Glazed Applesauce Oatmeal Breakfast Bars

Serves: 2-3 (unless you’re me, then it serves only one)

Dry Ingredients

3/4 cup oat flour, measured by volume

1/4 cup quinoa flakes or old fashioned oatmeal

2 teaspoons cinnamon (or more or less to taste)

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

Wet Ingredients

1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce

1 egg, beaten

1/4 cup plain greek yogurt

2 tablespoons honey

2 tablespoons sugar of choice (I’ve used brown and coconut sugar both with great results – if you use a white sugar you may want to add molasses to the mix, though)

2 teaspoons lemon juice

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 tablespoon oil (olive, coconut, avocado – chef’s prerogative)

Mix-in Ingredients

1/4-1/2 cup diced Bosc pear (yes, you could use apple but oh my saints, Bosc pair is amazing in this. This is my secret ingredient – skip the apples and use a pear. Please!)

1/4-1/2 cup chopped walnuts (or other nut of choice)

 

Directions

  1. Preheat your oven to 350 F and prepare your baking apparatus. I only have a giant glass casserole dish so my bars spread out a lot. If you use the proportions listed above, you might opt for an 8X8 brownie pan or turn it into a loaf (how I originally envisioned the recipe) and use a bread pan. Line your chosen baking dish with parchment paper and proceed to step 2.
  2. Start by chopping your Bosc pear. (You’re using a pear, right? And not an apple? You’ll thank me later.)
  3. In a medium-sized bowl, mix your dry ingredients. Take care to sift it well so the baking soda and powder mix evenly.
  4. In a separate medium-sized bowl, beat your egg, then add the remaining wet ingredients.
  5. Pour wet into dry and mix until just combined. At this point the batter should be thick but pourable. If it looks too runny, feel free to mix in a bit more flour. As I mentioned above, the flour is interchangeable but some flours (such as oat flour) require more liquid than others.
  6. Fold in your mix-ins.
  7. Pour the batter into your prepared baking dish and bake for 20-25 minutes. If you use a small pan for thicker bars, you may need to go longer. Please check on your bars around the 15 minute mark to ensure no very, very unfortunate burning.
  8. When a toothpick comes out clean, set the breakfast bars aside to cool and make the glaze.

Healthy Apple-Maple Glaze

Ingredients

Applesauce

Nutbutter of choice (I like almond butter for this one – very unlike me but I found peanut butter too strong of flavor for my delicious breakfast bars)

Maple syrup

Vanilla extract (opt but highly recommended)

Cinnamon (optional)

 

Directions

This is the easiest, most fool-proof glaze you’ll ever make: Just dump your ingredients into a bowl or blender and mix, mix, mix. The flavor is completely customizable too; simply tweak the ratio of each of your ingredients. I suggest starting with a 1:1:1 ration of applesauce to nutbutter to maple syrup and then tweaking from there. Vanilla and cinnamon should obviously be used in far smaller quantities. When I made my last batch, I used the following measurements:

2 tablespoons applesauce

2 tablespoons almond butter

2 tablespoons maple syrup

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

sprinkle of cinnamon

Then I realized this wasn’t going to be enough to cover my whole loaf and leave me enough extra to eat with a spoon, so I made it all again. (Word to the wise: this has happened to me every time I’ve made this beauteous breakfast. May I suggest making more glaze than you think you’ll need? Too much of a good thing is a great thing! You can eat it with a spoon or layer it on top like it’s coming back in style after too long gone.)

When you have your glaze where you want it, spread it over your slightly cooled loaf and devour. Seriously: devour it! Because if you don’t, I will. I’m on my way now.

Then come back to tell me what you think in the comments below. I’m dying to hear how it goes!

Maple-Glazed Applesauce Oatmeal Breakfast Bars

Inspired by this amazing recipe by Julie at Lovely Little Kitchen. I cant’t thank her enough: Julie, you changed my breakfast life!