Monday, November 30, 2015

Pumpkin Pie From Scratch

For Thanksgiving this year, I decided to buy a couple of pumpkins and make 2 pumpkin pies from scratch. I always liked pumpkin pie, but I never thought it was anything to write home about. However, I never had real pumpkin pie as a kid, and boy does that make a world of difference. One of my friends actually tried the pie and asked what kind it was. When I told her it was pumpkin, she was surprised because she said she normally doesn't like pumpkin pie, but she liked this one! Definitely the best compliment I could have received.

I used a recipe from Sun Gold Farms, an Oregon Farm that sells produce at my local farmers market. I bought the sugar pumpkins at my farmers market and asked if they happened to have a recipe for pumpkin pie. I was in luck- they had a recipe printed up ready to go (they must of heard this question before). I decided to start cooking my pumpkin the day before Thanksgiving to save some time and oven space on the day off. Let me tell you, nothing makes your house smell more delicious than roasted pumpkins and pumpkin seeds. Here are the ingredients I used.

2 cups cooked pumpkin
2 eggs, lightly beaten
3/4 cup sugar
1-12 oz. can evaporated milk
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/8 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg

Start by preheating your oven to 350 degrees.  Wash pumpkin and cut off stem.  

Cut the top of the pumpkin off (like you would if you were making a jack-o'-lantern). Remove seeds from inside and cut in half. I placed the seeds into a colander and rinsed them off, because I wanted to roast them. I'll come back to that at the end of the post. 

Place cut side down in baking dish filled with 1/8 in water.

Bake in oven for about 1 hour or until soft to the touch.  Let the pumpkins cool to the touch. 

Scoop out flesh and put it into a food processor or Vitamix. It was easy to use a normal soup spoon to scoop out the flesh, since it was literally falling off the skin. Keep the flesh and throw away the skin.

Pure the pumpkin flesh. 

I had to stop my Vitamix a couple of times to push the pumpkin down, but it all blended into a nice thick paste after a couple of rounds.

Since I roasted the pumpkin the day before to get some prep work out of the way, I rationed out 2 cups of pumpkin puree into containers to use on Thanksgiving and stuck them in the fridge. 

When ready to cook the pie, preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Combine pumpkin, sugar, salt and spices.   Blend in beaten eggs and milk.  Pour into unbaked pie shell (I made one with 1 1/2 cups crushed graham crackers, 1/3 cup sugar, and 6 TBSP of melted butter pushed into a non stick 9" pan).  Bake 15 min. Reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake 45 min. more or until knife inserted into center comes out clean.  Makes one 9 " pie.

Serve it with some ice cream and whipped cream for the full pumpkin pie experience. So delicious!

As I mentioned above, I decided to rinse off the pumpkin seeds and roast them. I tossed them with a little bit of olive oil and salt and laid them flat on a cooking sheet. I baked them at 300 degrees for approx 45 minutes.

I was so surprised by how good these tasted! Definitely don't skip out on this step. You can toss them on a green bean/broccoli casserole, in a salad, or on the side of a cheese plate. I personally just munched on them while I cooked on Thanksgiving, and they were the perfect snack. 

Friday, November 27, 2015

How to Stay Fresh with an 8-5 Office Job

As the old cliche goes, holding an office job can be a grind. I'm lucky enough to work on the west coast, which tends to have a more relaxed culture than an office job in say NYC. My commute really isn't bad, I don't work crazy amounts of hours, and my company is supportive of work life balance. All of these things combined really do a wonder for me, but there is still the monotony of working the same hours every work day for years and years. However, there are some things that can help keep that repetitive feeling at bay and can give you a little extra something to get you through the day.

Here are just a few ideas that can help make an office job a little less monotonous.

1. Work out during the day- I know this isn't really an option for some people, but I find even taking a 10 minute walk outside can allow for a nice break to recharge my brain. The company I work for is very supportive of taking time during the day to get a work out (which is awesome!). I purposely come in a little earlier to offset the time that I spend on my work out. After a good workout I usually feel more energized, positive, and motivated.

2. Meet your cube neighbor- It is always nice to have a few friendly faces around during the work day. I find that chatting a bit with people around you and getting to know them helps create a nice environment to work in. It gives me a little extra motivation to come into work and see how my coworkers are doing. Plus it can help keep you up to date on what is happening in other functions of the business.

3. Drink lots of water- I'm guilty of not drinking enough water most days. I have to constantly remind myself to take breaks and drink water, or I will end up cranky and dehydrated. I like to have a couple different water bottles and mugs stashed at my desk for that specific purpose. Being hydrated helps keep me energized, as well as forces me to get up every couple of hours to run to the bathroom or grab more water from the break room.


4. Snack time- there is nothing worse than being hungry during an office job. Make sure you have some (relatively) healthy snacks stashed at your desk for those times when your stomach is talking to you but you don't have time to run to the cafeteria for some food.

5. Get away for lunch- since I normally work out during my lunch hour, I usually eat my lunch in front of my computer working. However, I notice that the days I don't leave my desk to work out during lunch I end up super tired by the end of the day. Obviously there will be days when you don't have time to take a break, but make that an exception to the norm. It is important to give yourself a break in the middle of the day to give your brain a break and recharge your body.

6.  Make your work space comfortable- make sure your desk is a good height for you, as well as your chair and your screen. If you are going to be sitting in that position for hours a day, make sure that it is an ergonomically correct one or you might start to get back or neck pain.


7. Music- When I have hit my caffeine limit for the day and I am lagging in energy, I will put on my headphones and listen to some upbeat music. It really helps re-energize me and give me that little extra push I need. Podcasts work just as well. If I am working on something particularly hard, I will use a white noise website (Simply Rain is my favorite) to help drown out the office chatter without distracting me with lyrics.

8. Stretch- Again, this seems obvious but it is something that is easy to skip out on during a busy work day. Every couple of hours stand out, stretch out your arms and legs (or any other part of your body that holds tension- usually it is the shoulders for me). Stretching will help get your blood moving, which is exactly what you need after being stationary for hours on end.

9. Plans for the week night/weekend- having fun plans during the upcoming weekend or after work (happy hour!) does help me stay motivated throughout the week. It gives me a light at the end of the tunnel and reminds me that my life isn't only about working in an office.

10. Actually take your PTO (paid time off)- This is really only an "American" problem. A lot of people won't use their PTO, or if they do they end up working through the day anyways. It's important to take those extra days to recharge your battery (especially if you are sick), get personal things done, or go on a vacation. It helps bring you a new perspective on things, and the rest is good both physically and mentally. I think work life balance is extremely important and that everyone should use their PTO to help contribute to this balance. If that doesn't convince you to use your PTO, at least use them when you are sick. Don't be that guy who comes into work sick just enough times to get all of your coworkers sick. You won't be making any friends, trust me.

11. Take a break and breath- there are times when I simply need to close my eyes and breath for a minute or two. It's completely fine- let yourself do that. This mini break helps bring self awareness to your body and gives you a moment to refocus your attention.

12. Record and reflect on your progress- when the monotony really gets me down, I will take some time to reflect on the progress I have made in my job so far. Writing all of this down will help you remember that you are progressing in your career, with the bonus of having it ready for your mid-year and year-end review with your manager.

13. Get enough sleep the night before- pretty self explanatory. It won't happen every night, but it is a good thing to strive for so you aren't forcing your eyes open during an 8am meeting (unless you are an overbearing manager...).


14. Touch base with someone about their job- similar to chatting with your neighbors, I find it invigorating and fun to talk to someone outside of my function to learn about their job works and how it fits into the organization. Not only will it make the work day a bit more interesting, but you may find a new position you'd like to pursue.

While all of these things sound pretty simple it is easy to let some of these standards slip when you have a deadline breathing down your neck. Sometimes intentionally taking a moment to breath and collect yourself can really help out, even if you are super busy. The same goes for when you find you have some extra time. Take that time to reflect about your job and how your recent habits have been. Hopefully this will help serve as a good reminder for those of you office workers out there!

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Female Competitiveness

Recently I read an article written in the New York Times called "Why Women Compete With Each Other" by Emily V Gordon. She has a few different ideas about why women tend to pit themselves against each other. While she goes in depth into a couple different theories, it is the last one that she mentions in passing at the end of the article that really struck a chord with me. Not only is it easy to understand, but it is also something that I believe can be fixed with dedication, self love, and practice.

"We aren’t competing with other women, ultimately, but with ourselves — with how we think of ourselves. For many of us, we look at other women and see, instead, a version of ourselves that is better, prettier, smarter, something more. We don’t see the other woman at all." (Emily Gordon). 

While the other theories she presented seemed interesting, I believe this one is behind a lot of the competition and jealousy feelings we may feel towards other women. And the most ironic part of it all is that it has nothing to do with them. Not really, anyways. It is about our own imperfections, and seeing someone who is better at something can remind us of those imperfections. However, these feeling tend to manifest themselves as jealousy towards another women, which makes it tricky to pinpoint the actual cause.


Another article that relates to this topic is "The Best Thing You Can Do For Yourself -- And All The Women Around You" by Elizabeth Gilbert. For women these days, this comparison trap comes in a lot of different forms. It could be career or accomplishment based, a standard of beauty we wish to own, a solid relationship, being socially outgoing, the list goes on and on. I've been a victim of many of them too- wondering if I'm accomplished enough, smart enough, strong enough to continue forging a healthy and happy life. We are bombarded with these standards from multiple sources and have to struggle with them every day. And the tough part is that women can be unconsciously perpetuating this. Women like to make it look easy. That's one of those standards people hold themselves to- being extremely modest when it's not necessary. Women these days are forging a new frontier- working full time jobs, being mothers, continuing their education, juggling their social lives all while making it look easy. But why hide the struggle and work it took to get to where you are now?

Instead of hiding behind the "modesty" shield, I feel like women should begin speaking up about all the hard work it takes to accomplish a myriad of goals. This generation is really pioneering what it looks like to be a modern women. It's important to begin to set examples for the current generation of young girls who want to do it all. While it's not easy, it is possible to be successful at your job, healthy, a good invested parent, a strong friend, and good partner. I don't want women my age to shy away from wanting it all because they think its impossible.

Because in the end, what does that comparison trap and modesty shield really do for you but cause stress for yourself and others? There are plenty of things that I tend to spend a lot of time worrying about that I will never be able to change. I will never be able to tan easily, or have long legs, or be as skinny as a model. If only women could channel similar thoughts like this into constructive things. We can strive to be kinder, more generous and helpful. We can take those negative thoughts and use them to propel us to a better version of ourselves, instead of wasting time worrying about those extra 5 pounds.


It's about accepting yourself for who you are, and loving yourself fully (including your flaws!). If you do indeed fully accept yourself, you empower yourself with the confidence to strive towards being a well rounded world citizen. Instead of wasting time on doubting yourself or stressing out about something you can't change, take that energy and put it into something positive. Share your story with others and don't hide behind the modesty shield. We are all pioneering this new age of being a modern women and we can grow and lean on each other as we make the transition into this new social space.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Our Engagement Pictures

Hello there! I'm excited to share our beautiful engagement photos by the wonderful Laura Jude of Optical Amusements. She is truly a gifted photographer and story teller, and happens to be super personable and fun while doing it!

Now for those of  you who know Dan, you probably could have guessed that this was not his favorite activity. However, he was a trooper and listened to Laura as she guided us through our session.

Laura did an awesome job of guiding us when we needed it and letting us do what was natural when it was appropriate. I honestly felt awkward at first (really not used to posing for pictures) but it got much smoother as the session went on.

Choosing where we wanted to take pictures was a bit difficult. There are so many beautiful places in Portland. We ended up deciding on places that had special meaning to us. In the end we shot in three different places- at a coffee shop that we both love, at our house and in our yard (to easily incorporate the dog without worrying about him) and at a park we usually take Scout to.

These offered a diverse mix of back grounds that were all meaningful to us. Plus, we were able to get some pictures in our new home. Our wedding will be in New Jersey, so it was really special to be able to get some pictures in Portland as well.

As for deciding what to wear, we ended up making a last minute \decision that morning. We did some more casual pictures and some that were a bit more dressed up (which means Dan was wearing a button down and jeans- this is dressed up for him). I wanted to make sure we looked like we would on a normal day. That way the pictures would be more authentic to who we are today.  However, there was a frantic call to one of my girl friends to ensure that I made the right dress selection. She was amazing help as usual and directed me in the right direction (thank you FoodieNextDoor!).

In general, I know a lot of photographers add in engagement sessions into their wedding packages. If that's the case, I'd definitely recommend you take advantage of it. While we ended up not doing that (we have 2 friends who are photographers, so one is covering our wedding and one did our engagement sessions) I'm really glad we took these pictures. It really takes the pressure off of getting every single shot that I want at our wedding. Plus these pictures are much more "us" than our wedding pictures will be. We are usually pretty casual people, so I'm glad we were able to get a bunch of amazing pictures that really feel genuine.

I found it super helpful to browse other people's engagement pictures to get ideas of poses and looks that I liked. Thank you Pinterest. Hope you enjoy them as much as we do!

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Why We Hired a Wedding Planner

As I have mentioned previously on this blog, Dan and I live in Portland, OR. We are both originally from Central NJ (we met in 8th grade there!) and our parents both currently reside there. When Dan and I got engaged, we had the tough decision of where we wanted to have our wedding. Portland was a very intriguing idea, since it is such a beautiful place (we want to get married outside), the food is amazing, the farmers market has the most beautiful flower bouquets for $10, and it would be easier to plan since we both currently live here. However, since both of our families and a lot of our friends currently live in or near New Jersey, we decided to have our wedding there and plan a long distance wedding.

Now here comes the tricky part- Dan and I both work full time jobs and are new homeowners. And while many other people out there juggle more than that, we knew we'd have some time constraints on our hands. After reading some reviews online, it sounded like a lot people suggested that a month of wedding coordinator or site coordinator were crucial to enjoying your wedding and not stressing out on the day of. At first I thought I'd just go with that type of option, but then after talking to a couple of my friends who were getting married, I realized that I needed more help. I couldn't fly home to check out 3-4 different vendor options for each part of my wedding. Definitely not feasible. So I approached Dan hesitantly about getting a wedding planner to help us from the start. I don't know why, but I felt very high maintenance about getting a wedding planner and was worried that I was spoiled and people would judge me.

After talking it over with Dan, who assured me that I was WAY overthinking this, we decided that we would begin looking into wedding planners. I went on and started looking up highly rated wedding planners. I reached out to a few planners expressing my interest and set up a couple of introduction calls to hear about their services and experiences. In the end, Dan and I decided to work with Simply Sunshine Events and I am already so glad we did.

Lindsay of Simply Sunshine Events is seriously the best events planner/coordinator/event designer ever. She covers a wide array of events, from wedding and baby showers to corporate events and fundraisers. And every single review that I read about the company was simply glowing. Once I was in contact with Lindsay, I knew that she was the best fit for us. Not only was she professional, candid, creative, and helpful, but she just seemed like someone who I would work well with. Ironically we both grew up super close to one another, so we instantly clicked on that part of our past. Unlike the other planners who immediately went into their sales pitch, Lindsay wanted to hear our story and what we wanted in our wedding. It seemed like she genuinely wanted to help us create our special day, not just give us a cookie cutter list of services. She has been such a pleasure to work with so far, and would HIGHLY recommend her to anyone in the NY/NJ tri-state area who may need an creative/event coordinator.

Ok I'll stop gushing about Lindsay now (I can't help it!) and focus on how having a wedding planner has really helped us out. Oh and a quick PSA- this is all solely based on my experience, and I'm sure not all services operate the same way. We decided to get help on both the design portion as well as the planning portion of our wedding. I'm really not the most creative person in the world and I felt like we needed help putting together the overall vision. We were presented with a personalize design brief with a couple of different options on which direction we wanted to go. This was super helpful, I can't even begin to tell you. Once we had a vision, Lindsay was able to pick out vendor options that she thought would work well with the venue and overall theme. It was so much less overwhelming being able to choose out of a couple of highly recommended vendors than to have to choose from everyone in the New Jersey area.

Beautiful tablescape image from Simply Sunshine Events.

Which leads me to another important thing that Lindsay has brought to the table: experience. Not only has she worked with all of these people before, but she has seen all the ins and outs of doing a wedding at a "home" venue. Dan and I are getting married on my uncle's farm (which was incredibly nice of him to allow us to do!). However, this makes the whole planning thing that much more difficult since we had to not only style a wedding but actually create a venue. She instantly knew all the things we needed to look into - a tent, siding, flooring, a generator, bathrooms, tables, chairs, cutlery, tablecloths, the list goes on and on. She provided us super detail specific timelines of when we should do each task, as well as supplemental tools to assist us along the way (guest list template for example).

With Lindsay's help, Dan and I made a lot of the big decisions pretty early on in the planning process. I completely trust Lindsay's opinion on vendors and what would work well for us. She hasn't steered us wrong yet! We had amazing food and cake tastings, had a florist brief that was spot on, and have a Chaplain who gave me chills when going through wedding ceremony options. The best part about the whole deal is that Lindsay can sometimes get us special discounts with vendors that she works with regularly, and passes those deals to us directly. Some planners will take those discounts as profits, but Lindsay has an awesome system where she charges us one flat fee for everything listed in her contract and helps us save money where we can. She has been awesome about helping us construct our budget and stick to it so far.

I will be sure to do a close out review of our main vendors after we actually get married, but I couldn't wait to share how much hiring a wedding planner has helped us so far. It has made this whole planning process significantly less stressful than I was initially expecting. More to come as we get closer and closer to our wedding. I can't wait to see the whole vision come together and to finally get married to my man!

Sunday, November 1, 2015

My Favorite First Dance Songs

As Dan and I continue to plan our wedding, I've been brainstorming a bunch of first dance ideas songs. The reason for the large number of songs is because Dan and I have extremely different tastes in music. I figured if I present him with a lot of options, maybe one of them would work for us. Since we will only be using one (or none if he throws a curve ball and comes up with something I like) I figured I'd share the contenders that are currently in my head.

All of these songs are pretty modern (i.e. released within the last 15 years) but I think would still work great for a first dance song. The lyrics of all of them are pretty adorable, and the tune would work for some kind of slow dance. Some are more slow and moving, while others have a bit of a faster, upbeat tone to them. So without further ado, here are my favorites so far.

1. I Choose You by Sara Bareilles- Link. There are so many Sara Bareilles songs that would work really well for a first dance song, but I ended up narrowing it down to this one. It's casual and comfortable, yet extremely beautiful- just like every day love. "And even better, I get to be the other half of you".

2. Everything by Michael Buble-Link. Ok Michael Buble fell into a similar category as Sara Bareilles- I love his voice and I think his jazzy/big-band voice would make for a timeless first dance song. Plus all of the ways he describes his partner is just adorable in this song. Refreshing, sweet, and fun.

3. Thinking Out Loud by Ed Sheeran- Link. This is one of the most recent songs to make it onto this list. I love how this songs talks about love and how it grows and matures over time. Everyone gets older, beauty fades, and wrinkles appear on faces. However, a love that can sustain itself throughout a lifetime and into the golden years is one of the most beautiful kinds. This one is a bit raw and extremely romantic.

4. The Way I Am by Ingrid Michaelson- Link. Cute, quirky, and fun to dance to, this song would have been perfect for us. I think it really describes us as a couple- I'm a bit weird and silly at times, but he accepts me just the way I am. That is one of the things I love most about him. "Cause I love you more than I can ever promise, and you take me the way I am".

5. Lucky by Jason Mraz- Link. This one made the list because I absolutely love Jason Mraz, but I know Dan would never go a song by him (sigh). However if I had my way, I'd be happy to dance to this sweet, upbeat song. Plus it has Colbie Caillat as well? Talk about a winner.

6. Marry Me by Train- Link. I've listened to Train for a long time, so I'm not surprised this song made its way onto this list. I love how it talks about how getting married is only the start of a long journey, and that you choose to stay with your partner today and every day. It's a beautiful song with a good reminder in it for today and every day to come.

7. Dela by Johnny Clegg & Savuka- Link. This is the most fun loving song of the bunch. You really can't listen to this without smiling. It makes you want to get up and move, which would work perfectly for a dance song. It's sweet without being too cheesy, and it would be a fun uplifting piece with an impossibly catchy beat.

8. Out of My League by Stephen Speaks- Link. I first heard this song from a friend who sang it in person. I instantly loved the words and looked up the original version. It takes note of all the little things that you notice and love about your partner- the way they play with their hair, the color of their eyes, the way they say your name. It reminds you of when you had first fallen in love with that special someone, and how new and exciting those feelings were. It's important to keep building on that kind of love, in order to keep it from never getting old.

9. Crack the Shutters by Snow Patrol- Link. I've always loved Snow Patrol, but they aren't exactly the first band that comes to mind when you thinking wedding song. However, this simple, progressing melody and sweet heartfelt words would make for a really romantic song. Plus you'd be a bit alternative!

10. XO by John Mayer- Link. John Mayer has so many songs that I absolutely adore, but this is one of his most romantic pieces. It talks about a love only the two of you can see. It is your partner's love that lights up the room, and the only thing that really matters.

11. Latch (Acoustic) by Sam Smith- Link. It's funny because I heard the original radio version on the radio and didn't realize it was the same song when I saw them dancing to it during SYTYD. It is just so beautiful. I heard it during one of my yoga classes and went home and listened to it at least 10 times. It's one of those songs that holds up against time, even if its repeated over and over again.

Only time will tell if one of these becomes our first song, but I thought it would be fun to share!