Blog, Recipes

Raspberry Walnut Shortbread Bars

I don’t have time for a long blog post today but I wanted to leave you with something. We’re all busy getting into the holiday season, and the next two weeks are the busiest in my mountain town.

It’s still important to take time to enjoy some holiday cheer. That’s not easy for everyone.. for me Christmas memories bring back lots of emotions that I’m not sure I’m ready to deal with yet, after both my dad and brother have passed away in the last couple years. But that doesn’t mean I can’t get into the spirit with my mom, and friends, and bake up some Christmas cookies, even if I shed a tear or two while doing so.

Lacking time, I had to pick my favorite Christmas cookie — I certainly couldn’t make all 10 to 15 kinds we did growing up.

These Raspberry Walnut Shortbread Bars have been a staple at Christmas time for our family for years, and my mom used to bake them up and send them to me when I was away from home for my birthday. (I have the best mom!)

So as one of my favorites, and a fairly

Yum

easy cookie to bake, I picked them to enjoy this holiday season. It’s yet to be determined if I’ll even share a single bite..

Pro tip: line your pan with parchment paper to save yourself a messy cleanup!

Blog, Travel Blog

#traveltuesday: The Florida Keys

It’s the middle of December, we’re inching closer to the winter solstice, the days are short as hell, and I bet some of us are even dreaming about, planning, or executing sunny vacations to warm places with tropical drinks in our hands. I know the shorter days have got me a bit down, but the solstice will turn that all around as the days start to get longer. When this happens sometimes I do reflect on the years I spent my winters in the Florida Keys, one of the places where I laid the groundwork for some of what I do now — nannying and dog sitting, as well as the true beginning of my luxury customer service career.

Don’t get me wrong.. I played a lot too, in the sun and sand, in the waves — on kayaks and motor boats and pool floats and everything in between. All those activities are sure to leave one feeling hungry and I thought I would share this list of some of the best places to eat throughout the Keys. I personally lived less than a mile from Marker 88 and can’t speak highly enough of the lively atmosphere and serene setting on the bay that meld together for the perfect afternoon of drinks on the water, or evening out to dinner with friends.

Snorkel with local wildlife if you’re driving through!

If you have plans to travel to the Florida Keys, or are just dreaming about them to get you through the winter, check out this list of the top restaurants on the southern-most 100 mile stretch of US1.

Where do you dream about traveling to when your surroundings (the weather or the atmosphere or the lack of sunlight) have got you down?

Blog, Recipes

Crock-Pot Chicken and Cauliflower Curry

Full disclosure, I may be abusing the ease of the Crock-Pot in terms of how often I use it for the recipes I review. I’ve mentioned it before but between all the things I do I have over 60 hours of work scheduled each week. With that kind of schedule it’s so, so important that I have tasty meals that are accessible, will last in the fridge, and that I want to eat all week. This one checked..most of those boxes.

First off, this meal was perhaps the easiest yet to cook that I have reviewed. I didn’t even have to touch the chicken! Since my first post that mentioned my fear of approaching the meat counter in the grocery store I have fully overcome the anxiety and frequently purchase any meat that I need from the counter. It’s so easy to ask for 2lbs of chicken and not

have to deal with the gross packaging, and I haven’t directly compared costs but I’m nearly certain it’s been less expensive this weekend. This recipe was so easy I was able to drop the chicken out of the deli bag right into the Crock-Pot without messing around with those pesky chicken germs touching each kitchen surface. That’s a win for me absolutely any day.

Along with the chicken, most of the other ingredients got dropped right in and away the Crock-Pot went, cooking me up another tasty meal for the week.

I have to be honest, this one was tasty but I didn’t wanna eat it all week. It lacked color, and even with all the shredded chicken it sort of lacked texture. I was certainly glad I had plenty of cilantro to top it with, as well as some sauteed curry sweet potato. This added some depth but I still wasn’t completely sold. This needed more spices. Immediately I knew it was “spicy” enough, but it also didn’t have a whole lot of flavors other than the curry. It either could have used more curry (maybe double?) or more garlic and ginger, or other spices, to give it some depth of flavor; to make it interesting.

The recipe only calls for a cup, or maybe a half cup, of peas, but I thought that was the silliest amount. The bag of peas is only like 13 ounces anyway so I went ahead and dumped the whole bag in. There’s nothing wrong with more veggies and color in the recipe.

I also went with quinoa as a base, because it’s what I had, but I think that was a lame choice and I would definitely try basmati or Jasmine rice next time. Quinoa is mushy and earthy and I think by using it I limited the flavor profile. A different starch could have made a subtle but delicious difference in this dish.

This week I’ll see if I can squeeze in a meal that actually involves me doing something other than pouring ingredients into a big black bowl and heating them for hours.

Do you have a recipe you’d like me to try out and review for you? Comment below (something easy!) and I’ll see about making it soon!

Until then, stay hungry my friends

Blog, Household Blog, Recipes

Slow Cooker Chicken Taco Soup

First I have to thank you if you are still reading my blog posts even if they’ve been sporadic these past few weeks.. I’ve had a lot going on and this year I’ve made a commitment to myself to take care of my mental health and help curb my anxiety by taking time to myself if that’s what I need, and taking a break from things that aren’t ‘serving me‘.

I do think this blog serves me in a great way — I get to share my love of cooking and the passion my family, truly my father, has for bringing people together with food. The same goes for my #traveltuesday posts and my love of traveling, and for some other exciting new additions (exciting for me at least) that I have coming to the blog in the new year.

Although I skipped blogging about food for a few weeks I certainly didn’t stop thinking about, cooking or consuming it! Last week my mom came to visit and she’s on the keto diet. She loves it and I wanted to help her stick to it at least a bit while she was out here visiting me. If you don’t know anything about the keto diet, it’s one that’s very, very low in sugar and carbohydrates. I don’t know the science behind all of it but I know it’s working for my mom so I thought I would find a recipe that was easy to make (once again employing the crockpot!) and that would stick to her diet, and I was craving taco soup, so I chose this recipe for Slow Cooker Chicken Taco Soup.

I was at least mildly skeptical of this soup. The main ingredient is cream cheese, and while I can get down with cream cheese piled high on my bagel I wasn’t sure about it being the main binding ingredient in my soup. This recipe checked every other box I was looking to fill, so I went for it.

Slow Cooker Chicken Taco Soup: YUM!

I’ll be honest, when the soup was done cooking after 8 hours I was still a little concerned about the consistency. To make this one you just chuck all 6 ingredients in and hope for the best. I love all the flavors in it — taco, ranch, cream cheese, chicken — but again, the consistency had me worried. However, once I went ahead and shredded up the chicken everything turned around. The texture of the soup became much more palatable after the two pounds of chicken were mixed in consistently. I wanted something a bit thicker than the final product so I went ahead and mixed in two tablespoons of cornstarch to a bit of broth and mixed that in, letting it simmer until my mom got in from her snowy ride up the mountain from the airport. It was the perfect warm, hearty, tasty treat, with cheese and sour cream, cilantro, jalapeno and lime piled high on top. My mom was pretty mad that I ate the last bowl after our drunken shenanigans on Friday night. 

Our feast — I also made a Rotel/Velveeta/Cheese Dip, with Celery as a low-carb option.
This dip calls for a can of Rotel & Chiles, drained, a can of chili with beans, a package of cream cheese and a 16oz of velveeta. Heated all together on the stove with whatever dipping platform you choose!

I think you could easily modify this to be vegetarian — I would leave out the chicken, use veggie broth, and add black beans and corn at the end (to keep them from getting too soft in the crock pot), as well as some sliced up avocado on top for added protein.

Well that’s a wrap on this fantastic recipe. I’ll be making my own sort of recipe calendar for the next few months. My plan is to prep two-three batch meals on Monday that I can eat throughout the week. On top of running this blog/website and carrying out the jobs I’ve gotten as Christina Collaborates, I also work an office job and a hostessing job. The Vail Valley ain’t cheap and I’m hustlin’ hard. So on top of not having a lot of time, it’s important for me to stay well-fed to keep my blood sugar, and therefore my anxiety, well in check. I also want to be healthy and wouldn’t mind losing a pound or two. And apparently Obama did this kind of thing to eliminate menial choices to clear his brain for more important things. My best friend told me that, not sure if it’s true or not, but hey, it sounds good, and it’s certainly what I’m trying to do by freeing up some of my time and mental capacity. Keep following along for tips and tricks I learn along the way, as well as more tasty recipes each week.

Until next time, stay hungry my friends 🙂

Blog, Travel Blog

#traveltuesday: I’m tired.

Writing blog posts isn’t exhausting, but sometimes the thought of it is. I’ve been exhausted myself these past few weeks — with the unexpected travel, the Birds of Prey Ski races — working and spectating them — my mom traveling to visit me for the weekend, and my entire schedule being turned on end.

So it’s not the blog post that’s exhausting, but the thought of doing it almost feels like the straw that broke the camel’s back this week.

But luckily! Here I am with some travel tips for those on a tight budget. I book marked this page late last week and I’m glad I did because now I have something easy and useful to present to you.

Hostelworld is one of my favorite places to book international accomodations. The setup is easy, user friendly, simple and quick — while offering cheap accomodations and cheap protection so that you retain your money to use again on their site should you not be able to make your trip. I can’t tell you how many times this website, their prices and their reservation protection, helped keep my budget intact while I was studying abroad.

Last week Hostelworld published this article about traveling on a budget which offers some simple tricks to help you make the most out of your budget so you can explore as far and as wide as possible on this big green earth. For example — Travel Tuesday isn’t just alliteration and a kitschy hashtag, it’s also traditionally the cheapest day to fly!

Check out the article and comment about what travel destinations you’ve set your sights on for 2019. Maybe I’ll pick one to write about next week!

Blog, Travel Blog

#traveltuesday: Christmas Markets

Now that Thanksgiving is past and we can swing fully into the holidays season I want to share with you one of my favorite parts of the holidays that we don’t really have an equivalent for here in America: European Christmas Markets. Sure, in the United States we have all kinds of Christmas bazaars but I’ve never been to one here that rivals the magic of the streets, in Paris, Rome, Vienna and Salzburg, filled with vendors, mulled wine, treats and gifts.

As I mentioned, this tradition is one of my favorites, though I’ve only been able to explore these markets once, in December of 2012 when I was studying abroad. On a trip with Bus2Alps, a student tour operator, to Austria I got my first taste of this beautiful experience. From lollipops the size of your head, mulled cider and hot chocolate for €5 (with a souvenir mug!), lights and candles and holiday ornaments.. there’s something for everyone to enjoy!

I was able to explore these amazing markets in Vienna, Salzburg and out front of Schonbroon Palace, as well as along the Champs-Elysées in Paris, on the hill in Montmartre and in the piazzas of Rome, but they exist in many other European countries as well The sights, sounds and smells are intoxicating at these streetside markets. From fresh homemade soap and candles to roasting sausages and freshly baked bread your senses will be overloaded in the best possible way. I think a trip to the Christmas markets is at least as entertaining as any other attraction you might find — and all the while you are deeply immersed in the traditions, food and decorations of another culture.

One of my favorite memories is purchasing a little “befana” — a witch on a broom that brings presents to Italian children on “Little Christmas”. Now she hangs in my mom’s house as a reminder of our wonderful travels together.

Speaking of travels with my mom — it’s never cheap to travel, but my family has always been on a budget, so I’ve learned a few tips and tricks along the way to really stretch every dollar. Enjoying the Christmas markets as a cultural escapade is definitely one way that we’ve spent our time abroad without spending a dime — except on the mouth watering sausages with fresh mustard — YUM!

Along with finding free things to do, I’m a big fan of budget airlines in Europe. Their airports don’t charge the same taxes that American airports do, so flying can be much cheaper. Specifically RyanAir is a great choice. (Insert MOAN from some luxury traveler here who just can’t fathom the idea..) Listen, we’ve all heard horror stories about RyanAir — people do actually clap when the pilot lands the flight, but that’s a part of the friendly culture, not enthusiasm for not crashing the plane (or maybe a bit of both, but you know what I mean, they’re trained pilots just like anyone else who flies). They don’t ACTUALLY charge you for using the bathroom or drinking water — but when you pay nine euros (~$13) to fly from Rome to Paris, would you really mind if they did? Many of the budget airlines in Europe offer great sales, so you’ve got to keep your eyes peeled to really maximize how far your money can go.

Check out this article from Travel & Leisure regarding the best Christmas markets in the Europe, and for more tips, tricks, advice or if you’re ready to take the plunge and book travel but don’t know where to start — consider contacting me and I would be happy to consult with you for an hour or more to help you learn ways to save money but have a blast in any city you choose.

Happy travels! I’ll be back next week talking about tropical destinations that those of us in the cold winter climes may be dreaming out. Until then, au revoir!

Blog, Travel Blog

#OptOutside

Today I’m skipping my recipe blog post — it’s been a long week with the holiday and my trip back east. I’ll leave you with a recipe you can try if you like, but more than cooking and savoring food, today I am encouraging you to Opt Outside with REI and the 3.1 million other humans around the world who are skipping shopping, unplugging, unwinding and opting outside.

Since I’m sure you’ll need to cook dinner anyway, try out this four ingredient chicken that you can throw together with a roasted cauliflower for a healthy, filling meal full of protein to refuel you after your day outside, in under 40 minutes.