Here’s to Happy

“I know you like to give gifts you can take part in,” my boyfriend Brandon said to me, as he attempted to guess what I had planned for his birthday. It’s very true. I believe experiences trump all. That’s why I’ve moved away from tangible gifts and given those close to me something we both value more, time.

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Split Rock Lighthouse

Even though birthdays are designed to be focused on the person of celebration, they tend to snowball into elaborate plans including a list of people you “probably should” invite. Think of the last weekend you had where nothing was on the agenda. Somehow, doing exactly what you want becomes a luxury.

It required a complete disregard of FOMO to skip UMN Homecoming and instead take a spontaneous trip to Grand Marais for Brandon’s birthday weekend. But camping without electricity, hiking for hours, and being removed from the noise and motion of the city was far from a downgrade,

We skipped a night of bar hopping, and instead spent an afternoon at Vine Park Brewing making our own craft beer. And instead of leaving it to the experts at Brasa, we opted for a birthday feast that evening was entirely homemade.

Yes, doing things differently has its perks.

When it comes to experiential gifts, there is an element of uncertainty. If I order a present online, I am guaranteed my expectations. Experiences? Rolling with the punches is required.

I was reminded of this this week when Brandon and I returned to the brewery to bottle our beer after it fermented for the last 2 weeks.
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Making the beer on his birthday had been great; we measured the hops for a recipe similar to our favorite IPA, Surly Furious, and while it brewed in stages we had down time to walk around St. Paul (read: and then quickly walk to the bar across the street, sorry Alchemy 365 Challenge).

For the bottling session, we brought Pizza Lucé and sampled our new beer in between cases. With a few beers overflowed, I was continuously demoted from my place in the assembly line, and instead focused my efforts on brainstorming our brewery label branding.

When 6 cases of delicious IPAs were ready to be brought to the car, we realized someone had taken Brandon’s jacket that was hanging on the coat hook. Not great, especially when the pockets included his sunglasses and work ID. This is the punch that comes with experiences. As with any day, it can be hard to overcome the hiccups.

I worried that this would overshadow the entire experience and that the bad taste left in our mouths would overpower that of the IPA. This isn’t the first time I’ve worried about this type of selective memory, because it’s only with intentional choice that positivity is our default. After a quiet car ride home, we made an intentional choice.

The great thing about experiences, is the memories cannot break, get misplaced or stolen. True happiness isn’t tangible, and it comes from people, not things. This choice was the calm after the storm of a stressful morning, of calling strangers to see if they had a coat*, of losing focus on thebeer present moment. And that’s what this beer, all 72 22 ounce bottles**, will be as well.

That’s how I finally landed on the branding for our imaginary brewery, The Gorge, and the new delicious IPA, Lotus. The label is also drawn in my mind, because this is a marketer’s idea of fun. Lotus flowers bloom after rooting and growing in mud; and I believe the best things, experiences, mindsets—and now beers—come from appreciating the work that goes into them.


*Brandon’s coat was found at a nearby bar and returned. HUGE shout out to Vine Park Brewing, Bennett’s Chops and Railhouse, and that Minnesota Nice.

**6 cases of beer is not an exaggeration, if you would like to try Lotus, please holler.

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Pumpkin Spice Shake

IMG_3441If you’re missing pumpkin spice lattes and other treats in that crazy-sweet fall genre, you will love this smoothie.

I am under the impression that all of my smoothies are masterpieces, so I always have to check with multiple people, especially those who would rather take the Starbucks, to make sure it really is a winner.

-5 ice cubes
-Handful frozen pineapple (I buy fresh, chop it up and then freeze)
-1 scoop vanilla cinnamon Fit Protein powder from Whole Foods*
-1.5 cup plain almond milk
-5 shakes cinnamon, or to taste and 2 shakes nutmeg, or to taste

*If using a different vanilla protein powder, amp up the spices and add pumpkin pie spice if possible

Blend until it has the consistency of a frosty, keeping an element of iciness is what makes this as satisfying as a shake! I love it for a post work-out or late-night snack.

Enjoy!

 

Birthday Feast

My approach to cooking is very much rooted in over-confidence.

IMG_3402That’s why committing to 6 weeks of clean eating (and drinking) for the Alchemy 365 Challenge was the perfect motivator in discovering how many dishes I am capable of making. I have always believed recipes are up for interpretation, and now I have taken this farther and started making them up completely.

That’s why when my boyfriend, Brandon, asked where we could go for a 365-approved birthday dinner, I insisted on a completely homemade meal.

I think it’s a rule of thumb to not serve people something you make for the first time. But if you can’t tell, I really don’t like rules.

STARTERS

IMG_3394Zucchini fries
-3 to 4 zucchinis, I used 4 on the small side and that made a full pan of fries
-1 egg
– 1/3 to 1/2 cup flax seed (enough to cover fries)
-Spices or salt & pep

Cut zucchinis the long way and then chop to be the size of fries. Coconut/Olive oil on a cookie sheet and lay down fries. Brush with the beaten egg; sprinkle flax seed and any other desired seasoning. Bake at 375 for 15-20 mins.

Crab cakes
IMG_3375-1 pound lump crab, this can be super expensive so if you end up opting for a more imitation crab route, whatever.
-1 sweet potato
-2 eggs
-1/3 cup olive oil
-1/4 cup parsley
-1.5 tbsp garlic
-2 tbsp flax seed
-Sea salt and ground pepper as you please

Cook the sweet potato in a pot with water for ~20 mins. In the meantime shred up and chop the crab into thin pieces. Add the eggs, oil, garlic, flax seed, salt, parsley, and any other seasoning you want, and mix.  When the sweet potato is done, IMG_3391mash it separately and mix it in to the bowl.

From here, roll them into balls a little bit bit bigger than a golf ball; then flatten into small patties. The cakes can be cooked right away, or saved in the fridge. When ready to cook. use coconut oil (or oil of choice) in a pan, and cook patties until brown on each side, and flipping them like tiny burgers. I served with lemon and it was AMAZING.

MAIN COURSE

This was Brandon’s time to shine. From my understanding, here’s what we had going on.

IMG_3393Cajun salmon filets:

Cooked to PERFECTION in a cast-iron skillet on the stove. We used this amazing Southwest salt mixture from Arizona for seasoning.

Basically any combination of spice and salt will do. Served with lemon.

Spicy green beans:

Steamed in the rice cooker for 15 minutes. Place in pan and stir in olive oil, red pepper flakes, and 1 tbsp of soy sauce.

DESSERTAka Why We’re All Here

Paleo pumpkin pie:IMG_3392
-1 can of pumpkin
-Two eggs
-Two egg whites
-Can of light coconut milk
-Half cup almond milk
1 Tsp cinnamon
-1/2 Tsp nutmeg
-1/2 Tsp ginger
-1/4 cloves
-2 Tsp vanilla

Mix until it’s all well blended and pour into pie plate then bake for 35 min at 350 degrees. My pan was on the smaller side so it turned out a little odd. It won’t look like a ton of mix, but go for a bigger pan anyway so it cooks all the way through.

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I Am Malala supervised the blender

1 Ingredient Ice Cream:
-2 bananas
-Cinnamon to taste (for me, like 15 shakes)
-3 tbsp peanut butter
Peel and chop 2 ripe bananas and freeze for at least 2 hours, I did overnight. Place bananas in blender and blend for about 2o minutes.

At first, it will seem like the bananas are not making much progress- do not worry. I walked away so that I wouldn’t be tempted to add water.

When it starts to have a creamier consistency, add your flavors (I did PB and cinnamon) and continue blending until it looks like a shake. From there, pour into a tuperware and freeze, again for at least 2 hours.

This is the new cure to my sweet tooth!

There you have it, the absolute tastiest food, all guilt free. I am a big believer in eating what you want and how much you want, but knowing exactly what you are eating. When you start focusing on ingredients and where your food comes from, your taste buds change with your perspective.

In my opinion (and in Brandon’s), this meal wasn’t about restriction, or what wasn’t on the table. While nutritious, it was all filling, delicious, and fun. That’s how food should be-especially a birthday dinner. If healthy food doesn’t taste good, it makes skipping the donuts and pizza an uphill battle.

Can’t wait for you to try these recipes (and make up your own) and hear what you think!