Brownies are the Way to Anyone’s Heart…

It’s no secret in my family that I love to bake. And I love having excuses to bake.

This semester, I’m doing the “young adults” group at my church, which is on Thursday evenings. So, when our table leader asked for a volunteer to bring snacks for the next week, my hand shot up with record speed. Like I said, I love having excuses to bake. 😛

After taking a poll from the table, it became obvious that the majority wanted something chocolate. Surprise, surprise? So, I decided on some good ol’ homemade brownies. I didn’t want to just make box-mix brownies, though, so I set out on a search for a delicious from-scratch brownie recipe. Two hours of google-ing later, I finally found a winner, and the baking commenced:

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These brownies turned out perfectly! I didn’t actually try one of them because I really try to avoid gluten for my health and wellbeing, but EVERYONE that had one could not stop raving about them.

The key to brownies is making sure you cook them just enough that they’re not raw, but not long enough that they become crisp and overdone. Everyone seems to agree that moist brownies are the best – and these definitely fit the bill!

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One of the girls at our table follows the Paleo way of eating, so I decided to find a “Paleo brownie” recipe to make for her. That wasn’t hard to do, and I ended up making these Sweet Potato Brownies from a great Paleo blog I found. <—if you eat Paleo, this is a great resource for recipes!

Don’t be turned away by seeing the words “sweet potato” and “brownie” in the same recipe. I promise, you can’t taste the sweet potatoes at all. The sweet potato is used in place of flour and sugar and gives the brownie the perfect consistency and sweetness.

I DID try (several) of these brownies and they were amazing. Sadly, I forgot to take pictures of them, so you’ll just have to imagine how delicious they were…

The brownies were perfect kickoff to a fun weekend, which I spent largely watching hockey and football with my brother and acting like I know which teams are good and all of that. 😉

I do follow football (somewhat) but I’m completely lost when it comes to hockey. I know the basic rules and strategy of the game, but that’s about it. I’ve discovered that i can appear pretty knowledgable, though, by inserting the occasional comment here and there…such as: “How did he not make that shot?!” and “What an awesome block!” etc, etc. 😛

Somewhere in between hockey games on Saturday, I got the crazy idea to arm wrestle my brother, which didn’t end too well for me. Well, it never does. About every 6 months, I challenge him to an arm wrestling match, as if I actually think I’ll be able to beat him this time. Hah. Who am I kidding? He’s a buff, 18 year old guy who’s always down in the basement, grunting and groaning as he benches, squats, and deadlifts insane amounts of weight. I’m kind of jealous, not going to lie. 😉

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After being sufficiently humiliated in the arm wrestling match, I headed to the gym and had a great 5 mile run on the treadmill. I felt bad for not running outside and enjoying the beautiful weather on Saturday, but by the time I was heading out, it was almost dark. I’m ready for longer days, please! No more of this getting dark at 5pm business.

Sunday, after church, I headed back to Lone Elk Park for another adventurous trail run! It was a chilly 20-something degrees, but the sun kept it from being miserable. This time I took the trail in another direction at one of the forks, and instead of taking me into Castlewood Park, I ran along the Meremac River and toward West Tyson Park. I’d never heard of this West Tyson Park before, but apparently if I’d kept running long enough, it would have taken me all the way there! I wasn’t looking for a crazy long run, though, so I kept my roundtrip to about 6 miles and got a great workout from jumping over all the roots and rocks along the way.

I was excited to visit this trail again without the slush, snow and ice I encountered last time, but for some reason the trail was STILL really muddy! I squelched my way through and ended up with some pretty muddy shoes by the end.

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After my run, I drove around the park to see some of the elk, and got pretty close to a couple of them:

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So far, the week is off to a great start…
This morning I woke up and just felt like it was one of those days that I needed to put a little extra effort into breakfast. I took my time deciding what I wanted, and ended up using some cubed chicken out of the freezer for my base. I stir-fried the chicken with some veggies and ate it alongside a few eggs. Everything was topped with avocado, which I’ve been eating like crazy these days. Avocados are a great source of healthy Omega-3 fat, as well as potassium and protein.

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(sorry for the blurry picture…I was in a rush to taste this before it got cold!)

I’m off to enjoy the rest of this day! I hope you’re enjoying it too!

“Legs Day” and Enjoying the Present Moment

Today was “legs day” for me at the gym, so I thought I’d share the workout I created this morning. I basically just compiled this from the random exercises that came to mind at the moment:

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My legs were burning after this workout, and I refueled with one of my chocolate Greek yogurt concoctions as soon as I got home.

Last week I had a horrible migraine-like headache that lasted for 6 days…not exactly a fun time! I took it easy on the exercise front and stuck to long walks and yoga for the week. It felt good to give my body a break. 🙂

I used to do yoga DVDs or find videos on Youtube, but recently I’ve just been winging it and creating my own yoga workout each day. I now know enough different poses to keep myself busy for 20-30 minutes and I love the relaxing feeling of creating my own routine. I always turn off all the lights in my room, turn on my “Calm Meditations” station on Pandora, and light several candles around the room. It relaxes me so well and is such a great way to start the day!

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One of my goals for the new year is to SLOW down, in several ways:
– eating
– driving
– talking

I tend to move quickly in all of these areas, and none of them are really beneficial! Since 2013 began, I’ve been consciously slowing down in these 3 things and it’s really made a difference. I feel so much more relaxed when I’m not speeding down the road (not to mention that it’s so much safer!) and I enjoy my meals so much more when I take the time to eat slowly and savor each bite. Talking slowly has still been a difficult one for me…most of my family talks at a breakneck speed so it’s a pretty well developed habit of mine! But when I do remember to slow down and speak at a relaxed pace, it’s great. 🙂

We often miss out on the moment in front of us because we’re too busy thinking about the ones ahead. We live at such a fast, crazy pace that I think we could all benefit from slowing down in some way, shape or form. Take the time to savor the here and now, with whatever it holds for you. 🙂

Refreshed

My 2013 started off right with a fun visit from my friend Alyse! She lives in Minnesota and came in town for a conference on the 27th. After the conference ended, she came to stay at my house for a few days! I picked her up at her hotel on New Years Day and it was such a great reunion! Alyse and I met back in 2008 on a mission trip to Nicaragua…I had just graduated high school and she was going into her junior year. That’s the same mission trip where I met my friend Amy, and she and I became best friends because of that summer.

We had a lot of fun together while Alyse was in town…lots of girl talk, chocolate, giggling, Starbucks, and a chilly walk in the snow!

Alyse and I:

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Blurry iPhone picture taken by a fellow Starbucks patron:

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And of course, the Beagle had to join us on our walk:

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Alyse headed back to Minnesota on Friday morning and the rest of my weekend was pretty low-key! I had a friend over on Friday afternoon to hang out before she headed back to college, and Saturday I joined some friends for a chili dinner and the Packers game. I’m not a Packers fan, per se, but these friends are diehard fans from Wisconsin, so it was fun to watch the game with them!

On Sunday I woke up in the mood for a trail run so I got on my All Trails app and discovered a new-to-me park that was just minutes from my church. I packed up my running clothes before heading out to the late morning service, and threw in a couple Larabars since I’m always ravenous after church! I made it to the park at around 12:45 and found the trail without too much trouble.

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I’d never run on the Chubb Trail before, and it was not exactly the best day for a trail run because of the melting snow going on here in St Louis! The trail was still icy in many parts and the rest of it was slushy and muddy. It definitely made it feel like more of an adventure, though! I love muddy runs for some odd reason, so I was perfectly content. 🙂 I took the Chubb Trail down into a beautiful valley, where I crossed some railroad tracks and found myself in Castlewood Park:

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I ran through a gorgeous, sunny field before the trail headed back into the woods.

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I love trail runs for many reasons, but largely because they bring me back to the FUN of running! It’s so easy for me to get focused on the STATS of my running – distance, pace, miles logged – instead of just enjoying the ability and opportunity to run. Trail runs make me feel like a little kid again, exploring the woods just like I did when I was 10. 🙂 Trail runs remind me to enjoy the beauty of nature instead of focusing on my “workout” all the time. And I always do my trail runs without my ipod so I can listen to the rustling of the wind and the cracking branches in the woods as I run. It’s cheesy, I know, but I LOVE being outside so much and I wish I did more of it. Trail runs are one way I stop (figuratively, haha) and enjoy the beauty of it all.

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My blurry phone photos don’t do it justice.

I also got to run alongside the Meremac River for a little bit, which was fun! I loved all the different scenery I got to witness on this trail.

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Needless to say, by the time I made it back to my car, my shoes – and legs – were covered in mud! It was well worth it, though, as I drove home with a refreshed and happy heart.

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Trail runs are so good for the soul. 🙂