Tag: old-fashion bread pudding

Best Ever Carrot Cake

Carrot cake is one of those cakes that’s full of potential, but somehow people always seem to mess with perfection. I mean, really, who decided that adding pineapples and raisins to carrot cake was necessary? No one sits around eating pineapples and carrots together. It makes no sense. I also personally only like the pecans on the outside of the cake, but that’s not a deal breaker. Don’t even get me started on people who use buttercream instead of cream cheese icing for carrot cake. Admittedly, all of these things are extremely trivial… Sometimes I surprise even myself with the amount of useless thought I put into food.

I’m sure you’ve all noticed that I’m a huge fan of Jaclyn over at Cooking Classy because her pictures are always beautiful and everything she posts is absolutely amazing. This cake is a perfect example because, well, this cake is perfect. It is hands down the best carrot cake I have ever made or tried. The only thing I changed is the amount of cream cheese icing (I did one and a half of the recipe). The recipe itself is flawless. I wanted to savor this cake for as long as possible, but it was so good I found myself cutting a piece every time I walked by the fridge. I have zero restraint. I hope you enjoy!

Best Ever Carrot Cake
Recipe from Cooking Classy

Serving Size: 12 Servings

4 eggs

3/4 cup vegetable oil

1/2 cup applesauce

2 cups granulated sugar

2 tsp vanilla extract

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 tsp baking powder

2 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

2 tsp cinnamon

1/4 tsp nutmeg

3 cups lightly packed finely grated carrots*

1 recipe Cream Cheese Frosting, recipe follows

2/3 cup chopped pecans

Cream Cheese Frosting*
12 ounces (1 1/2 8 ounce packages) cream cheese, softened

3/4 cup salted butter, softened
2 tsp vanilla extract
6 cups powdered sugar

*This is 1 1/2 times the original recipe. Scale it back if you like a bit less frosting.
  • Preheat
    oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 9″ round cake pans with aluminum foil,
    leaving an overhang on two side. Grease foil and dust with flour, set
    aside. (This cake can also be made in a 9×13 dish just increase baking
    time to 40 – 50 minutes until toothpick inserted in center comes out
    clean, I have even halved the recipe and baked it in and 8×8 dish).
  • In
    a mixing bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt,
    cinnamon and nutmeg. In a large mixing bowl, with an electric mixer,
    combine vegetable oil, applesauce, eggs, granulated sugar and vanilla.
    Slowly stir in dry ingredients and mix until well blended. Stir in
    grated carrots. Divide mixture evenly into 2 prepared cake pans. Bake
    cakes in preheat oven for 35-39 minutes until toothpick inserted into
    center comes out clean. Remove from oven and allow to cool 5 minutes in
    cake dishes before removing to a wire rack to cool. Lift cakes out of
    pan with foil overhang and allow to cool on wire rack completely before
    frosting (once cool I cut about 1/4″ off the tops to even them out
    before frosting, you’ll notice the centers don’t rise as high as the
    rest). Flip cakes upside down when frosting with Cream Cheese Frosting.
    Sprinkle with chopped pecans. Store cake in airtight container.
  • *Grate carrots on small grate of a grater. This is usually 6-7 medium carrots.
  • Cream Cheese Frosting
  • In
    a large bowl, using an electric mixer, whip together cream cheese,
    butter and vanilla until fluffy. Stir in powdered sugar and mix until
    well combine.

Recipe adapted from allrecipes.com

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Apple Butter Granola Yogurt Parfaits

Individual yogurt parfaits sweetened with maple syrup and layered with homemade apple pie filling and apple butter granola, are delicious for breakfast or as a post-workout snack.

Greek Yogurt Parfaits with Homemade Apple Butter Granola

A few weeks ago, the Dairy Council asked me if I was interested in creating a high-protein post-workout snack and sharing a little bit about a new web video series that they’re promoting. It was actually really great timing, since I was already planning to share these parfaits with you!

Over the summer, Shawn joined a local gym that allows him to bring a guest for free on the weekends. They have a pool, so that’s where I’ve been spending my Saturday mornings. I’ve always loved swimming, and I’ve really enjoyed getting back into it. But one thing I don’t love is how hungry I am when I get out of the pool. It’s a little insane. I pretty much need to eat something immediately, otherwise I can get really cranky.

Apple Butter Granola Recipe

These yogurt parfaits are perfect – I make them ahead of time and store them in small canning jars. They look cute and are super portable, so they’re ready to go whenever I am. Plus they’re packed with protein and complex carbohydrates to fill me up, help my muscles repair, and replenish my energy.

The flavors in these parfaits are perfect for this time of year. I start with a tablespoon or two of homemade apple pie filling, then layer on low fat Greek yogurt sweetened with a touch of maple syrup. Due to the straining process, Greek yogurt has twice the protein of most regular yogurt – 14-17 grams per serving! I also love it’s rich texture and tangy flavor. I top it off with my homemade apple butter granola, with walnuts, dried fruit, and seeds. They’re so delicious.

Greek Yogurt Parfaits with Homemade Apple Butter Granola

I love learning more about where my food comes from. I love shopping at the Farmers Market and talking to the people who produce my food. In fact, I’m visiting two farms out in Western New York later this week (be sure to follow along on Instagram!) Most people don’t think of farms when they think of New York, but they’re all over once you get out of the city! In fact, NY is ranked fourth nationally in dairy farming, with over 5,000 farms across the state. It’s also the top yogurt producing state in the country. Sometimes I feel like almost everyone I know knows a dairy farmer or two!

The new web series Avenues + Acres pairs dairy farmers with millenials to learn from each other in a sort of “job swap.” The first episode features Abbey, a NY dairy farmer (and fellow blogger! and RD! She certainly keeps busy) and Dana, a local boxing coach. It touches on the  link between nutritious farm-to-table food and sports nutrition. It also kind of makes me want to take up boxing… (I love that the episode features two women doing what you’d traditionally think of as male-dominated activities.) You can watch the episode right here, then join me for a Twitter Party on Wednesday, Nov. 4 for 9-10pm EST to chat with the farmers featured in it.

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For more protein-packed snacks perfect for before or after the gym, check out Pumpkin Chocolate Chia Pudding, Apple Pie Yogurt Parfait, Peanut Butter Pumpkin Greek Yogurt Dip,Banana Bread Smoothie, or Autumn Acai Bowl with Greek Yogurt Figs and Pomegranate.

Apple Butter Granola

Prep time

5 mins

Cook time

20 mins

Total time

25 mins

Author: Lauren Keating

  • ⅓ cup apple butter, preferably homemade
  • 2 tablespoons coconut oil, melted
  • 1 tablespoon chia seeds
  • 1 tablespoon flax meal
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
  • 2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 1 cup roughly chopped walnuts
  • ½ cup dried fruit (like apples, apricots, or raisins)
  1. Heat the oven to 325ºF.
  2. In a saucepan set over medium heat, warm the apple butter and coconut oil. Stir in the chia seeds, flax meal, cinnamon, vanilla, salt, and nutmeg. Remove from heat and mix in the oats and walnuts.
  3. Spread the oat mixture onto a baking sheet. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until toasted. Remove from the oven and let cool. Stir in the dried fruit.
  4. Store in an airtight container.



25 Free & Inexpensive Ways To Have The Best Christmas Ever

Please help inspire us by adding your ideas in the comments at the bottom of this post!

Today I’m sharing some of the things we do around Christmas time that are free or inexpensive and bring unending joy to our lives. The absolute best parts of Christmas don’t have to cost money to be amazing and memorable.

My Mama says: “My favorite part of Christmas growing up was the countdown to Christmas.  The first day of December Mama would get out a red crayon and let me make a big “x” over the date on the calendar.  I can still remember the anticipation building as the marks got closer to Christmas.

 You don’t have to buy an expensive advent calendar although there are plenty of them available , an ordinary calendar works just fine.”

Sure, I look at the tree and sometimes think of those who are no longer with us to enjoy it with, sure it was a lot of work and may not be as appreciated by others, but that isn’t why I did it.

My daughter and I spent all this past weekend decorating this tree and our house while my husband and son were away on a retreat (we’ve long ago learned that they don’t really care about decorating like we do) and while we were doing it I told her “Now Katy, when you grow up, you put up a tree every year. You see how much work this was to do? Even if it was just me, I’d still do it.”

My grandmother lived alone after Grandaddy passed away and even though anyone seldom went into her house (she lived across the road from my mother and spent her days at Mama’s house so that is where she always was when we came to visit) she still put her tree up every year.

She said “Someone told me once there wasn’t no sense in putting it up if there wasn’t anyone there to enjoy it. But I’m here and I sure do enjoy it“. 

Even if it is just you, you are worth it. Decorate.

And stop with the excuses – it doesn’t have to be expensive. A package of construction paper can be bought for a few dollars and will provide a house full of decorations. Add a bottle of glue and $2 of glitter and you’ve expanded even more.

Also, don’t worry about when you put your tree up. Put your tree up whenever you feel like putting your tree up. For us that is often November 1st! The ironic thing about people who complain about folks putting a tree up before Thanksgiving is that they themselves are choosing to avoid being thankful and instead spend their time complaining about something that does not even take place in their home.

I’ve never once found my gratitude dampened when sitting in a room with Christmas lights. If you feel inclined to put a Christmas tree up in July, don’t take a poll of opinions first, just do it.

Fun Ideas:

  • My sister in law’s family had a tradition when they were little that the first night the tree was up the kids slept in sleeping bags in the living room around it. I can only imagine how magical that was!
  • Mama’s favorite new thing that she has started doing is putting a timer on her tree so that when she wakes up the tree is all lit up.  She even does that on a small tabletop tree in her bedroom so that the tree goes off after she goes to sleep and comes on before she wakes up.

Over the years we’ve made quite the tradition out of crazy gifts. My brother once gave a girlfriend an old boat propeller. My dad (a police officer) once mounted several small branches to wood bases and tied a string to a bullet to hang in them and then presented folks with “A cartridge in a bare tree”.

For a sentimental touch, you could have an empty box wrapped with a note inside that says something like “I give you the gift of Christmas Spirit…I love you.”

From Mama: One of my most memorable Christmas’s was when my Uncle played a trick on my mother.  She was always so crazy about Christmas and loved opening gifts.  He bought some little something (I can’t even remember what) and wrapped it over and over.  He put it in a small box, wrapped it and put it into a little larger box and wrapped it and then put that into another box and so on until he had a gigantic box.  It was so much fun to watch her unwrap it and try to guess who gave it to her since he did not put his name on it.

 It is so much fun to look back at the how they looked every year when  you  are hanging up the ornaments. I can’t tell you how much I treasure these! Sometimes I make them from scratch but often I just buy a ready made ornament and use a paint pen to write the date on it.

Here is one that I had both of the kids sign on the back five years ago!

If you know of someone, young or old who may not be able to put up a tree, buy a small table top one and decorate it and drop it by for them.  It is not the size, but just knowing that someone was thinking of you.

Mama says  ”One year we had a Dirty Santa exchange for our stitch group and the requirement was that you had to bring something from your sewing room.  No buying something special.  It was really a lot of fun to see all the gadgets that people had bought and never really used.”

We used to do Dirty Santa in our church group a lot back in my younger, unmarried days. One year, I wrapped a big package of toilet paper and people actually fought over who got to keep that one!

There are all kinds of ways to make a gift, the options are endless. Embroidered handkerchiefs, stitch tote bags, bake cookies and bread. Want bigger gifts? My sister in law makes up baskets of bread, spiced nuts, jams, and jellies she has made throughout the year. You could even can barbecue sauce to include. Round it out with some dish towels and wooden spoons from the dollar store.

Dealing with a “money” person? Many of us have people in our lives who don’t consider “made” gifts to be gifts but make it clear to us that they expect a store bought gift instead. We’ve all been there! Here is a thought: Maybe if we quit trying to live up to their expectations we’d be happier and less stressed and they’d learn not to have those expectations when it comes to us :).

A family recipe cookbook would make an excellent gift. Print off some of your family’s favorite recipes and assemble them in a small book. It doesn’t have to be a grand production, 10 recipes stapled together with a cover page works just fine. Be sure and include notes with each recipe stating who it is from, the recipe origins, or any funny stories that might relate to the recipe.  Here is a link to a post I wrote about some family cookbooks I’ve made over the years. 

When we were little we made all manner of homemade ornaments. We’d color pictures and cut them out to be ornaments. We’d save pot pie tins and glue cut outs of christmas cards we’d received in the center, then surround them with cotton balls to make a snow scene ornament. We traced our hands onto construction paper and cut that out. We made paper chains and tied bows onto candy canes and did little pipe cleaner bead crafts. Anything we could think of was made into an ornament and put on our tree – and they were beautiful. Here is a link to a post on how to make these cute Mice with Candy Cane Tales, complete with printable tracing template for the mice.

When I was little, we always made special cookies for Christmas (pictured above and recipe here). This was the first thing I did with my own family. Brady was only 6 months old on his first Christmas but I rolled out that dough and had Ricky hold him up on the counter. I’d put a cookie cutter on it and use his little hand to gently press down to cut it out. He had no idea what he was doing but he laughed every time we removed the cookie cutter to reveal a new shape!

Over the years, after seeing how much my in laws enjoy decorating cookies with us, we now have a tradition of making these cookies on Christmas Eve and the whole family sits down to a table filled with cookies, icings of all colors, and sprinkles. It’s one of our traditions we look forward to the most!

The lights! The lights! I love Christmas lights. Set aside a night each week to drive around looking for them. Many communities have an entire area that is absolutely awash in lights. Ask around and then go adventuring. Be sure and listen to Christmas music while you do. Your family will never forget these evenings!

Several years back my mother in law mentioned that Christmas morning was a little dreary for them. All of the family celebrations had been had and it was just the two of them waking up with not a lot to do. We started having them come over (they live in another state) a day or so before Christmas to visit for a spell and it’s a win win! Now my kids get to have grandparents here Christmas morning to watch them open presents, we all decorate cookies together Christmas Eve, and just have a fun and relaxed house full of family to celebrate the season.

There are several towns near us who host wonderful Christmas parades, some of them are even held at night with all of the floats lit up with lights! There are so many free events to help put you in the Christmas spirit that I’ve mentioned and this is another one to add to your “not to miss” list!

One of our greatest joys is putting lights up in our yard! It is always so magical to come home to find everything all lit up, especially after an evening of driving around to see other Christmas lights and then to turn in and see one of our favorite displays :). We buy our lights after the season on sale and stick with LED’s to save on electrical costs. We don’t do as many now as we used to due to difficulty of putting them up where we live (our older, smaller house was so easy!) but back in the old days (before LED) we had so many lights that our bill was $100 more a month!

I’ve found some fantastic Christmas coloring pages online. Your kids will be so proud when you hang up their artwork  I’ve posted some beautiful vintage coloring pages to my Great Big Christmas Board on Pinterest and they are free to print. Click here to visit that board and be sure you follow me if you do!

Mama used to tape the cards we received around a door frame in our home for a beautiful decoration. A lot of folks aren’t sending Christmas cards anymore (see below) but I have a doorframe complete with a Poinsettia and Pine swag up at the top just waiting for Christmas Cards to arrive!

I know this is one that has fallen to the wayside due to the expense but there is something so special about getting Christmas cards in the mail. They don’t have to be expensive. You can buy a box at a discount or even dollar store. Each year cutting this expense is tempting but so far I have managed to keep it up, but I am going with cheaper cards this year. I purchased some beautiful Dayspring ones with a glitter embellished snow scene on the front for just $5 for 18. Of course, adding the stamp adds nearly 50 cents so I hand deliver all of them that I can and mail the rest.

Many churches have special Christmas programs that are amazing! Check the ones in your area now and put the events on your calendar! Our church has the most beautiful Christmas Eve service.

If you are a Christian and celebrate Christmas as the birth of Jesus, act like it. Go to church. Have a nativity in your home. Celebrate Advent. If these are new holidays to you as a Christian, there is no shame in that! This is our first year celebrating Advent and I am grateful for all of the inspiration and research available online as I incorporate this new (to us) tradition.

I saw a wonderful idea in doing my research for this post from a blogger who keeps Christmas simple by giving her children three gifts, to represent the three gifts the wise men brought baby Jesus.

A Christmas party doesn’t have to be expensive. Invite friends, have everyone bring a dish, and don’t even worry about the house. Clean it up a bit and then just fill it with people. No one will be able to see the mess for the crowds.

I have so many favorites and the holidays just aren’t the same without watching them again! My favorites are : Meet Me In St Louis and It’s A Wonderful Life along with White Christmas. As a family, we always have to watch The Toy That Saved Christmas (Oooh! A Buzzsaw Louie!) and all of the old claymation Christmas movies from my childhood.

  • Take this up a notch by making a big bowl of popcorn and making popcorn garlands together as you watch.

You have no idea what a difference this will make in their lives. I’ve seen gifts as simple as a smile, a hug, and a Christmas card bring tears to someones eyes and help everyone understand the true meaning of Christmas.

No matter what your musical tastes find some Christmas music and set it going in your home in the evenings and your car when you’re out and about. Christmas music energizes the elf in all of us :). Hint: You haven’t lived until you’ve heard “Sleigh Ride” sung by the Andrews Sisters!

I know this has become a big fashion no no but I’ve found that the majority of people who sit around coming up with fashion no no’s should probably spend more time being thankful and decorating for Christmas ;). I love Christmas and I love wearing Christmas sweaters!!!! Bring on the sequins, embroidery, and beautiful colors. dontjust stick your toe in the water, dive in!

Click here to read the story of how my great grandmother made Christmas special for her kids without any money or wrapped gifts. There is a little free surprise at the end of the post.


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