Tag Archives: cookies

On A Boat At Christmas

I hope you all had a very Merry Christmas! I’m going to pick up from where I left off on my FL vacation recapping…Christmas Eve Eve aka my mom’s birthday aka December 23rd. My family headed south to Miami to see a Heat game (my grandma and mom are OBSESSED with the Heat…OK, and Lebron) but I had the most amazing evening with Kat, her husband Mike, and her sister Helen.

Come on, the title of this post was too easy. No I was not on THAT boat, but the photo above was taken from a boat I WAS on. One of Mike’s friends rented a boat for the evening so that we could cruise around, check out the Christmas lights on the boats and houses on the Intercoastal Waterway, and have a Cookie & Cocktail party. Oh. Yes. And I was invited!

12-23-13-boat4

And I wore a Santa hat, because I’m a cheeseball!

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Barcelona Meets Mendoza: Wine Dinner

Last week (Wednesday 3/13) I had the pleasure of attending Barcelona Wine Bar’s latest wine dinner at their West Hartford location – La Vendimia de Mendoza. Funny enough, it fell on the same day that the new pope – from Argentina – was chosen! Fancy that.

3-13-13-barcelona2

The moment I arrived I knew it’d be a wino’s dream evening. The menu listed SIX different wines that we’d be sampling. Keep in mind the event came with food too, and only cost $45 per person (plus tax and gratuity)!

ALL THE WINE.

ALL THE WINE.

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Mama Micki’s Vegan Cookies Review and Giveaway!

Words can’t describe my appreciation for your supportive comments, emails, and tweets in response to Tuesday’s post. It’s hard to open up like that and I still feel pretty vulnerable, but it seemed like each moment of self-consciousness I had over sharing so much was accompanied by yet another kind message of encouragement rolling into my Twitter feed or inbox. I’m so thankful to have this community and will be responding to you all when I have a chance (it’s been a busy work week).

Oo a package!

In the spring I attended the first-ever CT Veg Fest in Hartford, and had the opportunity to meet tons of passionate vendors looking to spread the word about their food offerings. One of those vendors, Mama Micki’s All-Natural Bakery of Scituate, MA, really stuck out to me for a few reasons. Not only are many of Micki’s baked goods vegan, but they are all made with REAL ingredients – and she even uses only non-GMO soy! Micki’s drive to share her love for all foods whole comes from her own personal experience with the healing power of real food; it has aided her for years in a quest to improve her hearing!

Micki and her “pup”! Source

Yeah yeah yeah – but do they taste good? The answer to that question is a resounding YES! At Veg Fest I had the privilege of sampling three varieties of vegan cookies – Chocolate Orange Walnut, Molasses, and Oatmeal Raisin Sunflower Seed. I was particularly impressed by the first two! In fact, just thinking about that Molasses cookie is making my mouth water right now, due to the autumn-fever that’s been taking over New England the last couple of weeks.

Cute tagline, right? Source

I’ve liked Mama Micki’s on Facebook and followed her on Twitter since Veg Fest, but we recently re-connected on that Facebook page. I proposed doing a review and GIVEAWAY for you all of these wonderful vegan baked goods, and Micki was all over it! She was kind enough to send me three different flavors of cookies to try, and even let me pick them out.

Hello to you, cookies and kind note!

I did ask for the Chocolate Orange Walnut cookies again, just because at Veg Fest I so admired the complexity of their flavor. The orange is the perfect level of subtlety and the real cocoa flavor shines through in each bite. I love being able to bite into something and say, “Oh yeah, I KNOW that’s made with Ingredient X”. The walnut in these cookies is nice and chunky too!

Enjoyed a cookie crumbled into chocolate Jello pudding after dinner – more than one night I might add!

I wanted to also sample a more “plain” variety of cookie to cover all my bases, and the Sugar cookies were right up that alley (notice I didn’t say MY alley – plain is NOT my alley!) I liked these, but since I prefer a more complex flavor, they were my least favorite of the three.

Still those that prefer way less going on in a cookie will enjoy these – that’s what sugar cookies are for, right?! And how FUN it would be to decorate these around the holidays! The coolest part by far, though, are the red sprinkles dusted on top of each cookie. I noticed beet powder on the ingredient list of these guys, and asked Micki about it. Turns out she won’t even use artificial dyes in her kitchen – the beet powder is what turned the sugar red! At that point I TRULY realized how dedicated Mama Micki’s Bakery is to its principals.

Finally, I had to save the Coconut Almond Bliss cookies for last! They seemed to use the same “foundation” as the Chocolate Orange Walnut, only minus orange and plus a hint of coconut flavor! I do wish the coconut had come through a bit more strongly, but I’m a coconut fiend. For others, it may have been just right! Once again I could so clearly taste the fresh cocoa used in these cookies, and really liked that some of the almonds in them were actually whole!

Accompanied by ever-present hydration!

Overall, another favorite characteristic for me of ALL of Micki’s baked goods is their lower sugar content! Eating processed sugars makes me feel sleepy and kinda crappy (not to say they don’t taste wonderful – I try to save them for after dinner so I can drift off into a sugar sleep :-P) and lowering the amount I consume over the last couple of years has made my taste buds really sensitive to them! Probably why I prefer my drinks strong like an old man’s, hmm? A cookie that tastes less sweet and more hearty and whole is the cookie for me, and that’s what Micki is putting out there.

Another combo of choice? A Mama Micki’s cookie crumbled into my beloved plain Chobani!

I was sure to share the wealth with friends. I brought my co-worker a few cookies to give his daughter, who is a vegan. She must have REALLY loved them because she was so grateful that she made me the below beautiful drawing, which totally brightened my day and is still brightening my cubicle!

I also was sure to share some with my ever-present foodie friend Jeff! He is always benefitting off my blog! I asked him his opinion via text.

I did like how the lack of butter made them so easy to crumble into my pudding or yogurt!

So now that you’ve heard from my friends and I how good these cookies are, let’s get to the part you’re most excited for – the giveaway! Micki has generously agreed to give away two bags of her cookies to each of two winners. This giveaway ends Saturday, 9/22/12 (11:59PM EST) and is open to US readers only (excluding Hawaii and Canada).

To enter, you can do the following and leave a comment for each or multiple entries won’t count!

  1. Head over to the list of products on Micki’s website and let me know in a comment which creation you’d want to try most. (mandatory)
  2. Follow @MamaMickis on Twitter and comment saying you did.
  3. Follow @CaitPlusAte on Twitter and comment saying you did.
  4. Tweet “I entered to win #vegan cookies from @mamamickis – thanks @CaitPlusAte! http://wp.me/p1SfTW-1uC” and comment with the link to the tweet.

And if you just can’t wait to see if you win the giveaway, or if you don’t want to take your chances, you can head over to the Mama Micki’s website, shop online, and use the coupon code CaitPlusAte to get 20% off your online purchase until October 20th! 

Thanks Micki for making this review, giveaway, and coupon code possible. Good luck to all who enter! I received samples to review from Mama Micki’s Bakery free of charge, but all reviews and opinions are my own.

Love With Food Giveaway!

Remember CT readers – one of my favorite spots for unique cocktails and tasty small plates in the Hartford area, Cuvee, is holding a special third-anniversary party at 7PM on Thursday 8/30 at their location in West Hartford’s Blueback Square. But there is ALSO a special VIP event with complimentary drinks, champagne tastings, apps, and more from 5-7PM. If you want to win a chance to attend, text BUBBLY to 37798! Maybe I’ll see you there!

I’m coming at you today with a review and giveaway for another food subscription box service – but don’t judge books by their covers, because Love with Food is different in that they aren’t just delivering food to you, but to others as well.

Founder and CEO Aihui (pronounced i-we) Ong sent me a complimentary box to review after I connected with Love with Food at BlogHer ’12 a few weeks ago. They stuck out to me because I was intrigued by the variety of products on display at their booth, the price point of just $10/month, and the fact that for each box sold, Love with Food donates a meal to a hungry child.

With a Love with Food box at BlogHer ’12′s Expo Hall.

I was excited to dig into my box and check out the tasty treats I’d been sent. A handy sheet was included which explained each product.

The box’s theme of Travelin’ Eats was appropriate for the trips many people take in August! I love the cute animation.

Overall I was fairly impressed by the products inside:

  • Sun Flour Baking Company Vegan Cookies – I’m of course most excited to sample the PB variety. Sometimes lemon-flavored things and I don’t get along so the fact that the other cookie is described as “Lemony Lemon” makes me a bit weary but we’ll see!
  • The Ginger People‘s Gin Gins Super Strength Ginger Caramel Candy – I don’t really like candies so I wasn’t too psyched over this one, but it does fit the Travelin’ Eats theme…the insert included with the box explained that ginger calms motion sickness.
  • Tangerine Glee Gum - Again this didn’t excite me because I always chew the same gum (Trident Original) and I may be open to many new foods, but gum just isn’t really one of them. Still the insert pointed out that the gum would aid a flying traveler in preventing ear popping!

The little red slip pictured above gave a preview for the September box (which the winner of the giveaway will receive). Stephanie Quilao of Back In Skinny Jeans has input into the box and it will include her favorite pre-and post-workout eats!

  • East Shore Skinny Dipping Pretzels – I can’t figure out whether or not these are called “skinny” because East Shore wants to market to females or because they literally are skinny pretzels. But the bottom line is, I really like pretzels. And I’m guessing these will be yummy – like all pretzels are!
  • East Shore Key Lime with Ginger Mustard – Out of all the products included in the box, I am actually most excited to dig into this little guy. I use mustard a TON at home with my dinners, especially on meat or regular/sweet potato fries. As soon as my mom makes fries in the oven I will be busting this out.
  • Sconza Candies Coconut Toffee Peanuts – These sound beyond. Amazing. And dangerous! The bag isn’t exactly tiny but I can see it being tempting to sit down and finish it in one sitting! I can just imagine how fabulously they’ll pair with my plain Greek yogurt in the evening…
  • Cherry Bay Orchards Dried Montgomery Cherries – I know that many bloggers would go bananas (or cherries) for these but cherries aren’t really my thing. I like how well-portioned the sample pack is.

As with all subscription services like this, the Love with Food box products’ full size versions are available for sale on their website. Subscribers can also earn points for committing to a 3, 6, or 12-month plan, reviewing what they received, and/or purchasing full sizes. The points can be used to get more full sized items for free.

It’s great to know that Love With Food is literally spreading the love WITH food…by giving it to children in need each time they sell another box. The affordable price point will surely encourage more people to buy boxes, meaning more children will get meals. There is a $2/month fee for shipping, but if you sign up for the 6-month plan it becomes $1/month, and the year-long subscription will give you FREE shipping. You can check out pricing details here.

Love with Food is offering Cait Plus Ate readers $2 off the purchase of a box! The code expires 8/31 (the last day to order the September box) so hurry! Just enter CAITVIP at checkout. No, I didn’t choose that code, Aihui did. KINDA love it ;-)

And one lucky reader is also going to win the September box for FREE! This is going to be a quick giveaway because I want the winner to have time to get on the website and use a special access code to order the September box by 8/31, so entries will accepted until 11:59PM EST tomorrow night (Tuesday 8/28). How do you enter?

  1. Go to the Love With Food Products page and tell me in a comment here which product you’d most want to try! (mandatory)
  2. Follow @LoveWithFood on Twitter and comment here saying you did.
  3. Follow @CaitPlusAte on Twitter and comment here saying you did.
  4. Tweet “I’m spreading the love with @LoveWithFood through a @CaitPlusAte giveaway! http://wp.me/p1SfTW-1pO” and comment here with the link to the tweet.

Good luck to all who enter and I hope that some of you guys spread the love with food and purchase a box with the discount code!

May Foodie Pen Pals (The Best Ever)

Did you miss yesterday’s preview of my next big foodie event, Mohegan Sun BBQ Fest? Head here to check it out!

I am so excited to write about what I got from my Foodie Pen Pal this month…you’ll see why. But first, a quick explanation of what this is about - Lindsay‘s Foodie Pen Pals program is a great way to meet fellow bloggers and try new foodie treats, whether they are local or just something your grocery store doesn’t happen to carry. Don’t forget to go here to find out how you can join this amazing program. It’s completely worth the ~$25/month (food + shipping) that it costs to participate!

Previous Foodie Pen Pals posts:

No offense at ALL to the other foodie pen pals I’ve had…you’ve all been wonderful. However, I have to call May the BEST month of the Foodie Pen Pals program I’ve ever experienced. That’s because, ironically enough, no pen was required for me to receive my package. The pen pal assigned to mail me a box of foodie treats happened to live a few towns away! How often does a picture like the one below get to accompany a Foodie Pen Pal reveal?

Two foodies and their tea!

Yeah, that’s what I thought! When my pen pal Michelle emailed me to ask for my preferences, she mentioned she lived nearby. I immediately suggested we meet up in person, and was glad that she was into the idea too. We made plans to meet in West Hartford’s picturesque Blueback Square at The Green Teahouse, a special loose-leaf tea shop that I’ve visited a couple of times in the past.

Our loose leaf tea blend.

It’s pretty funny how alike Michelle and I are! We both showed up in workout gear and sunglasses, as you can see from our photo together. We both have a Whole Foods addiction, and love to work out. And best of all, we both are daily deal addicts! When she pulled out a Living Social deal to Green Teahouse as we walked into the shop, I could’ve kissed her. I have never found another Coupon Caitlin – finally, someone who wouldn’t be looking at me saying, “You have a Groupon for that?!”

Monkey’s Chocolate and Banana Split, a match made in iced tea heaven.

We also share similar taste in teas, because it was easy for us to quickly select a blend that the friendly employee promised would make the world implode. He was right! We ordered two iced tea blends of Monkey’s Chocolate and Banana Split, lightly sweetened with honey.

Check out those fantastic whole ingredients!

As part of my pen pal package, Michelle was a total sweetheart and contributed her Living Social deal to purchase our iced teas, as well as an ounce each of the blend for us to make at home. I’ve already made one attempt to re-create the tea (again, as an iced drink) on my won, and I definitely didn’t make it strong enough. Now I know for next time! I need a LOT of this yummy flavor.

Our friendly sales associate measures out our blends to take home.

The guy who helped us also shared that for groups of four to ten people, at $30/person, the Green Teahouse will do Chinese tea ceremonies! Sounds like such a fun girl’s day.

We took our iced teas outside because it was such a gorgeous day. I loved that Michelle could watch my reaction as I opened the package, which came in a Whole Foods bag and was tied with an adorable ribbon. I have since transferred the ribbon to my Reebok backpack!

I spotted something QUITE incredible with my first glance into the bag.

Yes, that’s Lilly Pulitzer! What I really loved about Michelle’s package for me was the fact that she really read my blog to help her determine what goodies I’d enjoy most. She just put so much effort into it! I was touched.

For example, Michelle could tell from my constant posting about Daybreak that I am a coffee-lover, so she selected a coffee thermos for me. And I think she could also tell that I’m a Lilly girl ;-) The borghum gum sea salt air popcorn sounds SO interesting to me! Michelle says it’s great and I can’t wait to dig in some evening when I need a snack for a movie night. I love salty, savory food!

The savory snack and coffee theme continued. How adorable are those printed notes?! What’s even MORE awesome is that Michelle designed them! She does printing and design on the side – another touching part of the package, and I also was in desperate need of new cards to use for future Foodie Pen Pal mailings. The non-GMO soy and mushroom jerky was right up my alley – healthy, unique, and savory. I’ve already had the hickory BBQ soy flavor and can’t wait to try the spicier mushroom one next – but will have to follow Michelle’s recommendation and have a glass of milk ready nearby.

I was so very excited to see the Z Bars in the package because I have seen them ALL over the blog world but have never picked any up because I tend to have a steady supply of bars at my house from samples, giveaways, and other Foodie Pen Pal months. The nutrition stats are quite impressive and I had the honey graham version before Step class one day, and had a GREAT class full of energy! Michelle studied in England for awhile and wanted to give me some international brands of food, so she chose low-calorie hot chocolate packets. I’m so excited to try them, especially the Caribbean coconut flavor – oh man.

Cue the angel chorus!

I got pretty damn excited when the last thing I pulled out of the bag was a Tupperware container. Michelle is just so cute and perky and I could totally see her being an excellent baker and cook. Yup, that was confirmed when I opened the container and caught a glance of the above: Michelle’s Kick A** Cookies with oats, flax seed, dried figs, walnuts, and both dark and white chocolate chips!

I think I’m in love!

I brought them to a grad party I attended later that day and had two myself. They didn’t last long among my friends! So hearty, satisfying, and yet also indulgent-tasting. Props, Michelle!

I’m so thankful to have been matched up with a Foodie Pen Pal in May who has ALSO become a “real life” friend! Michelle and I plan to hang out again…and, hint hint, I wouldn’t mind sampling some more baked goods!

And don’t forget to check out The Green Teahouse’s tea blog – an interesting read even for those who aren’t from CT!

Stay tuned – this afternoon I’ll be publishing a guest post by the reader I sent goodies to this month!

Have you ever visited a loose leaf tea café/shop?

Have you ever been matched up with a Foodie Pen Pal who you were able to meet with in person?

Have you ever tried any of the treats I received?

CT Veg Fest 2012!

Can you believe Connecticut didn’t have a vegetarian and healthy living festival of some kind in the Hartford area until this year? Me neither! Although if you’d asked me a few years ago, I probably would have scoffed at the idea of attending such an event.

Luckily my eyes have been opened to the wonderful world of my adventurarian lifestyle ;-) and even though I am not vegetarian or vegan, I still enjoy reading about other eating “lifestyles” and trying vegetarian and vegan foods. They are just as delicious as the rest! No bias here. After all, that’s what being adventurarian is all about. And that’s why I was beyond excited to attend the 1st Annual CT Vegetarian and Healthy Living Festival this past Sunday!

Registration and donation area.

Entry was free, but monetary or non-perishable food donations were encouraged, and it looked like a great turnout for both. I think that ideas for healthy living should be accessible for all, so Veg Fest organizers hit the nail on the head by making the donations optional. I donated money because I am able to do so, but those who cannot should still be able to attend something like this and learn about the options they have!

Erika, Bethany, and I.

I started out the event solo, but ended up meeting up with my blend Bethany and her sweet cousin Erica after they got out of the sessions they were attending when I arrived. Erica was awesome and even knows Jenn of She’s a Fit Chick, who was one of the first bloggers I ever discovered and is also an original founder of FitFluential! Small world.

I knew I was in the right place (the CT Convention Center in Hartford, to be precise) when I walked in, looked to my right, and saw this guy grinding out fresh wheatgrass shots!

I didn’t even know CT grew chickpeas!

I am not a huge beauty product hoarder (lucky for me, though I do hoard plenty of magazines about them) so I didn’t spend too many time at the all-natural beauty product booths, but there were plenty of them.

Soaps from CT Natural Soapworks.

Tower of yummy Fanciful Fox soap flavors.

The mother and daughter duo working this booth were handing out free soap “scraps”, so I got a piece of the green bar above, called Wise Guy.

Soap doubling as a centerpiece?! Gorgeous!

Loofahpalooza!

Just one variety of product offered by Hartford-based company Soul Purpose.

The small part of me that doesn’t have to be practical ALL the time paid $1 for one of the blue crystals below. The girl at the booth had so much faith in their ability to absorb only positive energy – I guess this specific kind is often used to clear negative energy from other crystals, that’s how many “good vibes” it carries. So I figured, why the heck not?! I tucked it into a pocket in my purse and have been carrying it with me since.

Erica, Bethany, and I also got to enjoy a free yoga class – they were running every hour on the hour! I had gone to Step that morning and my quads were sore from doing leg-heavy workouts the couple days before that, so the yoga felt good, and it was another great way to give free access to an activity that many may have been unfamiliar with, averse to trying, or doubtful of. Yay yoga!

Lots of speakers and cooking demos going on too, including a Smoothie Workshop for kiddos!

Whole Foods kids smoothie demo.

Now, let’s get to the products! I love that this event gave so many passionate vendors the chance to get the word out about the foods they have worked so hard to create. All that many of them want is shelf space at a grocery store – it seems like little to ask for, but shelf space is actually VERY scarce with all the big corporations out there (and their big wallets) – getting even a little bit of shelf space is a BIG deal. If you ever attend one of these kinds of events and try a product you love, suggest to your grocery store that they start carrying it – it often takes the voice of the people to convince a store that they should stock a product, because of course they exist to make money, and want to be positive it will sell.

I don’t use dressings on my salads at home (I find that I really don’t need it at all, since my beasts include about 10-15 ingredients on average, many liquid-based, and “marinate” in my fridge overnight) but if I did, I’d be all about purchasing one of the above bottles of Wholesome Creations salad dressings. The green tea and ginger dressing on a cup of greens blew me away.

Mama Micki’s was sold out of all three varieties of their vegan cookies by noon – a good sign for this all-natural bakery that is trying to get into stores! I sampled all three varieties – molasses, chocolate orange walnut, and oatmeal raisin sunflower seed (pictured above). I’m a sucker for a good molasses cookie, but have to declare the chocolate orange walnut the winner for its unique, complex flavor.

Soya Foods of MA had a generous amount of flavors of their Creative Chef Tofettis for patrons to sample – all of these are made with non-GMO soybeans!

I tried BBQ, Brazilian, Hot & Spicy, Lemon Garlic, Jamaican Jerk, Teriyaki, and a faux “chicken nugget” as well (not pictured).

Seitan is a meat substitute I’d never had and I loved how it perfectly mimicked the texture and taste of ground beef. Upton’s Naturals of Chicago offered traditional, chorizo, and Italian varieties. I tried all three and especially loved the chorizo – it would go great in tacos or atop a big pile of nachos.

Bethany and I totally adored these Kathy’s Kitchen SuperSeedz. Kathy and her partner had plenty of flavors of these pumpkin seeds on hand, as you can see from the sign above!

I sampled Original Curry, Coco Joe, and Cinnamon & Sugar. The Original Curry flavored seeds were awesome and the chocolate-y coffee flavor of the Coco Joe was perfectly balanced. The Cinnamon & Sugar were good (can’t go wrong with that combo) but not nearly as remarkable as the first two flavors.

Local chip-makers Pan de Oro of Hartford (I sent a bag to Diana for foodie pen pals this month) partnered up with Good Neighbors of NH (love that) and provided a carb-tastic vehicle for sampling of salsas, salads, and hummus.

I’ve bought Good Neighbors black bean spread before at Whole Foods and it was awesome. I didn’t know they sold falafel too – or as they call them, veggie burgers? Check out the cute snack pack offerings as well!

Love me some tabouli! I may be one of the few bloggers who can take or leave quinoa but it was still tasty. And LOTS of salsa choices, hand it over!

Oh geez, where do I begin?! I wish I hadn’t downed my hummus samples so quickly because I honestly didn’t taste a  huge difference between the flavors I tried (cilantro jalapeno, spicy chipotle, a couple others I can’t recall). However, the flavor I tasted was certainly delightful.

CT Veg Fest = free lunch!

One of MANY courses.

Check out this nifty magnet Bethany snagged for me from a booth! I notice the Splenda I use at home isn’t on there, oops, haha…

One of my favorite products of the day came from The Olive Oil Factory of Waterbury. Gourmet olive oils and balsamic vinegar seem to be “all the rage” now, and I’m certainly glad because that means more and more unique varieties are coming out.

I opted to receive my samples on vegan brown rice bread in the spirit of Veg Fest, but a non-vegan bread was also available. I started with the below chocolate balsamic – it blew me away! Holy crap. I just wanted to drizzle it (or pour it…) over a mound of fresh strawberries.

I also tried blueberry, lime, and peach balsamic. All were so, so fantastic. The blueberry balsamic drizzled on a scone or muffin would seriously be the perfect weekend breakfast.

Another favorite of the day? Boston-based Biena Snacks Roasted Chickpeas! These have plain-Greek-yogurt-mix-in written ALL over them.

The Sea Salt flavor was good but compared to the other two, Lime & Chili and Cinnamon Maple, it was just blah. That’s because the other two flavors were so amazing! I’ve always wanted to try roasted chickpeas and am glad I finally was able to.

Pan de Oro had their own booth of course, but by the time I got there they had run out of all their new varieties of chips (I missed out on the GARLIC!!!). I still wasted no time in sampling the original flavor. Erica had stopped by earlier than me and purchased two bags of the garlic chips!

They were kind enough to sell their chips at a discounted price at the event (many vendors were doing this).

The Simply Bar is probably the most impressive bar I’ve ever seen, from a nutritional stats standpoint. I tried the Cocoa Coffee, which contains real caffeine, and enjoyed its taste as well! These bars are VERY low in sugar and saturated fat, unlike most bars I’ve seen, which remind me of candy bars.

Being a long-time blog reader, I’ve seen Sun Warrior and Vega proteins all over the place. I’ve never been that interested in protein powder though, so have never bought any. Perfect opportunity to sample some – expertly prepared by VeganProteins.com!

I liked the vanilla Sun Warrior protein shake! The desire to drink any more than a few sips, though, was not there.

And I had no desire to drink another sip again of the chocolate Vega protein shake. Sorry – not for me! However, I know that protein powders are something that is enjoyed by many a blogger and blog reader, and it’s great that there are so many vegan options. My twin Heather is a huge Vega fan and uses their powder to make protein pudding oats almost every day!

The Taza chocolate above had an amazing flavor different from any chocolate I’ve ever tried, because it is made from stone-ground cacao nibs. Due to the manufacturing process, the cacao nibs are not completely ground up, which leaves a lot of the cacao flavor in the bars. It’s very complex and hearty.

And check out all the benefits of Chocholistic chocolate! Its creator is Kenzie Harrick, a Certified Health Counselor with a sweet tooth and a passion for healthy eats. Those two things drove her to create “the only chocolate that you can eat every day that will improve your health while you eat it”. Like the Taza, the complex, rich flavor left me feeling very satisfied. I’d take this stuff over a regular candy bar any day (even a Twix!)

Cedar’s is the hummus brand of choice in my house and they passed out a ton of these nifty snack packs! Can’t wait to munch on mine.

Coconut butter is another product that’s been very popular in the blog world, but I hadn’t been able to try it until now. Nature’s Approved had the great idea of serving it up with a dallop of chocolate atop a graham cracker – just as good as any s’more! Well OK, maybe not, because there’s nothing like a charred-to-a-crisp marshmallow. But this was darn close.

Of course Vitamix was there, because it’s not a food event without Vitamix!!

I sampled a handful of freeze-dried corn from Raw Foods Central. It was really good – nice and sweet. I wonder how the peas would taste!

Litchfield based Boxed Goodes Pantry served their herb dips with fresh-cut bread. Not only did they taste delicious, but the packaging was so gorgeous and colorful. A set of jars in a kitchen filled with these herbs would really brighten up the place.

What a FUN event! Bethany and I are heading to Wesleyan University this weekend to attend 2012 Foodstock next. Loving all these FOODIE conferences!

Clearly we were prepared to get our yoga on!

Have you ever been to a vegetarian and/or healthy living festival?

Have you ever tried any of the products I sampled?

Christmas Eve…Two Weeks Later?

You have just a little over 24 hours left to enter the FitFluential Inc. giveaway for Anytime Fitness CEO Chuck Runyon’s new book, “Working Out Sucks! (And Why It Doesn’t Have To)!” Three people will win!

I’m very aware that Christmas Eve was two weeks ago. I’m also very aware that the dinner I ate that day was awesome and too great not to share. So without further ado, I give you Christmas Eve dinner.

Christmas Eve was a whirlwind of a day. After we were done being famous and eating breakfast in NYC, my dad, sister, and I got right in the car and headed back to CT. What was the reason behind our hurry to get back? Another beloved holiday tradition of course – our family friends, the Peredas, host a Christmas Eve pig roast dinner each year! Since they had an early flight out to Florida the next morning, the gathering was pushed to an earlier time than usual, and became more of a mid-afternoon “linner”.

The Peredas are Cuban, and love to serve an entire roasted pig (that they cook on their back deck), rice, and beans, along with traditional salads, appetizers, and desserts that guests bring.

Broc casserole, corn casserole, and cheesy potatoes.

Joe and I arrived a bit late due to our wine-tasting stop, so some appetizers had been almost entirely cleaned out, but there was certainly no shortage of delicious food.

Mmm veggie madness!

Joe, AKA typical boy who doesn’t seem to care about or ever want food, wasn’t very hungry. I was though! I don’t like ham much, but the Peredas’ party is the only time I ever eat it, because this freshly-roasted pig is just SO good! The black beans, which they usually bring in from Pollo Tropical, were homemade this year because the nearest location closed. And they were actually the best they’ve ever been, so way to go Mrs. Pereda!

Joe's plate…lame.

My plate (and wine)…awesome.

And of course, more red wine was had! How could I not when I had so many delicious foods that paired well with it, like kalamatas?

I chatted with the Gerbers, who I’d just seen a couple days before at the Andersons’ get-together, and a bunch of other family friends that I hadn’t had the chance to catch up with in a few months.

Amazingly talented Mollie (she just got into the Mass Institute of Art!) and I.

Got to wear my new Kohl’s skirt from Black Friday! First time pairing a skirt with tights and heels, and I loved it.

Megan (she's a nutrition student!) and I.

My mom, me, and Mr. Gerber (Mollie and Megan's dad). They match!

Not long after my (late) arrival, dessert came out! So many options, but I had about one sample of each.

Cream cheese and almond stuffed strawberries – surprisingly, I didn’t like these too much! It’s just because the almond flavor was very strong. I can only take so much almond in anything. Everyone else adored them though – Vivian did a great job. Don’t trust me, I’m an almond-avoider!

If you weren't drooling yet, you are now.

She also made these mint chocolate chip cookies, which were perfectly gooey and didn’t skimp at all on the chocolate, just the way I like it. They reminded me of the cookies I got from my wine-twin Meg of Eat, Drink, and Be Sperry in the Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap!

Casual Steve stood guard over the other desserts pictured – many holiday cookies, including leftovers from Mrs. Anderson’s goodies!

I didn’t have any of the above creation because it was made with cherries, which are definitely one of my least favorite foods of all time. Too many cough syrup associations…but cherry lovers dove in!

One of our friends, Mr. Andries, happens to have a birthday on Christmas Eve! So the party was also a celebration for him. His daughter, Courtney, picked out the most fabulous red velvet Coldstone Creamery ice cream cake ever, made with cheesecake ice cream – which happens to be my favorite Coldstone flavor!

We all got a bit carried away with the birthday wishes, and followed up Mr. Andries’s birthday song with one for my mom, whose birthday was the day before. And then we expanded to other December birthdays…November birthdays…things started getting out of hand when we began singing to Mariel, whose birthday was back in early October.

Parents are into it.

My mom is loving it.

Nice bunny ears move, Mr. Pereda!

OK…can I have my cake now?!

Now that’s what I’m talking about. Hands down, best ice cream cake I’ve ever had.

The fun wasn’t over yet…I’m not even sure if these came out before or after the birthday singing, but it doesn’t really matter. What does matter is that Vivian had another success in the kitchen, and we all certainly benefitted.

I give you – butterscotch liqueur and caramel apple shots!

Now, I don’t like apples. But who couldn’t love these?

Sorry, Joe.

What a festive Christmas Eve! I think this may have been the best Pereda pig roast ever.

Afterwards, my family and I headed home to open presents – our first time doing so on the 24th, since our planes to Florida left early in the morning on Christmas Day. I definitely didn’t like it as much as the whole Christmas morning routine, but I couldn’t really complain because I just wanted to get on that plane to the warmth!

So you guessed it, this means I can finally start recapping my trip to Florida. I may finish writing about things that happened in December 2011 in…I don’t know…March 2012? Sounds about right :-P

Have you ever been to a pig roast or something similar? What’s your favorite place to get ice cream cake?

A Long Overdue Reunion

I’m still enjoying my Florida vacation, but unfortunately today is our last day here! I’ll eventually be sharing my Florida food adventures with you guys, but for now I still need to share my holiday adventures too! This is definitely a good problem to have :) too many good times!

Back when us “kids” were younger, my family and two other families we are close with, the Andersons and the Gerbers (they hosted us for Thanksgiving), used to get together for what we called Gerber-Anderson-Croswell parties.

Clearly a good time (see my mom at left).

After we started going off to college, these gatherings became sparse. The Andersons decided to take advantage of everyone being home for the holidays and host a long overdue reunion. Good times, food, and wine were aplenty!

The oldest Croswell, Anderson, and Gerber girls.

I honestly have no idea what kind of wine I was drinking. It was red and it was delicious! I had one glass before I got hungry.

My favorite wine partner, the mom.

 My family jokingly calls Mrs. Anderson “Monica Stewart” (her first name is Monica) because no one can keep a home, cook, and host a party like she can! Even as I was walking up the driveway (this shindig also conveniently took place down the street from me), I was greeted by quaint holiday pine, holly, and pine cones arranged in the flower box.

The inside of the house was no less well-decorated.

Molly actually is responsible for this arrangement (props, Molly).

I used to be notorious for going over to the Andersons’ and eating them out of house and home in middle/high school. But really, how could I not when they are always providing so much wonderful food?

Not exactly sure what that dip was, but it was so good. Went to town on those cucumbers.

Swedish meatballs, these were fantastic.

I pretty much died when I saw this cheese spread! And check out the dried fruit!

Amazing sweet and savory flatbread.

We didn’t make Mrs. Anderson do all the cooking, don’t worry! My mom contributed a delicious layered Mexican dip of fat-free refried black beans, guacamole, and pico de gallo, paired with Stop n Shop’s blue corn tortilla chips.

Managed to take this shot before people dug in!

Megan gives us an action shot.

Mrs. Gerber brought what I can only say is the best buffalo chicken dip I’ve ever had. There was so much chunky, fresh pulled chicken in this dip and the sauce was not overwhelming at all. A dip that doesn’t skip on the meat is my kind of dip. I would eat this with a spoon, all day.

We chatted, caught up, and joked as if no time at all had passed.  I love nights like this!

The boys were a little less chatty.

No one could wait very long to dive into dessert. Everyone contributed to an amazing spread.

Hershey Kiss PB cookies, chocolate chip cookie squares, and ginger snaps.

I had one of each of the first two cookies, and then half of a ginger snap. Mrs. Anderson’s cookie squares are a classic. I have been known to eat up to ten at family fiestas back in the day. This time I was able to reel it back a bit, but they were just as good as usual. The Hershey Kiss PB cookies are also one of my favorite cookies of all time!

For the sweet n' salty lovers!

Sugar cookies with icing and sprinkles.

Peppermint bark!

The chocolate covered saltines pictured on top of the photo above were OUT OF THIS WORLD. I nearly died after the first bite –  so so good for a salty n’ sweet junkie like me. I’m honestly not sure what those candies are at the bottom of the photo!

What a fantastic night. I had a great time! I had to pack for my various trips (recaps to come, I swear…) and go to work the next morning, so I headed home around 10 (past my bed time!) But I had a great time and loved reuniting with my old friends. It all felt so cozy and familiar!

Which of the featured foods in this post would you most want to try?

C is for Cookies

WARNING: Today’s post contains more COOKIES! And it should be the last cookie-centric post for a bit, now that my cookie swaps have wrapped up. To balance things out a bit, I’ll talk about some stuff that isn’t cookie-related. I still know how to!

I had a most excellent workout yesterday in the form of a Step class. Non-stop combos, with cardio intervals mixed in. I performed the moves very well and only had to stop for a break a couple of times. I felt so energized, but by the end of the class I was ready for it to be over. I just love those workouts that boost the mood and provide those endorphins that put the benefits beyond just the physical. Such a fun class! I’ve been a bit of a Step monster lately (I went on Friday and Sunday as well) so I probably will not be doing another one of those classes until Saturday so that I can keep my routine fresh. We’ll see though – I try to do what I like.

This past weekend was full of all things excellent. Delicious coffee

…as well as one of the best Italian red wines I’ve had in awhile, courtesy of the best package store in town, Sonoma Wines & Spirits. I also participated in a tasting of sherry and port, which I wrote about on Facebook yesterday.

Lidia and I headed back to our alma mater and saw Connecticut Ballet’s “The Nutcracker” at Jorgensen. It was an excellent performance (thanks Groupon!) and also made me feel silly, because I didn’t realize that so many orchestra pieces that I know so well are from that ballet!

Gotta get as many holiday pics as possible.

The weekend wrapped up on Sunday night with an excellent dinner of chili topped with leftover coleslaw and black beans. And a festive tiny fork!

And now it’s game time AKA cookie time. I’d like to share the wonderful cookies I was sent by three talented bloogers, through the Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap.

My first batch was a pleasant surprise because it arrived earlier than expected, and also on a day when I had been particularly ravenous! Faith of The Stirring Place made my day with her Smookies – NOT to be confused with Snooki.

Each s’mores cookie was different than the rest. Some were drizzled with white chocolate, some were dipped in milk chocolate and sprinkles. But each and every single one contained marshmallows and was honestly one of the best cookies I’ve ever had.

You’re drooling, right?

Faith called the cookies a “work in progress” in her note to me. I beg to differ – DON’T CHANGE A THING!

Meg of Eat, Drink, and Be Sperry wins the award for cutest packaging. Snowman wrapping paper, glittery Santa tag, and a green bow – need I say/show more?

She also wins the award for best smelling cookies. As soon as I opened the box, the minty aroma of her Double Mint Chocolate Chip Cookies hit my nostrils and had me ready for dessert.

They retained so much of their softness! Even my picky little brother loved these.

Last, but certainly not least, are Jamie of J-Fit‘s Cookies and Cream Cookies – once again, little brother approved! And more Caitlin-approved packaging – I love cookie tins! My mom practically stuck her nose in the tin, inhaled deeply, and proclaimed, “They smell like ice cream!!”

The card she sent was so cute as well. I love the design! These cookies were amazing – I really lucked out. 3 for 3 with great bloggers and great cookies!

Thank you to the three bloggers who sent me such amazing baking creations!

Which of these three do you think you’d like to try most?

The Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap!

What an amazing weekend! They seem to keep piling up one after the other, which is never a bad thing. I have plenty to recap later on as usual, but for now please head over to the amazing Bethany’s blog, More Fruit Please, to check out her post on the brunch she hosted and so kindly invited me to yesterday. It was just beyond amazing! I can’t wait to share my post on it.

NOTE: This post features a recipe I used in a post last week, but has many new photos, so you may want to tune in!

It’s time for another cookie swap – the Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap to be exact! Unlike last week’s Virtual Cookie Swap, this one involved the actual exchange of the cookies with other bloggers. Each participant baked three dozen of one cookie, and sent one dozen each to three other bloggers. Love that concept – spreading the love to more bloggers, and I get three different cookies in my mailbox!

My cookies, ready to ship out the door.

This swap was organized by Julie of The Little Kitchen and Lindsay of Love and Olive Oil (can I just say that I’m in LOVE with that name). They did such a great job keeping participants updated regularly via email, creating a Facebook page, and spreading the word about the #fbcookieswap hashtag.

Since the Virtual Cookie Swap did not involve sending any physical cookies, I used the same recipe that I did for that swap, from Luisa of The Wednesday Chef. Only now, bloggers were actually going to get to taste my baking! Remember, this recipe is Luisa’s property, not mine, so please visit her blog to check it out! I simply doubled all the ingredients to ensure that I would have enough cookies to send out – and taste test.

First, I mixed my brown sugar, butter (the real stuff!), eggs, and vanilla extract in a big bowl. I’m sure you could use imitation vanilla extract, but I didn’t realize that at the grocery store (my mom informed me later) so just like the butter, the vanilla extract was the real stuff. I did not use the almond extract that the recipe calls for because I couldn’t find it at the store!

Secondly, I mixed my salt, baking soda, buckwheat groats (courtesy of Tara, my November foodie pen pal), and whole wheat flour in a separate bowl…

…and then slowly combined the dry mixture, little by little, into the wet ingredients.

This took a bit of arm strength – and with a rubbery bendy spoon too! Oops.

Third, I broke a bunch of Whole Foods dark chocolate squares into chunks by hand.

I liked the idea of using dark chocolate instead of semisweet, and chunks instead of chips, because I think this made for a heartier cookie!

It took a lot of willpower not to eat this.

Fourth, I lined the cookies up on some special silver cookie baking trays we have. Only one tray could go in the oven at a time (top rack only), so while one tray was baking, I worked on prepping the next tray. Thank goodness we had multiples!

Fifth, it’s bake time! Instead of baking the cookies for 6 minutes, flipping the pan, and then cooking for another 6 minutes, I did 5 minutes. Every oven is different! Always check on baked goods before the time on the box/recipe is up, just in case.

Sixth, I removed them from the trays fairly soon after taking them out of the oven – otherwise the trays continue to cook the cookies, and they get too hard. Another Mom-tip!

I packaged the cookies by putting each dozen in a holiday-themed plastic bag, and then putting the bag in a cookie tin!

I also wrote each blogger a note to send off with my cookies, letting them know they could find the recipe at The Wednesday Chef.

I sent my cookies to Sarah of Both Sides Now, Talida of Talida Bakes, and Susan of Happy Hippie. Another pro of this swap, aside from the obvious receipt of COOKIES, is learning about blogs I otherwise might never have found!

Soon I will be posting about the three different cookies I received, so be on the lookout for that! Thanks to Julie and Lindsay for doing such a wonderful job on this!