Healthy snack hack – Fruity frozen yogurt bites

About a month ago, I discovered an incredible yogurt. I know this doesn’t sound like a terribly exciting event, but I take life’s joys where I find them. The brand is siggi’s, and what they make (among other products) is an Icelandic-style yogurt called skyr. Jammed with protein like Greek yogurt, it also goes a step further on the awesome scale by being strained to the most silken texture I’ve ever encountered in a dairy product.

What I find particularly great about siggi’s is that they really care about what goes into their food (and what doesn’t). The ingredient list is short, free of any artificial flavors or sweeteners, and generally light on sugar. This means the end product is packed full of flavor and deliciously tart.

While I’m perfectly content to just spoon it directly into my mouth, I thought I’d try out one of the recipes they have on their site. I tweaked it just a little bit, and the end result was a quick and simple frozen treat.

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All you need is 1/4 cup chopped fruit (I used strawberries), 1/4 cup coconut milk (full-fat, from a can) and one 5.3 oz container of siggi’s (my choice was coconut, in keeping with the theme). Mix all the ingredients together in a glass or ceramic bowl. This is an important distinction, because no matter how well you wash plastic bowls they are still porous and absorb all sorts of things. Using glass or ceramic ensures that no flavor ghosts from recipes past make their way into your tasty yogurt.

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After the ingredients are well combined, spoon the mixture into a decorative candy mold or ice cube tray. I went with a nautical mold, because why not. My mix filled about 1.5 trays, and I’d say the trays I used were for relatively small pieces. With larger shapes, it would likely just fill one tray.

Then all you need to do is find a nice level spot in the freezer for these little guys to set. They’ll be soft set in about 30 minutes, and more solidly set after two hours. I find it’s best to let them defrost ever-so-slightly before eating them (for maybe just two or three minutes) so that they’re easier to bite into.

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Aside from the tastiness, a great reason to make something like this is to help with portion control. When you want a little treat, you can take a few yogurt bites out of the freezer to satiate your craving without any guilt. Add to that the fact that siggi’s is certified kosher and gluten free, plus they only use milk from grass-fed cows, and you have yourself a healthy snack that you can feel good about eating.

While it’s not available in every store, siggi’s is still pretty easy to find. Just in case you’re not sure where to look, you can pop your zip code into their store locator.

As an added bonus, when I emailed siggi’s to tell them how much I loved their yogurt (yes, this is totally a thing that I do) they sent me an adorable packet complete with measurement swaps for cooking and a bunch of coupons. I think the best way to spread the love is to pass some of it along to you, so I’ll send a coupon for a free container of siggi’s to the first five people who comment on this post.

Happy eating!

50 Shades of Grain

The past week or so, it seems like my world has been inundated with ads for the upcoming 50 Shades of Grey movie. For the record, I have not read the books, nor will I be seeing the film. Not because I’m offended by the concept of kink, but rather because I’m very offended by terribly written books. Especially terribly written books that hit it big solely because there’s a big segment of the human population that thinks taking an extra cheese sample at the grocery store counts as living dangerously.

So instead, I’m going to see if I can milk some of the promotional web traffic by casually mentioning 50 Shades in a blog post that has nothing at all to do with the books (or movie), but is instead about my love affair with quinoa. Actually, if you intentionally exile your mind to the gutter, you could argue that quinoa sounds a little bit like a tool Christian Grey would keep in the world’s lamest BDSM den. Just a little.

Aside from the awkward name, quinoa is a pretty sexy little powerhouse. It has tons of protein, plus fiber, calcium, iron, and a whole cocktail of B vitamins. And even though it seems grain-like in texture, quinoa isn’t a cereal, which makes it a gluten-free food. It’s actually in the same plant family as spinach, and the part of the plant you see packaged in stores is the seeds. Essentially, quinoa is the epitome of all that is awesome, the complete polar opposite of Anastasia Steele.

The only real downside to quinoa is that it’s coated with saponins, a natural defense mechanism that tastes bitter and foams like soap. In other words, saponin is the Christian Grey of the plant kingdom. This means that you need to thoroughly wash quinoa before cooking it, and you’ll need to use a very fine mesh strainer so that the sneaky little seeds don’t slip through. Once it’s washed, combine a 2:1 ratio of liquid to quinoa (I prefer chicken broth), bring it to a boil, then reduce to simmer for about 20 minutes (or until all the liquid is absorbed).

In addition to eating quinoa as a side dish like rice or couscous, there are tons of great recipes out there for more creative ways to cook it. One of my favorite recent discoveries is this recipe from Whole Foods for an egg bake that uses quinoa to create a sort of crust. You could easily adjust the recipe to accommodate whatever herbs you have on hand, and it can also be made paleo by swapping out the milk for coconut milk and skipping the cheese topping (but don’t do that, cheese is delicious). I used Silk unsweetened coconut milk in the version pictured above, and it worked like a dream without any coconut flavor.

Unlike 50 Shades of Grey, I completely understand and support quinoa’s recent rise in popularity. Not content to rest on their laurels (and some damn fine laurels, at that), the superfood superheroes at Nuts.com have started carrying pre-cooked quinoa dry goods. Quinoa puffs are a tasty gluten-free alternative to cereal. They taste like Rice Krispies (and sound like them too) but have the added benefit of protein. I love combining them with a handful of freeze-dried fruit and coconut milk.

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If, like the rabid 50 Shades fandom community, you’re looking for something hot and messy, they also carry quinoa flakes. These cook up with the speed of instant oatmeal and the texture of Cream of Wheat, but with the slightly nutty, legume-y taste of quinoa. The mixture may seem a little liquid at first, but it quickly thickens as it starts to cool.

Put 1 cup unsweetened almond milk in a large microwave-safe container and heat for 1 minute. Add 1/3 cup quinoa flakes, stir well, then return to the microwave for another 1 minute – 1 minute 30 seconds. Top it off with a handful of freeze-dried strawberries or 2 Tb apple butter and prepare for a mouthful of pleasure.

Stream themes – Bizarre romance

In watching the Golden Globes last night, it became abundantly clear to me that I’m a bit out of touch with the mainstream. I don’t think I’ve seen any of the movies nominated, and only a handful of the television shows. To be fair, a lot of the nominated films haven’t been released yet (or just saw limited release at independent theaters).

And as for the rest of the movies, seeing them in the theater would involve, well, actually going to the theater. The last time I went to the theater was to see Guardians of the Galaxy, and the jerk sitting next to me got really catty when I asked him to stop checking the baseball score and put away his phone. He proceeded to laugh like a deranged donkey throughout the film and intentionally sat his icy cold bottle of water on my leg a few times for good measure.

I much prefer cozying up to a nice quiet streaming session in the comfort of my own home. I’m patient enough that I can wait until movies are released for home viewing, and between Netflix, Amazon Prime and HBO GO, the odds are good I’ll eventually be able to watch whatever it is I’m looking to see.

This past week I’ve been drawn to a category of stories that can best be described as bizarre romance. In each of these films there is a small element of the supernatural wrapped very gingerly inside the natural progression of a relationship. As someone who has issues with suspension of disbelief, I found this approach quite refreshing and wholly enjoyable to watch.

Frequencies is set within an alternate reality where all human beings emit a frequency that determines their place in the world. People with higher frequencies are, in a sense, more closely attuned with the natural order of things. This makes them not only more intelligent but also luckier. I love how matter-of-fact their understanding of frequencies is. Your frequency is like your blood type – you are born with it and it will never change.

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The story isn’t really about frequencies though, not exactly. It’s a commentary on all sorts of topics, including (but not limited to) class, upward mobility, innovation and fate, all woven into several relationships, both platonic and romantic. The movie has flaws, but overall it hits a lot of nails on their collective heads with humor and grace.

3/5 stars

In Your Eyes follows the lives of two strangers as they realize they have a telepathic bond. Each is able not only to see what the other is currently seeing, but also feel through the other’s touch and even talk to the other. Even though this seems like it would be a difficult pill to swallow, they accept the reality of it very easily, which makes it easier in turn for you as the viewer to accept it as well.

The pace is very slow and deliberate, but much to my surprise I didn’t mind that at all. I found myself completely entranced by their conversations, to the point where I was literally on the edge of my seat, leaning toward the television. (Yes, I know how strange that sounds, but it’s true.)

Oh, and in case this description wasn’t enough to catch your interest, the film was written by Joss Whedon.

4/5 stars

The One I Love is by far my favorite of the bunch. I’m not going to say much about it here, because I don’t want to give anything away (rest assured, the above trailer is spoiler-free) but suffice it to say that it perfectly balances comedy and drama. Mark Duplass (of Safety Not Guaranteed, another film I adore) and Elisabeth Moss knock it out of the park as a couple who go on a weekend retreat in an attempt to reconnect.

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It’s the first movie in a long time that made me sad Netflix doesn’t let you give half-star ratings. If I could, I would have given it 4.5 stars (I considered 5, but there were a handful of predictable plot points that made me change my mind).

4/5 stars

A how-to guide for the hibernation enthusiast

Even though the recent solstice means the days are getting longer, it’s still going to be a while before the days are hospitable. Considering the weather around here seems to be either bitter cold or sopping wet, the most inviting place to me right now is inside of my own home (or more specifically, inside of my sweatpants, inside my home).

I wouldn’t go so far as to call myself a recluse, but I would say that I’m at the top of my hibernation game. To help the rest of you get on my level, here are some suggestions for making the most out of the remaining winter months.

Achieve maximum cozy

The aforementioned sweatpants are all well and good, but if you really want to show the season who’s boss, full-body comfort is key. The monastic styling of the iconic Snuggie does the best it can for a glorified bathrobe, but you can do better. For the ultimate in cuddly softness, there’s only one word you need to know: Kigurumi.

Mascot of Tsu Mie

Broadly, a kigurumi is any character costume, and the characters in Japan are notably weirder than anywhere else in the world. Because, Japan. More recently, the definition of the word has been expanded to include fleecy, magical, character onesies, affectionately also known as “disguise pajamas.”

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I picked up a Totoro kigurumi while I was living in China, and I have several roommates who can attest to the fact that I wear it regularly. If you’re not lucky enough to live somewhere within Taobao delivery range, you can order online from the Kigurumi Shop. They have a pretty good selection of various animals and characters, including quite possibly the most adorable likeness of Dracula I’ve ever seen.

Take up marathoning

Running is not my forte. Running is not even remotely close to my forte. Binge-watching television, on the other hand, is an activity where I would have earned stacks of medals (if it were the sort of thing that they gave out medals for). My Netflix marathons are a thing of beauty, carefully balanced to both entertain and also occasionally allow me to pretend that I am learning something.

How does this scientific balance happen? Historical dramas. They are more interesting than documentaries, by far better acted than actual history shows, but also still full of incidental education. I spent some time re-watching the entire series of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (vaguely educational if you squint your eyes and tilt your head sideways). After watching a season, I would take a pause for a period drama.

I started with The Paradise, which is a British series about a guy with immaculate facial hair who opens London’s first department store in 1875. Despite the fact that everyone has perfect teeth and the ladies seem to prescribe to 20th century grooming techniques, it’s still an interesting window to a period of time I didn’t know much about. Also over on that side of the pond, I very much enjoyed The Bletchley Circle. It follows a group of women who worked together as code breakers during WWII, who come together a few years later to solve a crime they realize the police got wrong.

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I’m now currently re-watching the entire series of Psych (in preparation for watching the final season for the first time) and I punctuated a few season breaks with the Canadian series Bomb Girls. It’s about ladies who work in a WWII munitions factory in Toronto and wear a lot of awesome hats. It also features some stellar dialogue, such as this line, delivered from a hospital bed:

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Snack like a champion

Now that you’re all snuggly and settled in for a day of sedentary streaming, it’s crucial to throw a bit of comfort food in the mix. Since you don’t want to pack on the pounds like an actual hibernating animal, I’m going to share with you a recipe for perhaps the greatest thing to ever come out of my microwave. Or any microwave, for that matter. It also saves you the sadness of hunting down a copy of Microwave Cooking for One.

The most important step in this process is finding yourself a very large mug. If the mug is too small, this delicious concoction will never make it out of your microwave and into your mouth. That would be a terrible tragedy.

Into this large mug, add:

  • 1 heaping Tb. almond flour
  • 1 heaping Tb. unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 Tb. unsweetened vanilla almond milk (or coconut milk)
  • 1 Tb. honey (or maple syrup)
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract

Use a fork or whisk to mix it very well. I find it’s best to start with a slow stir, otherwise the cocoa powder will puff out of the mug, then more vigorously mix until the ingredients are fully combined into a batter. You could leave it at that, but I would strongly recommend taking a big spoonful of your favorite nut butter and dropping it into the center of the cup.

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Timing is probably going to vary based on your microwave, but I find that 1min30sec does the trick for me. The end result is a totally guilt-free mug of chocolate cake that you can then curl up with in front of the television. She’s not the prettiest girl at the ball, but damn does she know how to have a good time.

How to win at Christmas – Gifts for geeks

Although there are some people willing to sleep outside in sub-zero temperatures amongst the other bargain hunters who will eventually attempt to trample them in order to get the last Elsa costume pajama set (insert your own “Let it Go” joke here), I have never been tempted by Black Friday sales. As I explained in my last post, it helps that I’m not obligated to do any Christmas shopping. So rather than running through the aisles of Target like a contestant on Supermarket Sweep, I went out with my family for a leisurely deli brunch.

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The most effort I’ve put into shopping today is occasionally refreshing the page to see the next item in today’s woot-off. No danger of getting trampled there. If you’re also averse to full-contact consumerism, there are plenty of sites online that have geek gifts aplenty. I’ve touched before on the vast array of disturbing fan-sploitation products out there, but there are also lots of genuinely awesome items to be found.

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One of my favorite things to do when traveling is pick up a copy of Mental Floss magazine from the airport newsstand. It’s chock-full of randomly assembled interesting tidbits, and always keeps me occupied while waiting for a flight. Not only do they have subscription bundles available for purchase online, they also have a shop with an equally random assortment of interesting items.

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ThinkGeek is a go-to of mine for all manner of nerd things, even though they do have a tendency to try to mine every possible fan community for customers. However, the upside to this is that they have the menu option to shop by interest, making it easier to find something specific or specialized. They also have a lot of items that are exclusive to their site, like heat-changing mugs (I own this one) and character hoodies. Want to make your mark on this year’s office secret Santa exchange? They’ve got something for that too.

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Nerd Approved is another blog I read on the regular, and they’ve got a curated shop of products that I would love to go on a spree in. There’s a section just for holiday ornaments, and also a fairly extensive collection of Pop! vinyl figures (a great stocking stuffer for pretty much anyone). As with ThinkGeek, you can browse based on your interests or you can browse based on a category.

And, for the record, any of these items would make a great gift for that special blogger in your life.

How to win at Christmas – Handmade holiday gifts

I don’t celebrate Christmas. This means I don’t really feel the stress of the holiday shopping season (and judging by the looks on other people’s faces, it’s really stressful). That being said, I still do like giving gifts. I don’t reserve my gift-giving just to Christmas. If I see something I know a friend will like, I have a tendency to buy it and send it along, regardless of season or occasion. But since the rest of you are probably making lists (and checking them the requisite number of times), I thought I’d write up a few gift-giving guides.

Maybe “guide” is a bit of a strong word. More like, a few curated lists of awesome stuff.

This first collection comes from the hallowed handmade halls of Etsy. If you don’t know how to properly navigate it, Etsy can be a nightmare tidal wave of WTF. But if you have a little bit of search know-how, there are some awesome treasures to be found.

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This shop has been knocking it out of the park for years. I love her mugs (and mugs and mugs), but I especially love this plate. I would eat the heck out of cheese off this plate. It combines the power of pun with the majesty of Lionel Ritchie’s hair, with the added bonus of it being a serving platter for delicious dairy products.

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If you have a friend who loves both pop culture and slick typography, this shop makes art to hang on the walls of a grownup who is still in touch with his inner child. There’s a lot of Harry Potter images, including some really cool propaganda-style posters and vintage-looking ads. Obviously, this honey badger print is my favorite, because they are badass little weirdos. (Although, my spirit animal is the mantis shrimp.)

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For a stocking stuffer, I love the stylized cartoon magnets made by this wacky illustrator. He has some classic video game characters done in a modern style, plenty of blockbuster movie characters (both past and present), and a lot of galactic goodies. If you’re not a fan of The Mighty Boosh, the magnet featured above might seem to be in the WTF category. If you are a fan, then we are friends and you understand why it’s awesome.

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Last on this list, you’ll need a card to go with your perfectly chosen present. The first item I ever bought on Etsy was a magnet of this print, and it’s still one of my favorite possessions. He now offers a few cards through the same shop, as well as a wide variety of cards through his second shop.

For my next post, I’ll be putting together a collection of the finest geek gifts for that special nerd in your life. If you have any requests for items or categories you’d like help finding, let me know in the comments!

Faking it – Crock pot apple crumble

Pumpkin is, without question, the star of the Thanksgiving season. It’s versatile, preserves well, and easy to incorporate into both sweet and savory dishes. But I’m not here to talk about pumpkins.

The thing is, as much as I love pumpkin in almost anything, I don’t like pumpkin pie. I’ve never been a fan, which is remarkably strange considering I love pumpkin bread and cookies and cakes. Every few years I try a bite, just in case my palate has changed (so far it hasn’t). Needless to say, this results in an underwhelming end to every Thanksgiving meal.

In hunting around for an alternative option, I stumbled across an ingenious solution. Rather than overwork the oven, you can use the crock pot to slow-cook dessert while you’re eating dinner.

Chopped apples with cinnamon

Using this recipe as a base, I made just a few little adjustments based on what I had on hand. (The fact that she starts out the post talking about taking a break from pumpkin was a very good sign.) While I’m sure it’s delicious with a light dusting of crumble, I found that doubling the amount of topping gave an even cover over the whole pot. If you’re going to indulge in butter-toasted goodness, you may as well commit to doing it like a proper glutton.

Start out by giving the crock pot a light coating of buttery nonstick spray (or your nonstick coating of choice). Take 4-6 apples (I used Honeycrisp), peel them, chop them into rough chunks, and throw them into that slippery slow cooker. Add a bunch of cinnamon and toss to coat.

Apple crumble topping

In a separate bowl, mix together 1/2 cup almond flour1/4 cup unsweetened shredded coconut1/2 cup chopped hazelnuts, and spices to taste (for me that was cinnamon and ground ginger). If you would like your topping to be sweet, you could also add in some brown sugar or Splenda. Stir it well, then toss in 1/4 cup butter that has been chopped into smaller bits.

Use a pastry cutter to combine it all, then spread that delightful nutty ambrosia over the top of the apples. Cover the crock pot and cook on low for 2-3 hours. Leaving it in for closer to 3 hours means the apples will be soft and gooey. If you prefer your apples to still have a bit of bite to them, 2 hours should do the trick. I’ve tried the finished product on its own, with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, and drizzled with cream (the things I do for my readers) and I can attest that all are equally great ways to enjoy it.

I am so winning at homemade goodness today. Apple crumble from the slow cooker. #nom

A photo posted by Natalie (@positivelynatalie) on

As an added bonus, thanks to the use of various nuts instead of flour, this is a gluten free way to end the Thanksgiving meal. It’s also hypothetically paleo-friendly, provided you’re the type of paleo person who makes allowances for butter, and low carb if you don’t add any sugar. Most importantly, it’s just straight-up delicious.