Not Home for the Holidays

Culture, France, Photography, Travel

The hubs and I have missed a lot of big family events since we first moved away from Arkansas, however, we’ve always done what we had to do to make it home for Christmas. 

This holiday season (2017) I felt a bit torn. In many ways I was my same ole jolly self, starting my Christmas playlist the day after Halloween Thanksgiving, watching Christmas movies on repeat, eating festive holiday treats, etc., but in others, I was slightly dreading my favorite day of December. 

Knowing, that for the first time ever, I wouldn’t be home for the holidays, I found myself a bit anxious over what’s otherwise a wonderful time of the year. Anticipating that I would need a good distraction on Christmas day,  I set out researching.alps hike - 1.jpgalps hike 2 - 1.jpgalps hike 3 - 1alps hike 4 - 1Alps - 38Alps - 43Alps - 54Alps - 34Alps - 18Alps - 36

Alps - 51Alps - 92Alps - 57Alps - 30Alps - 23A few years ago Jacob and I watched a Rick Steves’ Christmas special where Steves’ and his family spend Christmas day in one of the prettiest places we’ve ever been, Gimmelwald Switzerland, high up in the Swiss Alps. After finishing the special, in awe, we pledged to one day return and have a white Christmas in those lovely mountains. Little did we know then that that Christmas would come so soon.

Though it wasn’t the Swiss Alps where we spent our Christmas, i’d say the French Alps are sufficient for fulfilling that pledge, and they were just as pretty, if not even better, than the region of the Alps we explored a few summers ago. Alps - 41Alps - 35Alps - 26Alps - 59Alps - 27Alps - 2Alps - 52Alps - 15Alps - 17heidi alps 2 - 1.jpgWanting to have for the first time in my life a relaxing holiday, I got to work finding a place to stay where we could truly unwind. However, unfortunately, I quickly came to find that everyone else seemed to have the same idea. 

For a while it looked like we had two options: we could either stay in a small condo in a major ski town, or in an even smaller cabin in the foothills, likely away from the snow.

Wanting two things, well, really three, a fireplace, guaranteed snow, and seclusion, I persevered until the perfect option came about: Ma Cabane en Montagne, a lovely little traditional, eco-conscious log cabin located in the stunning Vanoise National Park. Alps - 8Alps - 65Alps - 61Alps - 62Alps - 73Alps - 77Alps - 66Alps - 68

heidi alps - 1.jpgAlps - 82Alps - 78Alps - 73Alps - 72Secluded, covered with a beautiful blanket of thick, white, sparkling snow, and containing a wood stove, Ma Cabane en Montagne was the perfect spot for us to spend our quiet holiday. The location was unbeatable, the cabin was cozy, and best of all, dinner (unfussy, yet delicious, traditional French Savoyarde dishes – think raclettes, fondue, sausages… basically good, hearty, and comforting mountain food) was included each night, taking any hard work off our hands, and allowing us more time to relax.

Though there were ski resorts nearby and plenty of Alpine activities available, we decided instead to take things as easy as possible, and really enjoy a low key Christmas break. Alps - 91Alps - 85Alps - 93Alps - 94Alps - 90Alps - 86Alps - 87Alps - 74Alps - 70Alps - 76Alps - 80Alps - 79Alps - 75Alps - 67We watched Christmas movies, read books, drank hot chocolate by the fire, went sledding, played with Heidi in the snow (who had never before seen such a thing, making the whole experience that much more fun), explored nearby villages, and on Christmas day, took a lovely hike through the mountains.

On Christmas Eve, the big night to celebrate here in France, we drank champagne and ate foie gras, steak, potatoes, chestnuts (literally roasted over an open fire), and cheese, and then fell asleep half an hour into Elf. On Christmas day, we slept in (a first for me!!), enjoyed a quiet breakfast, and then set off for our hike. We FaceTimed with family later that day, enjoyed dinner, and then fell asleep by 10. For the first time ever, it was a quiet, relaxing holiday, and really such a perfect way to spend the day.

Though I wouldn’t want to do it every year as we certainly missed family and friends, this peaceful way of celebrating was incredibly memorable, and such a nice change of pace. Here’s to more relaxing holidays in our future, and though a little bit late, a very happy new year for us all!

 

Herb-Infused Simple Syrup

Culture, Food, Food Photography, Photography, Recipes, Uncategorized

There’s a lot that I love about being back in the South. The people are friendlier, for one, and I don’t always feel so rushed to get things done.  People move a bit slower around here, which often annoys me, but it’s a nice change of pace.

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I went to the post office the other day, and actually had a nice time. I usually can’t stand going to the post office. The lines are long, the service is slow, and the people are rude. Though I usually avoid it like the plague, I was dissatisfied with my mom’s selection of stamps. They were American flags, and just wouldn’t work for the beautiful, yet overpriced, stationery that I had just bought. I spent half an hour artistically addressing the envelopes. I wasn’t about to ruin their appeal by using American flag stamps.

I won’t bore you with the details of my trip to the post office, but I will say this; there was no line, the clerk was eager to show me her selection of “pretty stamps,” and there was an old man there, the grandfatherly type, who so sweetly asked to pet my dog. It was a nice change from the slow moving lines and cranky clerk that I am used to seeing at our neighborhood Boston post office.

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You must be thinking by now that my life has turned pretty mundane since we moved back to Arkansas if all I have to talk about it a trip to the post office. Though slightly true, that’s not totally the case. I tell you that story to tell you this, people are indeed a bit friendlier in the South. Not everywhere you go, but in these parts, most of the time it is true.

Besides riveting trips to the post office, our time has been spent filling out job applications, eating our favorite foods, and in the company of good friends. Our stuff hasn’t made it here from Boston, so we are still living as backpackers out of the bags that we carried on our backs for one month straight. If living out of that backpack has taught me anything at all, it is this; I have way too much stuff, and can, and should be, living way more minimally that I am. “Simplify, simplify, simplify,” as Henry David Thoreau would say it. And that’s just what I plan to do.

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Another thing that I love about being home is our access to fresh produce. Just last night we had some beautiful and heavenly tasting squash that came from the local farm stand, and every night this week we’ve had something from my mother’s garden. It’s wonderful to be able to walk out the back door and shop, so to speak, for items for that night’s dinner.

There’s an abundance of tomatoes, herbs, and greens. Always more than enough. Our only problem now, is what to do with it all. There’s no way that we eat it all before it goes bad. I have plans to pickle the cucumbers, and will likely freeze, and dry some of the herbs. Pesto is on the menu for next week, and I have a long list of other ideas floating around in my head.

I am not sure that I’ve ever tried an herb-infused simple syrup until today, so I don’t know what made me decide to make one. A bounty of fresh herbs and some funky recipe ideas, I suppose. Whatever the case, I am glad that I did. I couldn’t decide on just one herb, so I decided to make three. One with basil, another with rosemary, and the last with lemon mint. I have some wonderful recipe ideas for each, one of which will make an appearance here soon, and likely a few more if they turn out half as tasty as I expect them to.

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Herb-Infused Simple Syrup

1 loosely packed cup of herbs, or about 5 sprigs if using Rosemary or Thyme

1 cup water

1 cup sugar

Combine water, sugar, and herbs in a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer.

Once sugar has  dissolved, remove saucepan from heat and allow syrup to cool.

Once syrup has cooled completely, pour through a fine sieve into a jar or resealable container.

What’s your favorite way to use up leftover herbs?

Meet Cate

Boston, Photography, Uncategorized

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This is Cate, my darling and talented friend. Isn’t she precious? Cate is one of those people who you just long to be around. Her happiness is contagious, and her kind spirit won me over.

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I still remember the first time I met her. It wasn’t long after we moved here. The hubs and I attended a potluck with a group of strangers, knowing only one person there. I was nervous, but knowing only a handful of people at the time (and all of those people were boys, might I add), I went anyway, desperate for some more estrogen in my life.

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I remember putting on my brave face, stepping into a group of girls, and boldly introducing myself. I might have seemed cool at the time, but truth be told, I was scared stiff. Lucky for me, it paid off. That was the night that I met Cate. It took us a while to hang out again after that, but once we finally did, I knew I had found a friend worth keeping.

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Not only is Cate beautiful, but she’s super talented. This girl knows how to make you look good in a picture. Having needed some new pictures of myself for my blog, I knew just who to turn to. A few weeks ago, Cate and I wandered around Beacon Hill, delighting in the pristine weather, and enjoying a dual photo shoot. She snapped photos of me, I of her. It was the perfect way to spend a Saturday morning.

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Now, I think it goes without saying that Cate is the more talented photographer in this friendship, but either way, I had a blast taking photos of this pretty girl. She made my end of the deal easy.

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See more of our Beacon Hill photo shoot here, and be sure to check out the rest of Cate’s work over at Cate Jone’s Photography.

Lately

Boston, Photography, Travel, Uncategorized

Hi there!

A lot has been happening lately, though there’s not much to show for it here. My life has been filled with many good things these past few weeks. There’s been much to tell, and not enough time to tell it.

Earlier in May, I had a super fun photo shoot with my dear friend, Cate Jones. As you can see on my sidebar and about page, I finally have a new photo! I can’t wait to share the rest with you. And not only did I get my picture taken, but I got to take pictures of the photographer herself! Looking forward to sharing those as well!
 
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A few days later, we had family come to town to celebrate Jacob’s graduation. My handsome husband received his Master’s Degree in Theological Studies from Boston College on May 20th, 2013. I am a very proud wife!

977031_602706236849_1329266193_oAt the end of the month, we traveled to our hometown in Arkansas for a week of lovin’ from family and friends. We drank in views like this…

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Soaked up as much time as possible with our darling nephew.

IMG_0016And last but not least, celebrated the marriage of our beautiful sister/sister-in-law and new brother-in-law.

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What have you been up to lately?

Zhto H Ellada (Long Live Greece)

Culture, Food, Food Photography, Photography, Travel

After a long week of being sick last week, I simply couldn’t stand to stay indoors any longer come Sunday. All I had done for  a week straight was come home from work and crawl right into bed. The extra rest was beautiful for the first few days, but come Saturday, my body was bored. The idea of spending another day in bed on Sunday made my skin crawl.

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The hubs had told me on Friday (last Friday that is- I am several days late finishing this post) about a Greek festival that was to take place on Sunday afternoon. This news was both exciting and frustrating for me. I wanted to attend, but wasn’t sure if I’d be well enough on Sunday to do so. Using it as motivation, I spent Saturday resting, hoping I’d be up for an adventure on Sunday.

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If you haven’t guessed by now, Sunday came, and it was to the parade I went. I wasn’t totally better, but I packed my box of tissues and went out anyway. I think that the fresh air did me some good, and it was a wonderful experience getting to celebrate 100 years of independence with the Greeks in our community.

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If Greek people are one thing, it’s passionate. Their enthusiasm was contagious. “Zhto H Ellada” they’d yell. “Zhto H Ellada they’d yell back.  “Long live Greece!” This  year marks their 100th year of liberation from the Ottoman Empire. People waved their flags proudly. Truly having something to celebrate.

IMG_6660IMG_6702We ended our day with a stroll down one of my favorite streets, a couple of Swiss truffles (more on this soon), and of course, a Greek meal to commemorate the day. I spent the rest of the evening in bed,  still sick, but  feeling liberated by the enthusiasm from the day.

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What did you do last weekend?

Simple Saturdays

Food, Photography, Travel

I was reminded last weekend of how important it is to have days that don’t follow an itinerary. My days are so often filled with schedules, deadlines, and checklists that I often forget to just enjoy myself. I love making lists, and I love itineraries. I crave structure.  Although, sometimes, this desire for structure does me more harm than good. Being married to one of the planet’s most laid back people sometimes drives me nuts, but has been oh so good for me. He often (unintentionally) forces me to chill out a bit. He has helped me to see that sometimes, some of the best days are days spent without any plans at all. I am finding myself with more days like this, and I must admit, I quite like it.   So, this Saturday, we decided to make a repeat of the last, minus the three-hour drive to Vermont. We put our to do lists aside and set off to enjoy each others company and the pristine weather that the day had to offer.

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We started our day at a local coffee shop in Cambridge. The hubs enjoyed a black coffee, while I ventured out trying a Taza Mexican Hot Chocolate.  Made with Chipotle Chili chocolate, this drink isn’t for the faint of heart. Though, I found it quite delicious.

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After our mid-morning pick-me-up and a few miscellaneous errands, we made our way to a nearby falafel shop for a bit of lunch. Actually, a bit is an understatement. My small falafel sandwich was way more food than I bargained for. With a bar full of toppings, I had a hard time containing myself. And the best part of the meal? The Belgian fries and array of dipping sauces. I don’t eat fries often, but I must admit to having a weakness for Belgian fries. An afternoon stop in Brussels is on our itinerary while in Europe, solely for the fries, chocolate, waffles, and beer…

IMG_5423We burned off a few calories after lunch by doing a bit of window shopping and thrift store browsing. Finding nothing we couldn’t live without, we moved on.

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Though most of our day was relatively unstructured, we did have a few things in mind that we wanted to do. Visiting this massive, five-story antique market was one. We wandered the aisles for hours, and lusted over many things. The hubs lingered around the books, while I set off in search for one-of-a-kind decor pieces.

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Feeling groggy from a long day and from hours inside, we decided to move on to something a bit more active. One thing that we had yet to mark off of our New England to do list was a trip to the ice skating rink. Not just any rink, but an outdoor rink. We waited a little too long last year and didn’t make it before the weather turned unseasonably warm. As neither of us had touched a pair of skates in at least three years (and probably 10 years before that), it was quite the experience. Although, we picked it back up pretty quickly and were soon ready to call it quits. It was fun while it lasted, but who really needs more than 30 minutes to skate around in circles?

IMG_5483We ended our day with one last adventure and experienced Ethiopian cuisine for the first time. We filled our bellies with honey wine, lamb, and various vegetables and lentils before calling it a day. While I found the flavor great, I don’t think that I will be craving Ethiopian food again any time soon. I like a nice bit of variety in the texture of my food. This is something that our meal just did not offer.

IMG_5496I quite enjoy the routine that we’ve fallen into these past few weekends.  Realistically, I know that every weekend can’t be spent this way, but sometimes, simple days like this are a necessity.

What did you do this weekend? Were you able to spend it relaxing and doing something fun?

Vermont Getaway, Winter Edition

Photography, Travel

Out of all of the states that we’ve visited in New England, Vermont ranks among our favorites. With snow covered mountain tops, wide pastures, and quaint little towns that overwhelm you with their cuteness, it’s not hard to see why. Over the weekend we took our 4th trip to the Green Mountain State and enjoyed ourselves much more than our last trip.

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We enjoyed our time on Saturday afternoon popping into random farm side shops, wandering around the downtown square, and perusing through stacks of antique goodies in the local thrift shops. We sampled lots of cheese and maple syrup, and sipped on coffee from a nearby bookstore. We took the day slow and set a leisurely pace. If only more days could be spent that way.

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As the sun began to set and the snow started to fall, we headed for the cabin to savor an evening with friends. We enjoyed a meal of homemade spaghetti and meatballs (which was impressively made by the men of the trip), played several rounds of cards, and delighted in toasty beverages to help keep us warm.

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Waking up early Sunday morning to fresh falling snow, we set off to hit the slopes for a day full of snowboarding.

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You’ll recall that  one of my goals for the year is to learn how to snowboard. I can ski with the best of them, but snowboarding is a new task for me. After several trips and much time spent on my face, I was close to giving up. I wasn’t having much fun coming home covered in bruises and too sore to move. It wasn’t until this weekend that I saw the glory in snowboarding. It’s amazing what fresh powder can do for you. Not only did it make things SO much easier, but my confidence shot through the roof as I was no longer as afraid to fall. When I did fall (which wasn’t near as often as before) it felt as I was falling on pillows as opposed to cement. Learning to snowboard on ice and fake snow is no fun, people! If the conditions would have been this great on past trips, I feel as I could be a pro by now!

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We ended our evening among friends, good food, and one last round of cards before our drive back to Boston. Though just a short trip, a trip like this was just what I needed. It’s good to get away every now and then, slow down the pace, and live life for the moment.

What did you do last weekend? Do you have a favorite place to go for a quick weekend escape?

Ooey Gooey Butter Cake

Dessert, Food, Food Photography, Recipes

When a special occasion, celebration, or birthday rolls around, there’s only one dessert that will do for the main squeeze in my life. I wasn’t introduced to this delectable dessert until Jacob and I started dating.  His mom got the recipe while in college and it has been a family favorite ever since. We eat it on holidays, we had it the day that we got engaged, at our wedding, and on every February 17th since 2007. Since my mother-in-law lives a good 1,500 miles away, I’ve had the pleasure of taking over the time-honored tradition of making this dessert for Jacob on his birthday.

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The hubs loves this cake so much that he can’t remember ever having anything different to celebrate his birthday. We even opted out of a traditional groom’s cake at our wedding in favor of this treat. It went faster than the wedding cake itself and I’ve had people asking for the recipe ever since.

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After a snowy morning at church and a bit of thrifting in the afternoon, we stuffed ourselves full of sushi before enjoying drinks and cake with friends. As much as we love this cake, it is just too good, and too bad for us, not to share.

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Ooey Gooey Butter Cake

1 box yellow cake mix

4 eggs

2 sticks unsalted butter

16 ounces cream cheese

16 ounces powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 350 F. Meanwhile mix box of cake mix, two eggs, and one stick of melted butter. Spread mixture into a 9×13 metal cake pan. Next mix your second stick of melted butter, cream cheese, two eggs, and powdered sugar. Pour into cake pan. Bake for 40-45 minutes or until lightly browned. Pair it with a cold glass of milk, a piping hot cup of coffee, or my personal favorite, a steamy cup of peppermint tea.

Snowstorm Nemo

Photography

Growing up in the south I’ve had my fair share of tornadoes and thunderstorms, and even an ice storm here and there, but never have I experienced a blizzard. I’ve seen several feet of snow fall before, but never within a 24 hour period. I’ve had to deal with layers of ice over everything in sight, but never with such an ocean of snow. It started falling early Friday morning, and just kept on coming well into Saturday afternoon, quickly covering the Earth below.

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I am happy to report that we survived with no major inconveniences. We never lost power, and we weren’t physically trapped, though it did take a bit of effort to get out. Our car got lost in the sea of of white, but we found it eventually. Some anticipated plans were canceled, but we replaced them with just as satisfying ones. Boredom is easily overcome when one has bottles of wine on hand, board games a plenty, and friend’s apartments just a stone’s throw away.

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After a late breakfast of banana, sour cream pancakes and our favorite apple wood smoked bacon, Jacob and I set off to explore the wintery world around us. With public transportation shut down, a ban on driving ban in effect, and people straggling down the middle of what’s usually a very busy street, it almost felt like a scene from The Walking Dead outside of our doors. Although, eeriness aside, it was quite a beautiful scene.

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Venturing down the road a bit, we made our way to campus to check out the some of my favorite buildings in Boston freshly covered with snow.

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After a few snowball fights, trash bag sledding, and even a bit of snowboarding, we rounded the weekend off with friends and a few rounds of these.

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And as all good weekends do, our little snow vacation came to an end. Monday came and life was back to (somewhat) normal. Back to work for me, back to school for the hubs. Though we are still dealing with the ramifications of the snow, thanks to an abundance of sunshine things are slowly getting back to normal around here.

On another note- Happy Valentine’s Day to you all! However you choose to celebrate, single or not, may your day be blessed and filled with love!

Almond Sugar Cookies

Dessert, Food, Food Photography, Recipes

//UPDATE// 1/8//  With no school, no work, public transportation closed, and a ban on driving in effect, Jacob and I are enjoying our first blizzard warm and cozy at home. After a morning full of homework for the hubs, and cleaning for me, this snowy day at home left me hankering for a sweet snack. Craving something light to pair with my afternoon tea, I decided to try a guilt-free rendition of this sweet treat. I replaced the shortening and butter with coconut oil, using 1/2 cup coconut oil total for my fat,  and reduced the sugar to a 1/2 cup. The texture of the dough turned out significantly different, but the final product did not disappoint. Though not quite the same texture as the original recipe, these small changes still produced a moist and desirable treat. I did not chill the dough as you’ll need to with the original recipe, and you might have to work the dough a bit to get it to stay together. Don’t worry if your mixture doesn’t hold together well when mixed. With a bit of molding you should have no problem forming your dough into balls. I also skipped rolling my dough in sugar as I did not trust it to stay together and instead sprinkled a bit of raw sugar on top before placing them in the oven. Bake for 8 minutes, and enjoy one or two. Don’t worry about grabbing that second one, they’re only 98 calories per cookie and 7 grams of delicious, healthy fat! 

This time last year our apartment was in a complete state of chaos. The renovations that were to be completed prior to our September 1st move in date didn’t really begin until around now.  We had no other choice but to deal with the madness well into March. For weeks the kitchen was stripped from my use. There was no place to play. No place to escape after a long day of work. I was becoming very restless. Then, one glorious day, our kitchen was complete, and not long after, so was the rest of our apartment. Finally, our apartment felt like a home again.  I remember how excited I was to finally be able to host our first dinner party on Easter last year, a whole eight months after we had moved into our little abode.

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To make up for lost time, dinner parties have become a regular occurrence in our household. Whether it be a well planned affair or a last minute fling, what better way to try out a new, tasty dish than with friends? And on top of that, it’s a great excuse to bake, something that I no longer allow myself to do often. Not unless we plan to have company, or are having dinner elsewhere.  A lesson I learned the hard way. Dessert for 10 consumed by 2 was not friendly to my waistline…

After an unsuccessful trip to the grocery store on Thursday evening for a last minute dinner on Friday, I had to do some serious digging through our bare cabinets for dessert inspiration. I had my hopes set on trying this cheesecake recipe, but since Traders was out of Ginger Beer, and I forgot to pick up a bag of chocolate chips to make these cookies, I had to make due with what I already had on hand. Stumbling across some almond extract hidden in the back of my cabinet, and remembering this recipe that I pinned months ago, I had my inspiration.

Shortening, while baking, can be your best friend. It yields some delectable results. Although, when trying to snap yourself out of holiday eating mode (and with Valentine’s Day just around the corner to tempt us), shortening may be your worst enemy. Unlike some other cooking oils, shortening has zero health benefits. I am okay with indulging every now and then in the sweets category, but knowing me and anything almond, I knew that I better try and make these slightly healthier. And good thing that I did—I consumed four of these babies on Friday night.

Unaware of how the consistency would turn out with a total lack of shortening, and because I was low on coconut oil, I did keep one tablespoon for safe measure. I also didn’t omit the butter. I wasn’t brave enough to totally do away with the butter just yet. Though, I am looking forward to trying these again with coconut oil only, and possibly with a bit less sugar.

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Almond Sugar Cookies: 

3/4 cup white sugar

1/4 cup coconut oil, room temperature

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold

1 tbsp shortening, room temperature

1 egg

1 teaspoon almond extract

1  3/4 cup all purpose flour

1/2 tablespoon cornstarch

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

Coarse sugar

Preheat your oven to 350 and grease a large baking sheeting with coconut oil. Meanwhile, cream coconut oil, butter, shortening, and sugar. Stir in egg and almond extract.

In a separate bowl, sift together flour, cornstarch, baking powder, and salt. Add to the wet mixture and combine thoroughly.

Chill dough for half an hour. After your dough has chilled, use a tablespoon to roll dough into 1.5 inch balls. Roll each ball into coarse sugar before placing it on your  baking sheet.

Bake for 8 minutes and then allow cookies to cool for 3 minutes on baking sheet before transferring to cooling rack. Recipe yields about 16 cookies.