November 2017: In a Nutshell

Good Morning, everyone! I can’t believe that today is the last day of November and Christmas (and a whole new year!) are right around the corner! Like every Holiday season, I know the next few weeks are going to be pretty hectic and crazy- but I’m looking forward to spending some more time with my family and friends doing all sorts of fun, festive things during one of the prettiest times of the year here in New England- right up until 2018 arrives!

But I have to tip my hat to November, because this past month was pretty spectacular. A good portion of it was spent outdoors with friends taking in the late Autumn scenery at local state parks and trails- even when it was bitterly cold out (or flurrying!) at times- while the days leading up to Thanksgiving Weekend revolved around lots of cooking and baking in the kitchen and gathering around the dining room table. I mean, look at the spread my family put together this year- and this was only a portion of it!

When not hiking, stuffing my face, or working crazy amounts of overtime this past month to stay on top of the year-end caseload at my office (and to get some extra Holiday cash!)– I was watching Blondie Birdie undergo a much-needed and fabulous makeover. I’m still getting used to my new layout, and I’m still in absolute awe at how beautiful it turned out. I feel like a true professional now!

So what do I have up my sleeve for December? Well, apart from finishing up my holiday shopping and finalizing plans for New Years Eve (and early 2018- since I intend on doing some traveling right away!) I have some Christmas-inspired recipes to share, a peek into the more festive pieces in my wardrobe, and a look at some of my favorite local Holiday hot-spots I like to visit every year. I’m also thinking of coming up with a little gift-guide for those last minute shoppers who need some inspiration to make it to that home stretch- so stay tuned!

Enjoy the rest of your week, everyone! I’ll be back next Monday with one of my favorite recipes for the most divine hot chocolate you’ll ever drink!

 

xx

– Ashley –

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Food Comas and Makeovers by Blogerize!

Good Morning and Happy Monday, everyone! It’s back to work for me (and a lot of other people, I’m sure!) after what was an extended weekend spent with family, friends, an overabundance of delicious, filling food and a little bit of holiday shopping. Although the time off was nice- and I wish it lasted just a little longer- I’m ready to dive back into my cases and try to begin a productive week.

I truly hope that all of you in the States who celebrated the Thanksgiving holiday had a wonderful time and were surrounded by people you love and cherish- and I hope those of you who participated in the Black Friday shenanigans were able to get some decent deals (and I especially hope those of you who work retail got to catch up on some much deserved sleep when it was all over!)

Although Christmas seems to come earlier and earlier every year, I was pleasantly surprised that many people in my community- both residential areas and businesses- waited until the days following Thanksgiving to start setting up their holiday decorations and displays. A local radio station, who typically start playing 24/7 Christmas music the day after Halloween- even waited until Thanksgiving was over before the heavy rotation of “Last Christmas” began, and I gotta’ say- it’s really refreshing! I don’t see myself getting burnt out on the holidays before they even arrive this year.

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Something else that’s refreshing? Blondie Birdie’s new layout! A couple of weeks ago, I was approached by Laura from Blogerize– who was looking to take on the task of giving my blog a complete and long overdue makeover- free of charge. It seemed a little too good to be true, but after doing some research- Laura and her team of professional designers provided me with a preview of what they had in mind- and it was so close to the vision I’d originally had for Blondie Birdie but, to date, hadn’t quite been able to achieve on my own.

With my go-head, the Blogerize crew re-vamped and breathed some serious life into my layout- giving me a seamless way to share my content and my readers/followers a chic and easy-to-navigate homepage that better connects them to posts, my social media, and offers a search function in case they’re looking for something specific within Blondie Birdie.

If you’re a blogger and you’re looking to spruce up your space on the internet- I highly recommend enlisting Blogerize’s services. They’re talented, fun, and create completely custom and unique designs tailored specifically to your blog’s content/topics/audience. They also offer online courses for beginners to the blogosphere to help with branding, designing and marketing- and 24/7 support for those who may need a helping hand in their designing/writing endeavors.

I cannot thank Laura and her team enough for their hard work and assistance as I made the transition to the new layout and hosting site. It’s truly appreciated and I couldn’t ask for a better early-Christmas present. I hope everyone enjoys the new layout as much as I am!

And with all that being said, I’ve got to get to work. Good luck getting through your Monday, everybody!

xx

– Ashley –

Desserts: Snickerdoodle Chocolate-Chunk Bundt Cake

Good Morning and Happy Monday, everyone! It’s a short work week for me, what with the upcoming holiday- so I’ll be tying up some loose ends and staying glued to my desk for the next couple of days so I can return to my office next week and not be completely swamped or overwhelmed. It’s all about prioritizing my tasks and my time properly!

To wrap up my series of Thanksgiving-inspired recipes before this Thursday arrives, I wanted to share one of my favorite dishes for one of my favorite parts of the meal- dessert, of course! This cake, a twist on the classic cookie- incorporates the expected flavors: brown sugar and cinnamon- but adds some chewy, gooey chocolate goodness to make it a rich, decadent finale to the one meal out of the year where it’s okay to be a little gluttonous.

While it may look like a lot of steps- I assure you that this recipe is surprisingly easy to pull off!

WHAT YOU’LL NEED:

  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup light brown sugar
  • 1½ cups granulated sugar, divided
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ¾ teaspoon fine sea salt
  • ¾ cup buttermilk
  • 2⅓ cups chocolate chunks, divided
  • 1½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • ⅓ cup heavy cream

READY? HERE’S WHAT YOU DO:

  1. Preheat the oven to 325°F. Grease a 12-cup Bundt pan with nonstick spray.
  2. MAKE THE CAKE: In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter, light brown sugar and ¾ cup of the granulated sugar until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes.
  3. Add the eggs one at a time, scraping the bowl well after each addition. Mix in the vanilla extract.
  4. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add the mixture to the wet ingredients in three additions, mixing until just combined after each and alternating with the buttermilk until both are fully incorporated. Fold in 1⅓ cups of the chocolate chunks.
  5. In a small bowl, stir together the remaining granulated sugar and the cinnamon. Pour half the cake batter into the prepared pan and top with half the cinnamon-sugar. Pour the remaining batter on top and sprinkle with the remaining cinnamon-sugar.
  6. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, 60 to 80 minutes. Cool in the pan for 20 minutes and then invert the cake onto a rack and cool completely.
  7. MAKE THE GLAZE: Place the remaining chocolate and cream in a medium-size heat-safe bowl. Microwave in 20-second intervals, stirring in between until the chocolate is melted and smooth.
  8. Pour the chocolate glaze over the cake, allowing it to drip down the sides and set for at least 15 minutes before serving.

This cake is packed full of flavor- chocolate, cinnamon, toasted brown sugar and a pinch of salt to balance everything out- and every bite is absolutely delicious. Served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or a hot cup of coffee and you’ve got yourself the perfect way to draw a conclusion to the meal for your family and friends.

Enjoy your day, everyone!

xx

– Ashley –

Side Dish: Stuffin’ Muffins

Good Morning and Happy Friday, everyone! We’ve made it through another week and it’s time for the final stretch before the holiday season is officially underway. You know the markets and grocery stores are going to be packed this weekend with people picking up their last minute Turkey Day necessities- so be careful out there!

Continuing with my brief series of Thanksgiving-inspired recipes leading up to next Thursday, I wanted to move on from the starters/appetizers and onto a fun and easy side dish you can serve your guests that is not only full of flavor- but is also perfectly proportioned where everyone will get a fair amount, too!

Meet “Stuffin’ Muffins”- the mess-free, compact and convenient way to enjoy a classic recipe.

These measurements make 12 muffins- so adjust accordingly depending on how many people you plan to feed!

WHAT YOU’LL NEED:

  • ½ loaf crusty bread, cut into small (⅓-inch) cubes
  • 6 tablespoons melted butter, divided
  • 1 large sweet onion, diced
  • 4 celery stalks, diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • ½ cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2½ cups turkey, chicken or vegetable broth

READY? HERE’S WHAT YOU DO:

  1. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Lightly grease a 12-cup muffin tin.
  2. In a large bowl, toss the bread with 4 tablespoons of the melted butter.
  3. Pour the remaining 2 tablespoons melted butter into a large skillet and heat over medium heat. Add the onion and celery, and cook until the vegetables are tender, 4 to 5 minutes.
  4. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, 1 minute more. Stir in the parsley, thyme, rosemary and sage. Season the mixture with salt and pepper.
  5. Pour the onion and celery mixture over the bread and toss well to combine. Add the broth and toss well to coat. Let the mixture sit 10 to 15 minutes to absorb the liquid, tossing occasionally.
  6. Divide the stuffing evenly among the prepared muffin cups. Bake until the tops are golden brown and crusty, 20 to 25 minutes. Let cool 5 minutes before serving warm.

Warm, buttery, and crumbly with a kick of spice- these muffins are the perfect pairing to your ham/turkey/tofurkey and vegetables. They’re just the right amount of stuffing to keep you from feeling overly- well, stuffed- and they’re just as great to store for leftovers, too!

Enjoy your weekend, everyone! Next week I’ll be sharing a really fantastic dessert recipe to wrap up my Thanksgiving series- and I’ve got some fun changes coming to Blondie Birdie, too!

xx

– Ashley –

Thanks AND Giving…

(via Pinterest)

One of my favorite things about my job is that my office believes very strongly in giving back to our community. Whether it’s holding fundraisers for local non-profits, sponsoring local businesses and teams in their charitable endeavors or educating and encouraging growth and development within our neighborhoods- it’s always rewarding (and fun!) to pitch in and work together as a team to help others and make our city a cleaner, safer and more compassionate place.

With Thanksgiving less than two weeks away, my company’s focus has shifted to the pending holiday season- and that includes helping those less fortunate stay fed and warm in the frigid New England temperatures. We’re currently holding a food drive and coat collection to benefit our local shelters and pantries. The holidays can be rough- even on the most fortunate and happy people in the world. Imagine how much worse it is for those who are down on their luck this time of year?

Inspired by the overwhelming outpouring of support and eagerness my co-workers have displayed when it comes to lending a helping hand to strangers- I wanted to share some links for non-profit organizations who are truly saving lives this time of year for anyone who reads Blondie Birdie and might want to do something to help out, too.

Find Your Local Food Bank – Head on over to Feeding America’s website, tap in your location, and voila! You’ll be connected to the food bank closest to you. From there, you can bring non-perishable goods to be delivered and/or distributed to those in need. For a full-list of appropriate non-perishable foods, simply CLICK HERE.

Send Some Love to Our Troops & Their Families – Our neighborhoods include plenty of military families, as well- many of whom are spending the holidays while their loved ones are overseas. Homefront America is taking donations to provide hundreds of military families with the groceries necessary to feed their loved ones without the worry or the hassle that comes with preparing a meal.

Don’t Forget Our Elders – During the holidays, we spend time with family and friends from all over and from all walks of life- but there are some elderly men and women who don’t have the luxury of being able to sit around a table for Thanksgiving dinner with their loved ones. Meals on Wheels is taking up volunteers to bring food and groceries to the elderly who are unable to get to their local grocery stores or prepare their meals themselves. Not only are you keeping our older generations from going hungry- but it’s a great opportunity to meet new people and make new friends, too!

Help Someone Keep Warm – Growing up in Massachusetts, I can attest that we never really fully adapt to the cold. We just wear as many layers as possible and try to put up with it as best we can until Spring rolls back around. That being said, I can’t imagine not having an adequate coat this time of year. Sadly, many people go without proper protective wear to shield them from the harsher elements.

If you have a gently worn coat that either doesn’t fir you anymore, or has been replaced with something new- you can donate your older coat to places like the previously linked Burlington Coat Factory, New York Cares or, if you’d rather just purchase a new coat for someone in need- Operation Warm.

Even just a little bit of support and willingness to take action can do SO much and change someone’s whole life. You can make a difference- and now is the perfect time to do it!

And for those in the Boston area: My office is taking donations through next Friday (11/17/17). If you’d like to help out- drop me a line and we can coordinate a day and time for me to swing by and pick up your donation!

Enjoy your weekend, everyone. Try to stay warm out there!

xx

– Ashley –

Starters: Prosciutto and Fig Salad Board

For the next couple of weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, I plan on sharing a brief series of recipes that I handpicked to serve as creative and/or unexpected alternatives to a starter, a side, and a dessert for those gearing up to prepare the big “Turkey Day” meal but who want something a little different than the standard cheese and cracker appetizers, mashed potato side dish, or pumpkin pie finale.

The first recipe of the series I’m putting up on Blondie Birdie is the starter. This sweet and slightly tangy salad is lightweight and delicious- and only takes 10 minutes to prepare. The best part about serving it spread out on a board as opposed to tossed in a large bowl, however- is that all the incredible toppings and dressing don’t sink down to the bottom. Everything stays fresh and spread out evenly over and between the spinach to guarantee a ton of flavor in each and every bite!

WHAT YOU’LL NEED:

  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • ⅓ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 6 ounces spinach
  • 2 large shallots, thinly sliced
  • 4 ounces prosciutto
  • 12 figs, quartered
  • ⅓ cup crumbled blue cheese

READY? HERE’S WHAT YOU DO:

  1. In a small bowl, whisk together the lemon juice and Dijon. Gradually add the olive oil, whisking continuously until the mixture is emulsified. Season with salt and pepper.
  2. In a large bowl, toss together the spinach and shallots. Add the dressing and toss well to coat.
  3. Spread the spinach on a large board and arrange the prosciutto and figs on top of it. Finish with a sprinkling of blue cheese. Serve immediately.

I made extra portions of this salad to bring to work with me this week- that’s how good it was.  The fig gives it an unexpected texture and sweetness while the mixed in Dijon mustard adds a kick to each serving. Depending on your preferences, you can add/reduce certain ingredients- but I really like it the way it is!

xx

– Ashley –