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Tuesday, June 30, 2015

no-bake walnut brownies (vegan + gluten free)

i love finding new ways to make some of our favorite treats a bit healthier.  brownies are certainly delicious, but they are far from healthy or low in calories.

brownies are typically loaded with butter, sugar, eggs, and flour . . . you know, all of the good stuff that makes them delicious.  however, these brownies don't contain any butter, sugar, eggs, or flour!  they're vegan and gluten free.

these brownies get their substance from walnuts and dates.  ground walnuts take the place of flour, and the dates naturally sweeten the brownies and bind all of the ingredients together.

since these brownies are "no-bake" they don't require any time in the oven, which is especially welcomed on a hot summer day when you are craving chocolate but don't want to heat up the house with the oven.

these brownies are awesome.  they come together in just a few short minutes with just a few simple ingredients.

they are so moist and rich.  they are dense and full of deep chocolate flavor with a wonderful hint of espresso.  the chunks of walnuts add a great crunch to them too!

no-bake walnut brownies (vegan + gluten free)
prep time: 5 minutes
chilling time: 15 minutes
yields: 16 small brownies
adapted from minimalist baker

1 1/4 cups raw walnuts, divided
1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoons espresso powder
a pinch of sea salt
1 1/4 cups medjool dates, pitted

place 1 cup of the walnuts in a food processor and process until finely ground.  add the cocoa power, espresso powder, and sea salt.  pulse to combine.  transfer the mixture to a separate bowl and set aside.  place the dates in the food processor and process until only small bits remain.  transfer the pureed dates to a separate bowl and set aside.  add the nut mixture back into the food processor.  run the food processor while dropping small spoonfuls of the pureed dates down the spout of the food processor.  continue until you have added all of the pureed dates.  add the mixture to an 8-inch square baking pan lined with parchment paper.  press the mixture firmly into the baking pan.  chop the remaining 1/4 cup of walnuts.  sprinkle the walnuts on top and press them into the brownies.  place the brownies in the refrigerator to chill before cutting.

love, laurie

Monday, June 29, 2015

a quick trip to oklahoma!

last week i spent a few days in oklahoma for a conference that i had to attend for work.  i flew into oklahoma city, and traveled to the university of oklahoma in the city of norman where the conference was held.  it was my first time visiting the state of oklahoma.  (being a musical theatre major, it was all i could do to keep from busting out singing the song oklahoma! while i was there, but i refrained because i'm sure the residents of the state of oklahoma would not have appreciated that!)

traveling sure is exhausting, especially when you have such a quick turnaround (just 3 days).  i was in 4 states, at 4 airports, on 4 airplanes, and on 2 shuttles, in 3 days.  since it was such a quick trip i packed light and decided to leave my good camera at home.  i did snap a few pictures on my phone though.  so, here are a few photos from my quick trip to oklahoma, according to my iphone:

^the conference was held at the university of oklahoma in norman.  the campus was absolutely beautiful.  the architecture of the buildings was gorgeous and the landscaping was perfectly manicured.  i was impressed.^
^instead of staying in a hotel, the university housed the conference attendees in dorms.  it's been about a decade since i last stayed in a dorm, and let me tell you, i don't miss it!  i felt like i was roughing it for the few days i was there.  adults don't share jack-and-jill bathrooms as well as college students.  however, the view from my dorm room on the seventh floor of the residence hall was awesome!  there was an incredible view of the stadium out the window.  i also loved the OU banners which were on every lamp post on the campus.^
^the buildings were gorgeous and there were so many cute little areas tucked all over the campus where you could sit on a bench and enjoy the outside.^
^i've seen this LOVE sculpture by artist robert indiana in many different places (in fact it can be found in about 30 different places around the world).^
^i'm not sure why, but these red london-inspired telephone booths were scattered all over the campus.  they sure were cute, but i have to say they did seem a little out of place in the middle of oklahoma!^
^there were many statues around the campus.  i really liked the statue of the dancer outside of the performing arts center and the statue of the school mascot "the sooners" in front of the main lawn.^
^the football stadium was humongous.  by far the largest school stadium i've ever seen^
^since we stayed in the dorms, that meant we ate school food like college kids.  that's another thing i don't miss about being a college student . . . the food.  let's just say i'm happy to be home and back to my own kitchen and my own cooking.^
^the sam noble oklahoma museum of natural history sits right on the schools campus and it is a really neat museum.  one night the conference hosted a dinner in the museum.  it was after hours, so the museum was closed to the public and we had the entire place to ourselves.  we ate in the great hall and then were free to roam around the exhibits.  it was very cool!^
^i've always had a thing for woolly mammoths, so seeing this gigantic woolly mammoth statue up close was incredible.^
^the museum has in incredible collection of dinosaurs.  it was breathtaking to see the bones up close and totally intimidating how big they were!  it was also really amazing to see what the guinness world records corporation has deemed to be the largest single dinosaur skull ever found!  wowza!^
^there were so many neat exhibits, including the famous john james audubon collection of birds prints which is currently on display through the end of july.^
^i explored the city of norman, oklahoma when i had a little free time.  i stumbled across a quaint little cafe called crimson & whipped cream.  (such a cute play on words since the university of oklahoma's school colors are crimson red and cream!)  it was hot outside walking around, so i took a break from the heat to sit in the cafe and enjoy their air conditioning along with an iced latte and a spicy chocolate cookie.  such a cute little cafe with a great vibe!^
^in my opinion, window seats on planes are the way to go.  i love looking down and seeing the world below.  it is such a neat viewpoint that you rarely get to see!^

the trip was interesting, but boy am i sure glad to be home!  it's so nice to be able to love up ryan and leko, eat my own cooking, shower in my own clean shower, and sleep in my own comfortable bed!

love, laurie

Friday, June 26, 2015

a few more pictures from our trip to north carolina . . .

we had such a great time in north carolina last week.  on one of the days that we were there, we took a break from the beach and left topsail island to explore the area around wilmington.  one of the places that we visited was poplar grove plantation which is one of the oldest surviving peanut plantations in north carolina.  the plantation is now open to the public as a museum.  the grounds of the plantation were so pretty.  we happened to visit the plantation on the day when they hold their weekly summer farmers'  market with local farmers, artisans, and vendors.  it was neat to walk around.

when we left topsail island to drive back home to pennsylvania, we made a pitstop at a cracker barrel in garner, north carolina to meet up with ryan's brother jeremy and our two nephews.  it was nice to be able to visit them for breakfast before we drove back home.  they boys sure enjoyed rocking on the wooden rocking chairs outside the restaurant!

you can see more photos from our trip to north carolina here, here, and here

love, laurie

Thursday, June 25, 2015

topsail island 2015 - part 3

while we were in topsail island, we got to enjoy a lot of boating.  our friends have a few different boats at their beach house.  on our first day there, we took a ride on one of their boats and we went to a little island nearby.  we also got to sail aboard their catamaran and we took a ride aboard their skiff too.  ryan actually got a chance to sail all three boats.  i was so impressed by how well he did!  he is a natural sailor!

on our ride aboard the skiff we set crab traps in the marsh.  we had a crab boil with the fresh blue crabs for dinner one day.  it was tasty but messy.  in addition to fresh crabs, our friends also caught a ton of shrimp in their shrimp traps.  we had several shrimp dinners while we were there.  you can't beat fresh seafood!

you can see more photos from our trip to topsail island here and here

love, laurie