Almond Joy-Inspired Cupcakes

There are two types of people in this world:

Those that love coconut…

…and those that despise it.

There really is no gray area when it comes to coconut. Thankfully I surround myself with only the best people. And those people love coconut. ;-)

So when I was trying to think of what to bake for work as we enjoy watching the Super Bowl, my mind wandered to cupcakes…coconut cupcakes. No wait! Almond Joy-inspired cupcakes! Whenever I am presented the choice of a candy bar, I always go to for the Almond Joys. The combination of chocolate, coconut, and almonds is perfection.

And thankfully, everyone was on board.

It’s not a complete “homemade” dish as I did use a yellow cake mix from Aldi, but the add-ins made it special. :-)

Almond Joy-Inspired Cupcakes
Makes 24 cupcakes

Ingredients
1 Box Yellow Cake Mix from Bakers Corner (Aldi brand). You’ll need 3 eggs, 1 cup water and 1/3 cup vegetable oil to add.
1 tbsp. almond extract
1/2 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Whipped Cream for topping (I used Reddi-wip)
Slivered almonds for garnish

Directions
1) Follow instructions on the yellow cake mix box to make the cupcakes.
2) Add in the extract, coconut and chocolate chips to the batter
3) Mix until well combined
4) Fill the cupcake pan, or liners, about 1/3 full
5) Box indicated 15-20 minutes at 375* (I baked in a dark-lined pan)
6) Make sure cupcakes are fully cooked; wait until cooled and top with whipped cream and almonds.

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And a little touch of pink for the upcoming Valentine’s Day! I’m still getting used to all that my camera can do. Hopefully I can find a spot in my house where the sun is optimal or maybe set up a light box. Any tips??

What’s your favorite cupcake flavor?

 

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Scenes from My Week

A favorite breakfast of an English muffin with fried egg, veggie bacon and Laughing Cow French onion cheese spread. One of my colleagues brought back some freeze dried chocolate flavored coffee from Columbia. A teaspoon in a cup of coffee = delicious!

One of my favorite parts of the job is getting to put together amenities to have placed in the room for a guests special occasion. In this case, the husband requested flowers and chocolate for his wife’s 30th birthday. The Godiva came from our gift shop, and I purchased the flowers at the local supermarket and placed them in a vase from banquets. Later that day the husband came down and said that his wife loved them. Yah! Always love hearing that. :-)

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I’m ashamed to say that prior to a couple of weeks ago, it had been 10 years since my last eye exam. I have astigmatism and a slight lazy left eye, so it wasn’t the smartest doing on my part to go so long. And since I recently lost my glasses, it was kind of a sign that I needed to get things checked out and get some new glasses. Last Tuesday, they finally came in! No more headaches or strains from looking at the computer all day.

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And an update on the garage: our doors have been put in! I feel like such an adult when I use my clicker in the car to open the door. As much as I’m liking this mild winter we’re having so far, I wouldn’t mind a storm or two so that I DON’T have to shovel off snow for once. ;-)

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Work was crazy for a few days: Double shift on Wednesday, then stayed over to work Thursday morning; met a friend for a drink at a restaurant that he currently manages, then attended a reception at Symphony Hall. Had my previous days not been as busy, I may have stayed for the performance, but I knew I needed to get home and sleep since I had to work at 7 the next morning.

Yesterday I attended an AMAZING performance of Ragtime at the Hanover Theatre in Worcester with my mom. It’s my favorite musical and had been years since I’ve seen it. The soundtrack is a constant in my CD player, and it took everything I had to not start belting out the songs as they were being performed. The songs brought me to tears, and certain parts of the show had my heart racing. Every actor was absolutely amazing, especially the gentleman who played Coalhouse Walker Jr.!

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This week should be much quieter, and thankfully, I’m not working a double shift. This Wednesday is the associate party and they’ll be announcing the Associate of the Year! P.S. I’m in the running! :-)

How was your week/weekend? And Happy February!

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Getting Out of My Comfort Zone with Barre & Soul

Thank you to everyone who entered the giveaway for the Lightlife coupons! Congratulations to David, Janice and Annamarie on winning! I’ve e-mailed them all. :-)

When I started exercising, almost 10 years ago, I always gravitated towards running. I liked that it was something you could do on your own, just getting lost in your thoughts or your music. Every once in a while I would run with someone, but usually I was alone.

When it came to exercise classes, I always felt intimidated. I took a few yoga classes but ended up just comparing myself to those that were stretching and keeping the poses better than I was. It wasn’t something that I thoroughly enjoyed. But I wanted to change that. Running is still awesome, but I wanted to try something out of my comfort zone that would also challenge me. Enter: barre.

My friend Meghan graciously invited me to try out Barre & Soul in Harvard Square for either a barre or yoga class. Having done the latter before, I decided on the former. I was vaguely familiar with how the class works, and I was intrigued to try something that was a great workout without being too strenuous.

The studio itself is bright and beautiful, with the warm wood floors and white ceiling and walls. The women working the desk were also extremely friendly and accommodating. I told them it was my first time there, and they gave me a quick tour of the layout (2 workout rooms, 2 restrooms, and a bag area) before explaining what to grab for the class (mat, 2 sets of weights, ball, strap, and blocks).

It started promptly at noon (offered on Wednesday and Friday), and the class had about 12 people in attendance. It was a combination of yoga, ballet, ab exercises, weights, and stretching. My legs were like jello at the end but I ended up having such a great workout. It felt challenging, without working up a sweat, and it was actually a relief to see that others were having to take breaks during some of the exercises too. That’s one thing that I was afraid of when it came to group classes: that I would be the only one struggling. I actually surprised myself on how well I held up. I think the workouts at home have been helping out!

And on a side note: 6 pounds lost since tracking my food at MyFitnessPal! I haven’t cut anything out; I’ve just been more conscious of my portion sizes. I feel great. :-)

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The instructor was great, making sure that everyone’s form was correct and that we were doing OK throughout the workout. I even got to meet Andrea, the owner (standing by the desk in the above picture) and she seemed so passionate about the studio and the classes they offer.

The location is perfect, on JFK Street in Harvard Square, overlooking Winthrop Square. It’s on the second floor of the Garage, where you can grab a coffee or lunch after your workout. They provide different pricing options, if you would like to do a combination of barre & yoga or yoga only. They are also offering an introductory rate of $69 for your first month of both classes; $30 for just yoga. All pricing information can be found here. They also provide drop-in prices, which I’m sure I will take advantage of from time to time!

This class was complimentary, but all opinions are my own.

What’s your favorite way to work out?

Posted in 2016, Cambridge, Review, Workout | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Super Bowl Chili with Lightlife (And a Giveaway!)

This post was solicited by Lightlife. Aside from coupons for free products and for the giveaway, I received no additional compensation for this post.

“Are you ready for some FOOTBALL?!”

It’s a great time to be a New England Patriots fan as they head towards their umpteenth AFC Championship game and then hopefully on to the Super Bowl! As exciting as it might be to watch them play for the second year in a row, just getting to see them make it this far in the Brady/Belichick era is exciting enough.

And aside from the excitement of the game, another highlight is, of course, the food! A lot of Super Bowl parties include the best snacking foods: nachos, wings, pizza, chili. For the most part, indulging in these is absolutely acceptable, but other times you just want to “healthify” it up a bit. And that’s where Lightlife products come in!

From their website:

Since 1979, we’ve been dedicated to making great tasting vegetarian food for a better you and a better planet. Giving back to the community has been a priority since the very beginning, and we’ve contributed 5% of our profits every year to organizations that support our mission.

The company is based locally, in Turner Falls, MA, but is responsible for being the first company to introduce tempeh to the mainstream market. In the subsequent years, they created Fakin’ Bacon, tofu hot dogs, veggie hot dogs, and smart deli meat. You can read more about their story and mission here.

To come up with healthy and satisfying snack for the big game, I turned to one of my favorites: chili. For that, I purchased the veggie sausage and combined it into a recipe I found on myrecipes.com.

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Easy Chili Recipe
MyRecipes.com
Makes 6-8 servings

Ingredients
1 container of Lightlife Gimme Lean meatless sausage
1 onion, chopped
1 small red bell pepper, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 (14-1/2-ounce) canned diced tomatoes
2-3 tablespoons chili powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon ground cumin

Directions
Cook first 4 ingredients in a large skillet over medium-high heat, stirring until veggie sausage crumbles and starts to brown. Place mixture in 5-quart slow cooker; stir in diced tomatoes and remaining ingredients. Cook at HIGH 3 to 4 hours or at LOW 5 to 6 hours.

Beans can be included; I omitted them so that David could enjoy the chili with me. :-)

The batch came out pretty spicy, but just as spicy as a good chili should be. Make no mistake, the veggie sausage doesn’t have the same consistency as ground beef but still tasty nonetheless. I topped mine with shredded Mexican cheese and some tortilla chips for the crunch.

And now…the giveaway!

Lightlife is offering coupons to three lucky winners for a free product!

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Just leave a comment with the product you’d like to try, and I’ll pick three winners on Tuesday, January 26!

For an additional entry, let me know what’s your favorite Super Bowl snack!

Posted in Cooking, Food, Giveaway, Sponsored | Tagged , , , , , | 10 Comments

I Baked Doughnuts!

And then used my fancy new camera to take some pictures. Well, as fancy as I can get them since I’m still getting used to all of the features. 

Last Christmas my parents bought me a doughnut pan because, of all the baking I do, I haven’t really tackled doughnuts. I wanted to change that, and the family party this past weekend was a perfect occasion to bake something up.

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The recipe was from a Family Circle magazine from 2014. The recipe called for adding a topping but I omitted it from my batch.

Cinnamon Baked Doughnuts
Family Circle Magazine March 2014
Makes: 12 servings (My pan was small so I ended up with about twice that amount)
Prep: 15 minutes
Bake at 350* for 17 minutes

Ingredients
2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 extra-large egg, lightly beaten
1 1/4 cups whole milk (I used almond milk)
2 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
2 tsp pure vanilla extract

Topping (if you would like to add it)
8 tbsp (1 stick) unsalted butter
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon

Directions
1) Heat oven to 350*. Spray 2 doughnut pans well with baking spray. Into a large bowl, sift together flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. In a small bowl, whisk together egg, milk, melted butter and vanilla. Stir wet mixture into dry ingredients until just combined.
2) Spoon batter into prepared baking pans, filling each one a little more than three-quarters full. Bake for 17 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. Allow to cool for 5 minutes, then tap doughnuts out onto a sheet pan.
3) Topping: Melt butter in an 8-inch saute pan. Combine sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl. Dip each doughnut first in butter and then in cinnamon sugar, either on one side or both sides.

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Again, the texture is certainly not like the fried ones you’d get at Dunks or a local doughnut shop, but they are tasty nonetheless. :-P

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Ice Skating in Boston

Yesterday I attended, what I feel is, the most fun concierge event of the year.

Ice skating at the Boston Harbor Hotel!

2015

This year was equally as fun, if not better. We started out in the Rowes Wharf bar with drinks and some small snacks. Before getting on the ice, I enjoyed a nice glass of Prosecco.

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Then it was time to skate! I actually haven’t skated since the last event, but I surprised myself by getting the hang of it really quickly. I didn’t fall, and I was zipping around doing forward cross-overs and stopping to turn really quickly. To put it in a few words: I had a blast! I used to figure skate when I was younger, and I actually miss it a lot. I’d love to take adult classes…we shall see! :-)

BHH Skating

No action shots this year, but believe me, I was flying!  :-P

I could have stayed on the rink for hours, but the bar eventually won me over. I enjoyed a nice Tanqueray and ginger beer while munching on their many delicious appetizers: pizza, chicken wings, calamari, crab cakes; everything was delicious! And the company was even better, as I was surrounded by some of the best concierge that Boston has to offer. And I received some great advice when I go for my Les Clefs d’Or keys. Only a couple more months until my application is due!

The skating rink is located at 30 Rowes Wharf, under the Rotunda. The rink is smaller than the Frog Pond, but far less crowded. They are open weekdays from 3 pm to 8 pm and on weekends from 10 am to 9 pm. Admission is $10 for adults; $5 for children. Rentals are $10 for adults; $8 for children. They also offer season passes: $50 for an individual; $100 for a family (2 adults, 2 children 12 & under). 

This concierge event was complimentary; all opinions are my own.

What is your favorite winter activity?

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Easy Chicken Enchiladas

Except without the enchilada sauce. So I guess a chicken/cheese/salsa wrap thingy? Either way, it was quick, easy, and delicious.

When I graduated college, my cousins bought me a recipe book called “Your Shirt is Not an Oven Mitt.” It’s filled with easy recipes containing ingredients that you most likely already have in your kitchen. I always seem to gravitate towards this dish though because if there’s nothing more that David and I enjoy, it’s anything with cheese and salsa. :-)

Please excuse the dark pictures; I’m still getting the hang of my new camera. Plus light at 7:45PM isn’t always as optimal.

Yah for presentation! :-P

All you need to do is mix your chicken (I used grilled chicken strips from Trader Joe’s but rotisserie chicken is definitely the way to go!) in a microwavable dish with about a cup of salsa and half a cup of shredded Mexican cheese. Heat the dish for about a minute on HIGH in the microwave or 5 minutes on the stove top. Prep the oven to 350* and line a baking dish with a thin layer of salsa. Divide the chicken into flour tortillas (I used whole wheat) and place in the dish with the seams facing down. Top with additional cheese and bake for 20 minutes!

What I really like about this particular dish is how much you can modify it. I’ve added enchilada sauce, sauteed onions and peppers, and even used corn tortillas (although sometimes they break too easily) as a way to mix things up. Or instead of chicken, you can use flavored tofu or ground beef. And the leftovers will be great for David when I have to work the evening shift at the hotel.

What’s your favorite quick and/or go-to recipe?

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Goals for 2016

In the past I’ve tried to create resolutions for the New Year, and whether or not I was vocal about them, they never really stuck beyond a couple months or so (i.e. eating healthy, getting stronger, doing yoga, etc.)

But this year just feels different. Since before New Year’s, David and I have been actively trying to lose weight. We’ve both set goals and have been tracking our calorie intake with My Fitness Pal. I tried to track a few years ago (2013) but I got bored with it after a couple of weeks. This time has been different though. I actually enjoy adding everything in and seeing how much I’m left with for the day. And I’m actually able to eye-ball a few things (cereal, yogurt, pasta) without having to measure.

trader joes

Picture from 2010. Instead of Trader Joe’s though, I shop mainly at Aldi. Love their selection (although limited and scattered) and prices!

Aside from getting healthier by eating better, I would like to up the fitness as well. For Christmas I received some compression shorts and socks that need to get some good use! I still don’t plan on signing up for two many races but maybe a few here and there. I was invited to try a Barre class in Cambridge so I’ll see what that’s all about! Otherwise, it’ll be Pinterest workouts for me in the comfort of my home, along with hitting the pavement. :-)

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My blogging is also something that has definitely taken a backseat. I love this platform of just being able to talk about what’s going on in my life. It might not be the most exciting life, but it’s fun to interact and “chat” with all of you that continue to read! With my beautiful brand new camera, I hope to bake and cook more recipes to share and take more pictures of my surroundings. New England is such a great place for photography! :-)

Oh, and this year is my 10 year college reunion (WHAT??). This is what I looked like around that time.

2006 Alaina

A lot has certainly changed since then, and I look forward to gracing the campus of Endicott College in June!

In terms of family goals, let’s just say things are in the works for an exciting year to come. ;-)

Do you set resolutions or goals?

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Holiday Celebrations & Welcome, 2016!

Happy New Year everyone!! I’m sure it’s no surprise that I haven’t blogged that much over the past few weeks (or months even!). Work has been surprisingly busy, even during the holiday season. Although our occupancy isn’t very high, there have been a lot of transient guests who have a lot of questions for the concierge. Always happy to help though! And it helps that the guests have been pretty great as well.

So where have we left off? In terms of the garage build, here’s the latest:

Driving In

We can finally park inside! The garage doors have been measured and ordered. There are just a few things that David and I have to complete before they can be installed. But we’re finally out of the elements for the winter! Yah for no more shoveling off snow! :-)

I recapped Christmas with my parents, and then David and I had a wonderful celebration with my in-laws.

We enjoyed mimosas, cinnamon buns and my overnight French toast bake.

And of course, there were presents! I received Cards Against Humanity, Seth MacFarlane’s jazz CD, Adele 25, Straight No Chaser’s Christmas album, coconut pancake mix, compression shorts and socks, and a gift card for DSW for some new boots. Overall, another wonderful celebration with family.

Ah, I almost forgot the night before! To celebrate their 50th anniversary, the Sheraton offered each employee a chance to stay in the hotel for a complimentary night. We chose Christmas Eve, and the hotel gave us a really nice junior suite! And of course, I was having fun with my new camera.

Now back to Christmas! After a lovely afternoon at the in-laws, David and I headed up to Bangor for my cousin’s baby shower. We stayed at the Four Points by the airport and it was the perfect accommodations. The staff was really nice and the rooms were extremely well stocked and comfortable! And despite being right at the airport, the noise was very minimal.

We had a lovely time celebrating Angie…and doing the annual puzzle!

We left Saturday night and spent all of Sunday working on the garage.

The following weekend was just as exciting as well! I worked the whole week, and on Saturday my brother in law and I headed into Boston for the Celtics game. But we weren’t watching it in just any ol’ way. We had court-side seats baby! They were gifted from the most generous owner of Strega restaurant. (Side note: If you’re ever in Boston, you must try Strega Waterfront! Such a great restaurant run by a great group of people.)

Even though the Celtics lost to the Brooklyn Nets (100-97) it was still such an exciting game. I’m not the biggest basketball fan (I’m all about the hockey!) but even my heart was racing near the end of it. In addition to the seats, we had admission to the Putnam Club for food and drinks; the buffet was delicious, and the service was very friendly. :-)

Overall, quite a busy few weeks for myself! Things should start quieting down, even though work may remain steady. There’s always birthdays to celebrate and families to gather with, so I know I won’t be bored for long. :-)

And in terms of racing for the year? Still nothing scheduled yet, but I may sign up if my schedule permits. I still want to run the BAA 10K however! That’s always a favorite.

How were your celebrations? Excited for 2016?!

Posted in 2015, 2016, Family, Holidays, Recap | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

An Exhausting (Yet Fun) Weekend

So, yeah, I completely fell off the “Seasons of the Holiday” bandwagon. I’m still enjoying wrapping presents and listening to Christmas music, but I haven’t really put a whole lot of thought into what I do each day. Ah well. :-)

I am so completely sore, and full, after the weekend David and I had. It was go, go this weekend to get the insulation blown into the attic of the garage. I ended up having to move 165 25-pound bags from the garage (where it was being stored) to the truck where our neighbor was manning the hopper. David was in the attic, using the hose to loose fill the space with 3 feet of insulation. Here’s a photo of me in front, for reference:

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That’s three feet behind me and only 1/4 of the attic was filled. With our neighbor’s help, we were able to get it done in about 3 and a half hours. In the end, I carried a (literal) ton of insulation. Actually, twice that amount. Needless to say, my shoulders still hurt today. At the end of the day, we had quite a beverage selection to choose from to enjoy.

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Just getting to help people is the perk of my job, but I’d be lying if I said Christmas does get me a bit excited. That’s the time of year that vendors will come around and gift the concierge with delicious treats and bottles of wine and champagne. David and I tasted the whiskey and both agreed that it would be best as part of a mixed drink. We ended up with a ginger beer and whiskey concoction. It was perfect. We enjoyed that alongside rotisserie chicken and Ruffles potato chips, because we’re classy like that. ;-) Hey, we deserved it after our long day!

Thankfully Sunday was more laid back, but we still had work to do. Our goal was to tape the seams of the sheathing on the side of the garage. I had to climb up and down ladders and move them in order to get all the spots. I use my shins to balance myself on the ladder so they’re pretty sore today too. And I have bruises in places that I didn’t even think I hit. Sore central indeed!

Our work day was shortened though because we went to my parents to celebrate Christmas. We exchanged presents and enjoyed a delicious roast dinner with mashed potatoes, veggies, and a lemon blueberry pound cake for dessert. The highlight of my evening was getting this!

best gift

It had been on my Amazon Wish List since 2012, and my parents decided it was time for me to get it! I can’t wait to test it out at Christmas and my cousin’s baby shower this weekend.

And here it is, Monday; another work day. I’m working tonight, tomorrow and Wednesday, and then I’m off for the holiday weekend!

Hope you all have enjoyed a wonderful holiday thus far! What has been your highlight?

Posted in 2015, David, Drinks, Family, Holidays, Life, Weekend | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment