What I’ve Been Up To

Are you ready for the biggest sob story ever?

I have been MIA for a while. Life has been a bit of a rollercoaster for me the last two months. If you’ve read my last couple posts you know that back in February my Grandpa passed away. After that, I kinda went down hill for a while. I flew to Idaho for my Grandpa’s memorial one weekend and then drove there again a few days later with my hubby. I’m not sure if it was a combination of being down and too much traveling, but I got really sick a few days after I got home. Sicker than I have been in several years now. I felt miserable for over a week.

On the first day that I was starting to feel like myself again, I knew that I needed to get outside. You see, Colorado has been having the weirdest spring this year. It’s like a normal spring! So I was itching to get out in the sun! I was out doing a little work in my garden and tried to move a flower pot that was way too heavy for me. Bad idea. I had immediate back pain and could hardly move. Why didn’t I just ask my hubby to help me? Because I’m stubborn. 

I spent the next week in a boat load of pain and making several trips to the chiropractor. On top of all this, I had a lingering cough from being sick. It was that obnoxious tickle in the back of my throat that wouldn’t go away. Let me tell you, back pain + coughing constantly = misery. Just wait, this gets even better…

After about a solid week of dealing with this new awesome combination, I started to have this really bad pain in my ribs. Every time I would cough, sneeze, or move it would send a shooting pain into my breast. Yikes. I had my chiropractor x-ray me and found that I had coughed a vertebrae and some ribs out of place. 

Seriously, can a girl catch a break?!

Needless to say I’ve been spending my life between the chiropractor and laying on the couch with ice packs everywhere it hurts. Altogether I had about five weeks of total pain and misery. I don’t like feeling useless and not being able to do the normal things that I need to do in a day. That didn’t help my case at all.

Before all this chaos started, I was doing really good about exercising 4-5 times per week. My hubby and I had bought a treadmill late last year and I was getting into a good habit of using it. Well of course this totally fell apart when this all started. After five weeks of laying on the couch with no exercise I had put on a few pounds that I was finally starting to shed and then some. 

Enter the wonderful ladies at Tone It Up. Have you heard of them? I have been following Karena & Katrina for a few years now. They are fun and super inspiring. I first found them on YouTube looking for some workouts to do. They have amazing workouts that I’ve always felt like I can modify for what I need. They also have a nutrition plan membership that you can join. 

I thought about joining their nutrition plan for years. But I just stuck with doing the free workouts and following their journey. A few weeks ago I saw that they were getting ready to start what they call a Bikini Series (8 week program) to get in shape. Because I was FINALLY starting to feel like myself again, I thought that this would be so awesome to do to get myself back on track. 

I wasn’t sure if I was ready to spend the money but I was blessed by an unexpected check in the mail. As soon as I saw that the amount was the cost of the Nutrition Plan, I knew that this is what I should use it for.  

For those of you who don’t know me personally, you don’t know about my business that I do. For about 3 1/2 years I’ve been an ambassador for Plexus Worldwide. It’s the Health & Happiness company with amazing natural products. Because of what the Plexus products have already done for me, I knew it would be a lot easier for me to start a nutrition plan. 

I have been on the plan for over two weeks now. It has really helped me a lot to be more disciplined. I feel really good! I’ve already lost 6 lbs and 2 inches off my waist. I’ll probably share more of my TIU journey on here, and more healthy recipes that are inspired by my nutrition plan!

Here are just some of my yummy meals I’ve eaten so far! Plus a few photos of my journey.

 

What I Read: January-March 2017

Earlier this year I shared about my 2017 Reading Challenge. I love reading and I’m always trying to figure out what to read next. This year I wanted to have a plan in place so that I would have a list of books mapped out for me and there would be no guessing. 

I plan to start doing some regular updates about what I actually read. I won’t share my thoughts on every book I read, but I’ll tell you about the highlights… And maybe even the flops. 

For the first three months of this year I felt like I read so slowly. I have only made it through 19 books! I know some of you think that’s a ton of books to read in three months but when I have a goal of 85 for the year, I’m a little behind! I’ve had a few bumps so far in 2017 that have taken me away from reading but I feel like I’ve gotten back on track the last week or so. I was able to finish a few books I’ve been working on for a while and finally move on to new ones. 

Here are some of my favorite books that I’ve read so far this year.

From Sand and Ash by Amy Harmon

What I Read: Book Favorites from January-March 2017 {Tea & Top Knot}

I will tell you that I didn’t used to have much interest in history. I wish I had cared about it more in school but I just didn’t. As an adult I am much more interested in real history, and in turn, historical fiction. From Sand and Ash is set in Italy during World War II. It follows the lives of Eva Roselli, an Italian Jew, and Angelo Bianco who becomes a Catholic priest. The two friends who grew up together have an unlikely love story. They try to ignore those feelings as they navigate the horrors of the time they’re living in. 

I love a romance that spans several years. To put yourself in the lives of two people who could have lived during a real time in history is fascinating to me. This is an equally heartfelt and heart-wrenching story. While there are some graphic scenes due to the war themes throughout the book, these characters will inspire you with their perseverance and sacrifice. 

A friend of mine first introduced me to Amy’s books and I read Making Faces. I knew instantly that this was an author who I’d want to read many more books from. She writes beautiful love stories! 

If you are a Kindle Unlimited member, you can read From Sand and Ash for free! Click here to learn more about Kindle Unlimited

Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery

What I Read: Book Favorites from January-March 2017 {Tea & Top Knot}

Anne of Green Gables is one of my most loved series of all time. Just over a year ago I had an Anne (DVD) marathon with my good friend and her daughter. We hung out in our jammies and watched hours and hours of this beloved story. 

Audible has been producing some really great audio versions of favorite classics with celebrity narrators. When I saw that they were releasing Anne of Green Gables read by Rachel McAdams at the end of last year, I knew I needed to have this in my library. 

McAdams does a phenomenal job reading Anne. She is a great voice for this feisty redhead. If this is one of your favorite books, I highly recommend checking out this audio version. Or if you’ve never read Anne, this is a wonderful place to start. 

Right now you can get two free audiobooks when you sign up for Audible! Listening to audiobooks is one of the easiest ways for me to get in extra reading time! 

Lost Stars by Claudia Gray

What I Read: Book Favorites from January-March 2017 {Tea & Top Knot}

I have my husband to thank for introducing me to the awesomeness that is Star Wars. Shortly after we were married we watched all of the movies. (including the new ones…) Because of my addictive personality, I quickly became a big fan. I think at some point I could easily out-geek my husband in the Star Wars universe.

I could easily out-geek my husband in the Star Wars universe.Click To Tweet

I knew that I wanted to start reading some of the books but I had NO idea where to begin. Just the list of books that are a part of the official Canon is a long list. If you look to the Expanded Universe, now referred to as Star Wars Legends, that list is much longer. I looked at several websites to point myself in the right direction. I finally determined that because the release order of the movies isn’t chronological, that I don’t need to read the books chronologically. So I just decided to pick one that sounded interesting and start reading!

Now I’m sure you’re wondering why I would want to read Star Wars books… Sometimes I love the side stories even more than the main event. I love reading about extra characters that you might not otherwise meet, or learning the back story of the good guys and the bad guys. 

Lost Stars spans events from A New Hope to Return of the Jedi and beyond. It was so fascinating to see how these characters intermingled with the stories from the movies. This book is considered a YA novel so I felt like it was a great way for me as a new Star Wars reader to ease into these books. There was a little bit of romance but lots of exciting action!

 

Honorable Mentions

Little Women on audiobook. Audible has a ton of versions of this book and I listened to the clips of all of them before I found just the right narrator. I think I have read this book more than any other book on my shelf. Always a favorite! But for all the times I’ve read this story, I never read the other books in the series. I think I know what’s going on my next list!

Bridget Jones’s Diary. I have been wanting to read the book of this for a long time. I’m a big fan of cheeky British chick-lit and I love the movie. I just can’t get enough of all things Brit. It could be because I saw the movie first and then read the book, but this was one of those rare instances where the movie was better than the book!

 

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What I Read: Book Favorites from January-March 2017 {Tea & Top Knot}

Quick & Easy Chicken Egg Drop Soup

Quick & Easy Chicken Egg Drop Soup {Tea & Top Knot}

Over the last year that my husband and I have been married, we’ve already found a few favorite recipes that we make time and time again. This Chicken Egg Drop soup is so easy to make and it’s really comforting on a chilly day. We’ve finally been having a bit of rain here in Colorado so soup was definitely on the calendar for dinner. 

My husband started making me just the Egg Drop Soup portion of this recipe and because we can’t just leave things alone, we tried to figure out ways to doctor it up to make it a full meal. We thought that some shredded chicken would be great in it and would mimic the shape of the ribbons of egg in the soup.

We’ve talked about adding a little bit of corn to this soup for a little burst of sweetness. Sometimes we’ll serve it with some fried wonton strips for a delicious crunch. We try not to do that too often because you know, balance. Another great way to have this is to toss in some softened rice vermicelli or bean thread noodles. We like to keep these on hand for times when we want to make some Pho soup. {Our fave!}

If I don’t have a rotisserie chicken on hand for shredding, then I like to just poach a chicken breast and shred it to add to soups and things. This is what I do more often than not. It’s so easy!

Start with a large chicken breast. The soup makes about 4 servings so this is plenty of chicken. I like to trim my chicken breasts really well. 

Quick & Easy Chicken Egg Drop Soup {Tea & Top Knot}

Then just put it into a pot with one cup of the chicken stock. Put a lid on it and cook the chicken breast over medium to medium-high heat for 20-25 minutes until cooked through.

Quick & Easy Chicken Egg Drop Soup {Tea & Top Knot}

Once your chicken is cooked, pull it out of the remaining cooking liquid and shred it. You can do this with two forks or you can do it the easiest way ever…

Quick & Easy Chicken Egg Drop Soup {Tea & Top Knot}

Did you know you can shred chicken in your mixer?? Once I found this tip I could never go back to doing it the hard way. Make sure that you don’t put the cooking liquid in the mixer though. This will make a mess and it will take a lot longer to shred the chicken. Chicken breast minus cooking liquid = more friction.

Quick & Easy Chicken Egg Drop Soup {Tea & Top Knot}

See how easy that is! I like this to be shredded pretty fine for the soup so I leave it in there for a couple minutes. After you’re done shredding, pour the warm cooking liquid back over the chicken to keep it moist and set aside. 

This next part moves really fast so I like to have the chicken already shredded and ready to go. Combine the remaining four cups of chicken stock with the soy sauce and sesame oil in a larger pot and bring it to a boil. 

Quick & Easy Chicken Egg Drop Soup {Tea & Top Knot}

While this is coming to a boil, mix together your cornstarch and water. Then stir this into your boiling broth. 

Quick & Easy Chicken Egg Drop Soup {Tea & Top Knot}

Next, slowly drizzle your beaten eggs into the broth while whisking gently. You want to create nice ribbons of egg in the soup.

Quick & Easy Chicken Egg Drop Soup {Tea & Top Knot}

Now just add a little white pepper and your soup is done! Put some of the shredded chicken in the bottom of your bowl and ladle the Egg Drop Soup over the top. 

Quick & Easy Chicken Egg Drop Soup {Tea & Top Knot}

Quick & Easy Chicken Egg Drop Soup {Tea & Top Knot}

Most often we eat this yummy soup with jasmine rice. Honestly that’s the longest part of cooking this meal! The rice cooker takes about 40 minutes but it’s so easy. You might have a rice cooker at home but if you don’t love yours or don’t have one at all, I highly recommend to check out this one. It makes it so simple, cooks the rice perfectly every time, and even plays a happy song when your rice is done. 

Quick & Easy Chicken Egg Drop Soup {Tea & Top Knot}

I know that you and your family will enjoy this super easy, comforting soup!

Chicken Egg Drop Soup

Ingredients

  • 1 large chicken breast
  • 5 C chicken broth, divided
  • 1 t soy sauce
  • 1 t sesame oil
  • 4 t cornstarch
  • 2 T + 2 t water
  • 2 eggs beaten
  • 1/8 t white pepper

Instructions

  1. Trim chicken breast and poach in 1 cup of the chicken broth over medium to medium-high heat for 20-25 mins until cooked through.
  2. Remove chicken from remaining liquid and shred. Return chicken to liquid and set aside.
  3. Combine remaining chicken broth (4 cups), soy sauce, and sesame oil. Bring to boil.
  4. Stir together cornstarch and water. Pour into boiling broth.
  5. Whisk gently while pouring in eggs. Add the white pepper and you're done!
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Irish Car Bomb Cupcakes

Irish Car Bomb Cupcakes {Tea & Top Knot}

I have been making this recipe for a long time. I had a Timehop come up on my phone this morning from 7 years ago about these cupcakes. It’s at least an annual occurrence. For years I’ve made these cupcakes for co-workers, family, and friends on St. Patrick’s Day. It also made an appearance as one of the cakes at my wedding.

The cupcake is a chocolate Guinness cake with a Baileys Irish Cream frosting. We aren’t big drinkers in our house so this is a great way to enjoy a little Irish spirit. Of all the things that I bake, these are one of my personal favorites. This is one of those recipes that I have never veered from. I see so many versions of this on Pinterest, but I always go back to this recipe. 

Of all the things that I bake, these are one of my personal favorites.Click To Tweet

The cupcake batter goes together relatively easy. The frosting takes a bit more finesse but it is oh-so-worth-it. There used to be a local cupcake bakery called Yum-Yums that I am still mourning the loss of. They had the most divine, silky frosting which I later learned was a Swiss Buttercream. This frosting reminds me of that because it is light, fluffy, and not overly heavy. 

This cake batter is thin enough that you can easily make it with just a whisk. Or if you’re lazy like me you like using your stand mixer, use the whisk attachment on your mixer to get everything blended together smoothly. I hadn’t yet made this recipe with my Kitchenaid yet so I grabbed the beater attachment out of habit. These next two photos really are superfluous because the batter is that easy but here you go. 

Irish Car Bomb Cupcakes {Tea & Top Knot}

Mmm… Cake batter…

Irish Car Bomb Cupcakes {Tea & Top Knot}

I’ve played around a bit with how much batter to put in each cupcake liner. A few years ago I decided to make things much easier for myself and use a cookie scoop to fill the batter into the cups so that I get even measurements. My bestie got me a Jenaluca scoop set for my wedding and I love them. I’ve found that the medium sized scoop (1.5 Tbs) works best for this recipe. Just shy of 3 scoops in each cup will give me a nice domed cupcake without overflowing. The pan on the left below had 2 scoops (not quite enough) and the pan on the left had 3. Because I live at a high altitude (about 5,000 feet) I have to be really careful about how far I fill them because I’ve had these overflow before and go flat. {FYI, flat cupcakes are still delicious.} 

While I’ve done a ton of baking since moving to Colorado over 16 years ago, I have just recently started playing with how to make adjustments for high altitude. One of the tricks I’ve learned is to raise your oven temperature by 25 degrees (and adjust baking time). It’s common for high altitude recipes to rise too quickly and then deflate. This trick helps the cupcakes to rise and then “hold” the rise so they don’t go flat. 

Irish Car Bomb Cupcakes {Tea & Top Knot}

There is quite a bit more to be told about this frosting. I previously mentioned the original recipe in my Petit Fours post. It comes from my trusty Magnolia Bakery cookbook. I have made this delectable frosting so many different ways. When it came to figuring out what kind of frosting to put on these cupcakes, I knew it would be easy to change it up and add some Baileys to the mix. 

I feel that these photos are necessary because this frosting can be tricky. But when you taste this silky, delicious frosting, you’ll be glad you tried it. 

First you combine milk, Baileys, and flour in a saucepan over medium heat and whisk it constantly until you get a thick pudding-like consistency. The first time I ever made this version I quickly found that for whatever scientific reason, the alcohol/milk/flour mixture will start to bubble and thicken much quicker than just a milk/flour mixture will. 

Irish Car Bomb Cupcakes {Tea & Top Knot}

Once this is the right consistency, it will need to cool in the fridge. I like to move it to a separate bowl to help the cooling process happen a little faster. Press some plastic wrap or wax paper touching all over the surface of the mixture. As it cools it will form a skin on top kind of like pudding if it’s not completely touching. Trust me, you don’t want this in your frosting later. {Even if you are a weirdo who likes the “skin” from the pudding like me.} Now pop it in the fridge for at least a half hour. It doesn’t have to be cold exactly, but you don’t want it to be warm. If it’s too warm, your frosting will likely fall apart later. 

Irish Car Bomb Cupcakes {Tea & Top Knot}

While the cake batter was easy enough to mix with a whisk, this is where you’re really going to want to use your stand mixer… Or make sure you have a good, strong mixing arm with an electric hand mixer. You can’t skimp on these mixing times. 

First, beat the unsalted butter until creamy for 3 minutes. I have tried both salted and unsalted butter for this recipe. Unsalted is best because it doesn’t overpower the flavor of the Baileys.

Gradually add in the sugar and beat for another 3 minutes. You are reading that recipe below correctly; this uses granulated sugar instead of powdered sugar. I promise this will all get blended in as long as you follow the directions. Then add the vanilla and mix until fully incorporated. 

Irish Car Bomb Cupcakes {Tea & Top Knot}

Now get your cooled (about room temp) milk/Baileys/flour mixture out of the fridge. It will be a bit more set now. Add this to the mixing bowl and beat on medium-high speed for 5 minutes. Set your timer! This will feel like forever. Are your arms tired? After so many years of using a hand mixer I am so thankful for my Kitchenaid! All jokes aside, this time really is important to get the right texture for your frosting. It should be rich and creamy when you’re done. Finally, pop the frosting in the fridge for 15 minutes to set. (No longer… set a timer!) Frost your cupcakes immediately.

Irish Car Bomb Cupcakes {Tea & Top Knot}

A few notes about this frosting. If you leave this in the fridge too long, it will start to solidify. Before using on your cupcakes, this could become an issue. If it becomes too solid, you’ll need to let it soften back up before you can frost your cupcakes.

After you’ve frosted your cupcakes, this is not such a big deal. I typically store my frosted cupcakes covered in the fridge, or even in a cool garage. I take them out of the fridge about a half hour prior to serving. 

Irish Car Bomb Cupcakes {Tea & Top Knot}

Voila! I know you’ll love this wonderful combination of chocolate Guinness cake with the Baileys frosting. It really is one of my favorites. When I mentioned on Facebook that I was making these I got a few requests for deliveries from long-time admirers of this cupcake. I think you should try making them for your loved ones! 

Irish Car Bomb Cupcakes {Tea & Top Knot}

Cupcake recipe originally found on Chowhound. Ages and ages ago…

Irish Car Bomb Cupcakes

Ingredients

    Chocolate Guinness Cupcakes
  • 1 (11.2-ounce) bottle Guinness stout
  • 1/2 C whole milk
  • 1/2 C vegetable oil
  • 1 T vanilla extract
  • 3 large eggs
  • 3/4 C sour cream
  • 2 1/2 C all-purpose flour
  • 2 C granulated sugar
  • 3/4 C natural unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 1/2 t baking soda
  • 1/2 t fine salt
  • Baileys Frosting
  • 6 T all-purpose flour
  • 1 C milk
  • 1 C Baileys Irish Cream
  • 2 C (4 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 C granulated sugar {not confectioner’s sugar!}
  • 2 t vanilla extract

Instructions

    Please note adjustments if baking at high altitude.
  1. Heat the oven to 350°F (375 for high altitude) and arrange a rack in the middle. Place cupcake liners in two (12-well) muffin pans. Set the pans aside.
  2. Whisk together the Guinness, milk, vegetable oil, and vanilla in a large bowl until combined. Whisk in the eggs, one at a time, until completely incorporated. Whisk in the sour cream.
  3. Whisk the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt in a second large bowl to aerate and combine. Gradually fold this mixture into the wet Guinness mixture until fully incorporated. Fill the cupcake liners 2/3 full. Don't overfill or these could overflow. If you have extra batter, just fill additional cups.
  4. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of the muffins comes out clean, about 20-25 minutes. (only 18-20 minutes for high altitude at 375) Set the pans on a wire rack and let the cupcakes cool completely before removing from the pans.
  5. Baileys Frosting:
  6. In a medium saucepan, whisk the flour into the milk and Baileys until smooth. Place over medium heat and, stirring constantly, cook until the mixture becomes very thick and begins to bubble. {you want this to be about the texture of pudding… keep your eye on this!} Cover with waxed paper placed directly on the surface and cool to room temperature, about 30 minutes.
  7. In a large bowl, on the medium high speed of an eclectic mixer, beat the butter for 3 minutes, until smooth and creamy. Gradually add the sugar, beating continuously for 3 minutes until fluffy. Add the vanilla and beat well.
  8. Add the cooled milk mixture, and continue to beat on the medium high speed for 5 minutes, until very smooth. Cover and refrigerated for 15 minutes (no less and no longer – set a timer!). Use immediately.
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Irish Car Bomb Cupcakes {Tea & Top Knot}

Irish Car Bomb Cupcakes {Tea & Top Knot}

Playing with frosting techniques.

 

Irish Car Bomb Cupcakes {Tea & Top Knot}

Hiding behind the photo booth…

 

Irish Car Bomb Cupcakes {Tea & Top Knot}

Ready for bake & release.

 

Greek Chili

Greek Chili {Tea & Top Knot}

When I thought about adding a Family Recipes section of my blog, I knew that I wanted to include recipes from every part of my family. This is one of the first dishes I ate at my in-laws’ house. You may be wondering what Greek Chili is. If you’re familiar with Cincinnati Chili or Skyline Chili, this is along the same lines. It is full of warm spices, and it’s even better prepared a day ahead. We like to eat ours served over spaghetti with cheddar cheese, oyster crackers, and diced onion. 

Greek Chili {Tea & Top Knot}

I made this recipe a while back as a special request from my husband and had plenty leftover to stick in the freezer. Hubby and I just got home from a road trip to Idaho, only to have our tax person coming this afternoon. I was happy to have a big ziploc bag full of this ready to go so I don’t have to cook dinner tonight! 

The original recipe calls for the chili to be cooked on the stove uncovered. I chose to put mine in the crockpot with the lid on. We have kitties who don’t need any temptation to jump on the counter! Have you ever had Greek Chili? Let me know in the comments!

Greek Chili {Tea & Top Knot}

Greek Chili

Ingredients

  • 2 lbs. ground beef, ground turkey, or ground buffalo
  • 2 large onions, chopped fine
  • 2 small cans tomato paste
  • 1 t cinnamon
  • 1 t allspice
  • 1 t ground red pepper (cayenne)
  • 1 t cumin seed
  • 1 t red pepper flakes
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 ½ T white vinegar
  • 2 T chili powder, or less
  • 5-6 bay leaves
  • 2-3 dashes worchestershire sauce
  • 4 C water (reduce by 1/2 C if you make yours in the crockpot)
  • Salt to taste.

Instructions

  1. DO NOT brown meat – break up into water, add all other ingredients, simmer (don’t boil) uncovered for four hours. (Or you can cook on low in the crock pot for 6-8 hours) Serve over spaghetti noodles. Top with grated cheese, chopped onions and oyster crackers. (This is best made the day before.)
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Greek Chili {Tea & Top Knot}

This post is linked at the Link Party at Buns In My Oven.

How I Made My Inexpensive Flower Beds

How I Made My Inexpensive Flower Beds {Tea & Top Knot}

I am a bit obsessed with flowers. 

Since last fall I have been collecting various bulbs and such that I wanted to plant in a flower garden this year and stashing them in my office. I had no idea yet where I wanted to put them but I knew I’d figure it out eventually, even if it was just in pots on the patio. We have a few acres of property and we are trying to add to our landscaping bit by bit. 

After building some really awesome raised beds for the veggie garden last year, my husband thought it would be a good idea to make some similar planters for flowers around our back patio. Here are the originals below. We love this rustic industrial look. 

Pretty new raised garden beds. Ready for planting! {Tea & Top Knot}

We have tossed around different ideas for how to make these work around our curved patio.

How I Made My Inexpensive Flower Beds {Tea & Top Knot}

I think we may not be quite ready to tackle that project yet. I knew that I needed to get my bulbs in the ground fast since I am a late planter this year, so we needed another option. Last year was a whirlwind for us and while I had every intention to get my bulbs in the ground in the fall it just didn’t happen. Luckily I read recently that you can plant in late winter and still have them come up for spring! As long as they are in the ground in time to still get some cold weather. 

As luck would have it in Colorado, we experienced a very warm February. Our biggest snow month is typically March so this worked out perfectly for me. 

We knew that because someday we would like to build the raised beds around the patio, we wanted to do something for now that was inexpensive and that could also be temporary. We searched around for different garden edging and came across this stuff. For garden edging, this stuff is a great price for how many feet you get. 

How I Made My Inexpensive Flower Beds {Tea & Top Knot}

 

We knew this would be sturdy enough to hold up for as long as we use it, but it was a lot cheaper than buying some of the more decorative edging or stones for our garden. We ordered two rolls of the terrace board and two packages of the stakes to help keep it in place. *Note, when you get your terrace board, make sure to lay it out flat in the yard with something heavy on each end the day before you want to use it. This will help it to un-curl and it will be a lot easier to work with.

We had some grass to dig up so we started our project by measuring and marking off the section we wanted to use. We just used some Rust-Oleum Precision Line Paint to make the outline on the grass.

How I Made My Inexpensive Flower Beds {Tea & Top Knot}

We dug out all the grass from these two sections, trying not to dig too deep. This left just a little edge between the remaining grass and the new flower bed. We laid out the edging and tapped the stakes in place as we went to help it hold its shape. The piece of edging was a bit longer than what we needed so we had to use some strong shears to cut it to the right length.

How I Made My Inexpensive Flower Beds {Tea & Top Knot}

While we were at it we started resetting our stones for the path that goes out to the vegetable garden.

How I Made My Inexpensive Flower Beds {Tea & Top Knot}

We had a brief couple days where Colorado remembered what month it was. 

How I Made My Inexpensive Flower Beds {Tea & Top Knot}

Finally the snow cleared up and we were back to nice weather. It was time to get my bulbs in the ground. I have a planner that I use for my garden. I have my different bulbs listed on a map of where I want to plant them. This will come in handy if I ever want to dig them back up to relocate them later. For my two flower beds, I am doing one in all pink flowers, and the other will be mixed colors. 

How I Made My Inexpensive Flower Beds {Tea & Top Knot}

I laid out my bulbs according to my map and got to work digging holes! 

How I Made My Inexpensive Flower Beds {Tea & Top Knot}

Most of these bulbs are really ready for spring! If they can start to sprout in a bag in my office, then surely I will have flowers before long!

How I Made My Inexpensive Flower Beds {Tea & Top Knot}

I found this handy bulb planter to dig my holes. It was so easy to wiggle this in the ground to pull up a chunk of dirt. I do love a good gadget that makes things easier. It has measurements on the side and a handy release in the handle!

How I Made My Inexpensive Flower Beds {Tea & Top Knot}

You just twist a bit to push it down into the dirt. As I pulled up one chunk of dirt, I used that to cover up the previous hole that I had filled with a bulb. 

How I Made My Inexpensive Flower Beds {Tea & Top Knot}

Once I got everything in the ground I covered each bed with a layer of Miracle-Gro Garden Soil for Flowers and a layer of Permagreen Pro Topsoil. I used one bag of each on each flower bed. We have good soil where I live so I only used a thin layer. Later we’ll cover the whole thing with mulch. 

How I Made My Inexpensive Flower Beds {Tea & Top Knot}

How I Made My Inexpensive Flower Beds {Tea & Top Knot}

Ta-da! Most anti-climactic flower bed photo ever. Gardening really is a lesson in patience. I can’t wait to show you photos this spring of the flowers growing in these beds.

How I Made My Inexpensive Flower Beds {Tea & Top Knot}

Because I mentioned that this was an inexpensive project, here’s the breakdown of what it cost. We ordered our edging supplies from Amazon because we found the best price, and purchased our dirt from Home Depot. 

Total flower bed project cost: $78.76

Because I know some people will be curious, here is what I have bought so far to plant in my flower garden this year. I’m sure that much will be added to this list. 

The flowers from Floret are hard to come by and sell out in the blink of an eye. Check your local garden center!

How I Made My Inexpensive Flower Beds {Tea & Top Knot}

 

Grandpa’s Raisin Bran Muffins

{Dedicated with love to my Grandpa}


Grandpa's Raisin Bran Muffins {Tea & Top Knot}

Recently my mom had a genius idea to start posting all of our favorite family recipes to a group board on Pinterest so that we can keep them all in one place. One of the recipes that I had been trying to replicate for years was my Grandpa’s raisin bran muffins. These were a favorite treat growing up.

I knew that it was one of those recipes cut from the side of the cereal box. I thought for sure the recipe came from maybe Post or Total raisin bran… All that I came across when searching for these recipes was the “six week refrigerator muffins”. I tried making these and ended up with SO many muffins; and they weren’t quite like my Grandpa’s. I finally asked my mom if she knew and she said that it was from Kellogg’s Raisin Bran. To me as a young girl, they were just Grandpa’s muffins.

With tears in my eyes I share that just a few days ago on February 18th, our family lost this beloved man. My Grandpa was blessed to live a long and happy life. He was one of those people who was loved by all who knew him. He was charismatic, generous, adventurous, and hard working. He loved his family above all. He was a happy morning person and always walked around the house singing silly songs. I was very fortunate to spend a lot of time with him in my life and we had a very close relationship. He is one of the best men I have ever known.

Grandpa's Raisin Bran Muffins {Tea & Top Knot}

I will always remember him with a big smile just like this.

I spent the day that I found out about Grandpa looking through old pictures and wanting to relive memories. I asked my husband to make me “hotcakes” for breakfast because that was another favorite from Grandpa. I ate them just the way he would have fixed them for me, complete with my “Grandma’s Secret Recipe” strawberry freezer jam spooned over the top. Then yesterday morning when I was going to go spend some time with my siblings, I knew that I needed to make these muffins as a tribute to him.

He was such a goofball.

Although these still don’t taste right to me, maybe they never will. As my aunt said to me, “some things just taste better when someone else makes them.” But when I took that first bite after pulling them out of the oven, I was transported back to Grandma & Grandpa’s kitchen table, surrounded by family.

 

Grandpa’s Raisin Bran Muffins

Yield: 12 muffins

Grandpa’s Raisin Bran Muffins

Ingredients

  • 1 1/4 C all purpose flour
  • 3 t baking powder
  • 1/2 t salt
  • 1/2 C sugar
  • 3 C Kellogg's Raisin Bran
  • 1 1/4 C milk
  • 1 egg
  • 1/3 C soft shortening or vegetable oil

Instructions

  1. Stir together flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar. Set aside.
  2. Measure Raisin Bran and milk into mixing bowl. Stir to combine. Let stand 1 to 2 minutes or until cereal is softened. Add egg and shortening (I used oil). Beat well.
  3. Add dry ingredients to cereal mixture, stirring only until combined. Portion batter evenly into 12 muffin cups.
  4. Bake in oven at 400 degrees for about 20-25 minutes until golden brown. Serve warm.
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http://teaandtopknot.com/2017/02/21/grandpas-raisin-bran-muffins/

 

What a cutie!

Grandpa's Raisin Bran Muffins {Tea & Top Knot}

From truck driver…

Grandpa's Raisin Bran Muffins {Tea & Top Knot}

to real estate agent…

Grandpa's Raisin Bran Muffins {Tea & Top Knot}

to rancher…

Grandpa's Raisin Bran Muffins {Tea & Top Knot}

So many pictures with kiddos on his lap.

Grandpa's Raisin Bran Muffins {Tea & Top Knot}

More kiddos…

Grandpa's Raisin Bran Muffins {Tea & Top Knot}

Taking a selfie with Grandpa.

Grandpa's Raisin Bran Muffins {Tea & Top Knot}

I knew my grandparents wouldn’t be able to travel to my wedding. So I took my dress to Idaho so they could see me as a bride.

Grandpa's Raisin Bran Muffins {Tea & Top Knot}

Forever a cowboy.

Rest in peace Grandpa. We will dearly miss you.

 

Healthy Valentine’s Day Dessert – Raspberry Chia Pudding and Chocolate Mousse Parfaits

Healthy Valentine's Day Dessert - Raspberry Chia Pudding and Chocolate Mousse Parfait {Tea & Top Knot}

About this time last year I was playing with some recipes and came up with this delicious combination. I try to keep a healthy amount of balance in my life and am always looking for some low sugar treats. Not only is this little parfait pretty, but it’s pretty good for you too.

I’ve made this a handful of times now because I can never get over how tasty it is. Raspberries and chocolate?? Seriously! This is a great treat to enjoy with your Valentine or any day of the year. And with only natural sweeteners added, you can indulge in this guilt-free dessert.

Start by mashing 1 cup of the raspberries in a mixing bowl. A potato masher will do just fine. Reserve the remaining raspberries for layering up your parfait.

Healthy Valentine's Day Dessert - Raspberry Chia Pudding and Chocolate Mousse Parfait {Tea & Top Knot}

Then add the remaining chia pudding ingredients. I prefer to use the whole or 2% Greek yogurt. You know, healthy fats and all. I usually use unsweetened vanilla Silk almond milk for this but just use what you’ve got on hand.

Healthy Valentine's Day Dessert - Raspberry Chia Pudding and Chocolate Mousse Parfait {Tea & Top Knot}

Then just stir (or mash) it all together until it’s all blended. Make sure to get all of the chia seeds off the side of the bowl and into the pool. Now just cover and refrigerate overnight or as long as you can possibly wait for your chia seeds to get nice and cozy. While you’ve got the fridge door open, go ahead and stick that can of coconut cream for the chocolate mousse in the fridge to chill.

Healthy Valentine's Day Dessert - Raspberry Chia Pudding and Chocolate Mousse Parfait {Tea & Top Knot}

Next Day: For the chocolate mousse, pull the can of coconut cream out of the fridge. If you are lucky enough to have a Trader Joe’s nearby, get some of this goodness. It is ultra thick and rich and oh so yummy. You can thank me later.

Healthy Valentine's Day Dessert - Raspberry Chia Pudding and Chocolate Mousse Parfait {Tea & Top Knot}

If you’re using a coconut milk, add only the cream from the can. You should be able to scoop the cream from the top and leave the liquid behind in the bottom. You want to end up with a thick coconut cream to work with.

Healthy Valentine's Day Dessert - Raspberry Chia Pudding and Chocolate Mousse Parfait {Tea & Top Knot}

Next add the rest of the chocolate mousse ingredients to the coconut cream and mix for 3-4 minutes or until soft peaks form. I like to use a stevia baking blend in mine. If you’re unfamiliar with that see here and here. {affiliate links} You can use any sweetener that you prefer but you may need to adjust for sweetness.

Healthy Valentine's Day Dessert - Raspberry Chia Pudding and Chocolate Mousse Parfait {Tea & Top Knot}

Now that you’ve got both of your components ready, just layer the Raspberry Chia Pudding and Chocolate Mousse with some fresh raspberries in a glass. Make it festive!

Healthy Valentine's Day Dessert - Raspberry Chia Pudding and Chocolate Mousse Parfait {Tea & Top Knot}

 

Raspberry Chia Pudding

1 pint of raspberries
1 C whole or 2% plain Greek yogurt
1 C unsweetened almond or coconut milk
1½ T honey
3 T chia seeds

Mash 1 cup of the raspberries. Reserve the remaining raspberries for building the parfait. Add remaining ingredients and mix together well, making sure that all the chia seeds are mixed in. Cover and refrigerate overnight. {Put the can of coconut cream in the fridge as well.}

Chocolate Mousse

1 can unsweetened coconut cream or full fat coconut milk (refrigerated overnight)
1 T cocoa powder
1 T stevia baking blend (you can use any sweetener you like)
1 t vanilla

Blend all the ingredients together with a mixer for 3-4 minutes or until soft peaks form. Cover and place in the refrigerator until ready to serve.

To assemble the parfaits layer the chia pudding and chocolate mousse with raspberries sprinkled in between. Enjoy!

Healthy Valentine's Day Dessert - Raspberry Chia Pudding and Chocolate Mousse Parfait {Tea & Top Knot}

Healthy Valentine's Day Dessert - Raspberry Chia Pudding and Chocolate Mousse Parfait {Tea & Top Knot}

2017 Reading Challenge

Confession: I am a serious bookaholic. Old books, new books, Kindle books, audio books… I love them any way I can get them.

Near the end of 2016 I shared on Facebook that I had finished nearly 80 books during the year {at that point} and asking my friends how many they had read. You would think by the comments that I lounge around and read all day, every day. If only! My ultimate dream career would be to somehow magically get paid to read all day! But in reality, I often find myself wishing I had more time to read. I do most of my reading from my Kindle after my husband goes to sleep, or listening to audio books while I’m doing housework or driving.

I find that I can spend a lot of time between books trying to figure out what to read next. I have a TBR pile that’s miles long. This year I have a goal to read 85 books. So I decided to make my very own 2017 Reading Challenge. Hopefully because I have made a preset list, that I will spend more time reading and less time searching.

Below are all the categories that I pulled together from various reading challenges I’ve seen over the years. I chose categories for pure enjoyment, to stretch myself as a reader, or for personal development. I feel like I’ve given myself a bit more variety than I might normally read. Some of my favorite genres are classic romances, dystopian, fantasy, and fairy tale retellings. Lately I am also getting more into science fiction. I decided recently to start reading through some Star Wars books… {I fully embrace my geek/fangirl side.} I’m also looking forward to reading more non-romance classics!

I’ll leave you a blank version that you can fill in with your picks for these categories at the end! Click on the link for each book {or the cover below!} to read the synopsis. There are a few To Be Determined because I won’t know until it happens!

Here’s a blank list so that you can fill in your picks! Even if you don’t think you would read 60 books this year, choose a handful and follow along with me. Leave me a comment and let me know what you’re reading this year!

  • A book based on a fairy tale
  • A National Book Award winner
  • A YA bestseller
  • A book translated to English
  • A romance set in the future
  • A book set in Europe
  • A New York Times bestseller
  • A book that’s becoming a movie this year
  • A book recommended by someone you just met
  • A self-improvement book
  • A book you can finish in a day
  • A book written by a celebrity
  • A book that’s more than 600 pages
  • A science-fiction novel
  • A book recommended by a family member
  • A graphic novel
  • A book that is published in 2017
  • A book that takes place during Summer
  • A book and its prequel
  • A murder mystery
  • A book written by a comedian
  • A dystopian novel
  • The first book you see in a bookstore
  • A classic from the 20th century
  • An autobiography
  • A book about a road trip
  • A book about a culture you’re unfamiliar with
  • A satircial book
  • A book that takes place on an island
  • A book that’s guaranteed to bring you joy
  • A book you bought so long ago, but still haven’t read
  • A non-fiction book about something you’ve always wanted to know more about
  • A book from Kindle books you already own
  • A book you never got to read in 2016
  • A book filled to the rim with magic
  • A book of which you liked the movie but haven’t read the book yet
  • A book that makes you want to visit the place it’s set
  • A book that makes you want to be a villain
  • A classic that you never made time for
  • A book with short stories
  • A book with a dark and mysterious cover
  • A marriage book
  • A business book
  • A popular author’s first book
  • A book from an author you love
  • A classic romance
  • A book that became a movie
  • A re-read
  • A book with nonhuman characters
  • A funny book
  • A book at the bottom of your to-read list
  • A book your mom loves
  • A banned book
  • A book set during Christmas
  • A book you started but never finished
  • A series you never finished
  • A Christian fiction novel
  • A historical fiction novel
  • An audio book

 

Happy reading!

 

Home Projects

Prepare yourselves to see some epically awesome pictures of our home. When I first began thinking about starting a blog about my life at home, I worried about taking pictures around the house. Then I decided to give myself some grace and not compare my home to all of the beautiful home decor blogs that I like to drool over. My husband and I have been married just over a year now and we are still settling in. Both of us being mid-30s homeowners, we had a *cough* few things to combine. Here I sit, less than a week after our first anniversary, in an office still piled high with things that I need to organize, purge, or move to the barn where we have been building extra storage. Don’t mind me while I smell my pretty candle as I work and pretend there isn’t a mountain of stuff on the bed next to me… and tune out the sound of my cat licking a plastic bag.

My cozy writing corner. That lotion peeking out smells like fruit loops. Get yourself some.

We’ve had quite a year of sorting through our things, trying to figure out what to keep. {Keep my dishes, or yours? Use the old couch, or get a new one?} We’ve also been doing some thinking about how much to do to our house. We live in a 1969 house with no basement and a weird layout. We have 1,400 square feet and a central hallway that takes up a lot of that space. Before I moved in, we had some major flooding in our crawl space from an irrigation ditch that was flowing too high. This caused some resettling in our house and when we had it inspected, we found out that at some point we’ll need to do some foundation work. So the question for us has been, do we level this house and build a new one on the property? {We have 3.5 acres and a great location just outside of town.} Or do we fix the foundation and make the changes we want to the house, possibly including an addition?

We came to the conclusion that we aren’t ready to build yet. We’ll eventually need more space as we start a family but for now we are tackling some other financial goals first. We decided to do minor improvements to enjoy the home we’re in at this phase of our life. Most of the projects you’ll see me share will be DIY & budget conscious!

Luckily we both enjoy home improvement and doing projects around the house. Here are a handful of the things we did in 2016:

  • We had a barn built and began putting up industrial shelving for extra storage. We are almost done with this!!
  • My husband built and installed a barn door to cover our “cantry” that he built before we were married. We needed some more kitchen storage so he hollowed out a wall next to the fridge to make a  shallow pantry big enough for canned goods. {thus the nickname, cantry}
  • Husband also built extra shelves into our hall bath closet. Huge closet, few divider shelves. We still have some more to go on this but one side was much needed for my beauty product stash.
  • I’m starting to see a trend here… I swear I help! My sweet husband built me some amazing raised beds to start a vegetable garden in. We will add to these over the years!
  • We put in a couple storage shelves over the chest freezer in our other storage/bedroom for holding all of the small appliances that don’t fit in the kitchen.
  • My husband and father in law put a new full-window door into our dark dining room. It is so much brighter now!
  • Hubby also made a rack to organize hangers in the laundry room! Previously I had a jumbled mess on the countertop and now they are neatly organized on the wall.

 

Our barn! I’ll show you the storage when it’s all finished!

This is the awesome “cantry” and barn door that my husband installed!

Much needed extra shelves in the hall bath linen closet.

Pretty new raised garden beds. Ready for planting!

Nothing glamorous here. Just needed storage for overflow appliances.

Our dining room before. This is with the light ON. Excuse the recycling piles.

Our dining room after. So much brighter!

I love having these hangar racks within reach of where I hang up wet clothes!

Here is our wish list of projects that we want to do in the future!

  • Living Room: replace gold window, sand & paint door, install baseboards
  • Dining Room: sand, paint white (like shiplap), paint new door
  • Hall Bath: new vanity, replace tub & tile, shelves in closet
  • Master Bath: new shower insert & tile
  • Laundry Room: custom cabinets, paint
  • Kitchen: concrete counters, tile backsplash, paint cabinets
  • Outside: organize garage & sheds, finish shelves in barn, shade garden, flower beds, more raised beds for veggie garden, recycle storage from palette shipping containers

There is good retro, and there is bad retro. You decide.

You can’t tell from the inside photo of the front door just how awesome that side window really is. That white splotch is from a failed attempt to cover the gold with mercury glass paint.

 

As we add new things or cross them off I’ll update the list. This is just a peek into our home and what we’re doing around here!