When people find out that I compete in pageants, I get one of two responses. The first (and most common) is usually, “Wow, that sounds like fun! What’s your talent?” (Thankfully Mrs. pageants do not require you to have a talent!)  The second response isn’t so positive, and usually consists of a raised eyebrow and maybe even a snarky comment.

I never take offense to the latter response. To be quite honest, I had no idea how much work and commitment went into pageants until I competed in my first one last year. If your only experience with pageants is what you see on TV, you would never know about the sacrifices, the determination, or the confidence it takes to get up stage and literally be judged.  It’s easy to only notice the hair and makeup, and assume that pageants are based on physical beauty alone. Trust me when I tell you, they are not!

My personal journey to the Mrs. California stage has be life changing to say the least. Aside from learning how to gracefully walk in heels, the biggest challenge I faced this year was the way in which I regarded myself. Physically I knew I could go through the motions, walk on stage and smile, but mentally I wasn’t sure if I could fill the heels of the Mrs. California title. I am proud to say that after a lot of work, and with the help from my faith, family, and coach I have overcome any self doubt. This April 13th I cannot wait to show my family, friends and the judges what this woman is really capable of!

It goes without saying that pageant prep also consists of super healthy eating! Kale has been my go-to super food with it’s dark green leaves packed with vitamin K, A, and C. It works in smoothies, juices, salads and my new favorite recipe, sautéed in fried rice! Just like having beauty and brains, it’s the perfect combination of healthy and delicious.

At the end of the day, when the makeup has been washed off and the gown put away, true beauty is when the inside is just as, (if not more) beautiful than the outside.

I consider myself to be a fairly responsible person.

I take my vitamins in the morning, I floss my teeth every night, and I try my hardest to tell my immediate family that I love them everyday.

But sometimes I need to remind myself that I am also adventurous! So when the chance to jump off a cliff into a warm ocean presents itself, I’ll take it. I’ll quickly think twice, say a little prayer, and then…. Geronimo!!

I also need to remind myself that I am fun. When the opportunity to push my way through a crowd of festival goers to better experience all of the confetti and music Girl Talk has to offer, I’ll take it! I might get a little nauseous among the sea of people, and I might feel a little out of place elbow to elbow with a bunch of 20 year olds, but I won’t let that won’t stop me from dancing!

Most of all I need to remind myself that it’s ok to be a little irresponsible every now and then. It’s ok if I decided to stay up past my 10:00pm bed time and it’s ok if I want to hit the snooze button in the morning and skip the gym. It’s ok if I want to have dessert for lunch and it’s definitely ok if I want to have nachos for dinner! Chips, cheese, sour cream, ahhhh irresponsibility taste delicious! Add some roasted butternut squash, chicken, and black beans and you’ll have yourself a well rounded meal. Just don’t let your irresponsible side know!

I have no problem throwing together simple, nutritious, and delicious meals for my family almost every night of the week. If someone is unhappy (and somebody usually is) with the menu that evening, I offer whatever they would like out of the fruit bowl for dinner instead. My favorite saying when it comes to meal time, “You get what you get and you don’t throw a fit!” This also works, sometimes.

Need help putting together a tasty, beautiful, and seasonal menu for a dinner party? I’m your girl! Just give me an hour with a few of my favorite food magazines, food blogs, a pencil, and a note pad. Mapping out party cocktails to mouthwatering mains, along with a shopping and cooking schedule is probably one of my favorite things to do! Can you say type “A”?

Just had a baby? I’ll be at your door with an overflowing dish of comfort food, garlic bread, and a bottle of champaign! Works every time.

Figuring out what to bring to a potluck, this whole situation stumps me every time!! Questions like: Are there any food allergies I need to be aware of? Is there a theme? What is everybody else bringing?, end up clouding my food judgment. I’ll wind up over thinking it and bringing something that is way too complicated, (table side bananas foster, anyone?). Or overwhelming myself and wind up bringing something a little too simple. Everybody likes steamed white rice, right?!

Then I made these roasted parmesan potatoes and my potluck woes were over! These potatoes are great for a crowd, quick to throw together, easily identifiable among a table full of mysterious casseroles, and of course they are topped with cheese! Make sure to save a bit of these golden, crispy potatoes for yourself before they hit the buffet line. Chances are they’ll be the first thing to go, unless they’re sitting next to a Jello salad of course. Who can resist Jello studded with fruit and mini marshmallows?!

Have you ever met someone and knew right away that she or he is the real deal? I’m not talking about the loudest person in the group or even the one with the most to say. I’m talking about the gal (or guy) you instinctively know you should be listening to when she does eventually have something to say. She’s the kind of person that encourages others to speak and every conversation that you have with her leaves you feeling inspired. I’ve noticed that these real deal’s tend to ignite a flame within others by simply sharing their own genuine fire from within themselves. My friend Lisa over at Paper Cup Poet is just such a person. She is the real deal and I have a hunch that more folks are going to get see that very soon!

This bacon, spinach, and cheddar cheese dip is also the real deal. There is nothing diet, soy, or fakon about it! It’s simple to whip up and I bet you already have most of the ingredients for it in your fridge right now! Want to leave out the bacon for your vegetarian friends? No prob! But don’t even think about trying to re-dish this dip onto a fancy platter. I promise, any real deal cheese lover will not mind a pipping hot skillet full of cheesy goodness placed before them!

If you’re anything like me you probably love to read food blogs.

If you’re not like me and this is the only food blog that you visit (I am so incredibly flattered!) then I would like to apologize for the lack of pink sprinkles and red velvet cupcakes that will traditionally overwhelm food blogs around this time of year. For those of us that do immerse ourselves in all things food, I figured that this farro salad might be a nice change of pace. I’m a big fan of zigging when they zag so instead of cutout heart cookies or chocolate dipped strawberries (both of which I adore) for Valentine’s day, I would like to bring you kale. Not the best intro for such a yummy salad, but it’ll have to do.

While roses and candy conversation hearts are in season, it is also the time of year that kale is in full bloom! It’s hard to miss the huge leafy stacks of red, curly or my personal favorite lacinato kale at the grocery store or farmers market. See, kale and Valentines day really do go hand in hand! And I think this pretty, healthy salad would be a lovely compliment to all of those cupcakes and cookies we’ll be enjoying for the better part of Valentines day!

Remember when you thought that people in their 30′s were soooo old? Maybe you still think that, and if that’s the case boy are you in for a surprise!

This week (on the 10th to be exact) I’ll be heading out of my early 30′s and into my mid 30′s (34 to be exact). No, I am not the kind of girl that dreads turning another year older. In fact I welcome it. The slight wrinkling around my eyes, the realization that the music I  listened to in high school is now considered to be “retro”, the lesson learned with each passing year; I love it all!

Besides nobody wants to go out to dinner and celebrate with a crying birthday girl!

So what’s on my birthday agenda this year? Well for starters I got my eyebrows done and considering the fact that I haven’t had them waxed in over 5 years, it was kind of a big deal! I’ll thoroughly enjoy the birthday phone calls from my family and of course my sweet husband will take me (and our closest friends) out to dinner that night.

I also decided that I wanted to do my first giveaway as a thank you for all of the encouraging and wonderful comments (and emails) you have given to me. I put together a few of my most used and loved kitchen items. I’m sure if you don’t already love them you will soon! All you have to do is leave a comment telling me what birthday has been your favorite so far and why. The winner of this birthday loot will be randomly selected and announced  this Friday (January 11th)!!

I have a feeling that 34 might be my the best one yet.

In my opinion Thanksgiving is for the ambitious, adventurous and excited cook. It’s also all about the turkey, the mashed potatoes, the corn casserole (I still need to get that recipe from you Michelle!) the laughter, and the leftovers.

Christmas is for the kids and for the kid in all of us. It’s about family, love, and traditions; new and old.

New Years Eve is all about you! It’s about new beginnings, sparkly drinks and welcoming in this new year with party favors and kisses. You don’t need to be an executive chef or a professional gift giver to throw a party for this super fun holiday. All you need to do is invite over a house full of people, stay up until midnight and be prepared for an impromptu dance party after the kids have gone to bed. You might also want to know how to put together a cheese platter that will pair perfectly with all of those sparkly drinks.

Cheers, kisses and happy new years to you!

Personally I think it’s downright silly when people start talking about Thanksgiving before Halloween has even had a chance to get here. You’ll never catch me talking turkey when it’s pumpkin patches and costumes I should be discussing. I don’t even think about Thanksgiving side dishes until I’ve heard the last trick-or-treat for year, unless…

Unless I’ve recently had the most incredible coconut mashed potatoes for dinner and I just can’t wait until November to tell you about them. Being a big fan of the classic yukon gold, butter, and milk blend it’s hard for me to imagine putting anything but that on our Thanksgiving table. That is until I sunk my teeth into these sweeter, slightly exotic taters. Ya, they’re that good.

I promise I’ll get with the program soon and we can talk about spooky milkshakes and scary deviled eggs!

There are quite a few things I totally stink at. I’ve tried really hard to become better at these things but most of the time my efforts remain to be just that, efforts.

For example I am terrible at loading the dishwasher. I wouldn’t even call what I do “loading”, it’s much more like “throwing” the dishes into the washer. At the end of the night when Ryan is cleaning up after dinner (I know right?!) it’s hard for him to hide his frustration as he reorganizes my mess in the dishwasher. My response to that? At least I’m good at dirtying those dishes!

I am also pretty much the worst when it comes to any kind of confrontation. I’ll walk into a conversation that might get a tad confrontational with plenty of good solid arguments in my back pocket. Unfortunately the minute I need to get tough and pull one of them out I crumble. I’ll give in, become much too agreeable, then walk away feeling defeated. I am really trying to work on this one!

When asked to come up with appetizers to serve at a party my mind will always draw a blank! I think they’re hard for me because I tend to want to over feed people and whenever I eat out I’m always much more interested in the main course! For my dear friend Shannon’s baby shower I was asked to bring some small bites. Hmmmm, small bites? That term in particular is hard for me to wrap my head around because the bites of food I take are always much too big! Determined not to embarrass Shannon by showing up with a large casserole dish full of creamy white enchiladas (those are on deck) I put my thinking cap on and focused on dainty. After a few days of racking my brain I came up with these lady-like pasta bites! While these pretty little appetizers have the look of a “small bite” they’ll still give party goers the satisfaction of a “big bite”! Bonus, they are incredibly easy to throw together!

Congratulations again to Matt and Shannon on their beautiful, growing family! I’ll save the creamy, creamy, cheesy, cheese enchiladas for your welcome home baby dinner.

Here’s the scene: You’ve just walked into a party where you know a few people but not everybody. You make your way over to the hostess and thank her for inviting your family to such a lovely soirée. After a few minutes of catching up, she’s called into the kitchen and you are left to find a comfortable place to perch without looking super awkward in front of a bunch of people you kinda sorta know.

Where do you go?

Do you helplessly follow the hostess into the kitchen, find an apron and assume the role of sous chef for the rest of the evening? Do you tell people that you moonlight as a DJ and take on the responsibility of all music that is played that night? Do you uncomfortably introduce yourself and try to mingle with your friend’s friends or do you find the food, grab a plate and help yourself to the scrumptious party buffet?

The last one right?

That’s what I do too! A few weeks ago I found myself in this exact scenario and while I was snacking on appetizers to help avoid any awkard conversations, I discovered these amazing veggie squares. I instantly fell in love with them and made it my mission that night to find the person who made them. Turns out they were the creation of the hostess’s mother and after I got the recipe from her we ended up having a very nice conversation about this and that.

I learned two lessons that night:

1. Crescent rolls, herby cream cheese, and veggies makes one heck of a appetizer.

2. Meeting new (or newish people) isn’t so bad.