Tuesday, November 29, 2016

20 Wonderful Winter Ideas

Hi all,

As autumn rapidly gives way to winter, typically a bit of gloom tends to settle in on ones usual mood.  I know a lot of people report feeling like they have less energy, feel less happy and not as upbeat during the winter months.  Therefore, I began brainstorming all the wonderful winter activities one can partake in.  Initially it seems as though there are significantly less options as opposed to every other season.  Forgive me for stating the obvious, but the frigid temperatures do not exactly encourage most to want to be outside for extended periods of time.  For most of us, the change in season is further license to spend more time indoors.

In lieu of the chilliness outside and in order to try and counteract these mindsets, I came up with a list of fantastic ideas and activities that fit hand-in.hand with the season.  I hope these will help you look forward to, instead of dread, the coming winter.

1. TV series/movie marathons. What better activity for a Saturday afternoon/evening or Sunday afternoon?  Especially, for all you New Englanders, when a blizzard is underway.  There are SO many mind-blowing TV series nowadays.  Television has grown to astounding degrees in terms of quality.  I can recommend a few top notch series to get you started:  The Wire, The Affair, Six Feet Under, or Friday Night Lights.  All of these are absolutely outstanding, totally gripping, amazing shows.  You cannot go wrong with any of those four.  I believe most of them are award winners as well.

2.  Traditional fall flavors.  Pumpkin (pumpkin chocolate chip bars...Mmmmm).  Carrots (carrot cake, anyone?).  Sweet potato.  Butternut Squash.  Cinnamon.  To me, these are some of the core flavors that make up autumn.  Find some delicious recipes or dishes to sample or experiment with that contain these ingredients.  Yum.

All of the above photos are my own.  Carrot cake, pumpkin pie with pistachio crust, a healthy beauty bowl, and a chocolate cake made with sweet potato.  They are sugar free, gluten free and lactose free.  For these recipes, check out Sweet. Raw. Free. (My other blog).

3.  Fall foliage.  Ok yes, I admit that with winter essentially here, the curtain has basically fallen on the foliage showing.  However, there are few things more spellbinding then the explosion of fiery color that sweeps across the trees during autumn.  This is of course found in the highest quality (aka the most saturated and vivid colors) within New England in the US.  And yes, I am biased ;-) but I am also speaking factually.  People travel from all over the world to see the leaves change in New England.

To see more of the most awesome spots in New England, check out my previous blog entry on this topic.

4.  Plaid.  First off, plaid has always been a classic and I imagine it always will be.  But there is something especially fitting and oh so charming about plaid during the winter season.  This is the time to break out your plaid clothing items?  Do not have anything in plaid?  Grab at least one thing this winter.  It could be a scarf, a skirt, a jacket.  The list goes on.

One of my favorite streets, not only in Boston but in the world.

5.  Scarves and boots.  There is something about wrapping up inside the wooly warmth of a scarf.  And having a pair of killer fall boots can amp up any outfit you wear.  Its the perfect clothing piece.  If they are comfortable, you will wear them all the time.  And if they look good?  Not only will you be comfortable but you will look AWESOME.  Invest in a quality pair of fall boots if you havent already.  And if you have, get excited!  Now is the time to break them out once more.

Attired in my plaid scarf and winter boots, and posing with one of my favorite people <3 my brother, Spencer.

6.  Roaring fireplaces.  Whenever the day arrives that I have my own home, I absolutely will have a fireplace or hearth of some sort.  Their prescence makes a room SO inviting, so cozy, with a touch of rustic charm.  I could live entirely in one room as long as it had a fireplace.

7.  Coziness.  This term can be fitting across a wide expanse of things.  Your favorite fleece blanket, a warm drink, a favorite restaurant or cafe, fleece socks, cuddling up next to someone you love with a movie or great book, holiday lights, being holed up in your favorite cafe doing some writing or reading, bundling up and going on a short walk through your favorite part of the city, baking up something sweet and delicious, the list goes on.  Winter is THE time for all things cozy. 

8.  Spending a weekend afternoon baking or cooking.  During the summer time, this activity can prove too hot, adding heat to an already too warm kitchen.  Winter is the ideal time for cooking and baking, adding delectable aromas and a comforting warmth to your kitchen.  Some ideal recipes for this time of year include macaroni and cheese, fruit crumbles, quinoa and sweet potato salad, apple crisp, a decadent chocolate cake, the list goes on.

My own recipe for fruit crumble.  Its sugar-free, gluten-free AND lactose-free.  And the best part?  You can throw it together in less than 15 minutes.  You can get the recipe here.

9.  To segue into this next point, comfort food.  Winter is the time for chowing down on things that are cheesy, rich, mouthwatering, full of flavor and delicious taste. 

10.  Bikram yoga.  I imagine most of you have heard of this.  However if you havent?  Its essentially regular yoga, but practiced in a room that is ultra hot.  Its great for your body, your muscles, your pores, etc.  Try it just once.  Its a unique, slightly intense but really interesting experience.  Grab a friend and go.  You will feel awesome afterwards.

11.  Inviting cafes, romantic restaurants, low lit bars.  These are the places that scream "inviting respite during the cold months."  You know the places.  There are many of them.  To name a few in Boston:  The Thinking Cup, Tapeo, Figs, The Paramount, The Danish Pastry House, and Rudys.  And to name a smattering in Frankfurt: Sugar Mama, Cafe Maingold, Cafe Crumble, Iimori, and Gingko.

I can offer you a few extensive lists, one for Frankfurt, and two for Boston (list #1 and list #2), all of which include loads of AWESOME spots that fit this description for you to check out.

12.  Spontaneous, short and sweet weekend getaways.   This is the time to grab your love and take off for a few days.  Ideally, a charming, cozy little bed and breakfast set out in the countryside.  You spend your weekend eating homey, delicious meals.  Walking in the woods.  Holed up in bed together.  Engrossed in thick books as you cuddle side by side in front of a roaring fire.  A day of downhill skiing, totally thrilling and fun.

I personally am dying to go on this particular weekend getaway at some point.  Its been on my list for years.  The Christmas Cookie Tour in the White Mountains of New Hampshire.  It includes two nights of accomodation, tour tickets, recipes for a number of the cookies, free samplings at the beautiful inns, a string of which are set close together, etc.  Sounds amazing.  Scenic, totally romantic, cozy and absolutely delicious.  Totally New England.  Check it out here.

13.  Dinner parties.  If you read my blog and/or know me personally, you know that I love dinner parties.  Everything about them.  From the planning the menu, to the grocery shopping, the decorating, the actually preparing the dishes for my guests, and finally, the party itself.  I love the laughter and conversation, the enjoying a plethora of delectable dishes, the jokes and interesting topics that arrise, etc.

14.  Investing in a thick book.  Winter is the time to choose a slab of a book and dive in.  Summer time is better for lighter, fun reading.  They coined the term "beach read," for a reason.  This is a story that doesnt require a lot of focus and isnt especially dense or difficult to read.  However, winter is the perfect time to invest in a book.  Choose a whopper of a story and allow it to swallow you up.  You could also embark on reading an entire series.  There isnt much better than the feeling of "Oh my gosh, I cannot wait to finish ___(insert daily responsability here: work, cleaning, etc)___ so that I can go back to reading and find out what happens next!!!"

Here is a short list of awesome book recommendations.

And, a few gripping, stellar books (all of which I have read, so I can endorse them) that are thick, engrossing and totally worthwhile:

15.  A weekend evening home to yourself.   Obviously if this were the norm every single weekend night, it would shift from being a treat into potentially being something that might make one feel lonely.  However, to do this sometimes?  It feels like the ultimate luxery.  Grab your favorite snack or treat, have a movie lined up that you have been dying to see or a TV series you cannot wait to get sucked into (the key part of the phrase "to yourself" means that you do not have to confer with someone else on what you will watch, do, or eat ;-) the choice is 100% YOURS alone!!!  How awesome is that?), cuddle up in your coziest clothes, and enjoy.

16.  A walk outside in the woods, ideally after a blanketing snowfall.  Either with a great friend, with your love, or with family.  Not only is this incredibly beautiful in terms of the scenary and setting, but its fun.  This gives you a chance to connect closely with this person, away from the hustle and rush of everyday life.

17.  Host a raclette evening!!!  Yes, this sort of falls under the dinner party umbrella, but this is a more specific theme and direction for the evening.  This is a pretty trendy German thing (see photos below), and I can tell you from experienece, something about it is LOADS of fun!!!  (In terms of similar but different ideas: you could host a beer tasting evening, a tea/coffee and dessert party, a board game night, etc.  There are a number of fun ways to incorportate an activity and narrow your theme).

18.  Photo session with friends in a picturesque location.  Yes, its cold out.  But with the bright reflection of snow, this makes for a particularly flattering and lovely photo shoot background.  Grab a few close friends and take some photos together!  You will be glad to have them after the fact, once back inside the respite of warm indoors.

19.  See the new J.K. Rowling movie, "Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them."  I was shocked by how great this was, whoa.  This movie was incredibly well done.  It was chalk full of everything that a good story should have.  Magic, suspense, excitement, humor- many laugh out loud moments, romance, some creepy, dark moments.  Also, for the ladies in the audience, the main actor is totally endearing and adorable.  If you are even a semblance of a Harry Potter fan, go check this one out while its still in the theaters!  This week will (coughs in slight embaressment) be my third time seeing it...

20.  Take a trip somewhere new.  Winter is a good time to shake things up a bit, to do something that will excite you and add some color to this colorless season.  Vacation somewhere you have never been before.  Even if its a short one, just 3-4 days.  You will enjoy looking forward to the trip, leading up to it.  The trip itself will be awesome.  And you will reminisce about it for the rest of the winter afterwards.

Friday, November 25, 2016

The Secret to Having it All is Believing That You Already Do

Hi Everybody!

I hope you had a fantastic Thanksgiving yesterday.  I am picturing everyone I love gathered around crowded tables with family and close friends.  The tabletops littered with steaming dishes.  A glistening turkey, pillowy stuffing heaped in hilly mounds within a casserole dish, green beans shining with butter, mashed potatoes like whipped cream, platters of colorful pies abound (ideally three in the flavors of pumpkin, Oreo and sweet potato), a pile of rolls tucked inside of a bright gingham cloth and served in the very-New-England wicker basket.

While Thanksgiving is not my very favorite holiday, I certainly enjoy it a lot.  Mostly for the food and for the feeling thankful part.  Last year, I went out on a whim and hosted a Thanksgiving themed dinner party entirely on my own (having decided, if I wasn't where the holiday was celebrated, I would bring the celebration to me) and was surprised by how outstanding it was!  Eight of us crammed in around the tiny island in my cozy kitchen.  Everyone brought awesome food.  The conversation was engaging, stimulating, loads of fun, lots of laughter.  And the game we played, Who Am I? was a blast!!!  Oh my gosh.  I wish I could hit rewind and do this night over again.

But then, how many moments like this do you have in your own life?  Moments you think back on as your heart swells with nostalgia.  Periods of your life or memories that you would love to re-experience just once more, now knowing the fullness of how precious they really were.  I imagine a LOT of people, if being honest, would admit to having loads of moments like this in their lives.

In the nature of giving thanks, what are you thankful for within your own life?  Both with regards to past and present.  What are the things you have experienced, seen, done, for which you are filled with thanks?  Who are the people you have met which have changed your life in incredible ways?  The people you have loved?  What are the things in your current life that fill you with joy, satisfaction and happiness? 

I think all of these are important things to think about, not just on Thanksgiving of course, but far more often.  Who are the people that have filled your heart?  The ones who left footprints inside of it?  The awe-inspiring places you have seen?  The awesome things you have accomplished?  The general things in life (food, scenery, moments) that are just AWESOME?

These are a number of the things for which I am incredibly thankful.  Which have made my life fantastic and infinity greater.  Which bring me joy and excitement.  Which have fulfilled me and added brightness and purpose to my life.  (This is of course, not an exhaustive list.  There are far more than I could possibly list.  So this is just a small sampling):

1. Cheesecake.  Oh man.  One of my favorite desserts on the face of the earth. Chocolate cheesecake, my recent creation of an earl gray lavender cheesecake (keep an eye on Sweet. Raw. Free. where I will post it within a few days time ;-)), pumpkin cheesecake, traditional cheesecake, Matcha cheesecake, the list goes on.  The tang, the texture, the crust.  All of it.  Drool.  It would be safe to say I am a cheesecake fanatic.

2. Books.  I dont know where I would be, nor who I would be, without books.  I have no clue exactly how many I have read in total but I am certain its well above 1,000.  I feel like within books, I have found myself in bits and pieces throughout the years.  As well as have discovered new parts of myself or happened upon different ways of being and thinking.  Books have opened and changed my heart.  Books have taught me (like they teach all readers) about life.  Real human plights and how potentially to navigate them.  Books have given me different ideas of how to be, how to have relationships with others, they have given me insight into what is truly important.  With books, I have learned more about topics that interested me.  I have found relaxation and romance while curled up underneath a blanket engrossed in an awesome read.  Books are life changing.  If you haven't discovered that yet, you are doing it (aka reading) wrong.

THE most charming, totally sweet bookshop I have ever had the pleasure of stumbling upon (in Edinburgh, Scotland).

3.  My friends.  Oh man.  Moving to Europe is when I especially developed and delved deeply into friendships.  Both a handful of amazing ones I have discovered over here, as well as deepening some of the ones I left back in the US.  This is without question one of the most fulfilling and bright aspects of my life.  I am overjoyed, overflowing with joy and contentment, with regards to the friendships I have cultivated, invested in and maintained within my life.  I plan to continue this as one of my highest priorities throughout the entirety of my life.  Placing a premium priority on the people I feel close to and love.  Letting them know how much they mean to me.  Going out of my way for these people and relationships.  And hopefully continuing to cultivate more new friendships as I move throughout life as well.

Had to throw this one in there ;-) as I dont have any current photos of me and Lindsay (she is on the right).

4.  Writing.  I cannot imagine a life in which I didn't write.  Writing is close to reading and my friendships in terms of importance for me.  A notebook is a nearly permanent fixture in my hand nowadays.  That way, I can whip it open and jot down thoughts, memories and musings when they come to me.  On rare occasions when I have found myself without a notebook and have had a thought that felt important and wanted to record it, I have nearly always forgotten said thought later on and been frustrated by this.  If you are a writer?  Or want to be one?  Carry a small notebook with you everywhere.  I promise.  Game changer.

5. Food.  Everything about it.  Eating it and the pleasure that gives.  Preparing it.  Reading about it.  Experimenting with new recipes.  Photographing it.  Discovering new fantastic food places.  Writing about it.  All things related to food = the bomb.
(The following photos are all my own- both having made the food myself, as well as the photographs.  These were taken during my "rookie" period when I was just beginning with photographing food, as well as getting more into cooking/baking).

French Toast bake.

Quinoa Sweet Potato Salad.  SO yum!  Get the recipe for this bad boy here.

Buckwheat pancakes.  One of my best recipes.  Looking for your next weekend breakfast idea?  Look no further.  Youre welcome ;-)

6.  Tea.  Warm, good for you, comforting, cozy, the perfect pairing to a great book.  I could drink tea all day, every day.  In fact, many days I do just that.

7.  A stunning snowfall.  I love snow.  I miss it.  We have gotten maybe two totally wimpy dustings over here in the past few years while I have lived in Germany.  Totally lame and disappointing.  I miss the blizzards of blinding white that cover the world in a fluffy blanket, the tree branches transformed into white lace against the sky the following morning.

8.  Romance.  I believe in it completely.  I always have.  I think romance adds possibility, surprise, vividness, and magic to the world and to our own individual life as we live it.  Romance makes life exciting.  It fills ones heart with hope, wonder and idealism.  It makes life more wonderful, fills it with color, makes one feel more emotionally satisfied.  And romance can come in many different forms, can mean so many different things.

9.  Fall foliage.  Another thing I miss about New England.  The autumn just isn't the same over here.  somehow the colors are more muted and dull.  Pale imitations to what the fall is like across sea, back where I am from.  In New England, the colors explode in a flame of shades.  God is this gorgeous.  in fact, people travel from not only all over the country, but also from around the world, to see it.

10.  Libraries.  FREE (or nearly free) books!!!  Not much is more exciting than that, folks.  Looking for some outstanding book recommendations?  I have a few personal favorites that I just finished reading for you.

11.  My current job as a teaching assistant at a primary school in Frankfurt.  This job fills my heart most days.  So many children here to whom I have developed a connection with and like deeply.  hearing little voices call out in the hallway as I walk past, "Miss. English!"  The cards I have received, hand written, that have said "you were my favorite teacher," by forth graders who were graduating last July.  All of this, endlessly heartwarming.  So fulfilling and motivating.

8.  Christmas.  One of my own personal favorite holidays.  The lights.  The food.  Snow.  Picking the (hopefully) perfect personal gift for someone I love, the parties, the Christmas movies, the nostalgia, magic and whimsy that surrounds this holiday season.  I love it all.

9.  My health.  I forget this sometimes and take it for granted, but the fact that I can run, walk, do not have health problems, that I live a very able-bodied life, I am very grateful for this.

10.  Board games!!!  Oh my gosh.  where would so many fun, memorable, laughter-filled nights have ended up without the brilliance of board games?  I dont even want to imagine.  Potentially a very dark place, thats where (wink, wink).  All humor aside, to name a few of the best: Catchphrase, Clue, 13 Dead End Drive, Yahtzee and Scattergories.

11.  Europe.  Despite my heart urging me towards home at some point in the potentially near future, I have reveled in living over here.  Upon first setting foot in Europe during the summer of 2008 when I studied abroad in Italy, I fell head over heels immediately and vowed to live here someday.  Finally making that happen completed so many different dreams and yearnings within me.  I couldn't possibly list even 1/20th of them all, but to name a few: seeing the Vienna Boys Choir LIVE sing Christmas Carols (especially when they sang Carol of the Bells, my favorite.  My god.  My heart stopped).  Visiting and traveling through the French Riviera.  Budapest with one of my best friends.  Cycling through the patchwork quilted hills and rolling vineyards of Tuscany, along with my solo venture to the Cinque Terre.  My 30th birthday celebration.  Christmas markets.  AWESOME adventures with loved ones (and a few especially surprising visitors) from the USA.  This blog, and how much its grown.  My neighborhood in Frankfurt.  Climbing to a precarious, terrifying spot to nab a photo of the Pena Palace in Sintra, Portugal.  Sampling Pao de Deus in Lisbon- mind-blowing.  I am still fantasizing about this sweet bread.  The Christmas market in Rothenberg- storybook magic at its finest.  The list goes on and on.

The death defying photo I nabbed of the Pena Palace.  No joke, I could have died in my attempt to catch this shot, had I just slipped ever so slightly.  So exhilerating.

Amsterdam <3

The world famous tulip gardens of Holland.

12.  Black jeans and black boots.  One of my favorite/signature things to wear.  Very thankful for the fact that this combination looks decent and is super comfortable to boot.

13.  Salmon with a side of baked sweet potato.  Oh my lord.  Heaven.  I could eat this meal almost every day (along with my passion for pancakes, of course).

14.  Dinner parties.  One of the funnest things ever, in every regard.  From planning the menu, to cooking and decorating, to actually sitting down with your friends and eating all the delicious food, chatting, playing games and laughing together.

15.  Being warm.  This is a Brooke quirk that will be laughably familiar to those who know me well.  Whether driving somewhere in a car, cuddled up in my room, or out and about.  I like the heat cranked up high.  I love feeling warm and totally toasty.  Conversely, obviously I cannot stand being cold.  Warmth = my being super content and thankful.

So, what would be some of the things on your list?  What fills you with feelings of gratitude and joy?