Five Tips for a Tasty and Guilt-Free Holiday Season

Five Tips for a Tasty and Guilt-Free Holiday Season

Can you believe it?! Thanksgiving is this week, you guys! Woohoo! That means a short week at work and an extra long weekend with the in-laws. No really, I’m super excited! Speaking of giving thanks, I’m so thankful for the family I married into. I don’t think I could have asked for any better in-laws and I’m probably just as excited to spend four days with them as I would if I were seeing my own family for Thanksgiving.

But let’s not forget about the food we’ll all be enjoying this week. I mean, who doesn’t love having a table full of great, indulgent food? So much food, you don’t even know what dish to shovel your spoon into first. Thanksgiving is pretty much the start to a month of rich eating from creamy dips and comforting meals to decadent desserts — which is both a good and bad thing, depending on how you look at it and how you handle it.

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Cheesy Sausage Quiche

Cheesy Sausage Quiche

How was everybody’s weekend?! Mine was great. You know why? Because I had no plans! Gasp! I can’t even remember the last time that has happened. Since I work on the weekends on a regular basis, it leaves fewer free weekends — meaning those free weekends fill up quickly with trips and events. Don’t get me wrong, they’re all super fun things, but once in awhile it’s nice to just be free (maybe a little too dramatic?).

Not only was it a free weekend, but it was a free weekend with Philip. It had been a few weekends too many since it was just us…with no agenda but to stay warm. Because I was so giddy about this weekend, I even made a last minute decision on Saturday to call and cancel my eye appointment. It was a big deal for me (Philip can attest to this). I don’t just cancel an appointment for no reason other than I want to have a day with no interruptions. I felt like such a rebel. Yes, I realize that’s pretty pathetic.

But you know what? It was the best decision I could have made. Philip and I had such a fun Saturday and we didn’t look at the clock once all afternoon. To make our day even sweeter (pun intended), we hit up some pretty, darn good chocolate shops in the area that I had been wanting to try out. We had lunch at Chocolaterian Cafe (you know a cafe is good when there’s chocolate in the name) and enjoyed some very rich and wonderful hot chocolate.

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Kara’s Favorite Soft Sugar Cookies

Soft Sugar Cookies

I get that it’s past Halloween, but it’s still technically fall, right? Right?! I mean, Thanksgiving is the epitome of fall, so therefore, minus the orange and black combo and the carved pumpkins, all fall colors and treats are still allowed for a few more weeks. That’s how my mind justified making my all-time favorite Soft Sugar Cookies this past weekend. Sure, all the colored leaves that were here just a couple weeks ago are completely gone and there may have been people hanging Christmas lights yesterday while Philip and I were out walking, but IT’S STILL FALL! Ahem.

Anyway, if you think it’s time to pull out the garland and Christmas lights, these Soft Sugar Cookies are just as tasty shaped into trees and bells as they are shaped like leaves and acorns. And believe me, I know, because these cookies have been made into everything from pumpkins and hearts to Easter eggs and bells over the years. As far back as I can remember, for every possible holiday, my mom was always making a batch of these cookies for me to decorate with her.

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Smoked Gouda & Roasted Red Pepper Tomato-Basil Bisque {Crock-Pot Recipe}

Smoked Gouda & Roasted Red Pepper Tomato-Basil Bisque

Umm, can we just talk for a minute about how gorgeous the weather was this weekend?! Sun shining, warm weather with a cool fall breeze, and all the fall colors to match. All. Weekend. Long. I wanted to be out enjoying it as much as I could. Unfortunately, I spent the day on Saturday at work, helping around 300 kids in costume make trail mix. Hmph. Oh well, at least I saw a lot of variations of Elsa from Frozen. :)

And, since Sunday was just as beautiful, Philip and I could enjoy the day outside for a bit instead. I’ve totally embraced that summer is over and am loving all the fall colors. I just can’t get enough! Madison is by far the prettiest place in the fall that I’ve lived (granted, this is only the fourth city I’ve lived in, but still, it’s the prettiest!).


Well, no matter what the weather, to me, fall means soup. Even if it is almost 70 degrees out. That’s because I know that no matter how warm it is, it will most likely be soup weather again in two to three short days (at least that’s how things roll in the Midwest). I figure I might as well be prepared for when it’s “soup weather” by everybody else’s standards. So today, I bring you Smoked Gouda and Roasted Red Pepper Tomato-Basil Bisque. Whew, that’s a long one!  Don’t worry, the title itself lists about all the main ingredients in the soup; you don’t have too many more ingredients to add.


I actually made this soup way back in May by my friend Alex’s request (she said it was the best ever — she was right). But you know, May and “soup weather” aren’t usually said in the same sentence…even for me. It was cool(er) temps when I made it (although, it’s highly likely I only convinced myself of this when I made it) and the temperatures rose so quickly, I knew it was too late for me to post it on here. Basically, long story short, I’m tired of waiting and I’m just going to share this super tasty and comforting soup with you today, gosh darn-it!

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Cinnamon Raisin Swirl Bread

Cinnamon Raisin Swirl Bread

I don’t know if it’s the changing of the seasons, the leaves, the weather or all of the above that makes me want to bake everything and anything. The past couple weeks I’ve been scrolling through my recipes of seasonal breads and cookies (drooling) and I can’t choose. Do I make the pumpkin snicker-doodles or the pumpkin cinnamon rolls with caramel frosting? But then I make pumpkin-pull-apart every year and I can’t not make that this year! Oh, the decisions! And one thing I am not good at is making decisions. This creates a big problem when it comes to holiday baking. I make all the things! Actually, side note, this past week I was looking through baking notes from last Christmas (I mean, everybody does that, right?) and at the top, I wrote “Cut back next year!” So far, things aren’t looking good for me…

Well, out of all the pumpkin and fall-inspired recipes I have yet to make, I went with a classic stand-by — Cinnamon Raisin Swirl Bread. I think it’s one of the first bread recipes I ever made — way back in, ohh, 2008. I tell ya, it was years ago.

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26.2 Miles Worth of Thoughts


What a weekend! As I write this, my legs are elevated with ice packs on them and I’m probably about to go get a snack soon (for about the tenth time today)…does it sound like I just ran a marathon?

Why, yes, you are correct. I completed my first marathon at the Bank of America Chicago Marathon yesterday and what a rush it was! Never have I run a race where there were spectators cheering along the entire course and where runners were surrounding me from start to finish. I guess it’s to be expected when there are 1.7 million spectators (I know!!) and 45 thousand runners. Start out big, I guess. It was also the last race of the season that I was training for — and I’m already thinking about what to do next.


While I recover and relax (wine in hand), I thought I’d share with you some thoughts of mine…thoughts that I had while running. I don’t listen to music while I run, let alone during a race, so it gives me plenty of time to think. Several people have asked what I think about while I run, so I thought I’d give you a glimpse into my running mind — and, trust me, this is just a small portion of everything going through my head.

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(Crock-Pot) Fall Harvest Chicken & Barley Stew

Crock-Pot Fall Harvest Chicken & Barley Stew

Woah, talk about a weather change! Compared to last weekend, I think we’ve dropped about 40+ degrees in less than five days. Yep, that’s the Midwest for ya. For once, my plans coincided with the weather patterns—all my fall-outdoorsy adventures happened last weekend when it was so nice out and this past weekend I had full intentions of staying indoors, making use of the apples we picked last weekend.

I had this past Friday off from work, so I spent a brief part of my day dumping the ingredients of this Fall Harvest Chicken & Barley Stew into my Crock Pot and used the rest of my day canning homemade applesauce and making our biweekly batches of granola (let’s just say, our home spelled aaa-maaz-ing). In the eyes of a dietitian who loves to be in the kitchen, this was pretty much a perfect day.


And the best part about finishing up a day in the kitchen? Having time to relax, put up my feet, and enjoy my first mug of something hot for the cold months upon us. It’s the small things in life. (Don’t mind the puzzle in the background of the picture below; a few weeks ago I had the strong desire to put together a puzzle…we’re still working on it—slowly).

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Homemade Rustic Apple Crisp

Homemade Rustic Apple Crisp

Who else loved the gorgeous weekend we just had?! And maybe got a little rosy in the face (and shoulders, and legs, and…) like me? No? Must be my fair skin qualities coming out.

If you’re livin’ in the Midwest, then it was the perfect time to get outside and enjoy some fall activities because it was EIGHTY degrees out! I love fall, but it’s just so unpredictable, isn’t it? I’m glad the weather decided to pretend it was the middle of August, because it was apple orchard time for us this weekend!


I had Heather, a best friend from high school, come up to visit me for the weekend, which was so much fun! It’s always nice to see an “old” familiar face. Since she loves to bake and cook as much as I do, I knew that making my favorite Homemade Rustic Apple Crisp together would be a delicious way to use up some of our many (er, 20+ pounds) hand picked apples.


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Asian Quinoa Salad + Salads-in-a-Jar

Asian Quinoa Salad

Happy Fall, y’all! Even though the weather has been hinting at fall for a couple weeks now, it is now officially the first day of fall today. This past weekend I finally started seeing a lot more trees changing colors—an absolutely beautiful site in Madison. The changing of colors always bring back memories of my very first trip up to Madison two years ago, which was a perfect fall weekend. All the fall colors and the rolling hills were breathtaking to a girl who grew up in the flat plains of Iowa. I almost didn’t want to leave on that very first weekend…er, maybe that was partly because of something (or someone) else. ;)

Let’s just say, I’m so glad I’m back in Madison—both to see the changing colors and to be with that “somebody else.”

Now let’s cut to the chase because this is a recipe I’m this excited for! Seriously, you guys, I know today’s recipe is a salad (I’m sorry, I know you all love ‘em, but I can’t post desserts all the time) and it uses that “health food” known as quinoa, but this is so good! The flavors, the textures, the colors…gah, I just can’t get over it all.


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Homemade PayDay Bars

Homemade PayDay Bars

Hello again!

I’m going to pretend like we’re just getting through the weekend (and not already starting the second workday of the week) and ask how everybody’s weekend was.

I spent the weekend in Minneapolis, reunited with my two best friends from college and it was just what you’d expect when three close girlfriends get together—an awesome time…with lots of chatting. Since we all live 4+ hours away from each other now, we’re starting somewhat quarterly visits with each other. Our last visit this past spring was in NE Iowa, and this time we headed up North. We talked and laughed so hard I knew I was getting a good, solid ab workout in, we ate amazing food (sorry, no pictures, but just trust me on this one), and even had an afternoon photo shoot to help Sarah and Alex practice their talented and developing photography skills. I enjoyed being the one just standing and smiling…new pictures up on my Facebook page and on my About Kara page!


Don’t I have such talented friends? Yeah, I thought so, too. :)

This weekend was much needed after the week I had last week. Busy, busy, busy! I barely had time to grocery shop—and for those of you who know me at all, that’s just plain ridiculous. ;)

Even though I felt like my days and evenings were blurring past me all too quickly last week, I wanted to make sure I made something for Philip to take to our church’s 5 year anniversary picnic celebration on Sunday. I knew it had to be fast and simple for me, yet still appealing for the picnic.


That’s when I thought of Homemade PayDay Bars. Well, and the fact that I had an almost entire bag of leftover marshmallows from our one evening of having s’mores during our anniversary week helped sway my decision in the direction of PayDay Bars. Oh, and because one of Philip’s favorite candy bars is PayDay also helped my decision…but mostly it’s because I could make these bars in under a half hour.

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