Michelle, Take a Chill Pill

I’ve had no inspiration to write for the past two weeks. Life has been busy, but more than that, I haven’t even wanted to write, which I feel guilty about. I haven’t had the motivation to cook or bake anything worthy of a blog post. I went to Asheville this past weekend and had plans to write something about that, but I just didn’t feel like taking pictures of everything I did and ate. I’ve had little ideas pop into my head, but the idea of sitting down to write about them has held no interest for me. It’s been a weird feeling, to say the least.

 

I frequently put pressure on myself to always be “on” and productive, especially because I have this blog and want to post frequently, but sometimes that pressure is just unreasonable. As a result, I become bored with my life and frantically find ways to fill it with anything. My thought process is that if I’m not doing something, then I must not be doing anything useful. I often realize how short life is and how much I want to make a difference in the world and do something meaningful before I die (hello, ego). I’ll come up with all of these exciting things I want to do, but once laziness sets in those ideas seem to just fly out the window. It’s really frustrating, because reality doesn’t always match the plan for my life that I formulate in my head.

 

I was having a particularly cranky day on Monday and sulking over this fact. My boyfriend, Shane, graciously let me complain to him. He said something that stuck with me and made quite a lot of sense:

You’ve been really busy lately, so maybe your mind just wants to go on neutral for a while.

Hmm, neutral. I struggle to know what that word means for me, because my brain usually only has two modes: on or off, energetic or unmotivated, excited or depressed. I never really considered what my brain actually wanted, I just assumed I made all the decisions for it. But maybe it is trying to tell me something. Maybe I have to learn how to just “be” and accept the neutral mentality when it happens. In other words, I need to simmer down and take a chill pill; appreciate my life for what it is at this moment and not think of it in terms of great or terrible; stop trying to control every freakin’ thing all the time. My life can just be described as fine; it doesn’t have to be fireworks all the time.

 

I don’t think I have much of a point to this post, other than to put my words and current feelings out there. I do hope to get back to some more exciting posts soon, but until then, this brain is just going to cruise in neutral…

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Georgia Peach Spiced Cookies

This recipe is an ode to my favorite spice shop in the world, Savory Spice Shop. I received a free sample of Georgia Peach Spice a while ago from the spice shop, and it’s been burning a hole in my spice drawer for some time now because I had no idea how to use it. I had good intentions of making an elaborate dessert with it, but clearly that didn’t happen…because, life. So rather than let it continue sitting in my spice drawer, I decided to use it to add a little extra kick to your average cookie.

 

Contrary to the title though, these cookies don’t have actual peaches in them. Georgia Peach Spice is made up of vanilla bean sugar, Saigon cinnamon, lemon peel, citric acid, cloves and allspice. So these are quite similar to fall/pumpkin spiced cookies, except they have the subtle tanginess of lemon in them. The point of this spice is to contain all of the typical flavors that go along with spiced peaches, minus the peaches. Therefore, you could certainly use this spice in a peach dessert, but you could also use it in several other sweet or savory dishes. Naturally I chose a sweet dish. Enjoy!

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Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup softened butter
  • 3 Tbsp. milk
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 1/2 cups flour (I used white wheat)
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 2-3 Tbsp. Georgia Peach Spice*
  • 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. salt

*If you don’t have a spice shop that carries Georgia Peach Spice, you could make up a similar spice mixture of sugar, cinnamon, lemon zest, cloves and allspice. 

 

Directions:

  1. Heat oven to 325°. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, beat the butter, milk and vanilla until slightly whipped.
  3. Add the remaining ingredients and beat until combined. Dough may be a little crumbly, but it should be sticky enough to hold together.
  4. Using a melon baller or teaspoon, form dough into 1″ balls and place them on the baking sheets about 2″ apart.
  5. Bake for 10 minutes. Cool completely on sheets, then store in an airtight container. Makes about 24 cookies.

 

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Western Travels: A Short Trip to Scottsdale

Last week I took a short trip to Arizona to visit my two sisters. One of my sisters lives in a little western town called Cave Creek, which is right above Scottsdale. Cave Creek has cacti galore, beautiful mountains and cute little shops, but not quite as much in the food department. Therefore, we ventured into Scottsdale to eat and found some awesome restaurants. Of course, I managed to stuff myself most days, as I do on any vacation!

 

On day one we went to a local pizza place called Pomo Pizzeria for lunch. This wasn’t just your average pizza joint, this was some serious authentic Italian-style pizza. The interior was modern and welcoming. There was a huge copper-steel oven in the open kitchen where all the magical pizza-cooking action takes place. They have a beautiful patio that would have been nice to sit out on, but unfortunately it was in the triple-digits that day (as is every day in Arizona in the summer), so we opted for a table inside.

Pomo

 

I went with a classic margherita pizza and a glass of white wine. Can I just say how much I love a small pizza that I get to eat all by myself and don’t have to share with anyone else? The pizza was unreal…thin crust cooked to perfection, sweet and tangy tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella slices and fragrant basil leaves. If I could only eat one meal for the rest of my life, it might be really well-made margherita pizza, and this one certainly fell into that category.

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The next day our other sister drove in from Las Vegas to spend a couple of days with us. So we took this rare opportunity to have a sisters’ night out for dinner and drinks, which is something we haven’t done in many years. We went to Local Bistro, a swanky, modern restaurant known for their unique drinks and local, seasonal ingredients. I ended up having three cocktails that night, which is one more than I usually have, but there were just too many delicious concoctions to choose from. I had been to Local Bistro the last time I was in Arizona and remembered how much I loved it, so I was happy to be able to enjoy it again.

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Excuse the blurriness, this was taken after those three cocktails…

 

We started with a shared appetizer of the calamari fritti, which came with spicy peppers, candied lemon slices and a chili aioli dipping sauce. I can appreciate when fried calamari are done right, as it’s not always an easy task. These calamari were lightly fried, tender and not greasy. The candied lemons were a tasty addition as well. We also shared some of their house made ciabatta bread. I started off with a blueberry lavender mojito, which was really refreshing and flavorful.

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For my entree I had the pan roasted salmon, which came with pesto whipped potatoes, julienne vegetables and a lemon-caper beurre blanc. Good heavens, this was one tasty dish! The salmon was crispy on the outside and cooked to medium on the inside. The veggies were light, with a bit of crunch. But the star of the dish was the potatoes. Oh, the potatoes!  These were by far some of the most delicious and decadent potatoes I’d ever had, so full of garlic and herbs. And the accompanying sauce just brought everything together. I was actually angry that I couldn’t finish everything on my plate. But then my second cocktail, a tart rosemary cosmo, quickly turned my frown upside down.

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Anyone who knows me and my sisters knows that a major sweet tooth runs in our family. So, naturally dessert was a given. We held back our gluttony though and decided to split a tiramisu. And it’s a good thing we did, because it was quite massive. Layers upon layers of ladyfingers, espresso and marscarpone topped with cinnamon just make you feel all happy inside. My happiness also increased with my very strong and sweet chocolate martini. It was quite a fun and delicious girls’ night out.

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We love sweets so much that I couldn’t even get a picture of an untouched dessert.

 

On my last day in Arizona, we had a shopping day at Scottsdale Quarter, a modern outdoor shopping center with a large variety of stores and restaurants. I’ve been to the quarter twice, and both times I left wishing we had a shopping center like this in Charlotte. We stopped for lunch at True Food Kitchen, which is one of my absolute favorite restaurants. I ate here a couple of years ago and fell in love with it. Since then I’ve been wishing for a location to open in Charlotte, but my wish has not yet come true. While some may view TFK as “crunchy”, I love their use of healthy ingredients and selection of vegetarian dishes.

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I’m not very subtle in my photography…

I started with a honey lemonade, which was SO refreshing on another 100° day. You could immediately tell upon drinking it that they used fresh lemons and wildflower honey to make it. It wasn’t overly sweet and definitely not artificial tasting, like some other lemonades. The honey gave it a really different and unique flavor.

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For lunch I had the T.L.T., a fun take on a traditional B.L.T. that uses smoked tempeh strips instead of bacon. (For all you bacon lovers out there, sorry to disappoint you and feel free to bypass this section). The smoked tempeh against the fresh lettuce, tomato and avocado was a great combination. It was served on toasted multigrain bread with mayo and came with a side of sweet potato onion hash. Everything was so fresh and healthy that you actually feel good even if you stuff yourself, like I did.

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One very loaded T.L.T.!

 

We decided to skip dessert at TFK in favor of a macaron shop we passed on the way to lunch that we promised to walk back to. Le Macaron is an adorable little french pastry shop specializing in, you guessed it, macarons. Remember how I said my sisters and I had a sweet tooth? Well, we practically ran into this place with our tongues hanging out.

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Upon walking in, you see a variety of macarons in different flavors and colors. I’m not going to lie, this was one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever had to make in my life. How was I supposed to choose two out of over 15 flavors? Of course I could have bought more, but I wanted to have some willpower and savor the two flavors I decided on. Plus, macarons are not exactly cheap…I went with a basil white chocolate and a coconut creme macaron. My goodness, a good macaron is just divine: light, sweet, crispy and oh-so-decadent. I thought the infusion of basil was really unique and unlike anything I’d had in a macaron before. My sisters tried the salted caramel, lavender white chocolate and madagascar black vanilla flavors, and loved all of them as well.

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You can clearly see where my priorities lie in the number of pictures I take of desserts.
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They also had some beautiful gem-like chocolate truffles that were equally tempting

 

Early the next morning I headed back home to Charlotte. While I only spent a few days in Arizona, I managed to fill them with good eats and fun times with family. Now to find more macarons…😉

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My Natural & Cruelty-Free Skincare Routine

A friend recently told me I had nice skin and asked me what products I used, as she was looking to change up her own routine. To say I was surprised would be an understatement, mainly because never in my life have I been told I have nice skin. The understandable reason for that is because I’ve never actually had nice skin. From the moment I turned 13 I had acne galore. When I say I tried everything to get rid of it, I mean EVERYTHING. Facials, Proactiv, microdermabrasion, vitamins, every single product on store shelves or television…you name it, I tried it. Even though many people my age had acne, it was still embarrassing and affected my self-esteem all the way up until a year ago.

 

As I approached my mid-20’s, I thought for sure my acne would disappear. Wrong. I continued to try different products to see what would finally work for me. The only difference now was that I was focused on trying to find more natural products, especially those that were cruelty-free. If you don’t know me personally, you will come to know through future blog posts that I have no tolerance for animal cruelty. So I do what I can to support this cause by only purchasing products that are not tested on animals. I’ll write a future post just about this for anyone interested in switching to cruelty-free products, but for now I’ll say that it’s super easy and worth it! Check out Leaping Bunny’s website to see what products are cruelty-free in the meantime.

 

It took a few more years before I FINALLY found a combination of skincare products that worked for me, and I’m happy to say I’m now mostly acne-free. I will still have little breakouts here and there, but they are nothing like the ones I used to have and usually go away quickly. Up until a year ago I had to cover up red spots with concealer. Now I have days where I don’t even use concealer, which is something I never thought I’d be able to do. I found the products I currently use by reading skincare forums and through trial and error, so I figured I’d share what has worked for me in the hopes that maybe something I use will also work for you.

 

My Skincare Routine

Evening Routine:

  1. I use NOW brands Almond Oil to take off all of my makeup from the day. I pour a dime-sized amount of oil into my hands and massage it over my entire face for about a minute, including my eyelids (it doesn’t burn!). Many people promote coconut oil, but it is comedogenic so unfortunately it made my acne much worse. Almond oil doesn’t break me out at all and leaves my skin feeling soft.
    Almond Oil
  2. From there I use Shea Moisture African Black Soap to wash the oil and makeup off of my skin. I love this soap because it cleans thoroughly, but doesn’t leave my skin feeling dry or tight. It’s great for those with acne-prone skin, as it contains soothing ingredients like oats, aloe and vitamin E.                                      African soap
  3. Once a week I like to use an exfoliant to scrub away dead skin cells that can build up from makeup and sweat. I prefer Alba Botanica’s Even Advanced Enzyme Scrub. They grind walnut shells into a powder, which is used as the main exfoliating ingredient. Some scrubs can be harsh and abrasive and irritate your skin, but this one is very gentle and leaves your skin feeling soft and smooth.                                                             Scrub.jpg
  4. After cleansing, I use Paula’s Choice Clear Anti-Redness Exfoliating Solution. This is a BHA exfoliant with salicylic acid so it really targets blackheads. It also acts as a toner and removes any leftover traces of makeup that my cleanser may have missed. I pour a little on a cotton ball and wipe it all over my face.   Toner.png
  5. Once my skin is completely clean, I use Paula’s Choice Clear Daily Skin Clearing Treatment. This is an acne-clearing treatment with benzoyl peroxide, so it works to reduce redness and clear any breakouts. I like it because it doesn’t dry out my skin like many other acne treatments.                                           treatment.png
  6. Last but not least, moisturizer! I have combination skin, so I have some dry spots and some oily spots on my face. A common myth is that you shouldn’t use moisturizer if you have oily skin, but this is the furthest thing from the truth. If oily skin gets dry, more oil is produced, thus creating more breakouts. Moisturizing keeps both oily and dry skin in check. I like Earth Science’s Almond-Aloe Fragrance Free Moisturizer.  It leaves a matte finish on my face so I don’t have a greasy look or feel. moisturizer

 

That ends my evening routine. Now onto the easier morning routine…

 

Morning Routine: 

  1. I jump in the shower and wash everything…but my face. That’s right, I do not use any cleanser in the morning. I just rinse my face with water. Why? Because I found that I was over-cleansing by washing in the morning, and my face would feel too dry throughout the day. This also affected how my makeup looked on my face. I experimented with not washing my face in the morning, and when my skin actually improved, I stuck with it. *If you’re going to only cleanse once a day, I recommend at night to ensure you are washing your makeup off from the day.
  2. After drying off from my shower, I repeat steps 5 and 6 above.
  3. From there I have a fresh face to put my makeup on!

 

 

Here are a few other tips I recommend for healthy skin…

Basic Skincare Tips:

  • You’re probably tired of hearing this, but drink more water! Staying well hydrated does help your skin look and feel heatlthy
  • Sugar = breakouts, so limit your sugar/unhealthy carb intake and focus on protein and fresh produce for the best looking skin.
  • Smoking, drinking and tanning can age your skin faster, so avoid, or at least limit, these activities.
  • Wash your pillowcases and sheets often. Imagine covering your face in a sweaty towel every day that you never wash. That’s what sleeping on a dirty pillowcase is like.
  • Going along with this, be sure to get a good night’s sleep. Your skin heals and regenerates while you sleep, so those zits have a better chance of fading by morning if you’re sleeping well.
  • Chill out! Stress often triggers breakouts. Try daily yoga or meditation to keep your skin (and yourself) calm.
  • Exercise daily. Sweating can actually help your skin remove toxins, as long as you’re cleansing daily.
  • Use a lightweight sunscreen if you’re going to be spending some time in the sun. I don’t use sunscreen daily, because a little bit of sun is good for us. More than 30 minutes in the sun and be sure you have backup.
  • Avoid products with fragrance, colors or too many chemicals. These won’t do your skin any favors.
  • Don’t overwash, overscrub or overdry your face, and don’t use too many products if you can help it. Go for quality over quantity.

 

And that’s it! It’s a simple routine using natural, cruelty-free products that help your skin instead of hurt it. Good products, along with the above skincare tips, can produce healthy, acne-free skin. I think the one benefit from growing up with such terrible skin is that I really got to know my skin well and what works for it. Many people look back at their 20’s and wish they had the skin they had at that age. But I think it’s safe to say I’ll be happier with my 30’s skin.

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No makeup. No filter. Bed head.

 

What are your favorite products or tips to keep your skin clear and healthy?

 

 

When You Need to Just Let Someone Go

The amazing thing about humans is our ability to have strong, deep and meaningful relationships. We thrive on communication with others, and when we let our emotions show, it can bring us closer to the people we care about. Those emotions can range from happiness to sadness to contentment, all of which are perfectly normal in a balanced relationship. When both parties are giving and taking equal amounts, you have a healthy partnership that can last a long time. But what happens when the primary emotions felt are depression, anger, guilt, anxiety, disappointment or resentment? What happens when one party is a giver and the other is a taker? How much effort do you put in and when is it time to just let them go?

 

The relationships I’m talking about can be with partners, friends, family or anyone you’re close to. Maybe it’s a sibling with a drug problem who refuses to get help. Or a spouse you can no longer talk to or connect with. Or a friend who constantly flakes out, lies or hurts you. Whatever the case, these relationships can hurt and drain us over time. So why do we stick with them? It’s often because deep down we care about that person and we’d feel guilty if we left them behind. But it’s times like these when we need to ask ourselves, what am I gaining by keeping this person in my life? Am I sacrificing my own needs and happiness for their sake? I’m of the opinion that when a relationship of any type has run its course, you’ll know. You’ll know because you’ll have a primarily negative feeling (like one listed above) when you talk to or see that person. People come and go, just like the seasons. When you can no longer equate a positive feeling with someone, it may be time to stop holding onto that season.

 

Any good relationship will have ups and downs, but the ups should always outweigh the downs in a relationship. Consistent downs are a cause for concern, and you should trust your gut when it’s telling you to not waste your time on someone. And while it’s up to each of us to make ourselves happy, surrounding yourself with people who bring you down is just plain silly when we have such a limited amount of time on this planet to begin with. To put it bluntly, if a relationship is no longer serving you in a way that makes you feel positive, or if you are giving much more than the other person is, cut it off and move on. That’s not to say that person needs to be cut off forever, as people can change, but until then do what’s right for you. Because if you’re not happy with yourself and your life, you won’t be of good use to anyone else. Maybe this sounds selfish, but I think it’s okay to be a little selfish when it’s our well-being on the line.

 

Without a doubt, we’ve all had the person described above in our lives before. Maybe we still do, and maybe they’re still there because we’ve let them linger there for far too long. But we all have the same choice to make: let them stay or let them go. Make the choice that’s going to help you be a better version of you for the people that you do value in your lives. And don’t hesitate to make that choice now, because life is way too short to hold onto negative feelings.

 

Are you still holding onto someone who’s bringing out more negative than positive feelings? What has been the outcome if you’ve let them go?