Pinning and Planning – December 30

After a month of trying not to overindulge, I feel like it was a losing battle.  I feel so bloated, globby and lumpy much like the Lumpy Space Princess from Adventiure Time.  “Oh my glob!  Don’t be hating on my lumps!”   

But I truly hate the lumpiness.  Maybe it’s because I’ve been unable to run for two weeks due to a nasty chest cold and I’ve not been able to burn the extra unhealthy calories. 

Well, the party is over!  The sweets and globiness have got to go!  It’s time to get back on the healthy track again; time to cut back on the carbs and attempt to eat better again.

A commitment to healthy eating again starts on Day 1 with our traditional New Year’s meal, a pot of lentil soup.  This tradition was passed onto my mom by her best friend.  Supposedly, lentil represent coins and with a bit of green such as spinach, it brings a promise of wealth in the new year.  Also in the way of tradition, we eat 12 grapes at the stroke of midnight, a Spanish custom that promises a month of good fortune with each grape.  Hey, I’ll take all the good luck I can get!

And thankfully, Publix still has lots of wonderful veggies, fish and legumes on sale to help with the healthy and wealthy part of our resolutions and commitments.  Saving pennies means keeping pennies in my pocket while keeping the calories and carbs off my plate.

S – Lamb Curry (still lots of leftovers in the freezer from Christmas)

M – Lentil and Spinach Soup with Grilled Eggplant and Zucchini Salad

T – Sweet Potato Crusted Tilapia with Fingerling Roasted Potatoes and Brussels Sprouts

W – Skinnytaste’s Chicken Rollatini Stuffed with Zucchini and Mozzarella with Mashed Cauliflower

Th – Stacked Roasted Vegetable Enchiladas

F – Dinner out

Here’s to lots of luck, health, wealth and good fortune to you and yours in 2013!

What things are you cooking up this week?  Are you eating less carbs too?  Link up and share the delicious dishes you are pinning and planning to serve this week.

Plan your menu for the week and if you have some favorite food pins, add those too. Then, link up and share your post. If you’re not on Pinterest, send me an email and I’ll send you an invite.



Denise Mestanza-Taylor+

When Christmas {Train} Comes to Town

Like most toddler boys, Little Lion Man is obsessed with trains.  Although when my oldest daughter was his age, she loved trains too.  In fact, because she loved Thomas and trains so much, we saw The Polar Express in the cinema when she was close to his age, however, she was a timid toddler and a few of the scenes frightened her.

But it didn’t frighten my Little Lion Man.  He hollered out, “Whoa!” when he watched the Polar Express cascade down the mountainside like a roller coaster.

Since Little Lion Man loves locomotives, we boarded the 7 ½ gauge CP&G Railroad at Crews Lakes Wilderness Park for a ride on the Christmas Train to the “North Pole”.  When Little Lion Man spotted the little engine chugging down the track, he had a similar reaction to The Polar Express. “Whoa!  Mama, it’s a train!”

Winding along tracks through the woods, reminded me of a similar train in England years ago.  On that train ride long ago, Allana met my friend, Suzie, her mum and Father Christmas.

But I digress.

Over the track and through the woods to Santa Claus we go went, but Little Lion Man wanted nothing to do with the big man in red.  He preferred to watch the trains arriving at the station.

After a quick photo opportunity and an even quicker word with Santa to remind him of the toys to bring, we were back on our way home.

At the end of the day, that little train ride brought a great deal of joy to one little boy.

And the rest of us had fun too. 

Merry Christmas!

What Christmas music is moving you this season?

Visit Xmas Dolly and Jade Louise Designs for more Music Monday.

Denise Mestanza-Taylor+

Pinning and Planning – December 23

Honestly, I wasn’t going to post a Pinning and Planning post since two days of this week’s menu would be consumed with Christmas dinners.  But then I had a thought that perhaps my readers would want to see what Allan and I had planned for our Christmas dinners.

We spend Christmas Eve with my family which is typically a meatless meat per my mom’s request.  It’s an Italian-American Catholic thing.  Over the years, Allan has slowly added some meat dishes into the mix (chicken cutlets or Italian sausage) and no one has complained, although my mom, my sister and I still elect to remain meatless.  (Some really rude joke come to mind.  Keep it clean, guys! lol)

Growing up, our meatless Christmas Eve meals consisted on shrimp marinara, but Allan isn’t the biggest fan of shrimp and so years ago, he decided to serve eggplant parmesan.  Now fifteen years later, everyone expects the dish on Christmas Eve.  No lie, Iron Chef Allan makes the most delicious eggplant parmesan and I can’t stomach restaurant eggplant parmesan anymore.  I’m always disappointed because it doesn’t taste as good as Allan’s, which really is a thing of beauty and I’ll have to post a photo of it for you.

Of course, there is nothing light about Allan’s eggplant parmesan and you could probably bake the eggplant to save on calories and fat, but it’s Christmas and Christmas calories don’t count, right?  It’s a Christmas miracle!  Thank you, Baby Jesus!

We serve our eggplant parmesan with spaghetti topped with marinara sauce and there’s always a huge tossed salad.  So, those who are concerned with calories can pass on the parmesan and save room for the Yule log cake Allan always bakes (another photo worthy masterpiece).  My oldest daughter has requested cheesecake too.

On Christmas Day, we’re entertaining Allan’s family and for the Taylor Clan, Iron Chef Allan will prepare a somewhat traditional British Christmas dinner of roast lamb and a small turkey with all the trimmings, potatoes and stuffing.  His family loves Brussels sprouts so I think I’m going to try my hand at Healthy Homemade’s Brussels sprouts because she promises that her recipe will make the pickiest person a fan.  There will also be roasted parsnips and mince pies for dessert.

The food fest continues the next day with Boxing Day.  Iron Chef Allan always prepares huge sweaty British breakfast complete with scrambled eggs, fried tomatoes and mushrooms, fried bread, baked beans, potatoes and English breakfast sausages.

Since the Day-After Turkey Soup was such a hit in our house will eat that for dinner on Boxing Day, if we have any room for food.

I imagine it’s going to be a week of yummy leftovers.  I can be healthy again when January first rolls around next week.

S – Eggplant Parmesan with Pasta Marinara and Salad and Yule log for dessert

M – Roast Turkey and Lamb with Mashed Potatoes, Sage Stuffing, Lemon Roasted Brussels Sprouts, Glazed Winter Veggies, Parmesan Asparagus and Mince Pie for dessert

T – Sweaty Breakfast and Day-After Turkey Soup for dinner

W – Leftovers

Th – Leftovers

F – Pizza

What things are you cooking up for Christmas and the rest of the week?  Will it be a lotf of leftovers for you too?  Link up and share the delicious dishes you are pinning and planning to serve this week.

Plan your menu for the week and if you have some favorite food pins, add those too. Then, link up and share your post. If you’re not on Pinterest, send me an email and I’ll send you an invite.



Leeky, Creamy Chicken and Dumpling Soup

PhotobucketWhen I planned this week’s menu, I was craving this soup. Maybe with all the icky, sick germs in my house, my body needed the immune-building homemade penicillin that chicken soup always seems to provide.

I first found this ridiculous easy recipe in Rachel Ray Every Day, but over the years, I’ve tweaked it a bit by finding a way to reduce the fat without losing all the creaminess.  I also use less gnocchi than the original recipe.

It’s been a while since I last made it, but one taste and I remembered how much I love it and it’s always a hit with the family too.

With the nasty cold weather expected this weekend, bundle up and stay warm and then get this soup started for dinner tonight.  With this soup, you can prepare it ahead of time and then throw the gnocchi in just before you serve it.  The leftovers reheat and freeze nicely too, so you’ll have it for another cold, winter day.

Leeky, Creamy Chicken and Dumpling Soup
(Adapted from Rachel Ray)

Ingredients
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 leeks, white and tender green parts split lengthwise and thinly sliced crosswise
5 celery stalks, thinly sliced
1 bay leaf
4 cups low sodium chicken broth
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 cup non-fat milk
Salt and pepper to taste
1 pound chicken tenders, cut into small chunks
1 package gnocchi
1/3 cup chopped flat leaf parsley
3 Tbsp dry sherry
¼ tsp cayenne pepper

Directions
In a Dutch oven or soup pot, heat olive oil over medium heat.  Add the leeks, celery and bay leaf and cook until the vegetables are softened, about 5 minutes.

Add the chicken broth and bring to a boil. Stir in the cream and milk, lower the heat and simmer until the soup bubbles at the edges.

Add cayenne pepper, salt and pepper to taste.  Add the chicken and gnocchi and cook for 5 minutes.  Stir in the parsley and sherry.  Serve hot.

Makes  4-6 servings.

Thanks for joining our weekly Friday Food Fight! Can’t wait to see what everyone is flinging this week!

While here, don’t forget to toss some cookies at The Ultimate Virtual Christmas Cookie Swap!



*Also submitted at*

Denise Mestanza-Taylor+

Tampa Theatre Dazzles at Christmas

When my sister and I attended a showing of Holiday Inn last year, the Tampa Theatre instantly became a new Christmas pastime.  This year, I enjoyed the new holiday tradition with my girls when we were invited to attend The Muppet Christmas Carol.

Since the 1920s, the magnificent Tampa Theatre has been entertaining and dazzling audiences for generations and my daughters were no exception.  With its gorgeous Mediterranean style décor, they felt like princesses strolling through a starry-lit castle.

The royal red carpet treatment continued when my princesses chose balcony seats.  They loved experiencing the sights and sounds of a movie from new heights.

Just like in its early days, an organist serenades the audience before the featured presentation.  For an extra special treat, Mrs. Claus made a guest appearance and shared stories with the audience.

To pay tribute to a golden era gone-by, the organist led the audience in a few sing-a-longs before the featured presentation.

Before the movie started, I slipped away to the concession stand for the usual cinema snacks of popcorn and soft drinks, but the Tampa Theatre also serves non-traditional libations such as beer and wine.  While at the concession stand, I spotted a vintage replica blown glass ornament of the famous flashing Tampa Theatre marquis.  Since the proceeds of the ornament benefit the restoration and maintenance of the theatre, I added an ornament to my popcorn and beer tab.

As for The Muppet Christmas Carol, I had never seen the film before, so it added an element of something new for all of us.  Although the sound had some technical difficulties (which is completely understandable for a theatre nearly a century old), we still enjoyed the movie.  Michael Caine made the perfect Scrooge and the Muppets delivered all the musical, silly, loving charm would expect from any Muppet movie.

My girls loved the movie, but the beauty and overall experience of the Tampa Theatre makes any movie even more magical.

Each December, the Theatre offers a Holiday Classics Movie Series on the big screen, with the opportunity to sing along to carols with the Mighty Wurlitzer organ before each show, in the unmatched elegance of the city’s historic movie palace. Tickets for the Holiday Classics Movie Series are $9 for adults and $7 for children, seniors, military and Tampa Theatre members at the box office, or online at TampaTheatre.org ($2 convenience fee applies).”

*My family and I received a tour of the Tampa Theatre and tickets to The Muppet Christmas Carol in exchange for my honest review.  My opinions and love for the Tampa Theatre are real and my own.*

Denise Mestanza-Taylor+

Season’s Heatings! {Holiday Halfathon Recap}

When I registered for the Holiday Halfathon earlier in the year, I had no intention to aim for a PR.  With these plantar fasciitis feet, my PR days are gone, however, I expected to beat my time from three years ago.  Since I was pregnant, I could totally redeem that time even with bad heels.

Being a stunner runner, my attire is crucial next to the training.  Chrissy, Maribel and I wanted to match, so we decided on homemade tutus with striped furry stockings and a red wicking running shirt.  I added a little sequined clip-on Santa hat to my ensemble to finish my sporty Santa Baby look.

Lots of our Strider friends were also at this race as well as many of my runner blogger friends, Katrina of Sneakers and Fingerpaints and Beth of Discom-BOB-ulated Running.  Everybody looked so festive in their holiday attire.

About 4 miles into the race, I was dying from a heat stroke.  Usually, December races are cooler, but with the warmer weather, overcast and humidity, it felt like we were running in a Santa sauna.  I haven’t exposed my post-pregnancy belly in a sports bra in public, but I didn’t care.  I stripped off that shirt faster than a Catholic school girl at a frat party and then, I rolled down my cute striped socks.

Although Chrissy had been suffering from a sinus infection, she looked like a rock star out there.  She showed those bridges that she was the boss and she smiled the whole time.

The bridges were another reason I didn’t anticipate a PR.  I didn’t even want to push myself on that course.  I just wanted to finish better than I did three years ago.

Between the bridges and the heat, I needed to walk a large portion of the course.  Another runner on the course ridiculed Chrissy and I every time we walked the course.  John teased us about our tutus and socks having superpowers, but I don’t think so.  Those furry striped socks were my kryptonite!

Eventually, Chrissy and I caught up to Marie who was struggling due to a nasty bronchial infection.  Poor thing!  You know speedy little Marie is not up to par if she’s pacing with me.

Even with all the bridges, that last mile had to be the toughest for me.  We ran for a short distance on a sidewalk and then final half mile led us along a sandy, soft uneven trail covered with pine needles.  It was difficult to judge my footing and I stumbled a few times.  I decided to walk the trail and then I ran the last stretch to the finish line.  I suppose my tutu did give me some superpowers because I saved a sprint just for John.  I finished a few seconds before him and I beat my time from three years ago by nearly 30 minutes!

13.1 miles
Gun Time 2:26:55 
Chip Time 2:26:36
Ave Pace 11:13

We lost Maribel early in the race, but after we crossed the finish line, we all ran back to meet her.  The week prior to the race, her knee had been giving her a lot of grief and now, Maribel was really hurting.  When she spotted us, her spirits lifted and she sprinted the final stretch of her first half marathon.  Once past the finish line, we all cried in a huddled, blubbering mess for Maribel and everyone’s accomplishments and then we helped poor Maribel hobble over to the picnic tables to ice her knee.

Poor sick speedy Marie could barely talk.

I just wanted JM’s cookie cake beer.

At the post-race party, I found Jina of Behold the Turtle and we posed for a quick photo.  I loved her reindeer shirt!  As you can see, I was still so hot after the race and I was looking real hot in my white, very see through sports bra.  Yep, I’m a classy act.  Thank goodness for Cliff Shots covering my ta-tas like pasties!

I am so making Santa’s naughty list this year.

Denise Mestanza-Taylor+

A Holiday Sampling at Datz

Last Wednesday, Christmas came early when Chef Jason and our friends at Datz prepared a holiday tasting for the Tampa Bay Bloggers.

As usual, Datz rolled out the red carpet with chilled cocktails ready and waiting for us.  This holiday cocktail, Wreck the Halls, mixes 360 Madagascar vanilla vodka, Kahlúa peppermint mocha and Adult Chocolate Milk, which made our evening very merry and bright.

For our first course, we sampled Flatbreads topped with fig, pear, goat cheese and arugula.  The combination of tangy fruits and goat cheese with the crispness of the flatbread bundled a bit of Christmas flare in every bite.

Then, we nibbled on new-to-me dish, Poutine.  The gooey, gravy goodness and the fries were a meal in itself. (After all, chips and gravy is a British delicacy.)  Toss in some cheese curds and a fried egg on top and now you have a complete dinner.  But ours didn’t stop there.

Next, we noshed on Corn Fritters with Powdered Sugar and Jalapeño Maple Syrup.  The heat and sweetness of the jalapeño maple syrups finished the fritters off perfectly.

Photo credit to Datz

Our holiday sampling quickly became a feast once the main course arrived, Black Tea-Spiced Baby, Free Rage Chicken with Asian Pear Chutney served with Curried Vegan Winter Stew.

 Just when we thought we couldn’t possible eat another bite, Chef Jason saved the best bite for last: Battered and Fried Oreos.  It was deep fried slice of heaven.

But our evening didn’t end with dessert.  To wrap up our tasty evening, the Tampa Bay Bloggers and I participated in a Secret Santa Swag Swap.  Upon arrival, we placed our gifts under a slim Christmas tree, a beautiful centerpiece.

Jina of Behold the Turtle took home my Turbie Twist.

I scored some lovely lingerie from Raffi of Running Betty.  Thanks to this sexy little number, I’ve been added to Santa’s naughty list for sure.

The evening was epic, but don’t take my word for it.

For more reviews of our Datz holiday sampling and our fun Secret Santa Swag Swap, visit my fellow Tampa Bay Bloggers.

Running Betty

My Fascinating Life

By the way, the Tampa Bay Bloggers are so tasty, we were featured in the menu just below Eddie Vedder.  Yep, we’re as hot and juicy as Eddie.

Denise Mestanza-Taylor+

Tinsel and Lights and Happy Hanukkah

The other day I heard a Christmas song and the singer’s enchanting voice unhinged a memory.  I saw myself driving on a country hillside road on a long commute to work.  Almost as clear and haunting as the vision, her voice gave goose bumps similar to the ones that appeared when Allan and I first started dating and we would listen to Everything But The Girl’s Acoustic on long car rides while holding hands.

Tracey Thorn, the lead singer of Everything But the Girl, has released a Christmas album entitled Tinsel and Light.  The first song I heard off the album is the very same song that transported me to a time before parenthood.

I realize when artists go solo they despise being linked to their former band life, but Tracey Thorn’s Tinsel and Lights does just that.  The entire album reminds me everything I loved about Everything But The Girl but sprinkled with Christmas goodness.

You can listen and download entire the album on amazon.

While searching around YouTube and the internet for Tracey Thorn and Everything But Girl, I found this really fun interactive Tracey Thorn Advent Calendar full of videos, music, photos and Christmas cheer.

And on the subject of downloads, here are two you can’t pass up because both downloads benefit great causes.  Matisyahu released a new song for Hanukkah appropriately entitled Happy Hanukkah.  All proceeds go to the Hurricane Sandy relief efforts.  Download and donate here.

Then, download O Holy Night  performed by Ladywell Primary School from iTunes to help raise money for meningitis research in young Caden’s name.

For the next two Mondays leading up to Christmas, I will be sharing my favorite Christmas songs.  I would love for you to join in the merry music making by linking up and sharing your favorite holly jolly holiday tunes.



Visit Xmas Dolly and Jade Louise Designs for more Music Monday.

Denise Mestanza-Taylor+

Pinning and Planning – December 9

We kicked off the holiday season with our Advent calendar on December 1.  Each day in December, my family and I participate in some type of Christmas activity which in turn, changes our daily routines and dinner plans.   Also thrown into the mix are Christmas parties, dinner dates and other fun holiday hoopla.

A few nights last week, my family had dinner without me due to some blogging obligations.  Basically, I left them to the Dad’s devices.  I believe they ate baked potatoes one night and mac ‘n cheese another.

This week will be just as busy, but the dinner will be a little bit better.  At least I hope so.

M – Skinnytaste’s Broccoli and Cheese Stuffed Chicken with Mashed Cauliflower

T – Dinner out

W – Ground Turkey Tacos

Th – Skinnytaste Cuban Sandwich Quesadillas

F – Pasta

What things are you cooking up this week?  Link up and share the delicious dishes you are pinning and planning to serve this week.

Plan your menu for the week and if you have some favorite food pins, add those too. Then, link up and share your post. If you’re not on Pinterest, send me an email and I’ll send you an invite.


Denise Mestanza-Taylor+

Leftover Cranberry Sauce Muffins

PhotobucketI’m going to do it.  I’m just going to come right out and shame my mother in front to of the whole blogosphere.

See, on Thanksgiving, my mom prefers the nasty cranberry jelly from the can.  We grew up with the condiment on our Thanksgiving table.

When Allan cooked our first Thanksgiving meal with my family, he made cranberry sauce from scratch.  My mom tried it and could stomach it.  She missed her perfectly cylinder-shaped cranberry sauce.  Every Thanksgiving since then, my mom has brought her own cranberry sauce in the can.

That, my friends, is a true story.

This year when my mom and I were discussing the Thanksgiving menu over the phone, I told her that Allan would be making his own cranberry sauce and I asked her if she would be bringing the can again.

“Of course, because I like it.”

“Mom, you know that stuff is horrible and bad for you right?  Have you ever read the ingredients?  I bet there aren’t even real cranberries in it.”

“Wait.  I’ll read it to you,” she replied as she searched for the can in her pantry.  “Here we go,” she said as she proceeds to read the label.  “Oh wow.  The first ingredient is corn syrup.”

“See, mom.  I told you that stuff is horrible.  You should eat cranberry sauce with real cranberries.”

“But I don’t like the taste.  It’s too tart.”

“That’s because you’re tasting real cranberries and there’s no corn syrup masking the flavor.”

“You’re probably right.  All right I’ll try Allan’s but tell him to not go crazy with the ginger and I’m bringing my own can again.”

I relayed the order to Iron Chef Allan and just as we promised, Allan made a more palatable, no ginger added cranberry sauce for my mom.

This was the first year she didn’t bring the can.  I was so proud of her and even more so when she ate some real cranberry sauce.

However, we had TONS of cranberry sauce leftover.

So, I had this brilliant idea to use the leftover cranberry sauce in muffins.  My kids love muffins and the cranberry sauce would definitely not be left sitting in my fridge.

They came out incredible!   These Leftover Cranberry Sauce Muffins are by no means low-fat, but after eating 2000 calories in one sitting the day before, I don’t think a few more fat grams (actually 13 grams) would matter.

Ok, so maybe it does matter.  You could try substituting the eggs with a couple of egg whites, applesauce or plain non-fat yogurt to lighten up the recipe, but I can’t guarantee the results, because these little fluffy fattening muffins were delicious.  They are a new day after Thanksgiving tradition for us along this the Day-After Turkey Soup.

By the way, this is the last week I’m sharing uses for leftover Thanksgiving food.  Promise.

Leftover Cranberry Sauce Muffins

Ingredients
3 ½ cups all purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 stick unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
3 eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup sour cream
2 cups cranberry sauce

Directions
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Lightly grease a muffin pan or line with paper liners.

In a medium sized bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.  Set aside.

In a standing electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Add eggs one at a time, mixing well after each one.  Add vanilla and sour cream and mix until well incorporated.

On a low setting, add dry ingredients in three parts until batter is smooth.

Remove bowl from mixer.  Gently fold in cranberry sauce.

Using a small ladle, fill muffin cups about 2/3 full.  Bake for 18-24 minutes or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.

Remove from oven and cool in pan for five minutes.  After five minutes, remove muffins from pan and continue cooling on a rack.

Thanks for joining our weekly Friday Food Fight! Can’t wait to see what everyone is flinging this week! 


Don’t forgot to toss your cookies here!

*Also submitted at*

Sweet Tooth Friday

Denise Mestanza-Taylor+