Have an Awesome Christmas

Have an awesome Christmas

Hey, friends! I hope you’re having an absolutely beautiful day doing exactly what you want with people who make you laugh. You are all a gift to me. Thank you so much for reading my words and cooking the food I share.

I hope you have an opportunity today to find of moment of peace, light, and hope and truly look in awe at this amazing complex, terrifying and unbelievably beautiful universe we live in.

Be merry, friends. Lots of love to you.

Hint of Cinnamon Chocolate Cake | How to Be Awesome on $20 a Day

Hint of Cinnamon Chocolate Cake

This Hint of Cinnamon Chocolate Cake is the softest, fluffiest cake I’ve ever made. Take some help from a boxed cake mix, but make it extra. Then add some rich chocolate frosting and simple decorations for a pretty little dessert people won’t be able to get enough of.

Hint of Cinnamon Chocolate Cake | How to Be Awesome on $20 a Day

We’re nearly there, kids. I finished work, I’ve probably forgotten to buy a bunch of stuff, and I still don’t know if I’m supposed to be cooking or baking anything for Christmas. But I’ve got something to wear for 70’s-themed Christmas day at my sister-in-law’s house, and hopefully a secret plan to not drink too much. I was off my Christmas game this year, but right now, my Christmas lights are on, She & Him is singing to me, and I’m starting to feel it.

Most importantly, I’ve gotten to spend lots of time this past week walking hand in hand with my love. When we’re together, all is well. Any challenge can be faced. Finding the right person to be on your team is so big. I don’t want to ever forget how grateful I am to be loved by someone so wonderful.

Hint of Cinnamon Chocolate Cake | How to Be Awesome on $20 a Day

Right. Enough of that nonsense. Let’s talk about cake. That’s why you’re here. People kind of freak out when I serve this Hint of Cinnamon Chocolate Cake. It’s so incredibly soft and fluffy. The cinnamon flavor is subtle, just enough to make it a little bit more interesting than regular chocolate cake. I’ve known people to sneak a second piece because they can’t get enough.

The good news is, this cake is s simple to make, you could easily fit it in before Christmas if you’re still looking for a great dessert. We’re taking it easy on the measuring front by starting with a cake mix. But we’re gonna ignore the instructions on the box (for the most part) and go rogue by adding mayo. Don’t worry, it doesn’t make your cake taste like a ham sandwich. Instead it gives it an incredible moisture and lightness that make this cake stand out.

Hint of Cinnamon Chocolate Cake | How to Be Awesome on $20 a Day

I’m no cake decorator, so I kept things simple. I made a rich chocolate frosting and covered the whole cake in it. My one tip is to use an offset spatula to spread your frosting to keep your knuckles out of the way. I found a packet of cute speculaas biscuits at my grocery store to cover up my ragged border at the bottom of my cake. Then I placed a star cookie cutter on the top of the cake, sprinkled in some gold sprinkles, gave the sprinkles a gentle press with a tooth pick so they wouldn’t rolls away, and took the cookie cutter away. Voila. That’s it.

Hint of Cinnamon Chocolate Cake | How to Be Awesome on $20 a Day

No matter what your plans this week, I hope you get to spend time with your favorite people. And if you get a chance, make this Hint of Cinnamon Chocolate Cake, and share it with them. Everyone will love it.

This recipe first appeared on Awesome on 20 in 2013.

Caramel Swirl Cheesecake Bars | How to Be Awesome on $20 a Day

Caramel Swirl Cheesecake Bars

Caramel Swirl Cheesecake Bars | How to Be Awesome on $20 a Day

Caramel Swirl Cheesecake bars are rich and creamy with a crisp cookie crust. Swirled through with salted caramel, they’re beautiful and sweet at the same time. Make these for your next celebration. Everyone will love them.

I’m in the last minute Christmas panic, trying to figure out how to rearrange my schedule to fit in everything I still need to do before the holidays. I swear someday I’m going to get myself a time turner. Can one of you people who have this whole holiday thing all figured out please come and take over my life? I’m in the weeds.

Caramel Swirl Cheesecake Bars | How to Be Awesome on $20 a Day

The crazy thing about it is that I’m more stressed out this year than I’ve been in ages, and I’m not even hosting. We’re traveling to my sister-in-law’s house. I don’t even know if I’m cooking anything. You’d think I’d be nice and relaxed. Turns out, manifesting your dream job is kind of all-consuming.

Maybe we should just all drop everything and bake. I wish cheesecake was a socially acceptable Christmas gift. I’d have it made because these Caramel Swirl Cheesecake Bars are absolutely swoon-worthy. The crust is buttery and crisp, and the cheesecake layer is so creamy and smooth. Most of the sweetness comes from the salted caramel that’s swirled throughout. The swirls also look amazing, so you could easily serve this as dessert for Christmas dinner. I made it for Thanksgiving this year, and it was a huge hit.

Caramel Swirl Cheesecake Bars | How to Be Awesome on $20 a Day

This recipe is also much less stressful than a traditional cheesecake. We’re pressing a buttery cookie dough into the base of our pan and pre-baking it until golden. While that’s cooling, we mix up our cheesecake mixture. Pour that over the crust, then swirl in your caramel. You can make your own if you want, but I used a thick and delicious store bought salted caramel sauce that I love, and it worked great. I just popped it into the microwave for about 30 seconds to thin it out before swirling it through.

Because we’re not baking a huge layer of cheesecake, we don’t have to worry as much about cracks. Just make sure you don’t overbake it. Pull it out of the oven when there’s still a slight wobble in the center. It will continue to cook for a few minutes out of the oven and firm up when it chills.

Caramel Swirl Cheesecake Bars | How to Be Awesome on $20 a Day

Soon we’ll be ready to sink deep into that holiday cheer. If there are Caramel Swirl Cheesecake Bars involved, all the better for everyone. It’s gonna be awesome.

Recipe adapted from Shauna Sever.

Looking for more awesome caramel cheesecake ideas? Try this Caramel Toffee Cheesecake.

Awesome at 40 | How to Be Awesome on $20 a Day

Awesome at 40

It’s my 41st birthday, friends. I’ve been in my 40’s for a whole year now. Have I gained any wisdom? I don’t know, but I’ve certainly learned a few things. Turns out, being 40 is actually pretty awesome.

Awesome at 40 | How to Be Awesome on $20 a Day

For most of my 39th year, I fretted about turning 40. My mom died when she was only 48, so it felt entirely possible that the end of my life could be approaching. Having a 4 at the start of your age seemed so much older than a 3. People still accomplish things in their 30s. People in their 40s are supposed to be settled, stable, normal.

I didn’t really feel like any of those things. My job, while decent, was a dead end. I felt broke all the time. I worried that being 40 would change things. Turns out, like most things I worried about, it was no big deal.

On being 40

Considering the fact that when I was 30 I completely blew up my life, I guess I actually was pretty settled and stable at 40. I’m married to a man who absolutely treasures me. He’s someone I definitely wouldn’t want to live without. I have confidence in my relationship, and I know how special that is.

I know myself better than I ever have before. I’ve set boundaries around my life and my energy that serve me and allow me to sleep at night. And while I have yet to completely break the habit of stressing about money, I actually feel like we’ll be okay financially. That’s a big deal.

And now that I feel all stable and settled, I can finally start thinking about what makes me feel most fulfilled. I’ve developed a spiritual practice that was completely absent for most of my 30s. I’ve realized it’s actually fine to focus on myself. And guess what. I’m much happier.

Old Lady Advice

Most of my friends are much younger than me, and I find myself constantly giving them lots of unsolicited “old lady” advice. Here are a few things I wish I had known when I was younger.

  • It’s okay to say no, even at work. Protect your energy. Energy is everything.
  • If you’re not getting paid, don’t work late. Your energy and expertise have value, and you should be compensated for them.
  • Just go to dance class. You can probably still keep up with those college kids, and even if you can’t, who cares.
  • It will always feel awesome when someone says you look 27.
  • Wear sunscreen every damn day.
  • Getting carded at the bar eventually just becomes annoying.
  • If you want to change something in your life, just do it. You don’t need anyone’s permission.
  • With a few exceptions, you’re never too old to start something new.
  • Going to bed early with a stack of books is actually what all the cool kids are doing.
  • Napping is the new black.
  • Find the thing that makes you feel connected to the Universe. If that thing happens to be witchcraft, even cooler.
  • Consider an item’s value and cost, not just its price. Buy things you love that will last.
  • Don’t waste your time on people who don’t respect you. Be polite, but don’t be a pushover.
  • Always keep ice cream in your freezer.
  • Most of the things you are worrying about right now are no big deal. Let it go.
  • You’re going to make mistakes. Apologize, and most importantly, forgive yourself.
  • You don’t need to do anything to be enough. You are already enough.

Beyond 40

I’ve enjoyed being 40, and I’m excited to see what I can accomplish in the next 10 years. I know who I am and what I want, and I’m less and less hungry for approval with every passing year. Yeah, I have some wrinkles, and I can’t move as quickly as I used to. It’s worth it to know that I am worthy of love. It may have taken me longer than some other people to get where I’ve gotten in life, but what I’ve learned at 40 is that it takes as long as it takes.

It’s a kinder, gentler world at 40. I’m loving it, despite the previous fretting. Aging is a privilege denied to many. I plan to do my best to enjoy every day. I hope you do, too.

Italian Grilled Cheese | How to Be Awesome on $20 a Day

Italian Grilled Cheese

This Italian Grilled Cheese features fresh mozzarella, crispy proscuitto, sun-dried tomatoes, pesto, and a bright hit of syrupy balsamic vinegar. Plus, it’s extra crunchy from a coating of Parmesan cheese on the outside of the bread. It’s got all the good stuff.

Italian Grilled Cheese | How to Be Awesome on $20 a Day

The other day I had friends over fairly early in the day. I knew I wanted to feed them, but I wanted to keep it simple. Somehow, I managed to convince them that it would be a real treat to make them grilled cheese sandwiches. I felt guilty about doing something so simple, but when they actually ate them, they were so happy. On the one hand, people like any food they don’t have to cook themselves. Yet on the other hand, it’s clear that if something is delicious, it doesn’t matter how elaborate it is.

The simplest things are often the ones that bring us the most joy. A laughing baby, a cute cat video, a Ron Swanson hamburger, a simple cozy black sweater. Maybe we’re stressing ourselves out trying to make things complicated when they can just be simple.

Italian Grilled Cheese | How to Be Awesome on $20 a Day

Okay, so maybe this Italian Grilled Cheese is a little more advanced than just a couple of slices of buttered white bread and too much Velveeta. While that’s certainly great, this Italian Grilled Cheese is a little bit extra. Sometimes more is more, ya know. Sometimes we’re a bundle of contradictions. But good food is good food, and this is definitely that.

That’s being said, we’re still just making a sandwich, so it’s not exactly rocket science. Spread the inside of your bread with your favorite pesto. No need to make it yourself, but you can if you want. Next we’re going to add some fresh mozzarella. We could stop there, but we’re not gonna. Next, we layer on some chopped sun-dried tomatoes. Then comes the slice of proscuitto that we crisped up by popping it in a hot oven for about five minutes. Then because Samin taught us that everything is better with a hit of acid, we’re going to add a drizzle of balsamic vinegar that we reduced down to a syrup by boiling it down for a few minutes.

Italian Grilled Cheese | How to Be Awesome on $20 a Day

For a last little hit of salty goodness and ultimate texture, we’re going to spread some softened butter on the outside of our bread and then sprinkle on some Parmesan cheese. When we grill up our sandwiches, they’re going to go extra crispy as that Parmesan sizzles away. When you dig in, you’re gonna get the crispy cheese and bread, the crunch of the proscuitto, and the oozing cheese. That little bit of extra work will really pay off.

Keep it simple but creative. Do the thing that makes you happy. Who cares if someone else thinks it’s impressive. And make yourself an Italian Grilled Cheese. It’s gonna be awesome.

Recipe adapted from Two Peas and Their Pod.

Looking for more awesome Grilled Cheese ideas? Try this Fig Jam & Smoked Gouda Grilled Cheese.

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