Happy Birthday To Me Indeed!

Yesterday was the greatest day of the year, my birthday, but now that it’s over, we can start to look forward to the holidays! Before we move on so abruptly, however, let’s recap my super exciting birthday weekend extravaganza!

I was up very early on Saturday morning to catch my bus to New York City- my favorite place in the entire world! The bus ride wasn’t terrible and I slept for half of it, so I was feeling pretty swell once I arrived. In the city, I met my best friend from college, Stephanie, and we both agreed we were starving.

First on the menu was this delectable burger and fries. We were so hungry once we sat down to eat and I enjoyed this sucker. No roll was needed- I find if it’s nothing impressive, I’m not missing much. But boy, did this hit the spot!

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For most of the day, we walked around the city, just taking in the sights. Both of us share a favorite place in the city, which is the High Line- an elevated outdoor walkway near the river that has amazing views. It was super crowded on Saturday, but we weren’t in a rush.

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This city feeds my soul. Maybe it’s because I’m only a visitor or maybe it’s something more I don’t understand. It just makes me happy and inspired and it was exactly what I needed.

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Our travels took us through Chelsea Market where we stopped for a small treat at Doughnuttery, which has the best little doughnuts I’ve ever tasted. Wow! After, we made our way to Union Square where we walked through a Farmer’s Market and made our way to Barnes and Noble to do some browsing and rest our feet from all that walking!

For dinner, we met up with my friend, Bobby, who lives in the city for a Mexican-inspired dinner. We split an order of nachos to start and then Stephanie and I were still feeling the ramifications of lunch, so we split a chicken quesadilla for our meal, which was just enough. Since it was my birthday weekend, we also split dessert- churros and ice cream with chocolate sauce! It was dark in the restaurant and I felt weird taking a picture with flash, so I apologize for the lack of visuals.

Both Stephanie and I were tired from our early morning wake-up calls and walking around all day, so we headed across the river to stay at her friend’s place for the night, which was so helpful!

The next day, the sun came out and it was the perfect fall day! We had considered seeing a matinee, but with the weather so nice and fresh, neither of us wanted to be inside. Instead, we stopped at a bakery for a doughnut breakfast- I have never had so many doughnuts as I had this weekend and the one before at my friend’s wedding- whew. It was really good quality though, so I won’t complain!

Into the city we went where Stephanie rocked her new Chewie hat.

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We started walking from Wall Street and continued down Broadway until we found ourselves near Washington Square Park. That place is magnificent if only because of their quality public restrooms. Thank you! Since it was so nice out and the park bustling with excellent people watching opportunities, we decided on a picnic lunch. Where might we go? Only the place that makes the greatest invention known to man kind….Peanut Butter and Co! My love of their peanut butters, in particular their chocolate varieties are well known, so I’ve always wanted to stop by the shop for lunch. That we did! I selected the Dark Chocolate Dreams sandwich that included dark chocolate peanut butter, shredded coconut, and cherry preserves. Oh my.

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The sandwich was delicious, filling, and huge! I wanted to eat it all since it was such a novelty, but I had a hard time, especially because I paired it with a peanut butter milkshake. Don’t judge me, it was my birthday weekend! While we ate, we noticed how some people in the park didn’t mind having all of these pigeons hanging out on top of them. I was a little skeezed, but people will do as they do. I was too busy trying to take the perfect selfie to really judge.

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That was until a squirrel climbed onto my lap. No, I’m not joking or exaggerating. I felt something tickle my leg as I was pointing out something to Stephanie, looked down and saw the squirrel, screamed and ran away. Looking back, I’m thankful because it makes for a funny blog story. But still, ew! And as I ran away, I looked back and noticed the stinker staring me down.

After that little adventure, we were women on a mission. Thanks to Daylight Savings Time, we knew the sun was going to set around 4:40 PM that day and we wanted to see Central Park, so we got our walking shoes on and stepped up our stride and made it all the way to the park with time to spare. If you’re not familiar with the city, let me tell you, that is a hike. Wall Street, our starting location, is close to Brooklyn and well before the numbered streets begin, as well as Washington Square Park. Central Park is on 59th Street. It was a hike!

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Well worth the trip however!

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Once darkness set in, we decided it was time for a drink. We found a place that offered wine and cheese and we were sold. With our glasses of chianti, we split a mozzarella and prosciutto roll over arugula and tomatoes. Divine!

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Then it was time for more walking! We stopped at Bryant Park to browse the shops, where I picked out a birthday present for myself- this hat! I was very excited for my purchase!

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Instead of a full dinner, we agreed to stop at two separate places for drinks and an appetizer. Place two took us to a Chinese restaurant where we split crab rangoon and sesame chicken. Stephanie ordered the Mai Thai, but I stuck with wine.

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By the time we finished our meal and checked to see how far away we were from my friend’s apartment, we decided we were tuckered out from walking and settled on an Uber. I wore my Garmin during the trip and calculated that in two days, we wracked up over 50,000 steps, which totals to about 30 miles (if I’m doing math right). I think it was quite acceptable that we were tired!

The next morning- my birthday!- we had to be up early for me to catch my bus because I had to work that night. It wouldn’t be my birthday if I didn’t stop for breakfast, so we found a diner near my bus stop. The eggs were normal and the waffle okay- honestly, I prefer making my own or Eggos even!

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Then it was time to say goodbye to my city.

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All the birthday love made it okay though! Thanks again to Stephanie for making the trip with me! And to my sister for picking me up back home! We decided to be good and made it to the gym for a workout where I led us through a series of circuits that included strength training, plyometrics, and core work!

My stomach was raging after that weekend of eating, so instead of going out, I was craving something healthy, delicious, and homemade. We threw together these salads with black bean veggie burgers for protein.

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After work, dinner was a veggie and chicken stir fry I topped with sesame ginger dressing.

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I also indulged in a birthday treat of my mom’s apple crisp!

It was a wonderful birthday filled with love and I felt warm and fuzzy! To end the day, Stephanie had tweeted a surprise, which led to this exchange.

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That was Freddie Prinze Jr. using a birthday cake emoji to wish me a happy birthday. Yup. I’m still blushing.

Sometimes, You Smell and Have To Buy New Things

Needed to edit this post to include a happy birthday shout out to my favorite, Amy Poehler! Woot!

In case you hadn’t realized, fall is coming. I wouldn’t keep harping on this except 1. I’m so excited and 2. Halloween is out in full force. We all know that if you buy the Halloween candy at this point, it’s not meant for Halloween. Otherwise you’d be offering stale candy to trick or treaters and that’s just rude. I’m all for eating chocolate, especially specially designed to mimic pumpkins or ghosts though.

We’ll get to how I discovered that Halloween costumes are all over in a second. First, let’s recap some meals.

If you read yesterday morning, you’ll know I had this delicious pumpkin French toast for breakfast.

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Lunch included leftover stuffed peppers with sauteed spinach and jalapeños for a kick. It was just what I needed after a heavy strength training session. I was quite proud of my gains yesterday and left with a sense of accomplishment. I must have been hungry when I got home though because there’s no picture of lunch. Whoops.

Between lunch and dinner, I also got to a kickboxing class. I am loving kickboxing! I think it has to do with the punching and kicking, but it’s a lot of fun and I feel like I’m getting in a real workout. I’m not usually a huge fan of group classes, but this is one I will try to get to on the regular!

Dinner was so good! Grilled swordfish is the new favorite fish in this house. We paired it with fresh broccoli and oh, hmm, what’s that cheesy thing? Mac and cheese? NOPE! Cauliflower au gratin. It has all the cheesy, warm, melt in your mouth goodness of macaroni and cheese but with vegetable instead of noodle. Don’t get me wrong, macaroni and cheese still holds a high up place in my heart, but this cauliflower dish is up there too! I just felt less guilty indulging in seconds.

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Okay so, last week we discovered I should never be let loose in Whole Foods, but yesterday we learned this is true of Target. Maybe I just shouldn’t shop. But I love it! I stopped at Target for trip numero uno after my strength workout because I wanted to pick up Mindy Kaling’s new book Why Not Me? which will soon be reviewed once I make my way through it- hopefully not too fast because I loved her first book and read it in a day and then I was sad it was over.

I was also on a quest for Peanut Butter and Co’s specialty PUMPKIN SPICE peanut butter. So far, I’ve struck out at Stop & Shop, Whole Foods, and now Target. Bummer, I’ll have to order it online unless Christmas Tree Shoppe can represent. As you well know, Peanut Butter and Co is my favorite company thanks to their Dark and White Chocolate Peanut Butter goodness (that is nutritionally sound too!). Though there was no pumpkin spice to be found, I did walk away with a dark chocolate bottle and two pumpkin spice yogurts.

Also in the cart were dog treats because Mac needs his favorite things too. I needed new strength training gloves because mine STINK to high heaven and can no longer be cleansed through washing. I know, I’m disgusting, but I’m not even sorry. It’s a mark of a job well done. However, they needed to go because I couldn’t stand getting a whiff every rep.

Then I happened to cart by the electronics section, which in my defense, is near the book section! I’ve been contemplating getting a running watch because I no longer track with my phone as it is too rough! My brother’s girlfriend, Cait, recommended the Garmin Forerunner 15 to me because it also works in water- though I’m not sure if it tracks swims yet (TBD tomorrow!). That’s the one I asked for when I checked out and I realized it wasn’t the right one when I got home. They gave me the 10 by accident, which is cheaper, but also does nothing. I wanted a running GPS and step tracker so that I didn’t have to also use a Fitbit. Rude!

After kickboxing and dinner, I set out for Target trip numero dos and this time I was accompanied by my friend Rachel. After I made my exchange, it was time to browse. I got two new workout shirts, one of which is this super cool Star Wars tee with the only characters who matter best characters: the originals!

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I also got another one I’ll debut a little later on this week. Also in my basket was a pair of super comfy pajamas that got me even more excited for fall.

That’s when we discovered the Halloween costumes. Had I not already had one in mind, I might have gotten lost. I can’t reveal my Halloween costume to you yet, but here are a few of the options we perused last night.

Rachel wearing a terrifying Teddy Bear mask. I hate masks!

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This weird, but far less frightening “Captain Cool” mask.

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Me as a piece of pizza, which we know is one of my favorite things!

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Also as a hot dog.

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And this flamingo hat that I’m fairly certain is taller than I am. It was heavy on my head, but if I bought it, it would have required I bend through a doorway for the first time in my life! I didn’t buy it for the record.

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Much silliness ensued, but it was all fun!

This morning, I woke up raring to try my new watch! First, I had a quick breakfast. An egg, cheese, and chicken sausage sandwich on an english muffin. It also had jalapeños. I had a berry bowl as well.

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Even though it was still warm and the sun was out in full force, the air is no longer dripping with humidity. I had an excellent 3.1 mile run and another .5 walk before I hopped in the shower and ran some errands. Now I’ve got in two loads of laundry (one for gross workout clothes and the other for sheets) and an afternoon of studying in which to look forward.

Happy Wednesday to you!

Snacking Isn’t (Always) The Enemy

For this week’s version of Rave Review Tuesday, I was at a standstill for what I wanted to talk about. I just finished reading Piper Kerman’s Orange Is The New Black, which was excellent, but since I already reviewed the show, I didn’t want to be repetitive. An idea struck me at the gym, as all the best ones do, that instead of reviewing a book, movie, or show, I could talk more about the snacks I enjoy.

Being home a lot more, I tend to eat bigger meals and snack less. However, when I’m busy and on the run, I usually have one or two snacks between meals, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. These range from 100-200 calories depending on how hungry I am, especially if it’s after the gym, which it usually is. Snacks always include a combination of fruits and veggies and protein so that I’m not mindlessly consuming things without ever being satiated.

After the gym today, I came home and started snapping pictures of the most common ingredients one can find in my snacks. Much of what I graze on also happens to be included in my breakfasts, which if you haven’t noticed, is my favorite meal of the day.

I am in no way a photographer, though I did try to array the food in a somewhat fashionable arrangement. I hope this inspires you to up your snack game!

I am a big fan of nuts. Almonds, pecans, cashews, pistachios, I love them all, on their own or in a trail mix. While I sometimes enjoy flavored varieties, I also like them lightly salted. Pair these with some fresh berries or dried fruit and they are a perfect snack combination. My favorite trail mix brand is the Peanut Butter Cup from Trader Joes that includes tiny peanut butter cups, dried cherries, cashews, and almonds.

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There is no denying at this point that I have an obsession with peanut butter. Sometimes I enjoy smearing a tablespoon on a graham cracker or two with chopped banana or berries, especially the chocolate kind.

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If I’m looking to be more indulgent or for a heavier snack to fuel me, I will throw some peanut butter on an English muffin. Look! Pumpkin Spice to kick off the almost fall season.

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Oatmeal is almost a perfect snack as it is a breakfast. I like tossing in some raisins and dates to make it a fruitier adventure.

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Skinny Pop popcorn is better than any kind of popcorn I have ever had, except maybe for the local movie theater’s popcorn, but only because they use real butter.

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Pardon the sad look of this fruit bowl. We are in desperate need of a trip to the grocery store as that bowl is teeming with fresh apples, peaches, plums, and banana on the regular. You also know my affinity for blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, and when my allergies allow it, cherries.

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You can never go wrong with hummus and veggie sticks. Very often, these bad boys will show up in my lunch because it is an excellent way to get in a ton of vegetables. My favorites are celery, carrots, and red pepper, but you can almost use any veggie as a dipper. I’m not too picky on my hummus, though I am hoping to give making it on my own another go.

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Greek yogurt is so good for you and it is lucky that it’s really the only kind of yogurt I like. I do try to stick to the plain variety and add my own fruits and nuts, though I cannot resist the goodness that is Chobani’s Coconut blended flavor. So good with raspberries or blueberries and even on its own, which the plain is not. Again, we are running low on the fruit.

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For convenience, nothing beats a hard-boiled egg and a cheesestick. I love the pepper jack because it is flavorful both with the egg and an apple, during the seasons I can eat them.

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Growing up, I was never one to frequent the cereal section of my cabinets. Every so often, I will have a craving for it, and when combined with milk and fruit, especially strawberries and banana, I am a happy camper. For me, the Raisin Bran Crunch is a bit of an indulgence because it contains a ton of sugar, but it’s my favorite and I don’t have it in excess. I am new to the Puffins train, but hello, peanut butter flavor! Also, honey nut Cheerios are actually my favorite, but we don’t have them in stock.

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I am also a big fan of nachos. I don’t normally order them myself as I try to stick to plain old, but still tasty chips and salsa, but if someone else orders them, I can’t help myself. At home, I can make them a lot healthier, keeping portions appropriate, especially the cheesy goodness. Tossing some chopped veggies like peppers, spinach, and tomatoes on top also makes it even healthier and more filling. Sometimes, I’ll throw some black beans, corn, and a dollop of Greek yogurt to have them for lunch! My favorite tortilla brand is Green Mountain, but, you guessed it, we ran out.

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Don’t get me wrong, on some occasions, I’ll find myself dipping into Cheezit boxes or zeroing in on the Oreos, and that’s just fine so long as I stay aware of portions. The biggest thing that gets people in trouble with snacking is the mindless grazing. With any meal, it’s important to pay attention to the quantity and quality of what is in front of you. A friend who dabbled a bit in advertising for snack companies said that the best snack, to them, are the ones that people can eat without feeling full.

And we wonder why we have weight and health problems running rampant in this country.

I will often prepack these snacks after measuring out servings so that I don’t ever eat too much. By paying better attention to the nutrition of the snacks, you will notice that your hunger signals have been satisfied and can move on until your next meal.

My biggest word of advice when it comes to snacking, passed onto me by my mom: never walk away with the box. Take out what you want, enjoy, but don’t keep coming back for more.

It’s Hard to Cook Without a Fully Functioning Kitchen

One of the perks I thought I was sure to enjoy after finishing my Master’s, was the ability and creative liberty to try out new recipes. This was prevented once the kitchen went under construction. No complaints here as I will be able to enjoy the benefits of a new kitchen shortly, though I probably won’t have as much free time then.

Anyways, for this Meals on Monday edition, I thought I did a lot better taking pictures of what I was eating, but I think I really just snapped my lunches and forgot about the rest of the meals. As you will see, my memory only alerted me to my mistakes halfway through eating the meals, so don’t think that I have been eating such small portions. Trust, I have a hearty appetite.

Breakfasts:

I have eaten quite a lot of peanut butter toast this week as I have limited use of technology in which to cook. This is hurtful because breakfast is my favorite meal and I like to concoct all sorts of different recipes throughout the week.

I had this at least four times this week, but with a little variety. Here we see my use of Peanut Butter and Co’s chocolate flavored products, Dark Chocolate and White Chocolate Wonderful with a smear of jelly on whole wheat sour dough and a side of fresh fruit.

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Other times you might see my toast topped with the same chocolate peanut butter but with coconut sprinkled on top and a banana on the side. I also enjoy using regular Teddie peanut butter, which I had yesterday morning for a more savory twist. Peanut butter is one of my favorite foods and as I write Meals on Monday more, you will see it included in almost all of my breakfasts and sometimes lunches.

For breakfasts this week, I also had a delicious “Italian Delight” egg breakfast with two poached eggs over mozzarella, tomato, and toast with a side of potatoes at a diner I went to with my sister Lauren. Forgot to take a picture, but it is something I will be making at home once that kitchen is running again.

A wonderful waffle I made in my waffle maker, duh, but the clean up was messy. Obviously, it was still worth it. The batter is the same as my peanut butter pancake recipe, topped with more peanut butter, jelly, and shredded coconut.

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One day, I also had a bowl of raisin bran with chopped banana and a coconut-blended Chobani, which is the best flavor of greek yogurt there is, mixed with blueberries.

Lunch:

A salad with arugula as the base, mixed with cucumbers, peppers, asiago cheese croutons, feta, and red beans with greek dressing. Nice and simple on a hot day!

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Another salad of arugula and baby spinach, cucumber, pepper, and feta cheese with italian dressing. I also had a chicken burger topped with a piece of pepper jack cheese on a whole wheat english muffin and a fruit bowl consisting of pineapple (my ALL-TIME favorite) and a few cherries (another favorite, but must be eaten carefully as I am semi-allergic, it’s a cruel world).

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Leftover salmon over a salad of spinach, peppers, tomato, and mozzarella with a side of buttered toast (not pictured).

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I did not snap a picture of my rice and chicken bowl filled with fresh veggies including zucchini (the first produce from my garden!!), summer squash, and red pepper because I was in the pool.

Saturday, I went to Harry Potter trivia with my friends Erin and Katie and though we didn’t place as we should have, it was still so much fun! I had my share of chips and salsa, margherita pizza, and Leininkugel Summer Shandy that I was pretending was butter beer.

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Yesterday, my sister came over for lunch and my mom grilled some turkey tips with a drizzle of honey BBQ sauce with more of my zucchini, summer squash, and peppers, corn on the cob, a side salad, and a piece of toast.

Dinner:

Salmon with summer squash, pepper, baby spinach, feta over brown and wild rice.

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We also had chicken kebobs one night skewered with zucchini, summer squash, and peppers (I guess you can tell what veggies we like best).

Another night was pasta with chicken sausage and spinach.

Thursday night, I had dinner with my friends Nouha and Sarah, which consisted of a Lebanese meat dish over rice and potatoes, made by her mother and it was fabulous. We also had a side of hummus with whole wheat pita and a sliver of Whole Foods cake.

On Friday, we had a girls night out, as my mom, sister, and I stopped for cheeseburgers and beer before the Red Sox game. Because I opted for a side salad instead of french fries at dinner, I enjoyed a twist cone during the game. I’d take ice cream over anything, any day, any time.

After trivia, I came home Saturday to find my aunts, uncles, and cousins over. Family time is the best time, whether we are sitting around the porch table laughing at ourselves and one another, roasting marshmallows, or hiding in the dark trying to freak each other out. We also ordered pizza because it seems to be a trend of every “party” (for lack of better term).

Finally, in honor of my Uncle Mike, who I appreciate for many reasons but mostly for his consistent reading of this blog, Gollum is still looking for his precious “ring.”

(Peanut) Butter Me Up

Breakfast is my favorite meal of any day. I am queen breakfast chef, which is a big deal because we all know I’d be quite happy with princess status for anything else. Whether I’m whipping up homemade waffles, pancakes, eggs, mostly all of my recipes have one golden ingredient in common: peanut butter. OK, the eggs itself don’t have peanut butter but usually the toast I have alongside of it has at least a smear.

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Peanut butter is the food of Gods and I count it as great luck that I do not have an aversion to it. If you can, eat more nuts because they’re just plain crazy healthy for you. I love almonds, pistachios, walnuts, pecans, and peanuts all in their natural state, however, one form of nut has become my obsession. Peanut. Butter.

When I first started eating breakfast every day, I was young and naive and thought I didn’t like breakfast foods all that much. So stupid. My senior year of college, I started waking up for myself, rather than just classes, and got myself down to breakfast every day. An egg here, egg white there. Add some grains and fruit and suddenly my day was so much brighter.

One day, however, I was on my way to work so I didn’t have time to wait for eggs, so instead I got myself an english muffin with peanut butter and jelly. Hallelujah life was changed. Now, every day, I eat peanut butter in some form, but breakfast has to be my favorite.

When I have time in the mornings (hello weekends!) I’ll take my time in the kitchen mixing up some homemade waffles or pancakes, with peanut butter in the batter and on top! On mornings when I have work, I cook up some oatmeal that will never taste bland again thanks to the beautiful peanut butter and jelly combination.

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Sure, I like the average peanut butter, crunchy, creamy, unsalted, and pure. But, there is one brand of peanut butter that made my obsession go from mild to over the top: Peanut Butter and Co. Why them? The inclusion of CHOCOLATE, my other favorite thing in the world. Either dark or white, swirled with peanut butter, it adds a whole other layer of yum to breakfast. It satisfies that chocolate craving that, no joke, I wake up desiring. My mother even said that one time when I was only three I woke up, sat down at the table, sighed, and said, “Momma, I just need chocolate.” She understood. It’s also healthier because the ingredients are simple, pure, and not tarnished by random add-ins that make the best of foods taste fake.

No, this is not sponsored, but they do follow me on Twitter. Now excuse me while I tuck into some peanut butter oats with berries!

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