GF/SF Mixed Nut Florentines

florentine
My dad is a fiend for salted mixed nuts, so when I came across a recipe online that looked like it could be a fit, I decided to test it out for our Christmas cookie plate. However, if you’ve ever baked with me, you’ll know that I usually end up making so many substitutions to a recipe that the end result doesn’t look like the original recipe at all. Here’s what I started with: Mixed Nut Florentines from The Sugar Free Mom. But, here is my adaptation of the recipe (and, some things I’ll change for next time):

2 cups salted mixed nuts
2 Tbsp. GF all-purpose flour
1/3 c. butter
3/4 c. coconut sugar
1/4 c. honey
2 heaping tablespoons coconut cream

Pulse the mixed nuts in a food processor until they’re finely chopped. Stir in the flour and set aside. In a saucepan, melt the butter, coconut sugar, honey, and coconut cream together, bringing it to a boil. Let it boil for 30 seconds to 1 minute, and then turn off the heat.

Pour the “sugar” mixture over the nut mixture, and stir to coat thoroughly (it will be syrupy). Let the nuts sit for 15-20 minutes to cool, and then use a spoon to scoop out mixture onto a parchment-paper-lined baking sheet. These *hella* spread, so give yourself plenty of room between them on the parchment paper. Bake at 350˚ for about 10 minutes, switching the racks halfway through. At this point, check the color of the sugar lace on the cookies. If it looks like it could be a little more brown, leave them in a little longer. I ended up baking mine for a total of maybe 14 minutes, but one batch ended up too dark.

Move the parchment paper on your baking sheets onto racks, and let the cookies cool for at least an hour. If they start to harden on the edges, you’ve done your job. I had some that were still soft after that time, so I put them back in the oven for a few minutes to get some more moisture out.

NOTE: The adjustment I need to make to the recipe is with the butter that it calls for. I’ve adjusted the quantity, but these still end up feeling a little greasy. You can pat with a paper towel when dry, but do not pat when fresh out of the oven – they are too soft at this point and will deteriorate. If you’ve tried this recipe and have any comments or adjustments, let me know! We will master the mixed nut florentine together.

Grain-Free Peanut Butter Cookies

pb-cookies

Have you ever tried the peanut butter cookie recipe that only calls for peanut butter, sugar, and an egg? It’s a gluten-free recipe that actually turns out a decent peanut butter cookie – but it calls for a full cup of sugar. In my baking ventures this holiday season, I wanted to recreate this cookie recipe to fit everyone’s dietary restrictions. Although they aren’t the most glamorous-looking cookies, they are actually pretty tasty and give you a good little protein punch. Plus, we like to dip them in dark chocolate and top with sea salt, which takes them to the next level.

Here’s how I make them:

1 cup peanut butter
7-8 pitted dates
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. baking soda
1-2 Tbsp. almond flour

Blend together all ingredients in a food processor until dough starts to form and mixture can be rolled into balls. Place on an ungreased cookie sheet (they won’t spread much) and use a glass or a fork to press the tops down. Bake at 350˚ for about 10 minutes. The bottoms of these brown quickly, so just keep an eye out!

If desired, dip cooled peanut butter cookies into a mixture of melted dark or semi-sweet chocolate + 1 heaping teaspoon of coconut oil. Sprinkle on some flaked sea salt.

I haven’t tested this recipe with almond butter, but I am hoping that this swap will lend to a Whole30-friendly cookie. Test to come! And, if you’ve tried these out, leave me a note below.

5 Tips For Making Traveling Cheaper

IMG_8417

When you think Paris, Rome, London, or Barcelona, do little dollar signs dance in your head? International travel is notoriously expensive, and we (being North Americans) often announce these trips years before they happen so we can save up for two weeks in Italy. Some people save these trips for their honeymoon. International travel is seen as so luxurious and upper-crust that we save it for the most special of occasions.

I am not like these people, if you cannot already tell. My reason for traveling was, purely, to go experience some things. And, when you’re gone for as long as I was (three months!) you start to pick up some tips that make traveling abroad a little less expensive. Because honestly, folks – had I traveled the way we imagine traveling in Europe to be, I would be dead broke. Here are some things I picked up along my trip that may help you out as you plan your next one.

Traveling is as cheap or expensive as you’d like to make it.

I’ve said this a few times now in other posts, but if you only take one thing from my blog, take this point: You do not need hoards of money to travel. If you are hoping for a glitzy Paris vacance with night and day trips to the top of the Eiffel Tower and Michelin-star dinners, France is going to cost you. But, if you’re like me – it’ll cost you less than $75/day, lodging included. Great news, right? You are in control of how much you’re spending in these places. You may have to sacrifice a little glamour, but who doesn’t still love the idea of being in Paris? Baguettes are $1. Live your fanciest life without completely blowing your savings.

Walk.

Public transportation is awesome, and can be really helpful if you need to make it from Point A to Point B with a deadline. If you don’t have a timeline, however, I would *highly* recommend walking. Not only will this save you a butt-load of money (that is the scientific term, yes) – you will find places along the way that you didn’t even know existed. But, back to the dollar signs. Public transportation can still be a little pricey if you’re going somewhere for an extended amount of time. In Switzerland, a one-way trip 20 minutes into Zurich costed us 10 Swiss francs (about $10). In Germany, a day pass in the inner ring of Munich is 7 Euros. A week will run you about 20 Euros. Vienna had similar prices, if not a little more expensive on the metro. The tube in London was incredibly expensive. I went through 40 pounds (about $50) in under 4 days – and I walked almost everywhere.

I didn’t use public transportation at all in Barcelona, Rome, or Prague, and we used it very sparingly in Paris (you can get 10 tickets – a carnet – for about $14). Although the cities are big, they are almost all walkable if you map out where you’re going and what you want to cover. Don’t just automatically splurge for public transportation tickets if what you want to see is in walking distance.

Be aware that some things we know as “free” actually cost money.

In France, tap water was free and there were a few free restrooms. In Germany, no water is free at restaurants and all of it will cost you a good chunk of change. In Italy, water is relatively inexpensive but it’s totally delicious (and you could get a carafe of wine for a similar price!). In each place, there are different common standards and rules. Most places will make you pay for a bathroom break. I paid as little as 20 cents and as much as $2 (thanks, Switzerland!). All this means is that you have to be a little more strategic about your liquid intake, and always, always use the bathroom if you go somewhere for lunch.

Many of the major cities also have public fountains with potable water, so I carried an empty bottle almost everywhere I went and filled it up when I had the chance. If you’re sitting outside at a casual restaurant (and you don’t make it obvious), you can sip out of your water bottle and avoid that crazy expense for water.

You also should be aware of table fees. First of all – most cafes in Italy and in the UK had two prices listed: the stay-in and the take-out price. Take-out prices were cheaper, as you weren’t taking up a spot in their (usually small) dining rooms. If you know you’ll be on the go and don’t desperately need to sit down, it can be, like, a dollar cheaper to take something to-go.

The other expense specifically in Italy that we weren’t expecting was a table service charge. Tipping isn’t as common in European countries as it is in America, but most countries just leave it at the bill. Most restaurants in Italy, however, charge a per-person table service fee that kinda doubles as what you’d tip. We paid anywhere between 1.50 Euros and 4 Euros per person for table service, and this fee is higher if you choose to sit outside verses inside (because outdoor dining spaces are so limited). If you’re sticking to a budget, it’s just a good thing to know – you may be spending an extra 5-8 Euros on dinner.

The food on the streets is just as good (if not better).

Don’t be so quick to pop into a restaurant if you’re feeling peckish. In almost every city I visited (less so in Spain, but especially in Holland), street vendors are selling meals, local delicacies, treats, and drinks for a fraction of the restaurant cost. And, we’re not talking rubbery hot dogs here, folks. The food is delicious (think peanut sauce on fries and mini pancakes in Rotterdam, spiced nuts and cheese noodles in Germany, döner just about everywhere you go, trdlnîk – fried dough cones – in Prague… the list goes on) and, sincerely, will save your budget. We opted for a larger meal at lunchtime, which is more customary for many of the cultures anyways, and then picking up a street-food snack along the way. Eating from street vendors also gives you a better taste of the local flavor (and you won’t have to pay pesky take-out or table service fees).

Prioritize your experiences.

What means the most to you? If you’re visiting a new city on a low budget and all you care about is exploring from morning until night, it’s not worth it to splurge on an expensive hotel. If you’re wanting to relax inside, don’t get tickets to an outdoor attraction with a two-hour tour. If you’re budgeting, you may have to pick and choose what matters to you and what you actually want to see.

For me, this meant choosing to see the Louvre in Paris instead of the other handful of art galleries that were on my list, and checking out the gardens of Versailles instead of waiting in the long lines to get inside the mansion. You don’t have to visit something just because it’s famous or just because you’ve seen pictures of it. What do you enjoy? What do you actually want to experience? Check out the prices of tickets online before you visit so that you don’t get all the way up to the gates and then splurge on something you didn’t care that much about. You may also need to reserve a spot in advance – like the Anne Frank House tour in Amsterdam or the Harry Potter studio tour north of London.

What are your money-saving tips while traveling? I’d love to hear them. Leave me a comment below!

My Top Trip FAQs

IMG_2580

Hi everyone!

I wanted to compile a list of some of the most common questions I’ve gotten as I’ve been traveling. If you’re new to my blog, a little context for you – I’ve recently returned from a three-month trip around Europe, visiting 11 countries (and traveling through a few others). So, if you’re hoping on planning your own little excursion, here is a little wisdom from my recent experiences:

#1 FAQ: How much did this cost?

I’ve gotten several versions of this question/comment. Yes, it does take saving money to do a trip like this on your own. In total, I spent $6500 for three months including my airfare, lodging, food + all my gifts. Although it sounds like a lot as a lump sum, it only comes out to about $72 per day. Here was how I broke it down:

Flights + transportation = 25%
Food + activities = 20%
Lodging = 20%
My regular bills (that unfortunately don’t disappear) = 15%
Gifts/souvenirs = 15%
Travel insurance = 5%

But, honestly, I could’ve done it for less. Here’s the thing about traveling abroad that I wish I would’ve known before – you can make it as expensive as you’d like it to be. You can stay in really nice places and take Übers and eat out every night, and that trip is going to cost you a heck of a lot more than getting an Airbnb or a hostel and eating street food once a day. You have to prioritize where you want to spend your money and what’s worth it. I brought granola bars everywhere I went. I didn’t go to every museum or tourist attraction; the entry fees add up really quickly. Instead, I picked one or two spots in each city that I really wanted to see (and, most historic landmarks are free). For me, the Louvre was worth 20 Euros. But, you may want to visit Disneyland Paris instead.

Also, a hot tip for you: If you still have a student ID card that resembles you, you should absolutely use it. I saved probably $100 off of admission fees by getting a student discount. If you’re under 26, you may also qualify for young adult discounts. So, if you’re right on the edge of that age group and you need something to encourage you to go travel now, let it be your age; it’ll be more expensive next year.

I get that it’s not feasible for everyone and sometimes in our stages of life, we can’t go travel for long periods of time or afford it. Honestly, the only reason I could afford to go for a full three months was because of the generosity of friends in the UK and family in Germany who let me stay free of charge. However: If you have on your heart to go on a trip – or maybe you just need a week away – traveling internationally is totally possible. I have a friend who gets round-trip flights to Germany for $300. SERIOUSLY. If you are willing to have a crappy layover, you can travel for very little money.

#2 FAQ: Which city was your favorite?

I’m hoping to do a whole blog post on the cities that I fell in love with along my trip (which, plot twist, weren’t all the major ones) – but in the mean time, here’s a summarized version. In no particular order, because I can’t commit to which I liked best:

Prague, Czech Republic
Rotterdam, the Netherlands
Portovenere, Italy
Oxford, England

Each of these places had their own distinctive culture, vibrance, and experience that made them stand out amongst their many, many competitors. You can check out my Prague blog post for some recommendations, and I’m hoping to get an Oxford post up soon. (Good intentions!)

#3 FAQ: So you just, like, quit your job?

That I did, friends. Several people have said things to me like, “Wow, you’re so brave” or “I would never have the courage to do that.” Honestly, people, it was terrifying. But it wasn’t about me trying to be courageous. When you have something on your heart and you can do it, you absolutely should. I left my job with a small glimmer of hope that a future employer would look positively on my three months abroad instead of as a gap in my employment. And, as I’ve been looking into new positions, that has been the case with almost everywhere I’ve applied. Employers like to see that you’ve experienced and grown as a person, not just in an office (which I am totally thrilled about and works in my favor).

#4 FAQ: Would you do it again?

Three months is a long time, people. Around month two, I started wishing I could just pet my dog – which was crazy because I was getting to walk around places like the Colosseum. We all process these things differently. I picked a three-month window because that’s how long you can be in Germany (my home base) without a visa. But, when you’re gone for so long, it quickly starts to become less of a vacation and more of a, “Oh, I guess this is my life now.” I was tired of living out of a suitcase with mini toiletries. I craved the structure that my work life gave me. Turns out, I wasn’t as “carefree gypsy spirit” as I thought I was. But then, you run into some people at hostels who have been traveling for 6 or 7 months, and have no end in mind to their trip. Most of them are Australian, funny enough. My advice to you is that if you do decide to do a longer trip, give yourself an end date to preserve your sanity (and, frankly, your budget).

That being said, I got to see some of the world’s most incredible sights. I would never, ever give that up. But after doing a three-month trip, I think I’ll be perfectly content with two-week vacations.

#5 FAQ: What now?

I have gotten this “What are you doing next?” question from 98% of people who find out I’ve been traveling. It’s been really interesting for me to go to places where the culture doesn’t revolve around working/careers or being busy – a stark contrast to our American culture that preaches the “go, go, go” model of everyday life. In Italy, you could have a thirty minute conversation with someone and still have not gotten to, “So, what do you do?” Because, it doesn’t matter as much to them.

However, because I was brought up in this culture, of course I have a plan. I have recently accepted a new position in Nashville, Tennessee with an organization whose mission I totally believe in. You can stay tuned for updates, but for now, that’s next – I’m Tennessee’s newest resident!