Sushi + hiking [Charlotte Adventures] 

The weather is nice enough to hike! Finally. I’ve been waiting for this to happen. Not because I like cold weather, but because I’ve been wanting to hike.

Apple pie for national dessert day

Between Friday being national dessert day and Monday being boss’s day, I’ve been making desserts like crazy. I wanted to get out a bit and enjoy the outdoors. I’ve been told about Crowder’s mountain a lot since it’s so close to Charlotte. So off to Crowder’s we went! I’ve also heard that it gets really busy so we aimed to get there by 9. I almost thought 9 would end up being too late, but it actually worked out nicely. 

Peanut butter pie and handlettering!

The hike is relatively steep. We went up the pinnacle trail. The trail states it is about 2 hours. Crowder’s mountain trail is about 3 hours. I’ll go back and do that one again sometime. Pinnacle trail is a little steep. You’ll feel it the next day, even if you work out regularly. It was a pretty trail though and if you’re in Charlotte or just visiting, it’s one that won’t take all day and you’ll appreciate it. A lot of nature right outside of the concrete of the city. Plus the leaves are changing at the moment. While they weren’t falling at a massive rate, there were a lot of orange and red leaves along the trail.

After all of that, you’ll be hungry, of course. We went to O-ku Sushi and it was delectable! I had a crunchy spicy tuna rolls and a kiwi Kani roll. The kiwi roll was nice and light. Highly recommend, especially if you’re interested in another entree or a heavier roll. The crunchy spicy tuna roll was also nice, but was a little more basic. The crunchies are awesome though! We also had an almond cake for dessert that was flavorful! 

I believe there’s also an O-ku in Charleston and the Charlotte one is pretty similar to it. All in all I really liked it and I’ll be back again!


BASIC: Pumpkin 

I think we actually felt the first day of fall this past weekend.After a few days of straight dreary rain – something I haven’t experienced since I moved here – there was actually cool weather and sunshine. It was so nice we opening the windows and turned the AC off. Just gorgeous.

Because of that, I was ready to go completely basic and make pumpkin things. My former boss once bought me a TON of pumpkin spice Jell-O and I was determined to find a recipe or two to incorporate this mix.

I’d had my eye on some muffins for a while on my Pinterest board so that was easy. And then I also knew I wanted a cookie of some sort. Thankfully Pinterest is full of possibility, so I found exactly what I needed.

Both sweets turned out exactly as I was hoping they would. The muffins are nice and soft and the cookies are nice and crisp. Overall I’m happy with the results and I wasn’t even in the kitchen for an incredibly long amount of time.

Well… long enough to make a complete mess of course!

So worth it, too. You have to clean up at the end regardless, so don’t sweat the details. I even tried to put things away as I went, but… didn’t happen! I can’t be controlled. I was also able to share some of these fun things on social media now that the social media blackout has ended for the Whole Life Challenge. Obviously none of the things I baked are Whole Life approved, but the fall medley I also made is approved for at least the Kickstart level, so it’s not all lost. This week we are doing a Jar of Positivity in which you write something good that happened or just something positive in your life and you put it in a jar. We are reading ours this weekend! I’m excited.

If you’re feeling fall and need something to be positive about, make one (or both) of these! They are bound to get you in the fall mood.

Pumpkin pudding muffins


Oatmeal Pumpkin Spice Pudding Cookies with Dark Chocolate Chips



Social Darkness

I’ve done this before. I’ve picked a time to not use social media. Last time I even cut out television. I can’t even remember when I did it last time or how long it was, but I don’t remember noticing much. I would love to say that I was as dependent on social then as I am now, but I don’t think that was the case. Or maybe I just happen to be handling it differently. Last time, I planned it. I made the decision to stop. It was a challenge to myself and I was prepared. I read a lot of books. More books than I usually do at least.
This time is a bit different.

butternut squash soup I made for the challenge!

Right now I’m doing the Whole Life Challenge. The Whole Life Challenge takes multiple aspects of life and tries to have you focus on everyday things that you may have an issue with. For instance: not eating certain foods – of which I am doing very poorly. You also set goals in terms of water consumption, sleep minimums, and taking time to reflect. There’s also a lifestyle portion in which each week you are given a task. The first week was meditation, the second week was decluttering, and this week it is focused around staying off social. And I found out about it on Thursday- the challenge began on Saturday.

No time to plan! Also, I forgot to tell people. Not telling the masses about this challenge wasn’t such a big deal, but I didn’t tell anyone… even the people I would be hanging out with when I made a trip home. Woops! I had to text a friend to let her know so that if anyone messaged in the Twitter chat we had going that she could respond for me. I’m certain I was really annoying. Even better than that, I still have the notification bubbles turned on so it’s like those fun little messages are poking fun at me…making sure I know that I’m missing out.

But am I?

beach walks with my camera!

So far I’ve mostly missed Instagram. Twitter would come in second place. And it’s also really annoying to try and meal plan without Pinterest. All in all though, the point the challenge is trying to make is correct – how much time do I waste on the regular just roaming social media? A lot. My phone is always dying. And while I haven’t read a lot since it’s started (I’ve been traveling), I have picked up some other things. I’ve been taking a ton more pictures with my camera – and not just of food. I’ve also been more present in the moment – even when it’s simply watching TV – but there’s a lot more room for TV conversation, which is actually kind of nice. I’ve made more time for exercise, too. I’m also not as jaded about my days and how I spend them. I have yet to worry about why I’m not living it up in some other country, some other state, or just about not knowing how to enjoy my new city.

Do I think I’ll keep up with it forever? No…but I wouldn’t be opposed to taking a social break once a quarter. This would give me some awesome time to realign my priorities and make sure that my life is on its own track, not someone else’s.


Salted Caramel Chocolate Cake

Birthdays. They bring so much baking possibility. They also bring a ton of pressure. You don’t ever want to be the person that screws up someone’s birthday cake. I figure you can always go two ways with this: bake something you know or bake something you have always wanted to try.

I treat each birthday cake like a new opportunity. This time, do I want to do something new or known? For this birthday celebration I was commissioned with one thing and one thing only: Chocolate. I’ve made a few chocolate cakes before – especially one with tons of peanut butter – but I was thinking that I really wanted to try something new. So I searched high and low and pinned a million recipes that sounded worthy. I just wasn’t in love with any of them though. So the search continued until I found one that really hit home for me: Salted Caramel Chocolate Cake.

Why this one? Well, lately I’ve been addicted to salted caramel. So really I just took my personal needs and decided that someone else’s birthday cake was going to be all about me. But also the other person because of the whole chocolate cake thing. Oddly enough I’m more of a vanilla cake person myself. So anyway, this recipe spoke to me. Except she used store bought salted caramel. Which didn’t speak to me. Nor did the recipe for caramel speak to me. So the search resumed! I was not about to be diverted just because of the sauce. Instead, it led me to Sally’s Baking Addiction – a blog I use over and over again. I picked this one because it seemed super easy and when you are making a cake, sometimes you just want the simplest way to get it done.

So I came home from work ready to make magic happen. I piled up my ingredients. Pulled out my cool new camera. Turned the oven on. It was going down.

Side note before I go into what you need and how to do it: I did pull out the butter, eggs, and sour cream during my lunch break so that these items would be room temperature by the time I got home to make the cake. The recipe did call for this so I wanted to be ready.

What you need for the cake:

2 cups sugar
1 cup brown sugar, packed (I used light brown sugar here)
2 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
1 ½ cups unsweetened cocoa powder
3 teaspoons baking soda
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
3 large eggs and 2 large egg yolks
1½ cups full fat sour cream
1/3 cup whole milk
¾ cup vegetable oil
2 tablespoons vanilla extract
1 ½ cups hot water

What you need for the salted caramel chocolate frosting:

2 cups unsalted butter – very soft
4 ½ cups confectioners’ sugar
¾ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons heavy cream
2 tablespoons salted caramel sauce

What you need for the salted caramel:

1 cup granulated sugar
6 tablespoons salted butter, cut into 6 pieces
½ cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon salt

What to do:

  1. Preheat to 350 degrees. Spray three 9-inch round cake pans generously with nonstick spray or grease with additional butter.
  2. In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment (or in a bowl with a handheld mixer) combine both sugars, flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt. Mix on low until you’ve combined this dry goodness.
  3. In a separate bowl, combine the eggs, egg yolks, sour cream, milk, oil, and vanilla. It’ll look like a hot mess. At least it did to me.
  4. Pour the mixture into the dry ingredients and beat on low until combined. Pour the hot water slowly into the mix (it’ll slosh around a lot) until combined. The batter will seem really thin, but it’s yummy!
  5. Divide the batter into the three pans as evenly as possible. Bake in the oven for about 30 minutes. While the cake is doing its thing you’ll want to start on either the salted caramel or the frosting. I decided to work on the salted caramel since I also needed it to cool in a timely manner.
    —-Salted Caramel—–
  6. Grab a medium saucepan and put it on the stovetop with medium heat. Pour the sugar into the pan and constantly stir with a wooden spoon or a heat resistant spatula. (I used my GIR spatula).
  7. Sugar will begin to form clumps and eventually melt into a thick brown liquid. It will be very hot. I don’t recommend testing with your finger.
  8. Once the sugar is completely melted, add the butter. It will rapidly bubble so just continue to stir until melted.
  9. Very slowly add the heavy cream – it will sputter – so continue to stir and ideally have an apron on.
  10. Allow to boil for about a minute. Then remove from heat and stir in the salt. I transferred it into some mason jars so it could cool completely. I stuck the jars in the freezer for a few minutes to speed up the cooling process. You could even make the caramel the day before if needed.
  11. Wash off your stand mixer, if used for the cake, and get the paddle attachment ready. Add the butter and cream on medium-speed until smooth. Add in the powdered sugar and cocoa into the mixing bowl. Turn to the lowest speed to mix into the butter. (The ingredients will fly everywhere if faster)
  12. Increase the speed to medium and add in the vanilla, salt, cream, and salted caramel.
  13. Taste!!! If it’s not quite right, add what you think it might be missing.
  14. Assemble the cake! Make sure the cake is nice and cool. If your layers aren’t even, trim the tops of the cake with a serrated knife. Move the first layer to a cake stand or wherever you’ll be keeping your cake. Spread a thin layer of frosting on top, then half a cup of caramel (or however much you want.) Repeat with the next layer.
  15. Top with the final layer of cake and put a thin layer of frosting. Add frosting to the sides of the cake – also a thin layer…basically your “crumb coat” and place in the refrigerator. I only left mine in there for about 15 minutes, but the recipe calls for an hour. I have no patience so…
  16. Once removed from the fridge, ice the cake with as much icing as your heart desires.
  17. Once frosted, pour the caramel on the top of the cake. Spread as desired. Mine made a nice little drip down the sides.
  18. Eat! It’s so good..


RNR Philly

Ahh, kind of fall. It’s a time where races open up to all kinds of possibilities for me because I become convinced that it’s actually cooler. Now that I’ve moved further north than Florida, I just assumed that cooler weather existed everywhere. It doesn’t. Granted, it’s definitely cooler than Florida, but not cool. And the humidity… does it not go somewhere? This weekend it didn’t and I was even further north, in Philly.

I had a free half marathon submission for the RNR series since last year’s Savannah half was so terrible. I decided to use it to run Philadelphia since the course looked appealing and I needed to cross another state off my list. Plus, it is close to my dad’s birthday and he’s into history, but had yet to see the Liberty Bell. Or so I thought. He explained while we were in line that he apparently had seen it as a child. But that basically meant he hadn’t. So onward an upward, we saw it! I will admit, I did read a lot more of the informational pieces than I did the first time I saw the Liberty Bell, so it was really a win on all sides.

On Friday my boyfriend and I took off to see the City of Brotherly Love and basically pick up my packets prior to the massive crowd. We arrived early in the day so we went to the hotel – Home2Suites – and figured we could at least drop our bags off and roam around. The staff at the hotel were so pleasant. I asked if we could simply drop our bags off and come back later, but instead they upgraded our room since one was available. This was terrific since I was already starting to get sleepy from the lack of sleep the night before, plus my allergies were really taking a toll. My starving self was so happy that a BurgerFi was attached to the hotel, that I didn’t even bother looking for somewhere else to eat that was more local. I figure since there isn’t a BurgerFi in Charlotte, I could just go for something I already know that I love. The bajillion calories was also alluring. I was starving, don’t judge me.

Packet pickup went smoothly, but the merch area was a cluster. Only one of the cash registers was functional so it took forever to check out. Regardless, I had my 5K and half marathon bibs and was ready to go! So then we walked to the LOVE statue, because: Philly. Back to the hotel for a nap! It was amazing. Then more roaming. Philly is really pretty. I like all the green space that has been allocated. Plus there was this mini golf that had mini replicas of landmarks. Adorable! My parents arrived shortly after and we stumbled upon a pub – I had Shepard’s Pie but the lighting was so dim I didn’t even attempt to take a picture. We also went to an awesome gelato place! Again, no pictures. I am a slacker.

The 5k went well. The weather was sunny, but breezy. I felt great running it. The scenery was nice and you are surrounded by the museum and some other great Philly landmarks. We then walked the entire city (or so it felt) and killed my feet for the next day. We also went to the National Constitution Center on what happened to be Constitution Day! They passed out cake, so I was sold. I’d also received a really cool swag bag from the team at Visit Philly and they included two free passes for us to attend. I was a little taken aback that they only offered free entry to active duty military and not retirees. Either way, we had fun. The museum is interactive. My favorite part is in Signer’s Hall. They have life size bronze statues of the men that signed the Constitution. We decided to pose with them. I had a blast. Plus I became President. It’s the little things.

Sunday was so humid. I was really looking forward to some overcast breezy weather. Only half of that happened. Overcast, yes. Breezy, no. Because of all of the walking we had done the day before, I was hit hard by the struggle bus. The first three miles I was simply trying to convince myself that I could keep going. My mantra was: knees up, knees up. Just blah. The first four miles put you right back at the start though which is great if you have people there to support you. Seeing my parents and my boyfriend during the race was really nice, especially since I was having such a hard time getting going. Around mile five or six I finally started to get in the groove (my time reflects this to be a fact, too) and I felt better about things. The scenery was beautiful. Seeing some of the rock walls along the road were cool because I’ve generally only seen them outside of cities.

I’d recommend this run to others. I thought it was a nice way to see Philadelphia. It’s one of the things I love most about running half marathons. You get to see the city from the ground in a different way than trying to guess where to go.