A Squared

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Spiced Pumpkin Butterscotch Blondies

Looking for an easy homemade treat to bake and take to a fall gathering? Look no further than these spiced pumpkin butterscotch blondies!

Being a new-ish mom (can I still say "new" after 6 months? Let me know your thoughts), I don't get a ton of opportunities to cook or bake for fun right now. It's usually a scramble to get something semi-homemade on the table for dinner every night, so anything beyond that can feel a bit overwhelming. And when it happens, like a huge success! But I missed baking just for the fun of baking, so when Alex told me he'd volunteered to bring dessert to a recent work event I jumped at the chance to flex my creative muscles in the kitchen again. And this recipe is the perfect marriage of low maintenance and big flavor.

You know I love a blondie (see here and here and here). They're rich and buttery and can adapt to tons of different flavor combinations. Plus, it's a pretty simple base recipe that entails mixing, baking in one big pan and slicing. Nothing complicated here. Since it's October Alex thought a pumpkin blondie would be appropriate and since I'm not one to turn down pumpkin-flavored anything, I got to work: a little pumpkin purée and pumpkin pie spice in the blondie batter tastes and smells just like fall when these blondies bake up. I folded in butterscotch chips for some added sweetness and texture plus that super sweet caramel-like flavor melds nicely into that pumpkin batter. The result is a moist chewy bar that just tastes like fall!


  • 1 cup unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 cups light brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup canned pumpkin purée (not pie filling)
  • 2 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp. real vanilla extract
  • 1 cup butterscotch chips
  • Optional: 1/2 cup chopped toasted pecans

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Butter and flour (or use cooking spray made for baking-- it has flour in it) a 9 in. x 13 in. baking dish.

Place butter in a large glass mixing bowl and microwave on medium low until completely melted. Add brown sugar and pumpkin to the melted butter while still warm and stir well until smooth and fully combined; it should have a very thick almost caramel-like consistency. Allow mixture to cool to room temperature.

In a separate medium mixing bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, salt, and pumpkin pie spice.

Once the brown sugar mixture has cooled, beat in the eggs and vanilla until fully incorporate. Add the flour mixture in gradually (I find that adding it in 3 or 4 parts works well), mixing until combined before adding more of the dry ingredients. A very smooth almost dough-like batter will be formed. Gently fold in the butterscotch chips and pecans, if desired.

Spoon the batter to the prepared baking dish and use a rubber spatula to spread it out evenly. Bake until the blondies are golden and just brown around the edges, about 20-25 minutes. You'll want to insert a toothpick to test the center.

Remove from the oven and let the blondies cool slightly. Carefully invert onto a metal rack (they are so buttery that they should just fall out of the pan) and allow to cool completely. Slice into squares and serve.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Say it with Krusteaz: Cranberry Pumpkin Streusel Muffins & a GIVEAWAY

One of the things I love most about fall (besides crunchy leaves, cool weather, comfy sweaters, and pumpkin spice everything) is that this is really the season of baking. Fall ushers in cooler temps perfect for weekend afternoons inside baking delicious treats for the holidays and filling the kitchen with the smells of cinnamon, apple, and pumpkin at the same time. But baking for me is also about family and some of my favorite memories from growing up are from baking birthday cakes with my mom, holiday pies with fancy lattice crusts with my aunt, and frosting dozens and dozens of Christmas cookies with my siblings. I hope that baking with me will be one of Hannah's fondest childhood memories too... once she's old enough to "help," that is!

Krusteaz knows that baking isn't just about food, but it's also about making memories which is why they've launched their #SayItWithKrusteaz campaign. Krusteaz wanted to know how their customers demonstrate love through baking, so I decided to whip up some tasty pumpkin muffins with family in mind!

My baking buddy!

My parents are in town for the weekend and are babysitting Hannah while my husband and I are at work and attending a wedding this weekend. So I wanted to make sure there was something delicious and homemade for them to snack on while they're at our house.

I've also got two sisters in college and wanted to send them a little care package because what's more fun than receiving mail at college? Receiving mail with freshly baked muffins in it, that's what!
Pro tip: Place a piece of bread in the airtight storage container with your baked goods. The bread will get stale and your baked treats will stay moist!

I don't have a lot of time to bake from scratch these days, so Krusteaz mixes provide a perfect base for any baking I'm doing this fall. I took their pumpkin spice muffin mix and stirred in dried cranberries, which adds a great tangy sweet touch and chewy texture to the muffins. I also mixed up a quick homemade streusel topping that caramelizes and gets a little crunchy in the oven.

These muffins taste like fall-- spicy and sweet with a hint of pumpkin flavor. They're so easy to make and the perfect baked good for letting someone know you care... even if it's just by serving them to your family for breakfast!

Want to try baking these muffins yourself? You're in luck because I am giving away an amazing package of Krusteaz goodies! One lucky (randomly selected) reader will receive the following:
  • Two boxes of the following mixes: Buttermilk Pancake Mix, Belgian Waffle Mix, Pumpkin Spice Pancake Mix, Pumpkin Spice Muffin Mix and Cranberry Orange Muffin Mix
  • 1 Krusteaz branded tote bag
  • 1 Krusteaz oven mitt
  • 1 Krusteaz selfie stick 

Just use the Rafflecopter widget below to enter!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

  • 1 box Krusteaz Pumpkin Spice Muffin mix
  • 2/3 cup water
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 Tbs. all purpose flour
  • 1-1/2 Tbs. old fashioned oats
  • 1/4 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
  • 3 Tbs. cold butter

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Lightly grease or line muffin pan with paper baking cups.

Stir together water, oil, egg and muffin mix until moistened. Fold in the cranberries until evenly distributed. Fill muffin cups 2/3 full.

In a small bowl, mix together the sugar, flour, oats, and pumpkin pie spice. Cut in the cold butter until the mixture is crumbly. Sprinkle the mixture evenly over the tops of the batter-filled muffin cups.
Bake as directed (14-16 minutes for regular size muffins) or until golden brown. Cool 5 minutes; gently loosen and remove from pan. Store cooled muffins in tightly covered container.

Editor's Note: Complimentary Krusteaz products were provided in order to facilitate this post. All opinions, as always, are my own.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Foodie Finds: Holiday Party Season

One of my favorite aspects of food blogging is sampling great new products and then getting to share them with you. With Eating Season-- that entire stretch of time between Halloween (or maybe even Labor Day?) and New Year's Eve-- upon us, a ton of tasty products have crossed my path lately. And just in time to share with you as you prepare to host or attend events over the next several week! Here's a roundup of my current favorites and a few ideas about how to use them too:

Hope Hummus - Hummus has been a staple in my fridge for many years now. It's a filling healthy snack and comes in tons of different flavors. I recently tried Hope brand hummus though and their Sriracha organic hummus may be my new favorite. This hummus is organic, dairy free, and vegan approved and is seriously some of the creamiest and most flavorful hummus I have ever eaten. The sriracha flavor packs a ton of that signature tangy heat. I also love the Spicy Avocado hummus which is reminiscent of a super creamy and spicy guacamole. And if you find their elusive Dark Chocolate Spread let me know where... I am dying to try it!
Use it... as an easy, healthy, and tasty addition to your game day spread! Sunday entertaining is tough, but you don't have to go crazy when you're hosting a Sunday football watch party. Just open up some Hope hummus, serve with pita chips and pretzels, and devour!

CHEVOO  - Any goat cheese lovers out there? [Raises hand] This product is for you! CHEVOO is the marriage of chevre (goat cheese) and extra virgin olive oil (EVOO), hence the name. As if those two ingredients weren't good enough already (on their own or together), unique and bold flavor combinations like smoked sea salt & rosemary or California dill pollen & garlic have been added to this mixture for what is by far one of the tastiest and most unique food products I have tried in quite some time. Marinated goat cheese may be out of the ordinary here in the US, but CHEVOO's creators are Aussie transplants who brought this tradition to their current home in northern California wine country, an area not only known for its wine, but also for its locally produced goat cheese.
Use it... to create a delicious and flavorful side dish to bring to any holiday season potluck or dinner party. I added the Aleppo-Urfa Chili & Lemon variety to cooked orzo along with fresh spinach, arugula, roasted red peppers, and pine nuts for an easy to make and transport side dish that's sure to please a crowd.

Ransom Gewürztraminer - Ransom is not your typical winery. Located in Oregon, Ransom produces small batch wines and also functions as a distillery, creating artisan spirits from the same local grapes. The Sunnyside
Gewürztraminer is dry and described as "opening with aromas of wild rose and apricot, the palate is a deft balance of terroir-driven minerality and crisp, mouthwatering acidity, with tantalizing flavors of white strawberry and Turkish delight. The finish is long, lithe, and scented of apple blossoms."
Use it... for serving at the Thanksgiving or Christmas Eve table. This wine pairs really nicely with rich dishes (like you're probably serving alongside that turkey) and also with shellfish, making it a great option for a Christmas Eve Feast of Seven Fishes dinner too. 

Face Rock Creamery Premium Aged Cheddar - More cheese, please! Like Ransom wine, this is another artisan food product brought to you by the great state of Oregon. Face Rock is only a few years old, but as already received accolades for their high quality cheeses (particularly cheddar) produced the old fashioned way-- without artificial or unnecessary ingredients and using milk from grass-fed cows. And you can taste that kind of quality and purity in their rich flavorful cheeses. I especially loved the sharp flavor of their aged cheddar!
Use it... as the start of an amazing fall charcuterie plate. Add a few more cheeses (maybe a blue and something soft), some hearty meats, and some festive fall accompaniments like sliced apples, toasted pumpkin seeds, dried cranberries, and fig jam for a no-cook and holiday party-ready appetizer.

Skinny & Co. Coconut Oil Travel Kit - Coconut oil is a trend that is just not going away-- and for good reason. From cooking to oil pulling to moisturizing, it has a ton of uses and health benefits. Skinny & Co. is a unique producer of coconut oil products due in part to their production method: their patented Nutralock System™ crafts coconut oil at below 100 degrees F and they source it solely from their own factory, guaranteeing high quality production and ingredients in every batch. From there they have created tons of specialty coconut oil products. One of my favorites is their sugar scrub made of coconut sugar, coconut oil, and vanilla. It exfoliates and moisturizes at the same time (a huge plus for me postpartum, as the keratosis pilaris on my arms came back x1,000)-- and it smells amazing too!
Use it... as a hostess gift. This beautifully packaged set of coconut oil products is such a thoughtful gift for any holiday party hostess-- especially one that has a soft spot for naturally nourishing ingredients. This gift set is the perfect way for a hardworking hostess to pamper herself after a successful holiday party!

Backpack Wine - Guys, this is a fun one: Wine. In a can. It just sounds like it's made for camping/cookouts/kayaking/tailgating, right? Backpack wine was created here in Chicago (hooray for drinking local!) and was inspired by those gorgeous warm spring and summer days we have here after a long hard winter. What better way to enjoy that weather than with a crisp wine that doesn't require a corkscrew, cups, or the threat of broken bottles? And Backpack was born. It's available in two fun varieties: Cheeky Rose and Snappy White, both sold in 4-packs-- perfect for bringing along to your next indoor or outdoor party!
Use it... as a beer alternative at your next tailgate. Fall is prime tailgating season and what's more fun than grilling and drinking with friends and fellow fans in the crisp air? Beer is usually the beverage of choice at these events, but for those who prefer wine (like me) Backpack Wine is a great option. Put them in the cooler along with your favorite beer and forget about the dangers of a broken glass bottle or the mess of open keg cups. 

Editor's Note: Complimentary products were provided in order to facilitate this post. All opinions expressed herein are my own. Thanks for supporting the brands that support A Squared!

Friday, October 7, 2016

Traveling While Pumping: Planning & Tips

I'm back today with a follow up to Tuesday's post about what to pack when you're a pumping mom on the road. I hope you found my packing list helpful! As I mentioned then, if you're not into reading about breast pumps and nursing then feel free to bypass this week's posts. I will be back to posting about food again next week.

Business travel (specifically the overnighters) has been one of the most difficult parts of returning to work post-baby. It's hard enough to spend that much time away from a new baby, but if you're still a nursing mom there is an additional layer of stress. With that in mind, today I want to focus on the logistics of traveling while pumping. I know firsthand how stressful it can be, but have found that much of the stress of this situation lies in the unknown. I have never had to use a breast pump before, let alone figure out how to travel with one so I was feeling an especially high level of anxiety on my first trip. So here are some tips that I picked up from my own experience and from other moms to make your travel just a little less stressful:

Before Your Trip:

Call the hotel - As a nursing mom, the hotel should be able to provide you with a mini fridge in your room (if there isn't already one there) or if nothing else, a refrigerator elsewhere to store your milk. Be sure to call them ahead of time and/or include a special request in your online reservation for a fridge in your room. I have stayed in 3 different hotels since having Hannah and while they all say they can't guarantee it, all were able to provide me with a refrigerator for my room when I checked in, no questions asked.
Do your homework - Many airports provide special areas or rooms for nursing moms. They are few and far between, but you may luck out and find one near your gate or in your terminal, at least. Many airports will list these amenities on their websites and the website Moms Pump Here can be a good guide for locating mother's rooms, though it relies on user feedback so it isn't always super up to date. It listed a mother's room at Boston Logan Airport, for example, but after a very rude phone call with someone at Logan's information desk while I was there I found out that no such room existed. On the other hand, I did have a great experience in the Mamava nursing pod at Austin Bergstrom. It was SO nice to be able to pump comfortably and in private.
Freeze your ice packs - Make sure your ice packs are frozen or as close to it when you pack them in your thermal bag and head out the door to the airport. While you probably won't be bringing any milk with you at this point, you'll want frozen ice packs to cool whatever you pump between the time you leave home and arrive at your final destination. They're technically liquid, so don't forget to let TSA know about them -- and that you are carrying them on because you're a nursing mom!
Charge your pump - Don't forgot to pack your charger, but also do yourself a favor and pack your pump fully juiced so you don't have to scramble for an outlet when you're looking for a place in the airport (or on the plane) to pump.
Plan your travel ensemble well - When deciding what to wear on your trip, make sure you account for the fact that you may be pumping in a public or semi-public location. A dress may pose a big challenge for pumping discreetly or comfortably. I prefer the combo of nursing bra, nursing tank, and a loose blouse or sweater or one that buttons/zips. This combination is the easiest to maneuver under a nursing cover when you're putting on your pumping bra and attempting not to flash the whole world.
Give yourself plenty of time - Traffic and TSA lines can be unpredictable, so plan in some buffer time to ensure you're not running through the airport to catch your flight if you also need to pump beforehand. I try to make sure I have a good 90 minutes at the airport and that would include time for checking in, security, buying food and drinks, pumping, using the restroom, and boarding.
Pump or feed baby as close to leaving your home as possible - As I mentioned above, there are several variables that could potentially make you late for your flight. Pumping or nursing as close to your departure from home as possible buys you a little more time.

At the Airport: 
Let TSA know you're traveling with a breast pump - Sometimes they will question the extra bag, but you're allowed to carry on an extra personal item if it's your pump and equipment. You'll also need to let then know that you have ice packs (since they are filled with liquid) and possibly breast milk (if you pumped beforehand) as well.
Scope out the terminal - Locate a place to pump. I would discourage pumping in the bathroom, but totally understand wanting to pump discreetly... I won't judge other moms who pump or nurse publicly, but I'm uncomfortable doing so myself. If you did your homework before and couldn't find a mother's room conveniently located near your gate then don't go running to use it. Instead, find a gate that isn't currently in use or that has a long time until the next flight boards. Those gates are usually empty or close to it, so you can typically find a seat away from the crowds (maybe even facing the windows instead of the terminal), so that you can pump peacefully. Even on busy Monday mornings and Thursday evenings I have been able to find quieter places to pump.
If you have to pump on the plane... Thankfully, I haven't found myself in this position. Yet. If you end up having to pump in flight, I might recommend using your manual pump in this instance. Airplanes are not known for being roomy, which makes putting on your pumping bra and getting yourself set up to pump really difficult. Another option if you're a frequent traveler and have early boarding privileges is to pump while everyone else is boarding. Boarding takes a long time and if you can sit down and get yourself set up before you're seatbelted in and elbowing your neighbor that's a nice option too. 

At the Hotel: 

Reiterate your fridge request at check-in - It's probably not in your room yet, but in my experience they'll get it delivered to you within about 30 minutes of checking in.
Fridge 411 - I have been in 3 different hotels since giving birth to Hannah and have had 3 different mini-fridge scenarios:
  • The first one had one of those tiny freezer compartments that wouldn't accomodate my storage bags, but at least fit my skinny ice packs perfectly. They were totally frozen when I packed everything up when it was time to check out.
  • The second was a more standard fridge (sans freezer) situation so I wasn't able to freeze the ice packs or milk before I left. I was traveling with Hannah that time though, so I was only leaving with a couple of pumped bottles and not several bags of milk. In that situation, I recommend getting a cup of ice and a cap from a restaurant. Nestle it into your thermal bag and you've got a makeshift ice pack. Just don't forget to refresh it when it melts and you're traveling with a full cup of water instead!
  • The third refrigerator I had was also a standard fridge, but I was able to hack it and make it work for me by turning it up as cold as it would possibly go it actually ended up freezing anything that was placed toward the back. So, the ice packs and filled storage bags went right in the back of the fridge, while the bottles that I had not yet transferred stayed up front. It was definitely the most ideal of all 3 scenarios, so give that temperature control hack a try!
Consolidate - Some moms frown upon combining milk from different pumping sessions, but I think travel is an exception. If your storage bags hold a maximum of 6 oz., then I don't think it makes sense to fill them with anything less. So if you pump 4 oz. In your first session and then 3 in the next, I would pour the first 4 into the bag along with 2 more from the second session to get in the maximum 6 oz., label it with the date, and repeat. It's way more efficient (and less wasteful) to travel with as few of those filled bags as possible.
Clean your pump parts - Remember I told you to pack those wipes, dish soap, and the microwave sterilization bag? All of those are excellent options for cleaning your pump parts while away from home. I would save the wipes for when you're at the airport or elsewhere without easy access to a sink and stick with the hot water and dish soap method for cleaning in your hotel room. The sterilization bag is super handy if you've got a microwave in your room (just measure the water in one of your spare storage bottles). Another way to use it if you don't have a microwave is by running water through the coffee maker in your room, pouring it into the bag with your pump parts, and letting it sit for a few minutes before emptying. If it is the kind of coffee maker that has a pot (and not one that brews pods), I would clean it with that dish soap first... just to be safe.
Request a Late Checkout - When I was staying in Austin my flight home wasn't until 6 PM, but checkout was at 11 AM... that's a lot of hours with pumped milk and no fridge. Thankfully, I was able to extend my checkout by a couple of hours and maximize more of my time in possession of that mini-fridge!

Going Home:
Pack wisely - When it comes time to pack up your bagged milk, make sure you think about packing carefully but without wasted space. If your milk is frozen in bags, make sure they are frozen flat and then you can stack them sideways (like in the photo above). If they aren't frozen I recommend packing them flat on top of one another to best avoid spillage or broken bags. I also pack those frozen ice packs under, on top of, and/or around the bagged milk depending on how many I am packing and how much room is left. Pack the milk snugly inside a handled cooler bag and carry that bag separately from the rest of your luggage to make sure it doesn't get bumped around too much.
Give yourself extra time at security - One big thing to note about traveling with breast milk is that you are allowed to carry more than the maximum 3.4 oz. on board with you. When you are going through security notify the TSA officer that you're traveling with breast milk. They will have you put the milk on the conveyor belt with the rest of your luggage and afterward, they'll take the milk aside for additional x-rays. They will take the bottles or bags of milk and run them under an x-ray machine to make sure there's nothing sketchy inside. I've had to wait a while for this extra step to happen, so this is why you need to account for some extra time.
Every TSA experience is different - In NYC, I experienced the most thorough screening of my milk bottles, bags, and the ice packs. It took several minutes to get security clearance there. And then when I was leaving Austin and had mostly frozen bags of milk (the only time I have traveled flown with frozen milk), the TSA agent x-rayed them and then told me "as long as it's frozen, it's good!" I'm pretty sure that is not the case per these TSA guidelines.
Ask the TSA agent to change his/her gloves - They've been wearing them and touching other people's luggage and personal items for likely their entire shift... clean gloves are a good call before handling your baby's food. Thanks to Erin for that tip!

Once you are through security, follow the tips at the top of the post regarding pumping at the airport before your flight. And most importantly, enjoy your few hours of alone time on your flight before you get home and enjoy being a mommy again!

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