California Walnut’s Virtual Dinner Party {& Giveaway}

A few weeks ago I was contacted by California Walnuts, a group I connected with a few years ago when I was more of a healthy living/food blogger.  I have now kind of stepped away from the food blogging, but when they offered me the opportunity to join a virtual dinner party and make a dish with their walnuts from one of 4 amazing chefs, I jumped at the opportunity.


Immediately when I was making my decision on which chef to choose, Aida Mollenkamp stood out to me.  She had a number of recipes that were already gluten free and dairy free friendly, and when I saw the Kale, Apple, Pancetta, and Walnut Salad with Creamy Walnut Dressing I knew I had to make it for the Virtual Dinner Party.

For the most part I followed the recipe above, but I made a few substitutions based on what I had in the house, and what I could find at the local grocery store: (1) I couldn’t find endvies, so I subbed in sunflower sprouts, (2) I didn’t have white wine vinegar, so I subbed in rice vinegar, (3) I couldn’t find pancetta, so I used bacon.  I do wish I could’ve tried it with the endives, since I’ve never had them, but sometimes you have to make do and adjust.


The recipe came together so quickly — the longest portion was the frying of the bacon (which took all of five minutes), and it was a delicious, fairly healthy meal that filled me up.  The only requirement is that you have a food processor for the salad dressing, but if you don’t mind it a little chunky, and more of a ‘spread’ I think a blender might work in a pinch.  And speaking of the creamy walnut dressing, I can’t wait to use on other salads, and possibly even as a dressing for meats!  Soooo good!


Aida Mollenkamp and California Walnuts for the win, that’s for sure!

I am so happy I had the opportunity to join the virtual dinner party — check out some of the other food bloggers who joined Aida’s Virtual Dinner Party here.  It felt great to get back in the kitchen and do some cooking again!  Thanks California Walnuts for this fantastic opportunity!

As a part of the Virtual Dinner Party, and on behalf of California Walnuts, I was also sent TWO copies of Aida Mollenkamp’s recipe book: Keys to the Kitchen.  What does that mean?  That I have ONE copy to giveaway to one of you!

Although I was disappointed the recipe I made wasn’t in the cookbook, I still loved Keys to the Kitchen at first glance.


Its got a great set of recipes, a number of which I’m really excited to make, but one of its greatest aspects I think is the informational and instructional information the first two chapters have.  And it has photos, which is always a bonus in my book.


It gives you great instructions on mastering grocery stores, knife skills, and etc, before diving into the delicious looking recipes.  I mean, if the Kale, Apple, Pancetta and Walnut salad I made says anything about what’s in her cookbook, it should be pretty fabulous.

The Giveaway

One lucky winner will receive a copy of Aida Mollenkamp’s Keys to the Kitchen.  The giveaway will be open through Friday, March 8 at noon PST, and I will announce the winner later that afternoon, and get the cookbook sent out asap.

How to enter?

You must do one of the following to enter:

(1) Take a look at Aida Mollenkamps’s recipes used for the Virtual Dinner Party and leave a comment on which recipe (from the Winter or Spring menus) you’d like to try.


(2) Leave a comment telling me about your favorite way to eat walnuts (in a recipe, raw, candied…etc).

For an extra entry:

(3) Tweet about the giveaway, and leave a comment back here saying that you did so.  example tweet: “I just entered to win an @aidamollenkamp cookbook from @phdstrides virtual dinner party giveaway″

*California Walnuts provided me with the walnuts for this recipe and the cookbook for the giveaway.  However, all opinions are my own.

Starting Over

So I sort of fell off the blogging bandwagon for the past week.  I’m not going to lie, I haven’t been in the best of places.  I don’t want this to be a ‘poor me’ or a ‘complaint’ post, but I’ve been trying to put on a happy face for about three months, and its getting kind of tiring.   I figure, its time to clear the air.

In early May I went back to Chicago to see Mr. K.  We had a great start to the weekend, but I was super stressed about things in California, and was torn between wanting to be in Chicago and wanting/needing to be in California for school and my new life there.  We had had some rocky times throughout our entire relationship, and they were weighing down on me – something I didn’t realize until I suddenly found myself ending the relationship.  The next week or so was a whirlwind, I don’t really know what happened, but then I found myself feeling ‘freed’ of this feeling that I had to be 100% in two places cross country at once.

I knew then, that the breakup was a good thing.  But what I didn’t realize was how much of my life had been invested in our relationship and the toll it would take on me not having the person who had become my best friend there for me all the time.  As such, the past few months have taken a toll, and though I’ve tried to be okay and put on a happy face, this past week everything kind of caught up to me.  I’ve never felt so alone in my life.

I’m working on it, by reaching out to my cohort members and the friends I’ve made here, by trying to get involved in other activities in California, but its hard.  Its hard starting over.  And even though I moved here almost a year ago, it feels like I just moved here last week when I got back from my Midwest vacation. I’m trying to stay positive, and one of the things I have been good about is working out this past week (which is a good things – triathlon in 19 days!), but it hasn’t been easy: sometimes I just don’t want to get out of bed.

Though I’ve been down in the dumps, I have been trying to not let it fully consume me…I’ve been cooking a lot, and trying to hang out with my friends..  Including Friday night’s meal: Apple Risotto + Salad and the boardwalk concert feature Average White Band.

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What do you do when you’re down in the dumps to get back on track?

Time to Color!

I was looking over a number of my food photos recently, and realized I have a lot of white and clear dishes…and my kitchen table is white, and my windowsill is white…

Case in point: clear dish, white windowsill.


So I decided I needed some change in the way of color, and I brought just that to my life by doing (minimal) damage at World Market and Ross Dress for Less on Tuesday. 

I snagged two sets of two placemats for $3.96 a pair (instead of $3.99 each) and a pack of aqua blue napkins to match both sets of placemats for $9.99.  Although the napkins weren’t on sale, I justified it by noting that they matched both placemat sets.

I decided to use one of my placemats and napkins to display today’s lunch: Crock-pot Red Lentils and Rice and a spinach and goat cheese salad.


Don’t you love the paisley?!  It makes the windowsill much prettier.

I also got a pair of this fun new bowl for $1.49 each (down from $3.99 price at Ross’).

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Isn’t it adorable?  (Tootin’ my own horn on this find…)

The Crock-pot Red Lentils & Rice was just as good reheated from the freezer, and paired nicely with my spinach & goat cheese salad.


Topped with Annie’s Light Raspberry Vinaigrette.  This is fast becoming one of my favorite simple salads.  I love shredded goat cheese on salads.  It’s a new obsession.  I can go through 1-2 ounces of goat (or sheep) cheese a day.  No joke.

Anyways, I’m going to keep admiring my fun new decorations.


Have you tried goat cheese or sheep cheese yet?  Have you tried just the creamy goat cheese or the aged, semi-hard/hard cheese too?  If you haven’t tried goat cheese yet, do.  And though I love the creamy goat cheese, which is a great alternative to cream cheese, and also pairs well with cranberries, apples & crackers (trust me – and go try it.  now.), I have recently found a special place in my heart for the aged goat and sheep cheeses such as manchego.  I love topping salads, pastas and crackers with shavings of the cheese, as well as cutting off a cube for an afternoon snack boost.  Sooo good.

Happy Windsday!