Blueberry Banana Oatmeal Protein Pancakes {dairy free + gluten free}

Hi friends!

Things have been quiet over here this week… because my real life has been hectic!

The “canals” in The Venetian in Vegas, where I had dinner one night this week

The past week has been a whirlwind, between getting through the busiest time of the year for my publicist job, celebrating a friend’s birthday locally in San Diego (with a private Pilates class & smoothie hangout!), then packing, getting organized, and setting off to Las Vegas for work. Last night I flew from Vegas to New Jersey, where we are in the midst of wedding busyness leading up to my brother’s wedding this weekend. So, as you can imagine, there has been a lot happening in my world.

BUT! Today I’m back to share one of my favorite recipes. It’s a goodie!

Pretty much everyone that knows me well knows about my love for pancakes. They’re my favorite fancy breakfast, hands down.

I’ve shared some very yummy pancake recipes on the blog before, but today’s recipe takes the [pan]cake.

See what I did there?

I actually shared a variation of these pancakes on the blog a couple years ago, but since then, my batter recipe has evolved a bit. Over the last few years, I’ve made these pancakes so many times, I can make them with my eyes closed. Sometimes I change them up a bit, subbing in chocolate chips for blueberries or topping them with strawberries, but the basic batter combination always remains the same:

Oats. Vanilla protein powder. Banana. Almond milk. A pinch of salt, cinnamon, stevia, vanilla extract and baking powder. And that’s all there is to it!

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Chocolate Pistachio Energy Bites [gluten free]

I’m such a sucker for any kind of place where high-quality food is the focus. Farmers’ markets. Gourmet food shops. Italian markets. Bakeries. I love it all. It’s no secret that I love experimenting in the kitchen, and finding new foods and ingredients gives me inspiration to try new recipes… plus I just love eating food, obviously.

A few weeks ago, I was walking to a Starbucks to work for awhile before meeting a friend for dinner, when I passed by a spice shop. I’ve seen it before when it was closed for the day, but this time it was open.

Naturally, I walked in the shop and moseyed around smelling and tasting things. I wound up leaving with some goodies – all that were new to me, with the exception of local cinnamon infused honey (I pretty much buy that whenever I see it!).

For San Diego area locals, the shop is called Savory Spice in Encinitas, and it’s super fun to pop into if you’re a spice nut like I am!

One new-to-me thing that I bought was pistachio extract. I’m a fan of pistachios, but for some reason they’re a forgotten nut to me sometimes. I’m constantly all about peanut butter, almonds + almond butter, cashews + cashew butter… but pistachios seem to fall by the wayside. Then I make something with them and am reminded that I dig em.

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Weekend Getaway to Idyllwild: Where to Stay, Play & Explore

Last weekend, my husband and I decided to seize the holiday weekend and take a quick road trip together. We both have been super busy and have travel coming up, so we welcomed the thought of getting to spend time together in a relaxing setting.

Having done so many road trips around California, I started looking for a place we’d never been to before. I wound up finding a place we had never even heard of called Idyllwild. Located a few hours from busy San Diego life, Idyllwild is a little town nestled in the mountains with a population of under 4,000 people. It sounded like the perfect getaway spot!

Where to Stay.

After doing some research, I booked us a suite at The Grand Idyllwild Lodge. Described as the boutique luxury lodge, the hotel has a modern but woodsy kind of feel to it. It was a a bit pricier than I usually try to find in hotels, but we had a very positive experience there. It’s owned by a husband & wife team that live on the premises, and you can tell that they put a lot of care and thought into the lodge.

Idyllwild is the kind of place where most of the businesses are mom-and-pop type of places, which I love. We arrived at the hotel in the afternoon and got settled into our beautiful room – dubbed Suite Ambiance.

We brought a bottle of champagne with us, which we popped immediately. I also brought some crackers and snacks to nosh on, and we turned on the electric fireplace, enjoyed our bubbly and watched part of a movie. It was one sweet Friday happy hour!

I adored our bathroom at The Grand Idyllwild Lodge, which had a Japanese style soaking tub and dual rain head spa shower. The bathrooms in my house are older, so I get serious bathroom envy where I stay at places with awesome bathrooms.

The Grand Idyllwild Lodge also has a small gym and sauna, and guests can enjoy complimentary breakfast every day. We were served French toast with fruit (+ chicken sausage for him) on Saturday morning.

Other accommodation options that caught my eye:

Idyllcreek A-Frame Vacation Cabin. Can we talk about how cute this house is?!

Bluebird Cottage Inn. These little cottages are more budget friendly.

Creekstone Inn. I was intrigued by the above “tiny magical cabin” but Creekstone has a number of rooms plus a few other cabins available.

Where to Drink.

After our hotel room happy hour, we headed out for a second happy hour in town. We stopped at Middle Ridge Winery, a cute sister-and-brother owned tasting gallery (tasting room + art gallery).

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Pasta Shells with Easy Arugula Cherry Tomato Sauce [vegan]

Sometimes keeping it simple is the best.

Every Easter when I was growing up – and really, almost every other holiday – my family would go over to my grandma’s for a big family get together. I’ve talked about my amazing grandma before, but she loved to cook for everyone – and she pretty much always overdid it with how much food she made.

There would be a ridiculous amount of dishes for everyone to enjoy. From a giant antipasto salad and homemade breads, to a gigantic spread for the main course, to probably half a dozen desserts, complete with her annual bunny-shaped Easter cake, my grandma always spent days preparing. She also always made me eggplant parmigiana because I loved it (and later on, I developed an allergy to it, probably from eating it too much!).

One type of dish that my grandma made for holidays was a simple pasta. It was usually designated as a go-to for the picky eater kids in my family, but everyone typically wound up scooping some onto their plates. She would often make a cavatelli pasta with just a homemade tomato sauce. It was maybe her most simple dish, but we all ate it every time.

Today, in honor of the upcoming holiday and my grandma, who we lost just about three years ago and I miss so damn much, I wanted to share an easy pasta dish. This one comes together in 30 minutes or less, and the stars of the sauce are heirloom cherry tomatoes and wild arugula.

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Striving for a Healthier Lifestyle? Surround Yourself with Healthy People

It’s been said that you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with. While we often think about healthy living as largely a sum of eating habits and activity level, sometimes we tend to forget about the importance of mental health and surrounding ourselves with healthy, positive people to help us lead healthier lives ourselves.

When I was a student at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition to become a health coach, we talked a lot about what we refer to as ‘primary food’ – the things that feed you that aren’t food, like relationships, career, physical activity and a social life. Relationships are such a big aspect of health, and they have the power to bring us up or hold us down throughout our lives in such significant ways.

I got to thinking about this topic last weekend, when my husband was doing a Ragnar Relay race. The basic gist is that it’s an overnight event where teams of 12 run 200 miles in a relay race. I woke up on Saturday while he was doing the race, and totally did not feel like doing the yoga session I had planned on starting my day with. But then I thought about Adam. He has been eating, sleeping, and breathing schoolwork for the MBA program he’s in when he’s not working full-time, the man rides his bike to and from work in order to squeeze daily workouts in, and he was running 20 miles in a race in the midst of it all.

And so, I got up, put my yoga clothes on, and headed to my mat for a practice. I told myself to just do it, and while I wasn’t totally feeling it, I’m glad that I pushed myself to practice.

He was my motivation to get up and get going that morning, and I think that we push each other in life in general – whether it’s to workout when we don’t feel like it, encourage each other to better ourselves through education and experiences, or to work hard and take risks in our careers. We both are motivated people, and I think that we rub off on each other in positive ways.

Over the years, I’ve thought a lot about who I spend my time with and how they may be elevating my life or bringing it down. I truly believe in the power of the attitudes and energy of others rubbing off on me. Putting that idea into action, sometimes it’s meant having to take a step back from relationships if they aren’t serving me in a healthy way. One of my favorite quotes is, “Respect yourself enough to walk away from anything that no longer serves you, grows you, or makes you happy.”

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PB & J Banana Muffins {vegan + gf}

As with most food bloggers & writers, I love to bake and cook for loved ones. Whenever we have guests in town, I enjoy feeding them well. A lot of the time when I meet up with girlfriends, I’ll bring them some of my latest kitchen creations to try. I show my love for people by making them nutritious, delicious food.

When I stay at my parents’ house in Jersey, it’s fun to make snacks, dinners, and desserts for everyone to enjoy. A few weeks ago when I was there, I was a little off of my Chef Nicole game because I was under the weather, but I still whipped up some yummy recipes for them.

One night I made creamy spring veggie & asparagus puree soup for dinner, because I knew my mom would dig it (She did!).

I also made my most recently published Shape recipe, blueberry banana Greek yogurt muffins.

Continuing with the blueberry theme, I also made bluebery oatmeal chia bars one morning – except when I took the baking dish out of the oven, I mistakenly placed it on a burner that was on low heat….and then left it there for hours. I was in the kitchen the whole time and didn’t even smell the bars and pan burning because my sinuses were all congested! It actually worked out well because my dad loves burnt things. They wound up being super dry, but he was a fan of them anyways…so it was only half a kitchen fail!

Another muffin recipe that I decided to make were peanut butter & jelly banana muffins. I first shared the recipe on here years ago when I was a newbie blogger, and I hadn’t made them in quite awhile. My dad loves PB & J (and so do I!) so I thought he’d like these. I always like having muffins, bars, or energy bites around as a healthy snack, and we all snacked on these muffins throughout the week.

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6 Bridal Shower Party Ideas

My recent trip to the east coast included more on the agenda than just visiting family – it was also to throw a bridal shower for my little brother’s bride-to-be! I’m a bridesmaid in their wedding next month, and I flew in to help celebrate with a bridal shower surprise.

L to R: My sister-in-law Jamie, my sister Kelsey, me, my soon to be sister-in-law Desiree, and my mom

I had fun planning out all of the decorations and little details that went along with their springtime wedding pastel color theme, and today I thought I’d share a few of the fun party ideas that I implemented with the other bridesmaids and my mom.


1.) Photo Balloons.
I absolutely love doing photo projects, and I know that my soon to be sister-in-law Dez also digs them too… so making photo balloons was one of my first ideas for the party. The basic gist is to attach a photo to each balloon and have memories floating around the party all day for guests to check out.

My brother Danny and Dez have a 3-year old boy, so it was fun going back a couple years and including photos from when he was just a baby. I also included shots from when the two of them had just started dating in college, along with some of their first photos as a family.

To do this, I ordered 35 photos, hole punched each one, then knotted the balloon strings around each photo. A few of the balloons started sagging, so I had to cut some of the photos to make them a tad bit lighter to fly free. I decided to go with a mix of gold + white balloons, which wound up looking really pretty.

I also ordered a couple of weighted balloon bouquets to place around the room, including a champagne balloon that we put near the alcohol and an engagement room balloon bouquet that we placed near the present table.

2.) Mimosa Bar. I had seen mimosa bars online of other bridal showers, and was happy to finally have the chance to do my own mimosa bar!

For the mimosa bar, you need a.) champagne, b.) different kinds of juices, c.) a couple of different kinds of fruit. I also bought a ‘Bubbly Bar’ banner online to hang on the front of the table, along with a large chalkboard sign for a festive bar note + smaller chalkboard signs to label the juices.

The mimosa bar was a total hit, and I think we went through 5 double bottles of champagne with 40 guests (+ 3 double bottles of white & red wine!).

3.) ‘Recipe for a Great Marriage’ Activity. I found this idea on Sweet C’s Designs and immediately loved it. Instead of just doing a typical advice book for the bride, you ask guests to write marriage advice on wooden spoons. You gather the spoons up in mason jars, and the bride can take her advice spoons home as fun kitchen decor or to keep elsewhere in her home.

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Sunflower Butter Banana Oatmeal Breakfast Cookies [gluten free]

Hi friends!

I have been down for the count with a killer ear infection + upper respiratory sickness. It’s a major bummer because I’ve gotten sick the last couple of times that I’ve visited Jersey to spend time with family, despite my nonstop rubbing of essential oils and drinking of green tea. I almost never get sick otherwise, and I think it’s the combination of a cross-country flight (the woman next to me was coughing the entire time!), going nonstop making plans with family & friends, the weather change, being around my adorable but very germ-y nephews, and drinking wine multiple days in a row. So, now I’m back home in Cali, resting up this week and taking it easy so that I can get back to normal.

But let’s talk about something more fun… like cookies! Breakfast cookies that is.

These sunflower butter banana oatmeal breakfast cookies were my second failed attempt at a green sunflower butter recipe for St. Paddy’s Day. The base of these normal colored cookies are rolled oats and almond meal. They’re sweetened with mashed banana, honey and apple sauce. You can sub in maple syrup to make them vegan as well.
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3 At-Home Kickboxing Workouts to Try

Out of all of the workouts that I enjoy doing, boxing is high up on my list of favorites. I just love the intensity and how fast-paced it is. I’ve gone to a few boxing classes at a Title Boxing Club near me recently, and boy are they tough. After the last one I went to, my abs, glutes, and shoulders were sore for a good three days. Every time I laughed or sneezed my mid section would be hurting!

San Diego area readers, I’ve been booking my classes through the Lymber Fitness app – which lets you book classes for a variety of workouts at studios in the area without memberships. It’s great for exercisers like me that like to switch it up a lot! If you’re interested in trying the app out, you can use the code NICOLELYMB-1-21 to get $5 off your first class.

While I love the intensity and hardcore calories burned that a sweat session of hitting the heavy bag brings, I also like doing boxing workouts at home sometimes – especially when I’m crunched for time and am squeezing in a workout in between meetings. Walking into my workout room to sweat it out beats sitting in rush hour traffic to get to a class some days!

That’s why today I wanted to share 3 of my favorite at-home kickboxing workouts. These are workouts that I do all the time in my house, or during weeks like this one where I’m traveling. I’m staying at my parents’ house on the east coast this week, so instead I’m kickboxing in their living room with an audience of family Pit bulls and cats, who like to sit 2.5 inches from where I’m kicking, and also sometimes my nephews, who join in by jumping around and busting out moves of their own. 😉


1.) 30-Minute Cardio Kickboxing Workout with Natalie Yco. This half-hour workout is a great calorie burner and I’ve done it many, many times. Any Jillian Michaels’ DVD fanatics may recognize Natalie as one of the fitness models from a few of her workouts. The workout is done with a jump rope, but I usually just do my own cardio moves instead – such as jumping jacks, lateral hops, squats, etc.

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Mediterranean Barley Stuffed Peppers

Hi friends!

How was your weekend? Did you celebrate St. Paddy’s Day? I was flying cross-country all day Friday on the actual holiday, but I had a chance to celebrate the Irish holiday yesterday with my parents. I’m in Jersey this week visiting family, and went to a winery yesterday with my parents that had a live Irish band playing. It made me want to be back in Ireland hanging out at pubs with my family!

So, let’s dive into the real topic at hand today: Mediterranean Barley Stuffed Peppers – an easy Meatless Monday dinner idea!

I’ve always been a fan of stuffed peppers, and for this recipe, I wanted to do something different in terms of grains. I usually will use brown rice for stuffed peppers, but this time I decided to try barley instead and loved it.

I like to make a nice sized pot of grains at the beginning of the week to use for a few different meals, so this time, I cooked up some barley and used some for this recipe, then some another night with veggie burgers and sautéed zucchini.

You can always swap out the barley for whatever other grain you feel like – such as farro, cous cous, or rice for a gluten free option.

These peppers take a Mediterranean twist with the inclusion of crumbled feta, red onion, artichoke hearts, avocado, red onion and portobello mushroom. I always love making meals Mediterranean-style because the ingredients commonly used in this type of fare are so healthy and flavorful!

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