Mint Hot Chocolate Made with a2 Milk®

Mint Hot Chocolate with a2 Milk #shop Mint Hot Chocolate with a2 Milk #shop

This shop has been compensated by Collective Bias, Inc. and its advertiser. All opinions are mine alone. #MadeWithA2Milk#CollectiveBias

I’ve always had a sensitive stomach. Acidic foods like tomato sauce are really tough (which is terrible, because pizza and pasta are basically the best), but the worst one without question is milk. I’ve always just assumed that I was mildly lactose intolerant because indulging in a Starbucks latte or large glass of milk with some chocolate chip cookies always sends me to my bed with an insane tummy ache. That’s why for the last few years I’ve been a religious drinker of almond milk in particular.

I recently learned about the The a2 Milk Company™, which has created a new type of milk designed for people who feel uncomfortable after drinking ordinary or lactose-free milk. Regular cow milk contains two types of proteins, A1 and A2, so The a2 Milk Company™ have started bottling milk that comes from cows who only produce the A2 protein without the A1. Many people including myself who have self-diagnosed ourselves as “lactose intolerant” are able to drink A2 milk with no problem at all.

A2 Milk® is exactly identical to regular milk in every other way and isn’t the result of genetic engineering or a technical process. It’s perfect for holiday hosts who are already balancing a variety of dietary restrictions. Best of all, it’s available at many of the grocery stores you already shop at – I picked mine up at the Whole Foods five blocks from my house.

This time of year, hot chocolate is one of my favorite treats. I used to just put a splash of milk in my mug, but it just didn’t have the same rich flavor. This minty recipe uses fresh mint, real chocolate, and A2 Milk®. FYI, though, most chocolates actually have trace amounts of milk as well (even the ones that say “vegan”), so make sure you read the package extra closely if you’re very sensitive.

Mint Hot Chocolate with a2 Milk #shop Mint Hot Chocolate with a2 Milk #shop Mint Hot Chocolate with a2 Milk #shop

Mint Hot Chocolate with A2 Milk


  • 3 cups of A2 milk
  • 6 sprigs of mint, plus additional sprigs for decoration
  • Semi-sweet chocolate (made without milk products)
  • Marshmallows (optional)


  1. Place A2 milk in a medium sauce man with six sprigs of mint.
  2. Heat on medium-low until just before boiling, then remove from heat.
  3. Using a wooden spoon, gently the muddle the mint leaves in the milk, being careful not to splash the milk. Cover the milk and mint with a top and let it sit for fifteen minutes.
  4. Strain the milk to remove the mint leaves and put back on medium-low heat. Add the chocolate to the pot and gently whisk continuously until the chocolate has completely melted.
  5. Pour hot chocolate into two large mugs and top with marshmallows, sprigs of mint, or grated chocolate, if desired.

Have you had problems with milk-based products before? What’s your favorite holiday drink?

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13 Books Perfect for Harry Potter Fans

Harry Potter Fans Books

I was never one of those crazy Harry Potter fans. Oh, I read the first four books over and over again, but by the sixth and seventh ones came out, I had forgotten what happened in the fifth. It took years for me to finally re-read the fifth and finish off the rest of the series.

I think part of the reason Harry Potter never found an extra-special place in my heart was I was always a die-hard fantasy reader. I knew so many books that were like the Harry Potter series, and I was always on the lookout for the next great story about hidden powers or dragons or magical kingdoms. This is the sort of literature, particularly the urban fantasy variety, is the thing in the world that makes me the most happy. True story.

All of this is to say, that if you’re looking for a recommendation of a book like Harry Potter, I have a lot for you. Try one of these:

Harry Potter Books 1

1. The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

Blue Sargent comes from a family of women with magical powers, but she meets Gansey and his friends, rich students from a local private school, she is thrust into an strange adventure of mythical proportions. The only problem is she knows Gansey is fated to die.

2. Graceling by Kristin Cashore

Katsa is a Graceling, a person with an extreme skill – in her case, the ability to kill a man with her bare hands. She’s forced into working as the king’s thug, until she befriends Prince Po and everything changes.

3. Kindling the Moon by  Jenn Bennett

Arcadia Bell is a bartender, renegade magician, and hidden fugitive due to her infamous parents being alleged murders. After staying in hiding for seven years, surveillance footage of her missing parents surfaces and she’s given the ultimatum to prove their innocence or surrender herself.

Harry Potter Books 2

4. Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo

Orphaned and physically weak Alina Starkov has always relied on her best friend, now a soldier, to provide security and a sense of home. When he’s injured crossing the Shadow Fold, Alina accidentally reveals the power of light that has been lying dormant inside of her, and she’s whisked away to the luxurious life of a Grisha with the hope that she’ll prove to be the world’s salvation from darkness.

5. House Immortal by Devon Monk

Matilda Case isn’t a normal girl – she’s been pieced together with bits and pieces, the result of her scientist father’s experiments. The day Abraham Seventh, another “galvanized” immortal stitched together, shows up at her door, she realizes everything she believes about her family and country might be a lie.

6. Dark Currents by Jaqueline Carey

The midwest town of Pemkowet isn’t just a popular tourist spot, it’s also home to Hel, the norse goddess, and all the faeries, vampires, and other mythical creatures she presides over. Daisy Johanssen, daughter of a human and an inbucus, is Hel’s liaison and in charge of keeping “eldritch” activities in check.

Harry Potter Books 3

7. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

2044 is a tough time. The only place Wade Watts feels at home is plugged into the OASIS, a virtual reality that houses the greatest puzzle of all time put there by the OASIS creator. After Wade stumbles across the first clue, he becomes the target of other players trying to solve the riddle and win the ultimate prize.

8. Written in Red by Anne Bishop

Meg Corby is a blood prophet who can see the future when her skin is cut. When she escapes the only prison she has ever known, she is taken in by Lakeside Courtyard, a private district operated by the “Others,” magical creatures who are utterly ferocious but quickly become loyal to the broken girl.

9. Grave Witch by Kalayna Price

Thanks to her ability to speak to the dead, Alex Craft makes the perfect private investigator and police consultant. In fact, she has a personal relationship with Death, a very attractive young man in skinny jeans who has been hanging out since childhood. Even he might not be able to protect her from her latest case, however.

Harry Potter Books 4

10. The Dragons of Dorcastle by Jack Campbell (audiobook only)

For centuries the two great guilds, the Magicians and Mechanics, have controlled Dematr, but the two are on opposite sides of a warring battle. Mari, a brilliant young Mechanic, and Alain, a the youngest Magician ever, are thrust together after their caravan is attacked and begin to learn that not everything they’ve been taught about one another’s kind is true.

11. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

Behind the scenes of the magical circus, a competition is underway between two young magicians, Celia and Marco. Trained from a young age solely for this purpose by their tutors, the two slowly fall in love, not knowing that in this game only one can be left standing.

12. A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray

Raised in India, 16 year old Gemma foresees her mother’s death in a vision that turns out to be true. When she’s sent back to Victorian England to a boarding school filled with gossipy girls, the trip turns dark as her visions are unable to stop, and the young women realize they have unleashed a force they can’t control.

13. Sabriel by Garth Nix

Raised in a boarding school safely outside the Old Kingdom where Free Magic and the Dead roam, Sabriel has little exposure to the land her father, the Abhorsen, helps control. But when he goes missing during her last semester, Sabriel is forced to enter this strange land to find him.

What’s a Harry Potter – like book that you would recommend?

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Maybe We’re All Just a Little Bit “Crazy”

Mental Health

I didn’t realize until many years after high school how many mental health disorders went completely un-diagnosed in my friends.

You know, I’m not sure being a teenager is truly easy for anyone. When I found my old Livejournal a few months ago from when I was 16 and 17, I was horrified to realize how incredibly angsty I was. The entries were showered with posts about feeling depressed or alone, which is especially mind-blowing because, looking back now, I don’t think I had an especially hard time those years. Yes, there was drama with romantic interests, both boys and girls, but my friendships were solid, I was a good student, I had a wonderful job in a bookstore, and my life was generally pretty great for a high schooler.

Many of my friends were equally as angsty. We bemoaned our perfect life in the quaint town of Palo Alto. Although none of our parents had trouble putting food on the table or clothing us in the outfits of our choice, we were riddled with emotion and general ennui. But in general, those complaints were superficial and comfortable, because they never really scratched at something true underneath the surface. Those real problems were the ones we didn’t really talk about.

Sitting in art class one afternoon, a friend and I noticed cuts running up and down the arms of another friend. When we asked her what they were from, she shrugged and said she cut herself, and didn’t everyone do it? My friend and I looked at each other and back and her, totally baffled at how to respond. We just dropped it, and never brought it up again. It’s one of my greatest regrets to this day that I didn’t reach out, that I didn’t tell an adult. I simply didn’t know how to handle something that overwhelming at the age of 16.

The next year I came back from a month at summer camp, only to find out that a friend of ours had been hospitalized from bulimia. The word went around our group of friends, hushed whispers about what had happened, but I’m not sure that anyone actually brought it up with her, offered comfort or advice or just a shoulder. It wasn’t that we felt it was shameful, we just honestly didn’t know how to confront something of that magnitude. We didn’t know how to talk about what had happened and seemed to think it was more respectful to just give her her privacy.

Since then, more of my childhood friends have been diagnosed with bi-polar disorder or confessed that they had anorexia. Now, maybe we found each other because so many of us had these mental health struggles, even if we didn’t talk about it, but I’m guessing that actually the common-ness of these conditions in our group is more a representation of the larger population. Because now I know that the truth is, these mental health struggles are absolutely everywhere.

At the age of 26, I’ve lived long enough to see some larger things in our society begin to change, and one of them is the way that we treat and talk about mental health disorders. In the last ten years, they’ve increasingly lost their sense of shamefulness. We talk about them more openly and frankly. No longer does the correct course of action seem to be making them a quiet, private affair. People feel comfortable admitting that they’re going to therapy or are taking medication. And as someone that spent high school in a time where that’s not what happened, that’s SO FRICKIN’ COOL.

Look, I think maybe we’re all just a little bit “crazy” – and I mean that in the most loving way possible. Most of have, at some point, struggled with some form of major or minor depression or anxiety or obsessive compulsion or body dysmorphia or addiction.

So even though we all don’t have Depression with a capital D or anxiety to the point where we can’t leave the house, I hope knowing that we are all fighting our own little mental health battles, to some degree or another, will allow us to have more compassion for each other’s personal demons. Even though our experiences vary, we really are all in this together.

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Trendsend November 2015

I’ve been participating in Stitch Fix for the last few months, and there’s a lot to love about it. I feel like they send me at least one thing I love every single time. They do their best to accommodate my requests and send me items that are both obviously “me” and that push me outside of my comfort zone a little. What I don’t love about Stitch Fix is that because it’s at least a $20 commitment every time, I can’t just send the whole box back if I don’t love anything. That’s why I got so excited about Trendsend.

I originally heard about Trendsend on Chelsie’s blog, Life with Rosie, and she raved about the low prices, the more through profile, and the lower commitment. I commented on the post that I would wait until next month to give it a try, and of course that failed. So here I am with my first Trendsend box.

First, some initial observations. First, there really is a more through profile where you can outline your sizes, preferences, etc. You even upload two pictures, one of you in the outfit that you feels most embodies your style and one of you in tight-fitting clothes so they can see your true body shape. I received my first box about a week after ordering it, which is pretty sweet in comparison to Stitch Fix’s far out schedule. I was extremely confused when I received my personalized note and packing slip, because the two totally did not match each other and the items I received in the box?! I spent a good fifteen minutes trying to figure out what the heck was going on, and I’m a little worried I’ll be charged for the $38 necklace that’s listed on the packing slip, but isn’t in the box…. I hope it works out.

In any case, I really need your guys’ help with this one. When I first tried everything on, the answer of what I wanted to keep seemed more-or-less obvious, but now I’m REALLY not sure. Help!!

Trendsend Nov 2015 2

Paige Verdugo Denim, $179 – Keep or return?

If I were a responsible person, I would really return these jeans. I said I would as soon as I saw the price. But then I tried them on and… wow. They’re like wearing butter! They’re so soft and stretchy, and I know that they would get tons of use if I kept them (I wear jeans constantly and specifically asked Trendsend for a gray pair). ARG!

Sloan Rouge Notch Seamed Tee, $39.99 – Return

One of the cool things about Trendsend is they’ll actually send you on sale items that are super budget friendly! This top was very affordable and extremely soft, plus I need more long-sleeved shifts, but it’s also see-through… so back it’s going.

Trendsend Nov 2015 1

Shiraleah Blanket Scarf, $58 – Keep or return?

I’ve been wanting a true blanket scarf for a while, and wow, is this thing huge. I like the patterns on both size, and I know it’d be cozy for our trip to NYC in December, but $58 is a lot to stomach for a frickin’ scarf, even though I know blanket scarves are always expensive. Plus, I’m still confused about how to wear the darn thing…

Trendsend Nov 2015 3

Denim Two Pocket Tunic, $98 – Returned

I actually just received my first chambray top in my Golden Tote top, and while I love it (I’m actually wearing it as I type this), I just don’t need another one. Plus this was a little baggy and not super flattering.

Trendsend Nov 2015 4

Free People Ventura Thermal, $68 – Returned

I love me some Free People and I know they make quality items that last, but this top was super baggy and unflattering. Definitely sending it back.

Trendsend Nov 2015 5

Garnet Field Patterned Vest, $39.99 – Returned

While I love the pattern on this vest, the cut is absolutely horrible. It sits very awkwardly on my shoulders in such a way that it looks off-place. Despite the low price, no thanks.

Sanctuary Grease Ponte Legging, $89 – Keep or return?

Two days ago, this was for sure the item I thought I would keep. It’s a little hard to tell in these photos, but it’s got this cute plaid-style pattern with black and dark gray colors, and since they’re leggings, they’re very stretchy and comfortable. The price is doable and they’d be great for working from home. The biggest downside is no pockets, which is really pretty annoying.

Trendsend Nov 2015 6

So what do you guys think? Gray jeans, blanket scarf, patterned leggings, or return everything?

*Edit: Just heard back from Trendsend/Evereve’s customer service, and they’ve confirmed that they will not be charging me for the missing necklace. Thank goodness!

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Tips for Road Tripping with Your Dog

Reg and I have done a few road trips with Ru, including one big one up through Oregon which I shared here on the blog with you guys. Since we were camping and staying with friends, we didn’t think twice about bringing her along, although many people were astounded when I shared photos of her joining our travels on Instagram. Anyone that knows me personally knows that Ru and I are basically attached at the hip and hardly go anywhere without each other, whether it’s to a house party or a quick grocery shopping trip (yes, I leash her outside or leave her in the car, both of which she loves). Reg and I joke that Ru would agree to be perfectly behaved just about anywhere, as long as she could come with us where ever we go.

Road Tripping with Your Dog

Dog road trip

Since finding a dog sitter is hard and Ru is a total trooper, doing road trips together was obvious. She loved checking out the national parks, sleeping with us in the Subaru, and climbing water falls as much as we did. In all honesty, other than leash laws and general dog restrictions, having her with us was easy. But there are a few ways that you can make overnights and long car trips with your furball easier.

1. First, be honest with yourself – are you and your dog up for this?

Look, some dogs are just not meant for road tripping. If they aren’t comfortable being left alone in the car or in a strange motel for an hour or two, they probably aren’t a good candidate. If you can’t go grocery shopping or have a nice dinner out because you can’t leave your dog’s side for five minutes, it’s going to be a huge burden and perhaps not worth it. Also, if your dog doesn’t do well sitting in the car for hours because of road sickness or general anxiety, just don’t do it to them. No one is going to have fun on that trip, and everyone would be happier if you left Fido with a caring dog sitter. But if your pup loves hanging her face out the window, curling up asleep in the back seat, exploring new places, and hanging out in the car or in a motel alone, you’ll be fine.

2. Plan your route and stays ahead of time

It’s harder to do things on the fly with a dog in your car for a number of reasons. First, if you’re camping fanatics like us, many federal, state, and even regional parks don’t allow pups at all, and if they do, they have to be on leash and restricted to only paved roads. When we decided to hit up Crater Lake, I did a ton of research to make sure I could bring Ru and find out what the restrictions were (and there were a lot). At one point we decided to leave Ru in the car for an hour and a half while we did a hike she couldn’t come on. But even if you’re not planning to camp, you’ll want to have some pet-friendly hotels in mind that will welcome your little fur ball, so you’re not stuck in a lurch at 11pm without anywhere to stay. Make sure you call to make confirm any breed restrictions, rules, and additional fees.

3. Train your dog to be comfortable in a crate and in a car

These things will not happen overnight, but making sure your dog will be in a place that feels familiar when she’s unattended will help create a lower anxiety situation for everyone involved. You can even crate her when she’s in the car! I won’t go into the details of crate training here, but by slowly introducing her to her little “cave,” it will give her a comfortable and safe space where she can’t hurt herself or the hotel when you’re not around. This was especially important to me when we were staying at our friends’ house. Although we do not use a crate at home anymore, by crating Ru at their house when we went out for dinner, I could be sure she wouldn’t chew up shoes or do anything else to embarrass me or ruin our welcome.

4. Get your dog plenty of exercise to reduce anxiety and make long car rides more bearable

On road trips, your dog’s entire routine goes out the window. While some dogs do just fine with that, others do not. In general, getting your dog plenty of exercise is a great way to make sure she’s happy and not getting into trouble, but this is doubly true on road trips where anxiety can be higher than normal. Reg and I always keep our eyes open for dog-friendly rest stops that have a pen to let your dog off leash, where we stop and play fetch or tug-of-war for 30 minutes. We also make sure to incorporate hikes into our agenda at least every other day, because it’s a great way to tucker Ru out while we take in the natural sites. Plus, it means when you put the pup back in the car, she’ll sleep for hours.

5. Make a packing list of everything you need

Packing lists are a great way to make sure there are no major detours to Pet Smart to pick up more food (yes, we ran out of kibble last time). In addition to the obvious like food, toys, medications, a crate and dog bed, and so forth, there are a few surprising items that are great on road trips. Make sure to bring a doggy jacket or sweatshirt, especially for short haired pups, since camping outside or trips through the snow can be very cold for unprotected furballs. Bring a towel dedicated specifically for your dog, for when she inevitably goes swimming in a river or runs through a mud puddle. I also recommend putting her drinking water in a large Tupperware so you can easily give her some when you take a fifteen minute potty break on the road.

Have you ever taken a road trip with your dog before? Do you think your pup (and you) would be up for it?

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Roasted Cauliflower Salad with Israeli Couscous

Roasted Cauliflower Salad

Roasted Cauliflower Salad 2

It’s very rare that I eat a salad and go “this is frickin’ amazing.” But that’s how I felt when I first tried this one in my Hello Fresh box a few months ago. Hello Fresh is much like Blue Apron, a meal delivery kit service that I’ve written about in the past, but Reg and I have recently switched to Hello Fresh instead since we prefer their meals and larger portions.

One of the coolest things about trying a meal kit service is you get introduced to new foods you’ve never tried. One of my new favorites is israeli couscous, which is a little bit more pasta-like than traditional couscous, almost like tiny pasta balls. It’s filling, easy to make, and extremely delicious, making it the perfect “filler” for a more hearty salad. Here it’s paired deliciously with roasted cauliflower and bell peppers, plus pickled shallots and golden raisins. I’ve improved their original recipe with more israeli couscous and raisins, for the perfect balance of sweet and savory. I can easily eat just this for a meal!

Roasted Cauliflower Salad with Israeli Couscous


  • 1 head cauliflower
  • 1 red bell pepper
  • 1/4 cup sliced almonds
  • 1/3 cup golden raisins
  • 1 shallot
  • 3/4 cups Israeli Couscous
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 bunch of parsley


  1. Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Bring a pot of water with a pinch of salt to a boil.
  2. Cut the cauliflower into bite-sized florets. Toss it with olive oil, salt, and pepper and put it on a baking tray.
  3. Thinly slice the shallots into rounds. Roughly chop the parsley. Cut the bell pepper in half, remove the seeds and white ribs, and thinly slice. Toss it with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and add it to the baking tray half-way through cooking the cauliflower. Cook until soft and lightly charred.
  4. Add the israeli couscous to the boiling water and cook for 7-9 minutes, until al dente. Drain and rinse it under cold water.
  5. In a pot of water, bring the vinegar, shallots, and 1/3 cup of water to a boil. Remove it from heat, and let it sit for 3 minute, then remove the shallots from the liquid.
  6. In a bowl, toss together roasted cauliflower, israeli couscous, golden raisins, parsley leaves, pickled shallot, roasted red peppers, and almonds.

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