Letting Go of the Need for Control

By Leo Babauta

One of the (many) things I struggle with in life is wanting to feel in control of how things will turn out — control of a trip that I’m on, of a project I’m working on, of how my kids will turn out.

Often, it’s not such a helpful way to be.

For starters, I don’t think we ever really control how things will turn out. We might think we do, but how often do things turn out the way you planned? I know my life has been a series of unexpected outcomes, despite my best intentions to get to certain goals. Even the goals that I reach turn out to be much different once I achieve them than I had planned.

What’s more, I’ve found that when I want to control the outcome of things, I become more anxious, more tense. I’m less happy with how other people do things, less happy with myself, less relaxed in the moment. My relationships suffer, and I’m less happy. Not good.

But what’s the answer? Well, what I’m finding is that I can’t stop myself from wanting to control things. I can’t stop the urge to control outcomes from coming up in me. I can’t control this.
So I have to just notice the desire to control things, and let the urge happen. Just sit there and see the urge, feel it, be with it.

I don’t have to act. I can just sit.

This is easier said than done, I’ve found. But I try to practice it:

I can see the urge as just another urge, not anything I have to follow. It’s a suggestion from the child within me, not a command.

Next, I turn to the moment and see the beauty of what’s in front of me. Of the ever-changing situation I find myself in. There’s joy in this situation, even if it’s uncontrolled.

I don’t need to control things to enjoy them. I can just let things happen.

That said, I still take action. I still do work (like I am now), I still work with people, I still walk around when I’m on a trip, I still look up information about where I am because I’m curious.

But the action is not necessarily to control the outcome. I can set an intention of doing something good, compassionate, helpful, without knowing whether things will turn out the way I hope. I set an intention, I act, but I don’t know how things will turn out.

And that’s OK. It’s completely fine not to know.

I act, and trust that things will turn out fine, even if I don’t know what that outcome might be.

I trust.

This is the choice: I can choose to try to control the outcome, or I can trust in the moment.

I choose trust.

Pumpkin Oatmeal


Alex and I made a pact several years ago to invest in making our home into a hospitable, inviting environment that feels safe and cozy – not only in the furnishings, but in the food we serve. At that point, my life was harried and I had a diet to match. My addiction to busyness and doing-doing-doing showed in my meals, which were generally whatever took 5 minutes or less to stuff in my mouth. You know that type of person who bakes bread and smells like spiced tea and inspires you to spill your guts without even trying? I wanted to be that, without investing the time and energy to get there.

Today, my life is still busy and I still eat quick meals from time to time, but I’ve also seen the value of slowing down enough to invest in the process of eating and the mood it creates. The more I tasted real, whole foods and authentic flavors, the more I realized the power they have to comfort and nourish, to say to the eater, “You are valuable. You are worth the investment in time and energy to bring you these nutrients and flavors. You are loved.”

If foods can communicate, what do pumpkin spices say? To me, they’re a big, warm bear hug – which probably explains the seasonal obsession with everything pumpkin spice / PSL. And combining them with oatmeal is the epitome of a cozy, comforting breakfast. This recipe is easy to put together, and since it’s made with almond milk, it works for a variety of diets like dairy-free and vegan. It’s a nourishing way to start your autumn consumption of pumpkin spices.

And oh PS—let’s all harass Alex, who’s not on the pumpkin spice train. Whaaa?

Why to Make It: A cozy, nourishing breakfast that’s a big, pumpkin-spiced hug. Naturally gluten-free, dairy-free and vegan, and sweetened with a touch of maple syrup.
When to Make It: Fall or winter
Caveats: If you don’t like pumpkin spices or hugs, this one’s not for you.

For More

Pumpkin Oatmeal
This breakfast is vegan, dairy-free, gluten-free, and refined-sugar free.
Serves: 4
What You Need
  • 1 cup pumpkin puree
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 cups Califia Almond Milk
  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 cups rolled oats
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon allspice
  • ¼ teaspoon cloves
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2½ tablespoons maple syrup, plus more for serving
  • ¼ cup roasted pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
  • ¼ cup pecan pieces
What To Do
  1. Place 1 cup pumpkin puree in a medium pan and heat over medium heat, stirring frequently for 5 minutes. Add 2 cups water, 2 cups almond milk, and ¼ teaspoon kosher salt; stir to combine and bring to a boil.
  2. Stir in 2 cups rolled oats and 1 tablespoon cinnamon, 1 teaspoon allspice, and ¼ teaspoon cloves. Reduce to a simmer and simmer for 10 minutes, until thickened. Remove from heat and stir in 1 teaspoon vanilla extract and 2½ tablespoons maple syrup.
  3. To serve, top with pepitas, pecans, a drizzle of maple syrup, and additional almond milk.
We developed this recipe for Califia Farms; all opinions expressed are our own. We’re big fans of Califia almond milk and it’s a mainstay in our fridge. Thank you for supporting the partners that keep A Couple Cooks in action!

The Transformative Power of the Gratitude Habit

By Leo Babauta

There’s a small habit that I practice, that can turn difficult situations into much better ones — and it won’t surprise you. It’s the habit of gratitude.

This is such a simple habit, and it’s one that we often forget to practice. But when we do, it can transform our entire perspective, and with it our whole life.

Let me give you an example. About 10 years ago, I remember being caught in a rainstorm and being soaked, and also feeling generally stressed about being broke and hating my job and unhappy with my health. I was a bit depressed about it all, actually.

Then I decided to make a mental list of everything I was grateful for, right there in the rain. It was a long list, and while I can’t remember everything on it, some of the things I remember include:

  • I’m married to a beautiful, loving, supportive wife.
  • I have five wonderful kids (at the time — now I have six).
  • I am employed.
  • I am relatively healthy (maybe I was overweight, but I didn’t have chronic illness or pain).
  • I have loving family (parents, siblings, extended family) who I love dearly.
  • I live on a tropical island where the rain is actually refreshing when you’re sweating from the heat (I now live in northern California, but I was on Guam at the time).
  • I am alive.
  • I can taste delicious food, smell flowers, see art, hear music. What miracles!
  • I have friends.
  • I can run.
  • I can love.
  • I can pick mangoes from the huge tree in my yard.
  • I can read novels, my dearly beloved novels!
  • I am not starving, homeless, destitute, alone, destroyed by a natural disaster.

The list was probably 4-5 times as long, but you get the idea. The things I was taking for granted were now put front and center before me. The things I was feeling bad about didn’t go away, but they were put in perspective. They were blended with more powerful elements of my life into a mix that is ultimately true beauty and love.

Yes, there are bad things in my life, and it’s OK to feel bad about them. But it’s also important to remember the rest of my life, and to remember that even the bad things make life as complex and interesting as it is. Life would be boring without challenges!

The transformation of how I felt about my life, in that moment in the tropical downpouring rain, was really remarkable. All from making a simple list.

I’ve used this process hundreds of times since then, and it transforms everything:

  • When I’m feeling mad at someone, I can try to see what about them I’m grateful for.
  • When I procrastinate with a project, I can look at why I’m grateful to be able to work on that project.
  • When I get injured or sick, I can remember that I’m grateful just to be alive.
  • When I lose a good friend, I can grieve, but also be grateful for the time I had with them, and all that they gave me.
  • When something bad happens while traveling, I remember to be grateful for traveling at all, and that these challenges are what make the travel an adventure.
  • When someone doesn’t like what I do, and criticizes me, I can be grateful they care enough to even pay attention. Attention is a gift.

I’d like to make a small recommendation that could be powerful if you often forget to practice gratitude: start a small daily habit.

Just a few minutes per day of journaling, meditating on gratitude, or just thinking about what you’re grateful for in life. Do it every day, with a reminder, and see if it changes anything.

Don’t rush through it, don’t do it mindlessly, really try to feel gratitude for everything you list. Feel the amazingness of the things in your life.

I dare you to be complacent about life after doing that.

Help with the Gratitude Habit

If you’d like some help with this habit, I invite you to join thousands of people working on this habit in October in my Sea Change Program.

The program is free for 7 days ($10/month after that), and it helps you form one habit a month.

What’s included:

  • Articles and videos to help you form the habit.
  • A live video webinar with me where you can ask questions.
  • A forum where you can discuss the habit and join an accountability group.
  • Daily email reminders (optional).

I’d love to have you in the program. Join Sea Change here.

Food & The Inner Critic: Embracing Health Instead of Negativity

Sonja Overhiser | A Couple Cooks

You’ve heard it before: that nagging voice in your head, inserting little jabs: You’re such a screw up. You said you’d eat healthy this week and now you’ve blown it. Might as well give up trying. My guess is at times, you’ve heard similar jabs about your work, your intelligence, your body, your face, your personality, your clothes — pretty much everything about you.

Meet: your inner critic. It’s that critical voice in your head that judges and demeans you, making you feel bad, wrong, inadequate, worthless, and guilty. Unchecked, it can lead to problems like low self-esteem, disorders, and depression.

I’ve struggled with a very loud inner critic for years. It drowns out positive messages and instead tells me I shouldn’t have eaten that chocolate bar, my nose is too big, I’m an uncaring friend, my recipes are dreadful, and my writing is unengaging. But guess what: according to experts, we all have an inner critic. The fact that the inner critic is a thing in itself makes me relieved. Nearly every human on the planet struggles with inner negativity towards themselves. I don’t know about you, but I find that comforting.

So what does this have to do with food and health? Everything, I would argue. I believe that for many, the inner critic is a massive obstacle to the ability to incorporate nutritious foods into our diet and maintain a positive relationship with food. Imagine all of the negative messages the inner critic might try on someone looking to make a change to a healthy lifestyle (which you likely have heard yourself). It’s no wonder we sneak into the kitchen for ice cream then criticize ourselves into a guilty mess, miss working out one night and stop it all together, or bomb making a healthy meal and resolve we can’t cook.

There are many theories on how to combat the inner critic, but what I’d first like to emphasize is if you are wrestling with inner negativity, you are not alone. We all struggle with an inner critic that seeks to paralyze and destroy instead of build up and encourage! The most widely accepted methods for addressing this inner voice can be summarized in two simple steps:

  • Awareness. Simply be aware that the inner critic exists and start to hear that voice for what it is.
  • Self-compassion. Listen to the inner critic and determine whether the message you’ve heard is true. If it’s a lie, replace it with a positive statement of truth about yourself.

It sounds deceptively simple, but I’ve found this method to work incredibly well in practice. I use a buddy system with my husband Alex, who has become a pro at calling out the lies of the inner critic and helping me to replace them with positive statements about myself, my work, and my ability to make healthy choices.

While I don’t know many of you reading this personally, I do know this: you are valuable and loved–no matter what you look like, what your personality is, how smart you are, or what decisions you’ve made. And you can make healthy choices, even if yesterday you ate too much ice cream or obsessively ate chips or skipped your daily exercise. There is no need for perfection. Strive to do your best today, and if you fail, there is room tomorrow to try again. To me, those words are like a sigh of relief — they give me room to be human. And replacing the lies of the inner critic with positive, self-affirming words were a crucial step for me on the journey towards health.

How about you? Do you have an inner critic? What gets in the way of a healthy approach to food? We’d love to hear from you!

More on the Inner Critic (I used each of these articles as references)
Bust Your Inner Critic – 8 Simple Tools (Tara Mohr)
Silencing the Inner Critic – The Power of Self-Compassion (GoodTherapy.org)
Critical Inner Voice (PsychAlive.org)
Why We Need to Have Compassion for Our Inner Critic (Dr. Kristin Neff)
More Questions About the Inner Critic (Psychology Today)
The Inner Critic: Accepting Ourselves (Kali Munro)

A Guide for All of Us: Getting Good at Storytelling & Other Superhuman Social Skills

By Leo Babauta

Let’s face it: most of us aren’t amazing social ninjas, good at working any social situation, let alone comfortable telling a captivating story in front of a crowd.

It would be great if there were a manual that taught us the key social skills for being good at parties, talking to strangers, making amazing friendships.

Luckily for us losers, my friend Tynan has written a new book, Superhuman Social Skills, and I honestly think it’s fantastic. I know I’m biased, but after reading it I believe it’s something pretty much every human being should read (and it’s free for the Kindle today). We’re not given a manual for learning social skills, and so we face so many problems because of it, from social anxiety to loneliness.

A bit of background on Tynan: he was a social loser into adulthood (seriously — ask to see his “color guard” photos). Then he got into the pickup artist community (I know, they often sound like scumbags, but he isn’t one) and honed his social skills to get better at talking to women. What resulted from that, plus traveling the world and meeting lots of people, is that he has a good number of really good friends (I’m the best one of them, but there are other good ones too), and is comfortable in lots of social situations.

I consider myself socially awkward, and reading his book gave me a sense of excitement that I could improve. I’ve recommended the book to my kids who are entering adulthood, because I think it’ll give them a big boost. But except for the most socially skilled of my friends, I think everyone I know should read this book.

I asked Tynan if I could interview him about some of the key social skills he talks about, including the one that I find most fascinating and useful — storytelling.

Leo: Who do you think needs help with social skills?

Tynan: I think we can all improve our social skills in one way or another. For some people it might be a case of diminishing returns, but I don’t think that’s true of most.

Because social skills aren’t taught through normal avenues of learning like school or through peers, most people don’t actively work on improving them. That means that a lot of us have plenty room for improvement that can be capitalized on through proactive learning.

Leo: Why is this such a difficult problem to solve?

Tynan: Social skills feel more like integral parts of us than external skills like playing the piano. So there’s a lot of ego involved. To really improve them often involves a level of humility that can be uncomfortable.

Another effect of this discomfort is that people don’t talk about social skills. If you and I were both learning to program, we would talk about our challenges and share learning resources. But with social skills, you don’t really see much of that.

Leo: How did you solve it? What changes did you see in your life as a result?

Tynan: The big first step for me was becoming involved in the pickup community. I was an introverted nerd who was completely clueless with women, and that led to me humbling myself and building up my social skills from the ground up.

I was focused on dating, but may have benefited even more in other areas, from making friends to interacting with my family. My experience with pickup helped me see social skills as something that could be improved upon, and I began to look at things like making friends, telling stories, and interacting with my friend group through a similarly analytical lens.

Leo: There are a ton of tips in your book — where should someone start?

Tynan: I think it really varies from person to person. We all have our strengths and weaknesses, and the distribution of them seems to be fairly uniform. But for someone who doesn’t have a good idea of what his weaknesses are, I’d suggest either working on storytelling or on identifying his annoying habits. Storytelling is a universal skill that can have a huge impact on others, and annoying habits are often the difference between a friendship being created or not.

Leo: Without giving away the book, can you share some top tips for becoming a better storyteller?

Tynan: I’m not sure I’ve ever met anyone who makes their stories too short. I’ve met a lot who make their stories way too long. It’s fun to tell a story, so we all have a tendency to bask in that and draw it out as long as possible. Really, though, it’s better to give people the juicy bits of a story and then move on to something else. They’ll always ask if they want more information.

Give a minimum of introduction, build up the tension, and then hit them with the payoff of the story. Remember that if you make your stories too long, either by going on tangents, repeating yourself, or adding too much detail, people won’t want to hear more stories in the future because they’ll worry that you won’t stop talking.

On the other hand, if you always keep your stories short and sweet, you’ll be asked to tell more of them.

Leo: What are some common annoying habits that people often have, that maybe they aren’t aware of? How does someone create awareness of their annoying habits?

Tynan: I think a lot of the most common annoying habits are stem from not understanding the natural flow of conversation. I’m always surprised at how many people dominate conversations without receiving any sort of indication that the other party is happy to just sit and listen passively. As a general rule of thumb, you should be prepared to fill in any dead spot in the conversation, but should allow the other person to talk as much as they want to. A conversation between two socially savvy people will almost always hover at a one-to-one ratio of each party speaking.

Leo: Why do you think storytelling is such a key skill for most of us social losers?

Tynan: Stories are the means by which we communicate our experiences, and our experiences have shaped us into who we are today. So by telling stories, you’re effectively communicating who you are as a person, and how you became that way. To really become good friends with someone, you can’t just share facts or opinions– you have to share yourself, and stories are how you do that.

Leo: If you sucked at telling stories, how would you train to get good at it? Is there a way you could practice with friends, or strangers? How can you get good feedback and improve quickly?

Tynan: Just like anything, it’s all about getting in the repetitions. The first key is to realize that a story doesn’t have to be an epic tale that could eventually become a movie– it just has to be something that happened to you.

Think about standup comedians– they tell humorous stories all the time, but the content itself isn’t all that amazing. The value is in the delivery. So tell your friends and family things that happened to you. Anything that was funny or interesting or unexpected.

And if you can’t think of anything like that, just tell people boring things that happened to you, and try to make them interesting. I used to tell people about grocery shopping just to practice telling stories.

You’re already getting good feedback on your stories, but you’re probably ignoring it. Social etiquette means that all negative feedback is delivered in shades of gray. No one will tell you that your story sucks, but they will gently try to change the topic, butt in, or show signs of disinterest like breaking eye contact or shifting body language.

Leo: You talked about making a list of your favorite stories from A-Z (note to reader: read the book for more on this technique) … what if you don’t think you have any good stories? Is this a sign that you need to live life differently?

Tynan: I think it would be hard to live twenty or more years and not have at least twenty-six interesting experiences that could be turned into stories. Almost impossible, really. If you don’t think that you have interesting stories, you probably just don’t understand what makes an interesting story. It’s 20% content, 80% delivery.

On the other hand, once you’re nailing the delivery every time, the biggest room for improvement comes from the content. I’ve found the content for my best stories come from travel and/or going outside of my comfort zone, which are two things anyone can do.

Leo: How can you tell if your story isn’t doing well? It seems like a lot of people tell boring stories, thinking that the other person is completely interested, unaware that they’re droning on. And if you do notice, what can you do? Also … how do you balance telling a good story with listening and not talking too much?

Tynan: If your story is really good, people will be looking you directly in the eyes, showing emotion, and asking questions or saying things like, “No way!”. If you don’t see those signs, you should assume that the other person isn’t interested. That might not be true, but it’s far better to err on the side of assuming disinterest.

There’s an easy test you can employ if you think someone may possibly not be interested: just stop the story. Look for any sort of distraction, and take it. Or just say, “Anyway– it’s a long story.”
If they want the story to end, you’ve just given them what they want. If they want to hear the rest of the story, they will ask you to continue 100% of the time. This technique works every single time and makes you a very pleasant person to talk to.

Your stories should be short and modular. No epic tales with a million tangents and side-stories, just short concentrated stories. Tell one, give the other person an opportunity to tell one of their own, change the topic, or ask a question, and if they don’t take it, continue on to another one.

As a general rule, you want to be as flexible as possible, but to allow the other person to be inflexible. So if they want to talk 100% of the time or 0% of the time, you oblige them and make it as comfortable as possible.

Leo: Let’s say you walk into a party, or a bar … how do you get to the point where you can start telling one of your stories to strangers? I always feel awkward when I enter a place, and don’t know how to approach a group or a stranger and just start talking.

Tynan: A good combination is a question coupled with a related story. For example, let’s say you’re at your friend Bob’s party. You could ask people how they know Bob, which is an easy icebreaker for anyone, and then follow it up with a great story about how the two of you met. If they go into their own great story after the question, you don’t necessarily have to tell yours, but if they give a really terse response like, “Oh, we met at work”, you’re armed with a good story that’s ready to go.

Almost everyone feels awkward in these situations, but most are also hoping to have good conversations and meet people. By practicing social skills and preparing for situations like this, you’ll actually be one of the least nervous ones.

Leo: How do you go from telling stories to making a real connection and making a friend?

Tynan: To have a friendship you need shared experiences and mutual understanding. Stories are one third of that equation– they help your new friend understand you. To understand them, you need to be a good listener. Even if they’re telling a really bad story, think of it as an opportunity to get to know them, faults and all.

Tell stories that encapsulate a wide range of your experience as a human, and encourage the other person to do the same. That’s how you fill the blank canvas in your mind with data points to try to understand them.

Stories alone can’t create a friendship, but they’re the major tool we use to get to know each other, and that’s a major component of friendship. Once you get to know each other, spend time together and create your own stories together. Those shared experiences bind people together and create the fodder for stories that you can tell to other people down the road.

You can read more from Tynan at his blog, and pick up his book Superhuman Social Skills on paperback or free for a limited time on Kindle.

Toasted Almond Mocha Affogato

Toasted Almond Mocha Affogato | A Couple CooksToasted Almond Mocha Affogato | A Couple CooksToasted Almond Mocha Affogato | A Couple CooksToasted Almond Mocha Affogato | A Couple CooksToasted Almond Mocha Affogato | A Couple CooksToasted Almond Mocha Affogato | A Couple CooksToasted Almond Mocha Affogato | A Couple Cooks

My first memory of coffee is the buzz of a coffee grinder, my dad grinding beans on a Saturday morning. Why is that smell so evocative? I’ve always loved that deep, nutty aroma, even before I was old enough to drink it.

I’m not sure what’s better, the taste of coffee or the ritual around it. Or maybe it’s the nostalgia, like my first café con leche when I was living in Madrid in college, or the strong, bitter espresso from a tiny white cup in a Parisian cafe. Or now, on weekend mornings when Alex brings me coffee in bed, dark roast, smooth and rich. And each weekday morning, I look forward to my warm, comforting brew at the office. Thank goodness my husband is just as passionate (maybe more).

One of our favorite desserts in the world is an Italian one featuring that magical caffeinated beverage called affogato, which translates to “drowned” – as in, ice cream drowned in espresso. HE-llo. When I don’t know what to make for dessert for guests, this is it. You can dress it up easily: with chocolate shavings, nuts, different ice cream flavors, etc.

Here’s an idea for affogato two ways: lazy and fancy. For the lazy version, purchase some coffee ice cream, toast some almonds, and top with chocolate shavings. For the fancy option, make our homemade mocha almond fudge ice cream, using your favorite coffee beans. In both cases, serve topped with fresh espresso, which makes it into a creamy, gooey, coffee-flavored mess.

Today we have a fun surprise for you coffee lovers out there. We’re stoked to be partnering with one of our favorite coffee brands, illy (which we drink all the time!), to give away an illy Y5 Milk, Espresso & Coffee Machine. Not only does it make morning espresso a breeze, it’s perfect for an affogato. You can also make more than just espresso: it has a hot water dispenser for making tea, and new integrated milk frother for making fancy lattes and smooth cappuccinos. Basically, you can become your own barista! See the giveaway rules below.

Why To Make It: It’s an easy + elegant dessert, and a coffee lover’s dream.
When To Make It: When you’re surprised by dinner guests. Or make the fancy version as a special treat for your resident coffee lover.
Caveats: Making the homemade ice cream takes 6+ hours to prepare and freeze, so plan ahead.

Giveaway Rules: Up to two entries per person, U.S and Canada residents only! Leave a comment on this post on why you’d like to win the espresso machine. For a second entry, follow us on Instagram and leave a comment on the giveaway post. Commenting will close on Thursday, October 1 at 6:00 pm, EST. Make sure you provide your email address in the comment form (we promise to keep it confidential!).

Lazy Affogato
Serves: 4
What You Need
  • 1 pint vanilla or coffee ice cream
  • ¼ cup sliced almonds
  • 1 ounce dark chocolate (for shaving)
  • 4 illy espresso capsules (or decaf, for a less caffeinated evening dessert)
What To Do
  1. Place ¼ cup sliced almonds a dry skillet and toast over medium low heat, shaking often, until toasted, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool.
  2. Make 4 shots of espresso.
  3. Scoop ice cream into bowls or glasses. Top with toasted almonds and chocolate shavings (using a vegetable peeler or microplane). Pour over hot espresso and serve immediately.
Toasted Almond Mocha Affogato
Serves: 4
What To Do
  1. Make the ice cream with illy Whole Bean Coffee. (Start at least 6 hours in advance. Use decaffor a less-caffeinated evening!)
  2. Make 4 shots of espresso using illy espresso capsules (or decaf capsules).
  3. Scoop ice cream into bowls or glasses. Pour over hot espresso and serve immediately.
This post and giveaway is sponsored by illy. All opinions are our own, and we think illy rules. Thank you for supporting the sponsors who keep A Couple Cooks in action!

Mocha Almond Fudge Vegan Ice Cream

Mocha Almond Fudge Ice Cream | A Couple CooksMocha Almond Fudge Ice Cream | A Couple CooksMocha Almond Fudge Ice Cream | A Couple CooksMocha Almond Fudge Ice Cream | A Couple Cooks

The other day, Alex and I listened to a TED talk about “the secret to success”. The podcast claimed to share the key ingredient to being successful here on this crazy rotating blue-and-green sphere we call home. Over time, I’ve grown skeptical of empty promises, those messages screaming here’s secret to losing 20 pounds in 2 weeks! 20,000 Instagram followers in 2 days! Though I know it’s not that easy, sometimes I click those links, just to see if there’s something easy I’m missing. (Nope.)

So, the secret to being successful in this life, according to that TED talk? Grit. Otherwise known as: Perseverance. Tenacity. The ability to hold on when going gets tough, to cling to a vision of what life could look like in spite of the current setbacks. Honestly, I was a little disappointed, wishing the answer were something easier, a quick fix. But it’s stuck in my mind ever since. Grit. The ability to persevere in spite of unexpected obstacles.

A few weeks ago, a friend came to me with a challenge: a copycat Jamoca Almond Fudge ice cream recipe. It’s her favorite Baskin Robbins ice cream flavor, and she wanted me to try to create a healthier, homemade option. It was an offhand remark, but I was curious so I took it on as an experiment. That innocent experiment turned to a weekend of four different coffee ice cream attempts, coffee grounds covering our kitchen, coffee-flavored goo behind my ear at one point, and multiple trips to the grocery for coconut milk. My first try had potential, the second a complete fail, the third so-so, and finally the fourth: a sweet, sweet success. I ate way too much, enough to break my “occasional splurge” intention with sweets. (So beware, this is dangerous stuff.) But we have a recipe. And it is my favorite ice cream we’ve made to date.

Much as I hate to admit it, grit just might be that secret key. As we bump along the way, in the kitchen or life, grit helps us persevere–whether it’s navigating an illness, a time of uncertainty, or darn it, coffee ice cream.

Why To Make it:

  • It’s dairy-free (vegan), but you’d never know. Since there are oodles of standard ice cream recipes out there, we’ve taken to perfecting creamy, dairy-free ice cream (though we don’t eat strictly plant-based ourselves). In my opinion, you’d never know the difference between this and the real thing.
  • It’s healthy-ish by being homemade, using plant-based ingredients & more natural sweeteners. No preservatives here. The recipe uses no dairy if you’re cutting back in that department, and uses combination of agave sugar and coconut sugar. It’s still sugar so we can’t call it healthy, but it’s a tiny bit better than using refined white sugar.
  • It’s a chunky ice cream-lover’s dream. I’m a fan of chunks in ice cream, and this has them in every bite. The chocolate is mixed with tahini so it’s a slightly healthier version of a fudge ribbon, and it crisps up in to some seriously heavenly chunks, along with the toasted almonds.

When To Make It: Anytime
Caveats: You’ll need an ice cream maker and a bit of forethought: the recipe takes over 1 hour to make, then 4 hours to freeze prior to enjoying.

Mocha Almond Fudge Vegan Ice Cream
Due to the need to chill the ingredients before churning, we recommend starting this recipe the day before serving.
Serves: 1 quart
What You Need
  • 2 (15-ounce) cans full-fat coconut milk
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • ⅓ cup agave syrup
  • ⅓ tablespoons coconut sugar
  • 5 tablespoons of your favorite coffee, coarsely ground (decaf if desired)
  • 1 ½ teaspoons vanilla
  • ½ cup almonds
  • 2 ¼ ounces semi-sweet chocolate (¼ cup + 2 tablespoons chocolate chips), vegan if desired
  • 1 tablespoon tahini
  • 1 teaspoon cocoa powder
What To Do
  1. Freeze the base of your ice cream maker overnight.
  2. Coarsely grind 5 tablespoons coffee.
  3. Add the coconut milk to a medium sauce pan. Remove ¼ cup of the liquid to a small bowl; mix it with 2 tablespoons cornstarch and set aside.
  4. Bring the coconut milk, ⅓ cup agave syrup, ⅓ cup coconut sugar, and coffee to a simmer. Add the cornstarch mixture and whisk frequently until thickened, about 6 to 8 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in 1½ teaspoons vanilla. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve into a 1-gallon Ziplock bag and place in an ice bath for 30 minutes, until cool. Or, if churning the next day, refrigerate 4 hours or overnight, until the mixture is cooled (either way, it is important that the mixture is as cold as possible before churning).
  5. While the mixture cools, place ½ cup almonds a dry skillet and toast over medium low heat, shaking often, until toasted, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool, then chop and reserve in a sealable container.
  6. Churn the ice cream in the ice cream maker until it thickens to the consistency of soft serve. When the ice cream is thickened, add the chopped nuts as the mixture churns.
  7. When the mixture appears as the consistency of soft serve, add ¼ cup + 2 tablespoons chocolate chips, 1 tablespoon tahini, and 1 teaspoon cocoa powder to a glass measuring cup; microwave at 20 second intervals until melted, stirring after each interval. Drizzle the chocolate into the ice cream, using a spoon to pour since the chocolate mixture is thick. If desired, break up larger globs with a spoon while the mixture churns. When the chocolate is just incorporated, turn off the ice cream maker (the chocolate step should only take a few minutes).
  8. Eat immediately for a soft serve consistency, or freeze for a hard ice cream texture, using the following instructions: Press a piece of parchment or wax paper into a sealable container, then scrape in the ice cream using a spatula. (Some of the ice cream will have frozen to the edges of the container; scrape these bits in as well and incorporate them into the mix). Freeze for 4 hours for a hard ice cream texture.
Notes on Coffee Ice Cream Methods (for nerding out)

  • Main methods for coffee ice cream include: simmering with whole beans, simmering with coffee grounds, and adding instant espresso powder.
  • For us, simmering the beans had great flavor, but we ended up with about half the ice cream mixture we started with as the beans absorbed much of the liquid.
  • Adding instant espresso powder was an easy method, but the flavor was not nearly as good as the real beans; plus, it’s not typically on hand at our house.
  • What worked? Simmering the ice cream mixture with coarsely ground beans from my favorite coffee, then strained through a fine mesh sieve. The amount of liquid was maintained and the flavor was rich and nutty.

Announcing…Our 2016 Daily Calendar

A Couple Cooks Daily Desktop Calendar

A Couple Cooks Daily Desktop Calendar

A Couple Cooks Daily Desktop Calendar

We have some news — we’ve got a 2016 daily desktop calendar on the market! It’s called “Recipes for Healthy + Whole Living” and features over 250 of our favorite recipes from the blog, as well as cooking tips.

The calendar is produced by TF Publishing, an Indy-based company who contacted us last year to see if we wanted to collaborate. They’ve been so great to work with! 2016 is finally around the corner, and our calendar is now for sale in mainstream stores like Kohl’s, Fred Meyer, Big Lots and Meijer.

The calendar would be a great stocking stuffer or holiday gift — we know we’ll be stocking up! You can check it out at the stores listed above, or at the Amazon link below (or in our gift shop).

Buy our 2016 daily calendar (Amazon)

Healthy Greek Yogurt Ranch Dip

Healthy Greek Yogurt Ranch Dip | A Couple CooksHealthy Greek Yogurt Ranch Dip | A Couple CooksHealthy Greek Yogurt Ranch Dip | A Couple Cooks

It’s been two years since we moved into our new house, which is enough time to finally drop the “new”, right? Even so, it takes me quite a while to bond to new surroundings — to feel like this street is really mine, that each blade of grass and weed and every little nook and cranny of our place is truly ours. It’s taken a bit of time to get to know the neighbors, too. Since porch sitting isn’t so in these days, what with Pinterest and Hulu and Netflix and Youtube, it’s difficult to make neighborly connections. I’m the type who has every last minute scheduled, so I’ve found that taking time to create margin helps to increase the chance of meeting a friendly neighb or two, especially with this little lady in tow.

Turns out we have quite a few lovely neighbors, and a few weeks ago we had a couple over for drinks on the patio. In the midst of the conversation, an unhealthy obsession with ranch dip was confessed, which triggered my memory of this Greek yogurt ranch dip we made a few years ago. I recommended it hoping that it was still tasty — and luckily, it came back with positive reviews! We decided to try it out again as a healthy game day snack to eat with veggies, pretzels, or chips. It’s nearly as easy as mixing a ranch powder packet with sour cream (a tradition I grew up on), but healthier with the addition of Greek yogurt and the absence of any preservatives. And the taste — fresh and delicious, like a heightened version of the traditional processed stuff. We made it for a recent football game, and our guests couldn’t stay away. (OK, we couldn’t either.)

Why to make it: A wholesome, natural ranch dip that’s incredibly flavorful and nearly as quick to make as the processed version
When to make it: Anytime; it’s great for snacking
Caveats: If your tastebuds are tuned to processed ranch, it might take some getting used to — but not long!

More Healthy Game Day Recipes
Loaded Sweet Potato Rounds *our all-time favorite*
Buffalo Cauliflower with Blue Cheese Dip
Vegetarian Chili
Loaded Sweet Potato Skins with Pinto Beans
Honey Sesame Almonds
Spiced Crispy Chickpeas
Herb Butter Popcorn

*For More*

  • Interested in house renos? Here’s our kitchen, office, living room, and attic before + after photos.
  • Check out our new website design! It’s got an new speedy Search feature, easier access to recipes, a new Healthy + Whole page, and a new gift shop.
  • Follow us on Instagram for a behind-the-scenes look at A Couple Cooks — it’s the best place to see what we’re up to in real life, and stay up to date on what’s new.
Healthy Greek Yogurt Ranch Dip
Prep time
Total time
Serves: 2 cups
What You Need
  • 18-ounce container 2% Greek yogurt
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 large shallot (2 tablespoons chopped)
  • 1 teaspoon dried parsley
  • 1 teaspoon dried dill
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • Fresh ground black pepper
What To Do
  1. Mince 1 shallot.
  2. Measure 2 tablespoons of the minced shallot, and mix together with all remaining ingredients. Store refrigerated.

The Truth About Your Uncertain Life Path & Purpose

By Leo Babauta

If you’re in your 20s or even 30s, you might feel a lot of uncertainty all the time — you aren’t sure what your life purpose is, or your uncertain about what path you should take in life.

This is normal.

We all want to know what our driving ambitions should be in life.

We all want to have a certain life purpose.

We all want to feel we’re on the right path.

We all want to perfect our habits, our routines, our productivity.

We all want to feel more certain, and perfect what we’re doing.

The comfort of certainty and perfection vs. the fear of uncertainty and being suboptimal. This is the struggle.

Let me let you in on a secret: no one is free from this struggle. Look at the most successful people you can think of — Elon Musk, Bill Gates, Obama, Taylor Swift. Do you think they have it all figured out? Do you think they have certainty and a feeling of reaching perfection? Not a chance. There is not one of us alive, not me or anyone else, who ever feels certainty about their purpose or path. If they do, they’re fooling themselves. But if they’re honest, they don’t feel that certainty.

No one ever feels they’ve found the perfect productivity routine, the perfect version of themselves … because it doesn’t exist.

With that in mind, I’ll make some recommendations — with the caveat that I haven’t figured all of this out myself, and that I’m uncertain about these recommendations:

  1. Realize that it’s all uncertainty. When you’re procrastinating, it’s because of uncertainty (of whether you can do this). When you are jealous of what others are doing on Instagram, it’s because of uncertainty (of whether you’re getting the most out of life). When you are feeling anxiety, it’s because of uncertainty (about the future). When you’re feeling guilty or bad about yourself, it’s because of uncertainty (of whether you’re a good person, a disciplined person, as good as you can be, etc.). It’s all uncertainty.
  2. Realize that none of us like this uncertainty. We all feel uncertainty, all day, and we all struggle with it. Some people have grown more comfortable with it than others, but in general no one likes uncertainty. If someone says they do, they’re probably not honest with themselves. We don’t like it, so we try to find certainty in some way — through finding something we’re more comfortable with, something we think we know. Distraction, pleasure food, shopping, alcohol, being surly with other people, shutting down.
  3. Notice when you’re feeling it. Being aware of this feeling of uncertainty is actually a great skill to develop. As you work on this awareness, you’ll feel uncertainty about your awareness skill. Are you doing it right? Are you bad at it? You don’t know. This is just more uncertainty to be aware of. Just try this: when you feel any anxiety, fear, self-doubt, procrastination, need for distraction, anger with others … just label it “uncertainty.” See if you can tell what you’re being uncertain about.
  4. Stay with it. This uncertainty you’re feeling is unpleasant. That’s perfectly OK, perfectly normal. Don’t run from it. Instead, stay with this uncomfortable, unappealing uncertainty. It’s here in you, a part of this moment, a part of you but not the whole of you. Just stay, stay. Be with it, like you’d be with a friend who is in tears.
  5. Turn to the moment, and find the excruciatingly beauty in it. After staying with the uncertainty for awhile, realize that you’re trying to know the unknowable. You can’t know what the perfect path will be, you can’t know what the perfect you should be, you can’t know what your purpose in life is until it starts to uncover itself. You can’t know your destination until you get there. So instead of spinning your wheels with the unknowable, focus on what you actually have right in front of you. Look at the physical space around you, and feel the energy of this space. This includes the energy of what you’re feeling inside you, but also the fluid space around you, occupied by objects, light, people, sounds, movement. There is a crazy amount of beauty to be noticed here, if you pay attention, before it slips away.

This is the practice. It isn’t easy. It isn’t certain. It is beautiful.