In theory, I could have guessed that peanut butter cups would not be very hard to make at home but for whatever reason, it was just never on my list of things to think of making.

Dudes and dudettes – how could I be so silly? How could I have missed this easy, downright fun, and delicious DIY? What have I been doing with my life that is not making mini peanut butter cups by the dozen?

These treats also come just in time for Halloween which seems to be hanging out right around the corner and ready to say hello (hi there, Halloween!). I have found in my official research that Halloween is one of those special holidays that people either love or loathe. Personally, I enjoy Halloween if I get to a) consume at least one or more fun-sized butterfinger candy bars and/or b) wear a costume that cost less than $8 dollars and no more than 30 minutes of my time planning.

For references sake some past costumes have included: NYC Metrocard (which was an awesome and horribly realistic Metrocard tourist t-shirt and a crown of expired Metrocards which I collected from my co-workers after a few too many and what I’m sure were annoying non-work related office emails), dry cleaning (which was a dry cleaning bag over a fancy dress; this costume doubled as a poncho which was great because that year it rained), an autumnal tree (where I safety-pinned fake orange and red leaves from a garland I bought at Rite-Aid en route to a party onto a green dress), and my personal favorite – the year I was a s’mores and fashioned a get-up out of white trash bags and cardboard and wore it like a double-sided sign.

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spiced vanilla bean chaidoodles

September 28, 2012

You may or may not know that I am on an official mission to make a snickerdoodle for every season. For some reason a plain snickerdoodle just doesn’t quite do it for me in the cookie department. I always feel like there needs to be little more sassiness (by which I mean spice) and cinnamon by itself just doesn’t cut it with my ol’ taste buds.

Springtime brought us poppy seed lemondoodles but then summer got away from me and I got distracted with picnics and boozy slushies and cobbler cakes and flip-flops. I have only myself to blame.

You could say that the pumpkin snickerdoodles from last year were a perfectly suitable fall version but I’ll admit that that would kind of be cheating since they are simply pumpkin cookies rolled in cinnamon sugar. Delicious, yes, but not really a snickerdoodle in the legitimate sense.

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honey-glazed apple tart

September 20, 2012

I grew up with an apple tree in my backyard and every fall, without a doubt, the branches would hang heavy with fruit. We would harvest more apples then we could eat and several times during the months of September and October my mom would set aside a weekend for making and canning dozens of jars of homemade applesauce.

Those were the glory days of the apple tree.

It still stands in our backyard today but it has grown to enormous proportions and the word “grizzled” comes to mind when thinking of this tree. Sadly the fruit is inedible and it would take a brave soul to consume even one of the apples that grow on its branches now.

Between you and me, I think the tree is a little pissed it is getting old so instead of just providing shade and being cool with the fact that it is home to a few birds, the tree decides to play games with us. It drops apples from its highest branches at terrifying speeds on unsuspecting souls who just want to enjoy a cocktail or have an al fresco meal on the deck below. And I have a real and legitimate fear that I will get bonked on the head one evening as I’m sipping on a gin and tonic. Fingers crossed I’m not home alone.

It also likes to leave apples – at a pace that is nearly impossible to keep up with – all over the lawn and my mom has decided that while I am home, a fun activity for me would be to pick them up and transfer them to the compost. She knows this is one of the last things on earth I would like to do so to entice me she offered [what she believes to be] a fair price for my services at five cents an apple. Because I have no real need for 87 nickels and the year that we live in is in fact not 1914, I told her that when inflation kicks in and we hit five dollars an apple, we can start talking.

Never underestimate a child who likes to negotiate, as this will not go away with age.

So had this been many years ago, I would have been able to say that this tart was made with apples from my very own apple tree. But please indulge me for a minute and let’s just pretend that this was the case for the above pictured tart.

I think it would make the tree happy if we could relive those good ol’ days. Just for old times sake.

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So I hear that this little thing called football season has begun.

Football season makes me happy because people who love sports tend to also love snacks and I happen to love providing people with both snacks and treats at sporting games. Do they have such a thing as Football Friends? You know like an equivalent to Soccer Moms? If they do, then that would be me.

I could care less for who wins or loses but did you say you wanted another fried beer-battered nacho? Oh sure, I’d love to get that for you. How about another a chicken wing? Did you say with sauce or without?

But I will let you know the real reason why I love football season. It is because it usually means I have a whole bunch of hungry people in one room – ready and willing to taste all the desserts I am testing out for the holidays. It’s like my pre-season heaven. You could say it is the spring training of my dessert ideas. I take notes and listen to feedback. Perhaps I need to trade out the milk chocolate chips for semi-sweet in that cookie over there. Good to know. Peppermint wasn’t looking too good in the summer off-season. I know, noted.

How many sports joke references can a non-sports fan make before getting everything wrong? I am pretty sure I just passed it back there somewhere.

But just like sports has a lot of fans, so does speculoos cookie butter from TJ’s! What a great tie-in!

I am fairly certain that cookie butter deserves an entire post because it really is just that good. Google “TJ’s cookie butter” and you will get keywords like “obsession” “OMG!!” “BEST THING EVER” which means that the next time you are at TJ’s you should probably pick up a jar so you know what the hype is all about.

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I can get behind a lot of baked goods but the one thing I just can’t quite get behind is the dessert pizza. It is all fine and good to be creative in the kitchen but we should just say no to the dessert pizza – especially anything along the lines of having a white chocolate drizzle.

Now this may look like a cousin to the dessert pizza, what with all the peaches and the mascarpone cheese which you would be correct in saying is in fact a soft Italian sweet cheese, but I assure you this is far from anything you will find devoured at a children’s birthday party with a crushed cookie crust.

Let’s change gears here for a minute and talk about the Labor Day holiday. Did you have a good weekend? What did you do? More importantly what did you bake/make/consume? Are we all ready for fall yet?

While now you know my feelings on dessert pizza but what I can totally get behind are the San Juan Islands. If you are unfamiliar with these glorious islands about 2.5 hours north of Seattle, then I urge you to get on a plane, or in a car, and then on a ferry or another small plane and get yourself up to one of the 172 little PNW gems. Here are some photos from my weekend. They are all from my iPhone and most of them are edited with Instagram which basically is an app that makes your real life look better. Not that the San Juans need any help in this category.

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Update 09/05/12: Congratulations Megan and Alaine! Fun stuff coming your way!

Have you jumped on the cocoa nib bandwagon yet? If not, I urge you to find one to hop onto because cocoa nibs are crazy good.

They are the sort of product I can imagine making claims like “swirl them into your morning oatmeal to curb your chocolate cravings all day LONG!” or “toss them into your favorite salad instead of your usual boring pecans for an unexpected burst of flavor!” or “perfect for snacking – enjoy them by the handful straight out of the bag!”

Every time I hear this phrase “by the handful straight out of the bag” as an advertisement for snacking I always think to myself, isn’t “by the handful” the definition of snacking? How is that an acceptable hook? When have you ever put four chips on a plate and settled down in front of the TV for a nice long afternoon of enjoyable snacking. I can guarantee never.

Cocoa nibs are an exception because I am telling you that I could probably eat them by the handful straight out of the bag. Cocoa nibs are what you think healthy chocolate should taste like. I mean we all know we should have a thimble full of red wine and a small square of dark chocolate everyday for the antioxidants but let’s just say that a handful of cocoa nibs makes the açaí berry look like a Taco Bell.

All jokes aside, they are wonderful in baking. They are not too sweet, and almost a cross between a chocolate chip and a nut if you can wrap your brain around that. I made these super simple oatmeal cookies and replaced the chocolate chips with cocoa nibs and now they are practically guilt free. Just kidding! But they are chewy in the middle, crispy on the outside, full of oaty goodness and bursting with chocolate flavor!

But guess what! You have a chance to win your very own cocoa nibs plus a whole bunch of other fun stuff. Because summer is just about, almost – please don’t say it is so – over I decided I should probably give away some free stuff so we can all get excited for fall.

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With all the summer fruit that is going on these days, it probably being a billion degrees in the kitchen and so many activities on the calendar, it is understandable why the humble refrigerator cookie is often overlooked during the months of June, July and August.

I know it seems strange to make what looks like a holiday cookie for your office gift exchange in August but the slice and bake cookie should not be limited to only a few months out of the year. Oh would you like a few reasons why? I’m so glad you asked. These cookies are tiny (which makes them extra cute). These cookies travel well (which makes them perfect for picnics). These cookies have two kinds of chocolate (which makes them double delicious).

These cookies also have one of my favorite words in the title, which is not chocolate or salted because those are number two and number three but sparkle. Sparkle and its various forms -ed, -ly, -s, -ing is one of those words that should be used more in everyday life.

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blueberry crisp tart

August 18, 2012

In baking, as in life, one must always have a few tricks up the ol’ sleeve. It’s sad to say that I haven’t exactly figured out what these should be in real life, but I sure do know what tricks to pull in the world of baking.

Lucky for you, I’ll let you in on the secret:

Bake anything in a tart pan.

People will think you spent approximately 86% more time on making it than you actually did. Brownies in a tart pan? Bring an 9-inch round of those to a party and watch as multiple people will ask you if you picked them up at your local bakery on the way over.

Cake in a tart pan? If those edges were smooth, you’d be like, “oh no way am I eating that!” but the minute some fluted edges make an appearance everything changes.

Enter the crisp tart. The crisp tart is just as easy as making a regular crisp – all that is needed is a quick filling and a topping – but the crisp tart is about one hundred times classier. Plus you don’t need a spoon and a bowl to inhale, er, I mean consume gracefully, when you are hanging out at a backyard BBQ.

Since blueberries are all over the place here in Seattle these days, this whole flat of blueberries was $10 dollars which is oddly enough almost the price of a latte in New York and about exactly what a tart pan will set you back if you are not a proud owner of one yet.

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I need to learn how to juggle.

I need to learn not just for the awesome party trick aspect but because each summer I write down a list of things that I would like to accomplish and this year I added “learn how to juggle” to the list. Why? The next time you are waiting in line at a party for a beer, please think to yourself how entertaining it would be if someone started juggling lonely bar limes to pass the time. Juggling is not just for people who ride unicycles and wear brightly colored pants anymore.

I wish I could say that this awesome person at the party will be me, but it will absolutely not be. My excuses include: juggling is way harder than it looks, my practice time has been lacking of late and let’s just say summer is slipping by with each sunny afternoon.

I bet you are curious of what else could be on my list. Well, I will tell you one thing I did accomplish. It was number seven:

7. Make something that tastes like a doughnut but is easier, i.e. no frying of anything in oil

Here is the thing: I love doughnuts.

I could eat a doughnut at most points of any given day. I have been known to eat them for breakfast, for lunch, for dinner, and most definitely as a late-night snack.

But here is the other thing: they are not the quickest and easiest thing to just whip up when the craving strikes.

Everyone should try their hand at from scratch doughnuts at some point in life but unless you keep a vat of frying oil handy for such occasions, I offer a very, very close option to curb your craving – no oil required. When you start thinking things like, “I can not wait one more second. There must be a doughnut in my close proximity. Right. Now.” Make these.

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Summer is in full swing which means non-stop sandaled feet, ice cream all the time, and chilled glasses of everything.

Summer also means that fruit is everywhere and out of control good.

While driving around my homeland of Washington State, I found a roadside stand that was selling pints of beautiful dark and sweet summer cherries for one dollar. As in one dollar of each pint of cherries. I could not believe it, and just in case it wasn’t real, I bought 5 pints.

Now I’ve got cherry fever.

And the only cure for that is cherry white wine slushies.

As I recall the last time I had a slushie it was of the blue raspberry variety and served with a straw/spoon combo that now as I’m thinking of it should probably be combined into a shorthand like its’ cousin – the spork.

From now on I think I will start calling them straoons.

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