Treats

Lemon Bars, For The Travelers (at Heart)

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I’ve been cooking and baking my way through Green Kitchen Travels, a beautiful cookbook written and photographed by the same couple behind the blog, Green Kitchen Stories.  I’ve been mesmerized by their life, their travel inspired stories and the beautiful colors and images that fill the pages.  As I’ve read and eaten my way through this book, I’ve felt my heart yearning for more adventure, and more life.  There has been a lot of reflection on my part, and I feel as though I have lived in a constant state of reflection.  While I have a fierce longing to see, taste, touch and smell every square inch of this earth, this is not what I crave most.  I long to be the person I am when I’m traveling.  I want to be her now, as a wife and mother.  I miss the person who could lose her passport and plane ticket and not get too bent out of shape.  I miss the person who would sit with the sunrise and sunset and never run out of enough praise for such beauty.  I miss the person who would intentionally go on walks only to get lost and found and lost all over again.  I miss the person who surrendered to every moment and gave gratitude for it all.

Unlike every year prior, I have had little intention or focus for the year, only a mantra that has rushed in and transformed every cell.  A mantra that was once my, fake it til’ you make it, pep talk.  You know, the pep talk you give yourself when both children are melting down, you are running on a few lousy hours of sleep and you wake to dirty dishes, laundry and blueberry stained surfaces (ALL surfaces.) Give in, give gratitude, these words happened quite accidentally, after a rather rude awakening.  I was once a spontaneous, go with the flow, anything in the world could happen to me and you will still find me smiling, seeker of joy. But I woke up this fall a huffing and puffing, tired mama, nagging wife, an out of touch stealer of joy.  Seeing myself become these unattractive things was both humbling and earth-shaking.  I wallowed in this realization for a day, maybe two and then I took a good hard look at myself and I started to give thanks.  I listed, spoke and meditated on my gratefulness.  It just seemed like the most natural thing to do, a remedy for healing, a road to getting back home. I gave thanks until it became contagious, almost addictive.  Then, just like that, I woke giddy to find yet another thing to be grateful for.  The most simple things like an apartment facing east and babes who rise early, became something to celebrate.  My sense of awe and wonder was reborn.

I used to wonder why it was so much easier to surrender to even the greatest catastrophes abroad and so much harder to remain open and grateful for an equally growing experience back home.  I’ve found that it’s easier to surrender when your days feel numbered or when you know you will find yourself in a new place sometime next week.  Abroad or domestic, land or airborne it is all just as fleeting, but there is something about the day in and day out monotony of domesticity that can dull your senses, and tell you that adventure and life are found elsewhere.  The things that once sparked your attention and received your thanks become old news when you start to see that it will all happen again tomorrow.  It’s like saying, tomorrow I can celebrate, tomorrow I can give thanks.  But the spilling of shredded coconut out of eager helping hands, and another happy baby chasing her mess, or that mesmerizing sunrise, they only happened once in that unique way. Just once.

I’ve been given an informal invitation to take back the every day, to chase beauty and find joy in the little things.  I don’t need a new city or suitcase, in fact I don’t have to go anywhere.  I can even stay inside our little apartment because traveling does not have to be something I do, it can be a state of mind.  I believe more adventure and life are waiting for me in bubble baths and dishes, fort making and cookie baking.  This year I am giving in and giving gratitude. This year I’m becoming a traveler inside my very own home.

Lemon Cashew Date Bars

Recipe from Green Kitchen Travels

Makes 6-8 bars

1 cup raw cashews

15 soft fresh dates, pitted

1/2 cup of shredded coconut

1/4 cup of lemon juice (about 1 small lemon)

Place all ingredients into a food processor or high-powered blender. Pulse for about 20-30 seconds or until the ingredients turn into a thick, slightly tacky dough.  Press the dough firmly into a small 4 x 6 rectangle pan, or a mini loaf pan, like pictured above.  Leave in the fridge for at least an hour or overnight.  Cut into bars or using a knife small butter knife, gently pop them out from the molds.  Wrap in parchment paper and keep in the fridge for up to a few weeks, (they probably won’t last that long!)  

Lemon Blackberry Olive Oil Cake

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I’ve had the image of picking berries with my family all spring and summer long.  I’ve pictured us in the good evening light that shines just before sunset.  I would wear a flowing vintage summer dress, and a sun hat providing just enough shade to keep my eyes on the ripest berries.  There would be just enough warmth, just enough breeze, a lot of laughter and buckets of berries.

Mid August we finally make our way to Sauvie’s Island.  It’s noon and there’s no breeze.  It’s the hottest time of the day on the hottest day of the summer.  I’m wearing a dirty (always dirty) frumpy black dress.  No hat and thirty extra pounds of baby love. My tired brain pretends to listen to the farmer as he verbally guides us to the blackberry fields.  I can’t seem to listen, so I just smile and nod.  I assume that finding the berry fields is fool-proof, but I am wrong because forty-five minutes later we arrive at the vines, sweaty and flushed, confused and cranky.  I wonder why I picked today of all days.  Bijou is hot, probably too hot, crying and hungry.

Just as I start to get in a tizzy I look for Octave and find her, bucket in hand with her summer hat on.  I see her eyes captivated by blackberries in their purest state as her mind fills with wonder.  All my preconceived notions start to dissipate and I decide maybe today is just right.  I notice we are completely alone because it’s Monday and everyone else knew it was too hot.  My children feel me let go.  Bijou stops crying.  Octave has never looked so smitten.  I am still sweating.

When I look through my lens I don’t see or feel all of the mornings mishaps, I just see my daughter and her perfect, untainted joy.  With no expectations she gives herself the gift of being completely present.  Full of expectations, I want what she has.  I capture these sweet moments and then I tuck away my camera, out of sight.  I want to be present.  I want to share in her joy, not just observe it. We eat sun-kissed berries that are so hot I can taste them before they ever hit my tongue.  Our fingertips start to show signs of our fun.  We stop before they stain, because we only pick what Octave can carry.

On our ride back home and in between talking with Octave about what we should bake, I wonder why picking berries with her was so important to me.  All summer I felt as though my soul could not rest until we did this.  I am honest with myself and I admit that my life feels out of balance.  Very little about the way we live as a society feels normal to me and yet I keep going along with it, because I don’t know what else to do.  I just want my babe and babies in the good evening light, without my phone and all its notifications, emails, texts, and reminders taking me everywhere but the present.  I want more wild.  I want more free.  I want more of my life, unplugged and free from meaningless distractions.  What is this need to connect with an online world I cannot see or touch? Why does it feel like I am missing something if I don’t.  And why do I feel empty if I do?   Am I cultivating a life that is rich enough for me and my classic pen and paper?  I miss my pen and paper.  I miss my photo books.  I miss the tangible.  I miss the feel.  There are still things I keep near and dear, sacred and secret, but it doesn’t feel like enough these days.  Perhaps this is why I crave moments away from the chaos and grind of life, and why I daydream perfect scenes of my family in berry fields.  It’s not the berries that I want, it’s a connection to the earth and an intimacy with the present that I crave most.

Lemon Blackberry Olive Oil Cake

Inspired by Local Milk

3 cups flour

1.5 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. baking soda

1.5 tsp. flaky sea salt

3 tsp. herbs de provence

2 cups sugar

1 cup olive oil

1/2 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice

1/2 cup whole milk

1/2 cup whole milk plain yogurt (european style)

3 eggs

1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

1 1/2 cup blackberries

Glaze

1 1/4 cup powdered sugar

2 tbsp. lemon juice

2-3 blackberries

1/8 tsp. vanilla extract

Zest of 1 lemon

Pre heat oven to 350.  In a large bowl combine flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt and herbs.  In another bowl combine olive oil, lemon juice, eggs, milk, yogurt and vanilla.  Whisk together well.  Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients, being careful not to over mix.  Gently fold in the berries.  Oil your pound cake or bundt cake pan with olive oil.  Pour in batter and bake for 60-65 minutes or until cooked all the way through.  Test with a knife or toothpick.  Let cool for 15 minutes before turning over onto a plate or cake stand.  While cake is cooling, whisk together all ingredients for the glaze.  Put icing into a piping bag or ziploc bag (cutting a tiny hole in one side.)  Drizzle icing across cake. Slice and enjoy.

 

The Last Days

 

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This week my little lady has showered me with enough genuine “I love you Mama’s,” to make my heart nearly explode. She’s been the fuel I need to keep on pedaling with my 37 1/2 week belly. She’s the reason that while I am brewing with anticipation, I am still content being so uncomfortable. I am not ready to say goodbye to the days where it is just the two of us. She is the one who made me a mama, the one who doubled the size of my heart and the one who has taught me the true meaning of life. I have loved every single moment with her.

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As excited as I am to meet the newest addition of our family, I will admit that I am slightly mourning our family of three. I remember feeling something similar a few weeks before I got married, and then again before Octave was born.  I am trying to make little judgement on my feelings and simply just observe them. While life continues to get better with the building upon my life and family, it is sometimes hard to say goodbye to what was. And while I embrace change, I embrace the present even more.

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I am trying to be as intentional as possible in these last days. Slow, steady, present, with no agenda and few distractions, I’ve been savoring every last drop of my precious little lady. I’ve been so consumed with her that I’ve hardly read or written a blog post. I’ve hardly cooked or baked anything worth sharing. I’ve hardly had a moment to even think and process all the changes we’ve experienced the last six months, let alone the changes that are coming. “Mama’s time,” during nap time or in the evenings has been non-existent because we’ve fallen asleep together most days and nights. I wouldn’t want things any other way right now and I’ve been so happy being completely consumed with her sweet cheeky smiles, but to be honest, this body has needed a little break. So, when a friend asked to take Octave for the day I gladly obliged.

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It is 2 pm and I have already made one of my favorite desserts. I’ve swept and mopped my floors, washed the laundry, eaten 6 salted caramels and pedaled to a local coffee shop. I sit here sipping espresso, with my computer out for the first time in weeks. There is even a book beside my computer. A BOOK! While I miss my little lady already, this is so good for my soul and it might also be one of the last moments to myself before becoming a mama of two. Just like I am savoring every last moment with Octave, today I am savoring time to myself.

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On my day off I wanted to make, eat and share one of my favorite treats. This recipe is originally a cake, but I’ve made it into cupcakes a handful of times. It is simple, beautiful, healthy and absolutely delicious. Perfect for Birthdays, perfect for friends with special diets(it’s gluten free, dairy free and can be made vegan if you replace the honey with agave nectar.) In this case, it is perfect for a mama’s day off, and an early mother’s day treat!

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 Raw Cashew Dreamcake 

Recipe from My New Roots

Makes 12

Crust

1/2 cup raw almonds

1/2 cup pitted medjool dates (about 10 dates)

1/4 tsp. sea salt

Filling

1 1/2 cup raw cashews, soaked overnight

1/3 cup coconut oil, melted

1/3 cup honey

Juice of 2 lemons

1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

1 cup raspberries + more for garnish

Directions

In a food processor or high powered blender, pulse almonds, dates and salt until it starts to clump together.  Depending on the freshness of your dates you may need to add a splash of water to help the crust combine.  You should be able to pinch crust between your fingers and have it stick together.

Scoop out 1 tbsp of crust for each cupcake and place in the bottom of pan.  Using the back of a spoon or your fingers, evenly press crust into each cut out.  Place in freezer while you prepare the filling.

Place cashews, lemon juice, vanilla extract, coconut oil and honey in the food processor.  Blend for 3-5 minutes or until completely smooth.  Scoop out half (about 1 cup) of filling and pour a dollop over all 12 crusts.  Place in freezer for a few minutes while you prepare the rest of the filling.

Add raspberries to the remaining mixture and blend until smooth.  Pour over all 12 cupcakes and garnish with raspberries.  Place in freezer for 2 hours or until frozen.  Before serving let cupcakes rest at room temperature for a few minutes.  Using a butter knife you can loosen the cupcakes inside the pan and help pop out.  You can also use cupcake wrappers, but I was not motivated to make a special trip to the store.

 

 

Browned Butter Chocolate Chunk Cookies, With Sea Salt

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I made these cookies in the midst of an epic meltdown with Octave. Sugar and salt ended up everywhere but the bowl, she burned her hand on the hot stove, and an entire jar of vanilla extract was just moments from drowning the cookie batter. For a brief moment I could understand why my mother never attempted to bake with me.

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Her independence is something to applaud and admire, and yet there are moments when it will send me into a tizzy, leaving me in tears or flat on my back, silent, as if not to explode. She is teaching me that I am not as laid back as I would like to think I am. Some days are like this. Some days everything, (and I really do mean everything,) is work and I doubt if I was cut out for this crazymessybeautiful life as a mama. And yet some days I am filled to the brim, overflowing with so much love and joy that I find myself once again, in tears laying flat on my back, only this time for reasons much more worthy of celebrating.

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My days have been rich and yet they have been exhausting. My days have been spent nesting and making our beautiful little space our own. The best thing about living in 620 square feet is that I get to feel like an awesome housewife for having everything cleaning and organized each morning and night. When you have little and live simply, it takes little effort to keep things put together.   So, for someone who needs a clean tidy environment to function, I am viewing our little space as a blessing rather than a disadvantage. And besides, for the first time in my adult life I am living with both a washer and dryer and dishwasher! My life has been changed. Forever. Seriously.

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My days have been spent riding around the city and being filled back up with life. This city is even better than I remember. Riding in lanes with hundreds of other cyclists is doing wonders for my confidence and affirming our lifestyle choices. I am not alone.

My days have been spent, back in the kitchen, feeling a little more like myself. I really did just need my own kitchen back. Baking, even in the midst of chaos and meltdowns, is one of the most centering things in my life right now. And I have yet to kick my cookie craving this pregnancy, so this is where I can be found…in the BEST chocolate chunk cookies I’ve ever had.

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Almost a year ago I posted our loyal chocolate chip recipe. Many moons and too many cookies later, I have made an even better batch that I can now confidently call, the BEST! Browning the butter and using a combination of both brown and cane sugar makes all the difference. Chop up your favorite bar of chocolate, add some flaky sea salt on top, and you have perfection.

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I thought I had the best recipe for chocolate chip cookies, until I learned that I didn’t. Until I tasted something better. I feel a little silly comparing my life to chocolate chip cookies, but I really do see a connection. I didn’t realize I was so unhappy until I experienced happiness again. I can see now that I have been in survival mode almost the entire time we were in Wyoming. I’ve been waiting to be where I’ve always wanted to be. Now I am here, grateful to be on the other side, savoring every last morsel of life. It is truly great to be alive.

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Brown Buttered Chocolate Chunk Cookies

2 ¼ cup AP flour (I use bob’s red mill)

1 ½ tsp. baking soda

½ tsp. sea salt

1 cup grass-fed unsalted butter, browned

¾ cup cane sugar

¾ cup brown sugar

1 ½ tsp. vanilla extract

1 egg, + 1 yolk

1 heaping cup of semi sweet chocolate chips or a chocolate bar cut into chunks

Coarse sea salt for garnish

Melt butter in a small saucepan until it is cracking and brown. It may even start to foam. Remove from heat and let cool for a few minutes.

Combine flour, salt and baking soda in a small bowl and set aside.

In a large bowl combine sugars and browned butter. Beat with a hand mixer or in a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, until combined. Add egg, yolk, and vanilla. Mix until combined.

Add half of dry ingredients into large mixing bowl and mix until all the dry ingredients are absorbed. Add the second half and repeat. Add in chocolate chips of chunks and beat until just combined. Cover dough and place it in the fridge for 30 minutes to chill. While the dough is chilling, pre-heat oven to 350.

Using a cookie scoop or a tablespoon, scoop out dough and place evenly onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Sprinkle each ball of dough with coarse sea salt. Bake for 9-10 minutes. Immediately upon removing from oven, pat pan against counter or table, (this helps the cookies set, leaving those attractive lines that are found in my favorite bakery style cookies!) Let cool on baking sheet for a few minutes and transfer to wire rack to allow them to cool completely.

 

 

A Birthday Cake For A Birthday Girl!

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I have never been one to love cake.  I grew up asking for ice cream on my Birthday and even refused to have cake on my wedding day.  So, when I found myself pregnant with Octave I wondered why I suddenly desired and even stressed over what kind of cake to bake her as I labored and anticipated her arrival into the world.  I suppose it was Octave who brought out the baker in me.  Before her I would have laughed if someone would have told me that one day I would find myself covered head to toe in flour, finding deep purpose and meaning in such a mundane, domestic act.  But with a new life growing inside, a baker was born, then Octave was born, and finally a Mama was born.

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I won’t say that time has gone by fast, because truly it hasn’t.  It feels like two beautiful years since Octave came into our lives.  It feels like two perfect years filled with joy, sleep deprivation, frustration, cuddles, tickles, family bike rides and hours of dr. seuss.

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I am however constantly amazed how often she changes and how I fall more in love with each season, age and mile stone.  And yet I would be lying if I didn’t acknowledge how challenging the battle of wills has been lately.  But still I refuse to call this stage terrible.  As her sass, and strong will grow exponentially, so does her smile, vocabulary, opinions, compassion and empathy for others.  She is growing into her own little person, that sometimes does not want to do what I want, and I find that terrific, yet slightly frustrating some times.  Today I declare her a terrific 2-year-old!  I am one proud mama, asking myself just how I got so lucky.

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Happy Birthday Octave! Life with you is even better than I could have imagined.

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Chocolate Beet Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

Recipe from Joy The Baker

This cake does not taste like a salad.  In fact you can’t even taste the beets.  They are a great alternative to artificial food coloring, and help add extra moister into the cake batter.

2-3 medium beets

1 tsp. oil

3/4 cup unsalted butter at room temperature

1 cup packed brown sugar

3/4 cup cane sugar

2 large eggs at room temperature

2 cups all purpose flour

2/3 cup natural cocoa powder

1 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. sea salt

1 1/4 cup buttermilk

1 1/2  tsp. vanilla extract

Frosting

1 cup unsalted butter, softened

8 oz. cream cheese, softened

2 1/2 cups powdered sugar

1-2 tbsp. finely grated beets, depending on color preference

1 tbsp. milk

1 1/2 tsp. vanilla

1/2 tsp. lemon juice

Pinch of salt

Preheat oven to 375.  Wash beets well and coat them in oil.  Wrap in foil and bake for 1 hour, or until tender when pierced with a fork.  Let cool completely.  Remove skins off beets,(they should just peel right off.)  Using the finest grater you have, grate beets into a small bowl.  Measure out 3/4 cup for cake and reserve 1-2 tbsp. for frosting.  Lower heat to 350.

In a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, about 3-4 minutes.  Add in eggs one at a time and beat until combined.  Add vanilla and beets and beat until just combined.

In a medium size bowl combine flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.  Whisk all dry ingredients until they are combined.  Add half of dry ingredients into wet ingredients and mix on low until just combined.  Slowly pour in buttermilk while mixer is still going.  Add the rest of the dry ingredients and beat until just combined.

Lightly butter 2, 8 inch round cake pans.  You can trace your pans and cut some parchment paper to go on the bottom of your pans to ensure a successful removal.  I definitely did this!  Bake for 25-30 minutes.  Test center of cake with a toothpick to make sure it cooked all the way through.  Be careful not to over bake.

Let cakes cool in pans while you prepare your frosting.

Cream together butter and cream cheese.  Slowly add in powdered sugar while mixer is on.  Add vanilla, lemon juice, beets and salt.  Beat for 30 seconds to 1 minute until light and fluffy.  Set aside.

Remove cakes from pans and place one on a plate or cake stand.  Generously frost the top and sides of the cake.  Add the second layer on top.  Spread the rest of the frosting over the sides and top of cake.  Place in fridge until you are ready to eat.

A New Year, A New Life

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The coming of the new year is without a doubt my favorite time of year.  Being a keeper of memories and an avid dreamer the new year holds me sweetly in its arms and whispers sounds of hope and promise.  This will be our fourth new years since being married and we’ve created a quiet intimate tradition that suits us well.  Each year we buy a bottle of bubbly, put Octave to bed, stay in just the two of us and remember to our hearts content.  Then we drink the whole bottle and write down our intentions for the upcoming year.  We listen to our favorite albums of the year and read over our vows and family values.  I love a good party, but this night of the year has never felt the appropriate time to throw our hands up and yell happy new year with crowds of people.  This year there will be no bubbly but there will be multiple bottles of kombucha, Christopher’s favorite sun-dried tomato pasta, and our favorite shortbread cookies.

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This year has been simple, rich and at times really challenging.  2013 and Wyoming both hold a lot of significance for our family, because it has taught us who we are and who we are not.  It is the year and the place we questioned and challenged almost everything.  It is where I fell so madly in love with Octave that I end most of my nights with tears of joy.  I have been wrecked by this love and thankfully will never be put back together.  It is where I fell in love in the kitchen and with my simple domestic life.  On paper it doesn’t seem like we did a lot, but I can look at my recipe index over this year, and see that the kitchen is where Octave and I spent majority of our time.  Stepping outside our home was not easy for me, a reminder that we were stuck in the desert with no hope or plan of how to get out.  But with a little creativity and an attempt to make lemonade out of lemons, I started this food blog and created a new culture inside our walls.  This space has been good for my soul.

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Most of the work we did this year was internal.  We tried our best to take away all the unnecessary distractions and then we prioritized our hearts and minds.  In doing this we could see a reality that sometimes seemed hopelessly bleak.  This reality has inspired a lot of necessary change that we are no longer afraid to make.  We are starting to become the bold, brave individuals we fell in love with and now it is really exciting to be become those bold, brave people together and build a new foundation for our family.

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2014 holds a new adventure, a move west, a new baby, and a completely new life.  For Octave and this babe half baked, we are giving them the best versions of ourselves, because we are finally going to do what we love, around the people we love.  We are giving them grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and good friends that live close.  We are giving them access to exquisite local food, and the beauty of intentional local living.  We are giving them a community where almost every thing we value can be celebrated, rather than demonized.  We are giving them and ourselves one of the most beautiful places on earth.  (I am just a little bias.)

Portland, Oregon, we are coming home!  Thank you for holding our hearts with the utmost care while we wandered in the desert.  The 31 day count down has begun.  It is a very Happy New Year indeed!

   

Oatmeal Shortbread Drizzled with Peppermint Chocolate

These cookies are light, crumbly, and absolutely delicious.  I have always kept the dough recipe as is but experimented with different types of chocolate and even homemade nutella on top.  The peppermint chocolate knocked all the other versions out of the water.  It reminds me of a peppermint girl scout cookie and completely spoiled my dinner two nights in a row.  They were gone so quickly that I had to make another batch for our New Year’s celebration.  There is little to no self-control when I am pregnant.  I’m kind of okay with it.

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Slightly adapted from Sprouted Kitchen Cookbook

Makes about 30 small cookies

1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature

1/2 cup raw cane sugar

1 egg

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1 tsp. almond extract

1 1/2 cup oats

3/4 cup rice flour, (all purpose works too)

1/2 tsp. sea salt

1/4 tsp of nutmeg

1 cup semi sweet chocolate chips, melted

1/4 tsp. peppermint flavor

In a food processor grind oats into flour.  It should not be so fine that sticks together but it should resemble flour more than oats.  Combine oat flour, rice flour, salt, nutmeg and set aside.  In a food processor or by hand, cream together butter and sugar.  Add egg and vanilla and mix until smooth.  Combine wet and dry ingredients until a dough comes together.  The dough will be fairly tacky.  Using a spatula scoop out the dough onto parchment paper and shape into a log and roll up in parchment paper.  Place in the fridge for 1-2 hours.

Preheat oven to 350.  Remove parchment paper from the dough and slice it into rounds about a 1/3 inch thick.  Place rounds on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a silicone mat.  Bake for 18-22 minutes or until slightly golden brown.  While cookies cool, heat chocolate chips in a small saucepan on low heat.  Add peppermint and whisk together.  Transfer chocolate to a small plastic bag.  Cut a very small hole in the tip of the bag and generously drizzle chocolate over cookies.  Let the chocolate cool and harden, about 20 minutes.

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Peanut Butter Cookies + Holiday Traditions

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I lay awake at night, critiquing and organizing my favorite holiday treats.  I want to bake all the right ones, and create Christmas traditions that run deep.  I want Octave to say she has been eating her mama’s cinnamon rolls, peanut butter cookies, and biscotti, since her very first Christmas.  I want her to remember that we didn’t have a Christmas tree, but rather a Christmas fort, because her daddy couldn’t bare to cut down a tree, and her mama would not settle for a fake one.  A Christmas fort, because her mama used to beg her dad(bompa) to make her a fort every.single.day (he always did,) and because she still secretly wishes she could dwell in a whimsical fort, for the rest of time.

I don’t know why these things are so important to me, but the why is not as important as this very deep longing of mine.  So this week, I am baking our memories.  I believe those are the ones that last.  Biscotti… baked, dipped, and eaten.  Peanut butter cookies…baked and cooling.  Cinnamon rolls…reserved for a play date tomorrow, and of course Christmas morning!  Some people have a Christmas present check list.  I have this.

We don’t have much to give Octave for Christmas, but I am so grateful for family and friends who have so generously sent us lovely gifts and treats for our little lady, we are truly so blessed.  Gifts are really fun, and I am so excited to watch her open and delight in them.  But this year and all the years to come, I am giving her baked memories, because those last forever.

Favorite Peanut Butter Cookies

Makes 2 dozen

Recipe from Slate

1 cup (packed) dark brown sugar

1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature

1/2 cup creamy natural peanut butter, at room temperature

1 egg, at room temperature

1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

1/2 tsp. almond extract

1 1/2 cup flour

1/2 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. sea salt

2-3 tbsp. cane sugar for coating

Favorite bar of chocolate if making blossoms (optional)

Coarse seat salt for garnish(optional)

A few important notes: 

-When possible use the highest quality ingredients you can afford.  For flour I love bob’s red mill or king arthur.  For sugars I love wholesome sweeteners.

-Grass-fed, organic butter REALLY does make a difference, especially in cookies.

-You might be tempted to skip over almond extract, being as though it’s only a small amount and most people just keep vanilla in their cupboards.  I can assure you, you don’t want to skip it.  And if you don’t already have it, it is one of those you want around because it adds so much flavor to a lot of different treats.

-I used to tell myself “room temperature” was not very important in baking, mainly because I was just lazy.  I have learned over time that it is indeed really important.  The sugar and butter cannot cream together properly if the butter is too cold.  Also, the egg is just as important.  Adding a cold egg directly to the room temperature mixture will defeat the purpose, and affect the texture of the baked good.

-Around Christmas my mother always baked peanut butter cookies with a Hershey kiss in the center.  However, knowing what I know about Hershey’s chocolate, I just couldn’t bring myself to buy the kisses.  My friend Jasmine told me I should just buy a bar of sustainable fair trade chocolate and break pieces off for the center.  Brilliant, I don’t know why I didn’t think of it before.  Either way, the cookies taste great alone or with the chocolate.

-For a healthier option you can replace the dark brown sugar for coconut palm sugar.  You can also replace the white flour for spelt flour.  I have made both versions a handful of times, and both turn out great.

Directions:

In a stand mixer or with hand mixer, cream butter and brown sugar.  Add peanut butter, egg, and extracts.  Mix until smooth and creamy.  In a small bowl mix together flour, salt, and baking soda.  Slowly add dry ingredients while you are mixing.  Mix until just combined.   Let dough rest in the fridge for 2-3 hours(don’t skip.) Pre heat oven to 350.  With a cookie scoop or tablespoon, evenly scoop dough into small balls.  Roll in sugar and place on baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a silicone mat.  Repeat with all cookies.  Press fork into dough, both vertically and horizontally. If you are adding the chocolate don’t press the cookies, just leave them in their scoop and bake.  Bake for 10-12 minutes.  If adding chocolate, press a square of chocolate in each cookie upon taking them out of the oven. Once they are cooled they are crispy on the outside and soft on the inside, perfection!

 

Maple Christmas Cookies & Mamahood

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Last week I took the only bus in Casper, (that looks like a resort shuttle,) to the dentist.  It took an hour to get there, and an hour to get back.  This means that with travel time, and dental work, I had about 3 1/2 hours all to my lonesome.  I brought my favorite Ina May Gaskin books, but I couldn’t read because motion sickness got the best of me.  So I sat, and I looked out the window, and I let my thoughts take over.  Rarely do I get the opportunity to truly be alone, and revel in my thoughts.  Sitting on a bus brought back sweet memories from some of the most formative years in my life.  Taking public transit made me feel young, and alive, and ready to grab onto life again.  Even in Casper, Wyoming, a silly little shuttle bus, with a bus driver who will stop in route, (at what appeared to be a random house,) for coffee creamer, has potential to flood my memory, and bring me back.

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I remembered the time I was on a bus, in the middle of no man’s land, Croatia with Jasmine, while a chicken sat directly behind us.  A chicken!  I remembered many long days of dancing in NYC, followed by slightly, and sometimes not so slightly, boozy nights(usually margaritas), poetry, and real talk.  I remembered convincing Jasmine and Adrienne to hold hands with me in the middle of union square, and scream at the top of our lungs, at the completion of our year-long professional program.  I remembered my roommate and dear friend Jess, getting terribly annoyed at my constant theatrics, and inability to go to the bathroom with the door shut.  Living life in a few hundred square feet with my complete opposite expanded my heart and mind to levels I never knew were possible.  I remembered standing in gold sparkled Toms on the day I vowed forever.  I remembered that just before Christopher got an unexpected job offer in Denver, I had started my own massage practice in NW Portland.  I forgot that just a year before I met Christopher I was researching where I wanted to study chinese medicine, specifically acupuncture.  I dreamed of China.  I still do.  I remembered standing on a mountain top in Italy, while I shaved my head, and cried tears of joy, because I had just faced one of the few things that scared me.  I remembered improving to Ani Difranco’s “Joyful Girl,” on stage, and under the stars that night with my newly shaved head, exposed for all to see, and scared shitless about what I might just do next.  I remembered taking a 34 hour train from Oslo to Budapest because I read in a European dance magazine about an audition that sounded like my dream opportunity.  I arrived to find myself awkwardly placed between perfect hungarian ballerinas, the only one without ballet slippers, and a few extra traveling pounds.  I was cut within minutes.  I cried, I laughed, and I drank a lot of espresso.  I missed Hannah so I flew to London.  I missed Chandrae so I flew to Los Angeles.  Then I ran out of money, so I flew home.

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I remembered that living in the moment has always been my thing.  Caution to the wind, was always my motto.  So after all these flash backs I started to wonder where this woman went.  I have a husband who fell fast, and hard for these qualities, and I have a daughter who shares a deep enthusiasm for life, and by her toddler nature, has no choice but to live in the moment.  My closest companion, and dearest friends love me for exactly who I am, the spontaneity, the messiness, and all.  So I’ve been asking myself, where did I go, and why?

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I read this post, from a blogger I love, and admitted something about myself that I had not ever recognized, or perhaps have been too afraid to admit…

I love being a mama, but becoming one has not been natural for me.  I didn’t always dream of having children.  Not because I thought I didn’t want them, but I’ve always been so lost in the present that I hardly ever day dreamed about the future until a few seasons before my heart and mind were ready to embrace a big change.  So while I adore this role more than any other role I’ve known, it has not been natural, and I have carried guilt for feeling this way.  This guilt has quieted my intuition, and taken away my confidence.  I have agreed with hundreds of other women who appear to have it together and seem to know more than me.  I hear things like, children need rhythm, children need consistency, children need…fill in the blank.  It’s all rather overwhelming, and so I’ve assumed that they were probably all right.  Octave may or may not need consistency or these things people claim, that is not the point.  The point is that I recently realized that I’ve projected my own needs on Octave.  I am the one who has needed structure, and consistency, and this has been a fairly new need for me.  When something doesn’t come natural, you have to work extra hard at it.  With that hard work, and maybe out of survival, I’ve replaced spontaneity and freedom, two qualities I’ve known well, with structure and consistency, while all along telling myself this was good for Octave.

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Octave is intuitive, and she is smart.  I believe she has sensed this all along, and she buts heads with me most when I work against myself and my better judgement. It’s as if she is trying to remind me of who I really am, and is asking for the real me to be her mama.  She needs me, my inconsistency, and all.  She needs my mess, and vulnerability.  She needs that Mama who will sing, dance, laugh and cry, whenever the moment arises.  She needs to see me admitting that I have no idea what I am doing.  She needs to knows that most of the time I feel too young and immature to be telling someone else what to do.  I want to guide her, and teach her, but I just can’t get behind being a super strong authoritarian, it is just not me.  When I explain myself and reason with her, which contrary to popular belief TOTALLY WORKS for me, she responds really well.  That may not work for others, but this is my style, it’s who I am, and Octave knows that.  When I explain the who, what, when, where, and why, even to my almost two-year old, I see major progress.  When I parent with my heart and guts, she believes me, I believe me, and we are both much better off.

I’ve doubted myself because I have not ever seen my ideals played out, because I don’t have an example for the type of mother I want to be.  That probably sounds like I have a stressed relationship with my own mother, but that is quite the opposite.  I have an incredible mother, who I have always been very close with.  She has always given me room to be exactly who I am, without judgement.  My mom was my biggest supporter for moving to NY at 18 and or following my wanderlust, learning about different religions, or whatever else I was curious about, and questioning social norms.  She’s always supported me, even when I came home with a shaved head!  Nothing was ever too much for her, or at least she did a good job at biting her tongue.  With that said, I have many examples of great women, and mothers in my life, but I have danced to a different drum most of my life, and I always thought I would parent the same way.  I have bits and pieces I can adopt from my own mother, but ultimately, I am still very different from her, and will do things very differently.  Not out of spite, but simply because I am not her.  And while paving a new path alone has always given me a high, I will admit that with another little human, it is kind of scary.

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Deep down, I just want to just be me, a messy, inconsistent, confused, spontaneous, present, laid back mother who loves her daughter fiercely.  It’s taken almost two years to realize that this is what Octave needs and wants too.  In the last few weeks we’ve turned over a new leaf.  Last week we wore helmets, and danced on wet pavement outside of Target, simply because she asked me to dance with her.  She always asks “mama dance,” at the least opportune time, but for a feeler ready to smash her face back into life again, her timing is impeccable.  Later, we laid down together right in the middle of the snowy sidewalk because there were squirrels to watch, and were we really in a hurry to just get home and sit?  These are little things, and yet they are everything.  No agenda is more important that what life brings when out eyes are open and our hearts are ready.  These past few weeks, I’ve been available for what each moment may bring, and this is me to the core.  I am finding my very own rhythm, and I am trying not to be afraid of my inconsistencies.  I am trying not to parent in fear. Sigh(deep.)

This little lady of mine…I have so much to learn from her.

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Maple Sugar Cookies

Makes 2 dozen (depends on size)

2 1/3 cup spelt flour*+ more for rolling out

1/2 tsp. sea salt

1/2 tsp. baking powder

1 stick unsalted butter, softened

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup maple syrup

1 egg, at room temperature

1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

Favorite cookie cutters

Sprinkles

Maple Cream Cheese Frosting

8 ounces full fat cream cheese, at room temperature

4 tbsp. maple syrup

1 tsp. vanilla extract

* All purpose works fine too.  I prefer using spelt in place of white flour and prefer its taste and texture over whole wheat, which tends to be super heavy.

Directions: In a medium size bowl, combine flour, baking powder, and salt.  Set aside.  In a stand mixer or large bowl, if using a hand mixer, cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy.  Add maple syrup, egg, and vanilla.  Beat until smooth.  Slowly add dry ingredients, and mix until just combined.  Divide dough in half and place in a large piece of plastic wrap.  The dough will be slightly sticky still but it will work well once it is refrigerated.  Wrap in plastic, making sure dough is completely covered, using your hands press down to create a small square.  Let rest in fridge for 2 hours, but overnight is best.

Preheat oven to 350.  On a floured surface, roll out dough to be 1/8 inch thick.  Cut dough into desired shapes, and place on a baking sheet with parchment paper.  Bake for 10-12 minutes.  This will vary depending on the size of your cookie cutters, so watch carefully.  Let cookies cool before frosting.

For the frosting, beat together cream cheese, maple syrup, and vanilla.  Store in the fridge until ready to use.  Garnish with your favorite sprinkles.

 

Cinnamon Rolls With Cream Cheese Frosting

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I’ve been brewing for weeks, with nothing to say, only much to feel.  Melancholy has always been good for my creative soul, and yet it seems in this season it paralyzes, rather than moves me.  Each day I am lead on a melodramatic voyage, by which I see everything through the impossible lense of the present.  I am left right back where I started, but with nothing tangible to hold, write, or at the very least, eat.  It’s exhausting really, and I am left feeling robbed of the beautiful mundane that I was once so good at savoring, and celebrating.

Somehow, remembering that it’s November magically takes me out of this less than desirable state of mind, if only for the brief moments I reminisce about family tradition.  Every November I bake my first batch of cinnamon rolls in preparation for the big bake on Christmas Eve.  Maybe I like the excuse to eat them twice a year, or maybe my body and mind need to be reminded of this domestic rhythm that helps connect me to the women I never knew, but the blood that is always running through me.  It’s as if these cinnamon rolls are my access to wisdom from my grandmothers.  It’s as if this process of mixing, kneading, rising, baking, cooling, and frosting, whispers truth back into the gray.  This morning I needed to be shaken abruptly, and held fiercely.  I need to walk myself to tears, borrow brown sugar from a neighbor, and bake my way back into bliss.  I needed to smother Octave in kisses, and eat three cinnamon rolls with her.  Sometimes the little things can solve big things.

Cinnamon Rolls

Makes 18 rolls

Dough

1 cup whole milk

3 tbsp. unsalted butter

2 1/2 tsp. yeast

2 eggs

3 1/2-3/4 cup flour, divided

1/3 cup sugar

1 tsp. sea salt

Filling

1/2 cup dark brown sugar

2 tbsp. cinnamon

1/8 tsp. nutmeg

1/8 tsp. cloves

1 stick unsalted butter, softened

Frosting

8 oz. cream cheese, softened

1 cup powdered sugar

1 tsp. vanilla extract

A few squeezes of fresh orange juice, or until you reach your preferred consistency

Melt butter in a small saucepan.  Add milk and heat until it is slightly hot to the touch.  Transfer butter and milk to a stand mixer with a paddle attachment.  Add egg and beat on low until combined.  Add 1 1/2 cup flour, salt, yeast, and sugar.   Beat on medium speed until combined well, scrapping sides of bowl if necessary.  Add the rest of the flour and mix for 3-4 minutes until a ball of dough forms.  It should be soft a pliable but not stick to the bottom or sides of the bowl.  Add flour a tablespoon at a time if it seems necessary.  Place dough in a large oiled bowl and let rise for 2-3 hours or doubled in size.

Rolls dough out into a rectangle the size of a large baking sheet.  Using a knife spread softened butter on top of dough and sprinkle mixture of brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves evenly on top.  Using the longer side of the dough, start rolling dough into the sugar and cinnamon and pinch dough as necessary.  Leaving the seam side down, and with a serrated knife, cut dough into 3/4 inch rolls.

Place rolls in a buttered pan, leaving room for them to rise.  Cover with seran wrap and place in the fridge to rise overnight.  My mom always let her rolls rise overnight and I used to think a few hours would do the trick but letting them have a long rise is absolutely key to a perfect fluffy dough.

The morning you are ready to bake preheat oven to 375.  Bake cinnamon rolls for 20-24 minutes.  Make your frosting while the rolls cool for 10-15 minutes.  Frost to your hearts content.

An Almond Danish Of Some Sort

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Disclaimer: These are not healthy!  Not by the furthest stretch of ones imagination.  However, they make my heart really happy.  So happy that I currently wear my hair in braids, lips in red, and feet in heels, on a casual Saturday morning, while Octave is napping, and Christopher is working.  I woke up cranky and these beauties turned it all around.  I just had to sweep the floors, fold the laundry, wash the dishes,  and eat three beautiful pasty’s first.  I have never been one for instant gratification, so the fact that they were a labor of love, makes every bite sweeter.

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I have been wanting to make my own puff pasty/Danish/almond croissant-ish, type goodness for quite some time.  I have just been intimidated, and convinced this was not a smart baking adventure for Octave and I just yet.  But the intrigue kept growing, and I found myself laying in bed consumed with thoughts of almond croissants (my favorite)…all. night. long.  I imagined myself oceans away, wearing braids, red lips, heels, and my favorite apron, learning from bakers and artists alike.  I know France is home to the best croissants, but there is just something about the Danes.  I deeply identify with the way they bake, ride, design, dress, view childbirth, and child rear.  The most basic and natural things in life seem to be viewed as normal.  I want to learn to bake where natural is normal, not weird.

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So we finally did it!  We attempted a Danish like dough, with coconut milk, and then added our own twist for the topping.  The good news is, it can only get easier and better from here.  For the first try, I was not disappointed.  Octave was there for every roll, pat, and rise, hence why I am using “we.”  However “we” did not eat raw flour and butter, that was all on her lonesome.  The girl has got this baking thing down.  In fact she asks to bake moments upon waking, and is spending her play time teaching her monkey all the things she is learning.  “Hold on.  Let’s see. Pat it. Roll it. Watch me. Turn it. Mince garlic. Ilovegarlic,” are apparently phrases I say often, because I hear her telling all her plush friends these lovely things.  So daily, we bake and daily we ride, and I hope somehow it evens itself out, because like I said earlier pasty’s make my heart really, really happy, and sometimes I just don’t care to make a healthy version of something that has been working for hundreds of years.  I am starting to think that has got to count for something.

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Dough adapted from Oh Lady Cakes

Pastry Dough

3/4 cup full fat coconut milk (in a can)

2 1/4 tsp. active dry yeast

2 cups unbleached flour, or more as needed

2 tbsp. cane sugar

1 tsp. sea salt

1 cup + 2 tbsp. unsalted butter, divided

Heat coconut milk in a small saucepan.  Use a thermometer if you have one.  You are aiming for 105-110 degrees.  Mix milk and yeast in a small bowl, whisk together and set aside for 15 minutes.  Milk should bubble and be foaming.  If this is not the case, you may want to start over with your yeast, because the end results might not be as good.

Meanwhile in a stand mixer, with the dough hook attachment, combine flour, sugar, salt, and mix on medium speed until combined.  Add in 2 tbsp. of very cold butter, cut into tiny pieces.  I put my butter in the freezer about 15 minutes before I used it.  Mix on medium speed for 4-5 minutes, or until butter has mixed into the flour, resembling tiny little pebbles.  Add in milk and yeast, and mix until just combined.  Dough should just come together.  I only needed 2 cups of flour but you may need up to 1/4 cup more depending on your altitude.  If you do need more, add in 1 tbsp. at a time, as to make sure you don’t use more than you really need.  Form dough into a square, wrap tightly in plastic and let rest in the fridge for 90 minutes.

Remove from the fridge and roll dough into a large rectangle, about 12×24.  Spread the rest of the butter (2 sticks) across 2/3 of the dough.  Fold the third of the unbuttered dough onto the middle third, and fold over once again.  Pinch the sides of the dough together and fold once again, in thirds, only this time the opposite direction.  Dough should now be in the shape of a small rectangle.  Wrap tightly in plastic and chill in the fridge for 1-2 hours.  On a well floured surface, roll out dough into a rectangle.  I was not able to roll it out exactly 12×24 again, but it still worked great.  Repeat the same folding pattern, only this time without the butter.  This is the part I found most challenging.  I had butter coming out on the sides, and was worried I was not doing something right.  Even if you lose some butter and the dough breaks up a little, just work with it the best you can, and keep going.  Repeat the rolling, folding and chilling 2 more times, without butter, and once again wrap tightly in plastic and let the dough rest, only this time, overnight.

The next morning, preheat oven to 375.  On a floured surface, roll out dough one last time.  Dough should be about 1/3 inch thick.  Use a pizza cutter, cut off the rough edges, and create a new clean, even square.  Discard the edges.  Cut dough into squares, a little bit smaller than the palm of your hand.  I lost a little bit of my dough, because I had a little helper by my side but ideally this recipe will make 16-18 pastry’s.  Place pastry squares on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, and stick in the freezer while you prepare your almond paste.  Paste can also be made ahead of time.

Using a tablespoon, scoop out almond paste and press into the center of each pasty  Garnish with fresh berries, pears, peaches, plums, or whatever else suits your fancy.  Bake for 14-16 minutes or until slightly golden and crispy.  Let cool on a wire rack for 15 minutes and garnish with powdered sugar.  These taste best the same day you bake them but can keep in the fridge for a few days.

Almond Paste

1 1/2 cups blanched almonds

1 1/4 cup powdered sugar

1 tsp. almond extract

1 egg white

Place almonds and powdered sugar in a food processor and pulse for 4-5 minutes until nuts are fine enough to look like flour.  The sugar will prevent it grinding into a paste just yet.  Add egg white and almond extract, and pulse for another 2-3 minutes until it forms a ball of lovely almond paste.  The aroma coming out of the food processor is fantastic!  Store in an air tight container until you are ready to use.  This recipe makes a little more than you will need for the pastries.  You can keep for a week in your fridge and use in other baking or store in the freezer.

Garnish

2 ripe pears or other fruit of choice

Powdered sugar