Day 26: Gray Skies and Lemon Bars

It’s cold today – cold and dreary. And I say this not because that’s news – it’s Michigan in November after all – but because it just is. This coldness, this dreary weather, it wears on me. The chill in the air lingers long after I walk in the door and shrug off my coat and kick my boots in the general direction of the mudroom.

This weather makes me want to sleep.

It also makes me want to bake.

And so today on the way home I stopped for lemons.

Lemon bars have been on my brain lately – partly because the friend who is helping me out in the mornings by getting Pumpkin on the bus said she’d help in exchange for lemon bars. And partly because today was a day that needed something sweet, something cookie-like.

Freshly squeezed lemon juice, the sweetness of sugar, a buttery pastry crust. Sigh. I love lemon bars and I typically hate fruity desserts.

Baking is therapeutic for me – the very action of measuring, stirring, mixing, pouring. All of it soothes my soul.

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I threw a load of laundry in the washing machine while the lemon bars baked. I changed into clothes to spend time with the treadmill. When the bars were done, I barely let them cool before slicing a piece to sample, nearly burning my tongue.


Absolutely delicious.

I can’t make Michigan stop being winter. I can’t make the skies less dreary. But a little bit of lemon lightness makes the day a little brighter.

Thursday Ten: Hand Over Your Reese’s and No One Gets Hurt edition

1. I don’t love Halloween. I do love Halloween candy. I feel vaguely hypocritical that I want nothing to do with the trick or treating part of things, but I basically want all of the chocolate things when my kids get home. It actually works well that their dad likes Halloween – definitely will never be a holiday that we struggle over.

2. I may just go out and buy some candy so that I can make a leftover Halloween candy cake. I made one for the office last year and because I have a deadline tomorrow, I’ve funked my schedule up a bit this week so I’ll be heading in to the office tomorrow. Who doesn’t like when someone brings in AMAZING CAKE?

3. Note to potential future employers: I make excellent baked goods. I also excel at making things with melty cheese. So if you think some day you’ll want a marketing rockstar AND a superb quesadilla, well, you know…call me.

4. One of my favorite things is to visit the Downtown Market in Grand Rapids and get a cappuccino from Simpatico and a gougere from Field and Fire. Well, I’ve started playing in the kitchen to see if I can make my own gougere. This was from the first batch – tasted good, looked funny. My second batch (unpictured)? MUCH better. Prettier and yummier and with more perfect air pockets. I’m pretty proud of myself.
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5. I registered last night for the 2014 Avon Walk. In New York City. I have no idea yet if I’ll be able to pull it off — clearly with a walk that far away, there’s expenses involved. At the very least, I’ll be able to raise funds to benefit the cause. Worst case scenario, I raise money and don’t end up walking. It’d be a shame for me BUT I could live with that because the organization still benefits. Still, I hope that life settles and that I’ll be walking in New York City next October. We’ll see, eh?

6. The Princess made her own Halloween costume after scoping things out on Pinterest. Pumpkin is some weird store bought spider lady thing. It makes me remember I’ve been blogging for eight years, as I started right around the Halloween when Pumpkin was a baby, and their names here are what their costumes were that year.

7. “What Does the Fox Say” is pretty annoying.

8. Also? That YouTube video of the baby crying at his mom’s voice? I don’t like that either. I may be a little bit dead inside.

9. Oh, I’m tired. Stupid “insomnia catching up with me” tired.

10. Quick: What’s the first word that comes to your mind? (Leave it in the comments. If for no other reason than so I don’t feel like I’m talking to myself.)

Kitchen Through The Lens: Key Lime Cheesecake

graham cracker crust

When I originally put key lime cheesecake on my list, I selected a recipe I was sent for a vegan key lime cheesecake but the funniest thing happened.

I remembered I wasn’t vegan.

Also? I like the cream cheese part of cheesecake.

Also? I decided to make this cheesecake as a thank you for the folks who work in my mom’s office for their support – monetary and just general enthusiasm – for my participation in the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer.

So, I made a non vegan recipe.

a graham cracker crumb crust

The kids saw key limes in the store the other day. A one pound bag of key limes? Not too pricey. Cream cheese, on the other hand, kind of is. FYI, I almost always use neufchatel instead of regular cream cheese. I’ve never detected a difference in the quality of cheesecake and because of that, I kinda figure, why not reduce some of the unhealthy where you can?

key limes, i'm not sure what makes you so special?

Dear key limes (and graham cracker crumbs on my counter. Oy).

Not gonna lie, I feel a bit punk’d by the idea of key limes. They’re tiny little lime wannabes that produced very little juice and a whole lotta seeds. And one pound of key limes barely produced the 2/3 cup of key lime juice I needed.

(Later, I found this was okay – I think using the full amount would have made them TOO tart – this was just the right sour)

To juice the key limes with greater ease, I rolled them on the counter first, pressing hard against the lime with the palm of my hand, hoping to kinda squash all that juice out of the pulp.

It sort of worked.


key lime cheesecake

Apparently the difference is that key lime juice is more aromatic and it’s more intense in flavor.

Um. Okay.

The end result (and I only had one bite – I told y’all I was sending this cheesecake elsewhere!) was tasty. It was a nice warm weather kinda cheesecake.

But I’m guessing using regular limes, though far less fancy sounding, woulda been WAY. EASIER.

Chocolate Chip Heath Cookies – Homemade cookie perfection

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It started with a post – a bag of Chips Ahoy with Heath bars pieces. Partly, it made me sad – life is too short for store bought cookies  (Though, life is too short to try to pass off my attempts of cooking meals as “edible” – but, we all have our strengths for sure).

However, while I have a pretty solid chocolate chip cookie recipe, it had NEVER occurred to me to add Heath bar bits. AND I FREAKING LOVE HEATH BARS.

Okay, game changed.

Here’s how it goes.


1/2 c old fashioned oats (ground finely in food processor or blender)
2 1/4 c all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 c unsalted butter
1 c light brown sugar
1 c granulated sugar
3/4 tsp almond extract (not the fake stuff, y’all)
2 eggs, big ones
1 c chocolate chips (I like semisweet)
1/2 c Heath bar bits (approximately. I think I ate more than actually went into the bowl)

What you do.

Preheat your oven. 325 degrees.

Mix together your dry ingredients (ground oatmeal, flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda) and set it aside.

Using an electric mixer (My Kitchenaid is so lovely), cream together the butter and the sugars until super creamy (I almost forgot the brown sugar today. That would have been BAD).

Add eggs one at a time, mixing thoroughly between each egg.

Add almond extract.

Little by little (about two to three parts), add the flour, mixing until just blended.

Add the chocolate chips and Heath bits. Accidentally drop some Heath bars on your counter so you can eat some.

Mix until blended.

Cover your baking sheet with parchment paper (Seriously. Parchment paper is a cookie savior), and then scoop the dough onto sheets in large rounded teaspoons.

Bake until your cookies are golden, about 12 minutes.

Let cool a few minutes and then snag one ASAP, pour a cold glass of milk and sample your work.

Mmmm, yum. You done good.

For the love of cookies

I love cookies. I kind of love cookies a lot.

Baking was one of the first things I ever found I was good at – and once I learned to bake, my mother stopped. I remember my mother making this phenomenal brownie pie when I was younger. Once I could reach the knobs on the oven and read a cookbook? Those days were gone.

There are cooks and there are bakers, and often a person is one or the other but rarely both.

I am a baker.

And just as much as I love to bake cookies, I sure do love to eat them.

Baking is a therapeutic activity for me – sometimes, I bake just for the end result: I crave cookies, want cookies, need cookies. There’s a bake sale. There’s a birthday. There’s a {insert activity that requires a baked good here}. Those are the times when I like to get my kids involved in the process.

Sometimes, I don’t necessarily want or need something sweet – rather, I need the process of baking: I need to measure, mix, scoop. I need the scent of vanilla and the crack of fresh eggs into a mixture of creamed butter and sugar. I need the task of scooping dough onto parchment and the scent of those ingredients becoming cookies in a 350 degree oven. I need a cooling rack filled with treats and that first bite of a cookie fresh from the oven, chocolate still oozing.

My sister is a cook. She doesn’t enjoy baking. The precision is not her thing – she hates to measure. Baking is dependent on precision to a degree.

I think the fact that I love it so much is one of the key ingredients in everything I bake.

But for those of you who are not inclined to bake, here are some of my favorite tips on making good cookies:

  • Use real butter. There’s a time and a place for the fakey stuff. I understand, you’re watching your cholesterol which is generally a good idea – but fake butter has no place in cookies. The consistency will be off – and your cookies will probably end up looking more like tortillas.
  • Speaking of the real thing: Imitation vanilla is for chumps. I know it’s cheaper, but it doesn’t taste as good as the real stuff. It doesn’t even SMELL as good.
  • Know the difference between baking powder and baking soda. There’s a difference. They are not interchangeable.
  • Parchment paper rules the world. See that picture up there? My cookie dough balls are on parchment paper. This makes cookies easier to get off the pan when they’re done. Also, I break and burn fewer cookies using parchment paper.
  • Don’t be afraid to improvise somewhat. One of the best cookies I’ve had recently was a chocolate chip cookie sprinkled with sea salt – and I am KICKING myself I didn’t think of it first. Yum. Recently I made a cookie with peanuts, pretzels, M&Ms and chocolate chips. It was the Queen Bee of PMS cookies. Think of flavors you like and try them together – the worst thing that could happen is you throw away a batch of cookies.
  • Share. Everyone asks how I can fit through my door way – I’m always baking cookies, so I should be like ten feet wide, right? Wrong. I eat one or two and give the rest away. It’s just enough to kick a craving, but not too much. Also, it makes people happy when I share. And that’s awesome.

As time goes by, I’ll share some cookie recipes with you. Maybe. If you’re nice.

Do you have a favorite kind of cookie? Mine’s peanut butter. Or is that chocolate chip? Or oatmeal? Or gingerbread cookies? Or….

Weekly Winners – week ending 5.29.10

For more Weekly Winners goodness, be sure to pop over to visit LOTUS and the rest of the peeps.

Tunnel vision

Welcome Home.


Prep work for birthday cupcakes

Sittin' in the garden eating worms

oh hai